It’s back to the drawing board for the committee that met to begin working on national sustainable agriculture standards. Last week, the group decided the proposed draft standard was not workable in its current form or developed with sufficient input from agricultural producers and allied suppliers who would be affected. Instead, it will be set aside as a reference, and the committee will start all over and conduct a needs assessment for a national sustainable standard.
The draft standard was developed by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) and submitted to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in April 2007. SCS also developed the VeriFlora certification program for cut flowers and potted plants and hired Leonardo Academy to facilitate the process to develop national standards for sustainable agriculture.
Over the summer, Leonardo Academy appointed 58 people representing various segments of agricultural production, food and clothing manufacturing, retail, government, academia and environmental and labor organizations to serve on the standards committee charged with the task of reaching consensus on creating a national standard for sustainable agriculture by April 2010. The standards committee held its first meeting Sept. 25 and 26 in Madison, Wisc. Eight representatives from floriculture were appointed to the committee.
When committee members began to discuss the standard as proposed, it became clear they needed to start all over to establish a shared vision and guiding principles, and more importantly, determine true market needs and if there’s enough buy-in to even pursue national certification standards. The standards committee will be forming working groups to:
- Conduct a needs assessment for the sustainability standard, including potential market and agricultural applications.
- Review and articulate the mission, principles and scope of work ahead.
- Collect reference documents to inform the standard-setting process.
- Report on potential methodologies and indicators for measuring various aspects of environmental, social and economic sustainability.
- Identify potential funding sources to support full stakeholder participation in the process.
- Outline outreach opportunities for soliciting involvement from all affected stakeholders.
The committee also will review existing standards and certification programs in the global market and see if they can be incorporated or harmonized. One program that has worked really well for growers in Europe is MPS.
“The issues involved in sustainable agriculture are complex,” says Dr. James Barrett, environmental horticulture department professor at the University of Florida, who served as interim chair of the meeting. “As a result, there are many diverse, valid points of view that will need to be articulated and considered as this process unfolds.”
Key issues include:
- The relationship between organic, mainstream and sustainable agriculture.
- The place of genetically engineered crops in sustainable agriculture.
- The degree to which sustainable agriculture standards should establish a path for continuous improvement.
- Inclusiveness of small and mid-size farms, as well as mainstream and conventional agriculture.
- The sequestration of carbon in soils and the role of agriculture in the global fight against climate change.
- The strength of labor protections.
- The intersection of product safety and sustainability.
- Whether the scope of the standard should extend beyond plant agriculture to include livestock and other sectors of agriculture.
Earlier this year, when many growers who supply Wal-Mart were undergoing VeriFlora certification audits, labor requirements were a big bone of contention because the certification promoted the ability for grower employees to unionize and Wal-Mart is anti-union. VeriFlora will continue its efforts and is not affected by the draft standard based on its model being set aside.
Before the standards committee met, Leonardo Academy faced objections from many key agricultural groups, including USDA and North American Horticultural Supply Association (NAHSA).
USDA voiced its displeasure earlier this summer over the potential impact of the proposed standard and the process designed to create it in a letter to Leonardo Academy President Michael Arny.
NAHSA also recently spoke out in a letter to Arny, and it contacted USDA after obtaining a copy of the USDA letter to Leonardo Academy. NAHSA asked USDA to continue voicing its own concerns over the standards because they fall in direct line with its own thinking. Leonardo Academy did, however, respond to USDA’s initial letter earlier this summer.
“Our association, along with many others in the horticultural sector, applied for membership on the stakeholder committee, following all rules and the procedure of the Leonardo Academy during application. We were denied a seat on the committee,” wrote Sarah Hagy, executive director of NAHSA, in her letter to USDA. “We feel the slated committee is unable to offer an informed and balanced opinion regarding horticultural growers and retailers and will not be able to provide the expertise and insight to represent our industry.”
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the United States Department of Commerce, also supported USDA’s stance in a letter to Procedures and Standards Administration Accreditation Services. OFA published the letter in an e-bulletin this week.
At Greenhouse Grower, we are pleased the committee decided to start over instead of fighting over the draft standards as presented. This is great news and has restored our faith that those who were chosen to represent agriculture are listening.