Is Organic Coffee Doomed?

Will organic-coffee lovers need a different kind of fix, soon? Earlier this month, Salon published a story decrying the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recent tightening of organic-certification requirements. The main sticking point: These revised standards could drastically cut back on the ability of small grower co-ops to produce organic coffee.

"This ruling could wipe out the organic coffee market in the U.S.," says Kimberly Easson, director of strategic relationships for TransFair USA, which certifies fair-trade products in the United States. Worries that the USDA ruling will jack up costs for small-scale organic producers, and drive them back into conventional commodity markets, also abound.From Salon:


Until now, however, there has been a special provision for "grower groups" that made certification practical for farmer cooperatives in the Third World, whose memberships can reach into the thousands. Because of the immense logistical demands of inspecting every farm in a large co-op, a compromise was reached: An organic inspector would randomly visit only a portion of the group's farms each year, usually 20 percent. The grower groups would then self-police the remainder through a manager who made sure they followed the rules. The following year, an inspector would return and visit another 20 percent of the farms. After five years, all farms would be inspected.

But in the ruling made public this month, the National Organic Program overturned that system, saying every farm in a grower group must now be visited and inspected annually—as has been the practice in the United States—rather than only a percentage.

Rodney North of Equal Exchange tells TreeHugger that this move would decertify "tens of thousands of small-scale organic farmers around the world" currently certified through their farmer co-ops. "This would include most of the world’s Fair Trade Certified co-ops," he says. "Not only would this be a huge economic blow to these farmers and their communities, it would also be a big step backwards for the environment, and would shrink the supply of organic foods (especially coffee, tea, bananas, chocolate, and sugar) for U.S. consumers."

In response, Equal Exchange and the National Organic Coalition have put together a petition to the USDA. Note: The deadline to sign the petition is Tuesday, April 24th.

Call us pessimists, but we don't think it's in the USDA's best interest to tick off a bunch of highly caffeinated people. And if chocolate is pulled into the ring? Prepare for one whopper of a throwdown.

Tags: Coffee | Fair Trade

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