Agriculture Abandons Sustainability Standards Initiative
Agricultural representatives withdrew en masse Monday from the Leonardo Academy’s sustainable agriculture standard setting initiative, citing systemic limitations and chronic anti-agriculture biases inherent in the writing committee structure set up for this initiative.
The nearly 60-member committee has six greenhouse floriculture representatives. They are:
–Ximena Franco-Villegas, Asocoflores
–Mark Yelanich, Metrolina Greenhouses
–Will Healy, Ball Horticultural Company
–Alvin J. Bussan, University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Horticulture
–Stan Pohmer, Pohmer Consulting Group
–Jim Barrett, University of Florida Environmental Horticulture Department
Linda Brown of Scientific Certification Systems and Jacques Wolbert of MPS-ECAS, both of whom represent sustainability certification services within our industry, are also on the committee as part of the general interest category.
Greenhouse floriculture’s members did not withdraw from the committee. A letter addressed to Michael Arny, Leonardo Academy president, was, however, signed by 10 national agricultural-organization voting members on the nearly 60-member committee. The letter was endorsed by 46 other agricultural organizations nationwide.
The Leonardo Academy and its principal financial sponsor, Scientific Certification Systems, had undertaken an effort in 2007 to develop a national standard for sustainable agriculture under a consensus-based process governed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
“This decision was not made easily,” says Ron Moore, American Soybean Association and acting chair of the Leonardo Academy’s standard committee, “for it means walking away from nearly two years of investment in active Leonardo Committee membership, subcommittee leadership and writing group participation. However, farmers will embrace a standard for sustainability only if they are allowed fair representation in its development. Unfortunately, mainstream agriculture has been given a decidedly minor voice in a Leonardo Academy process dominated by others. We will pursue, in another venue, the development and implementation of a valid approach to agricultural sustainability.”
Adds Russell Williams, American Farm Bureau Federation: “Despite Leonardo’s claim that the committee is made up of members from ‘across all areas of agriculture,’ in reality the committee is dominated by environmental groups, certification consultants, agro-ecology and organic farming proponents. Based on their recent actions, it is apparent that these groups have neither the vision nor desire to speak for mainstream agriculture or the 95 percent of farmers who will be materially affected by any resulting standard.
From the start, agricultural representatives say the Leonardo initiative was poorly executed. In a September 11, 2008 letter to ANSI, the U.S. Department of Agriculture challenged Leonardo’s ANSI accreditation as a standards development organization for numerous fundamental flaws in committee setup and management.
Despite these committee limitations, agricultural representatives worked within the Leonardo Academy process for nearly two years to achieve broad consensus on achievable environmental, economic and social components of sustainability. Ag reps, however, say recent actions by others on the committee undercut this consensus and agriculture’s contributions.