New Organic Certification Will Help Shoppers Choose Sustainable Products

Regenerative Organic Certification is the highest standard for organic agriculture in the world.

Apricot Lane avocado oil is one of the newly certified products
Apricot Lane avocado oil is one of the newly certified products.

Apricot Lane Farms via Patagonia (used with permission)

There's a new certification in the farming world. Called the Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) standard, it uses the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic certification as its baseline, then adds further criteria for soil, animal, and worker health and wellbeing. This makes it "the highest standard for organic agriculture in the world." It will be used for food, fiber, and personal care products.

The ROC standard was created by the Regenerative Organic Alliance, which formed in 2018 to respond to the growing need for a better agricultural economy. As a press release explains, it "exists to heal a broken system, repair a damaged planet, and empower farmers and consumers to forge a brighter future through better farming." The Alliance includes big names such as Patagonia, Dr. Bronner's, Textile Exchange, Fair World Project, and the Rodale Institute, all of which are known for their own progressive agricultural standards and add some real credibility to the new ROC certification.

The standard is built upon three pillars of soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness, and participants can achieve bronze, silver, or gold levels of certification, based on the extent of their participation. For optimal soil health, the farming method must use cover crops and rotate them, avoid GMOs and synthetic inputs, protect biodiversity, and more. Regarding animal welfare, animals must be free from discomfort, distress, hunger, pain, and allowed to express natural behaviors; they must be pastured-raised, not kept in tight quarters, and minimally transported. As for social fairness, farmers must be paid fairly, be part of democratic organizations, enjoy good working conditions and living wages, benefit from long-term commitments, freedom of association, and more.

Dr Bronner's coconut farmer
A coconut farmer working for Dr Bronner's in Sri Lanka. Dr Bronners via Patagonia (used with permission)

Last year a pilot project was conducted to see how food, textiles, and personal care products could be made to meet the new standard, and now, this summer, the standard is being launched officially in the marketplace. A number of brands who participated in the pilot project are now ROC-certified, with products ranging from avocado oil and coconut oil to oats, bananas, Basmati rice, and popcorn, among others.

In the words of Elizabeth Whitlow, executive director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance,

“The success that these leading, regenerative organic businesses have achieved in only one year is proof that ROC is not only a viable and attainable certification, but that indeed we are shaping the future of agriculture supply chains and consumer demand for truly regenerative organic products. I look forward to growing the certification in the years ahead with many more brands.” 

While it remains to be seen how well the ROC takes in the marketplace, it's precisely the kind of thing we need – a simpler, clearer approach to certifying food and agricultural products as sustainable, particularly since this year's COVID-19 pandemic has "revealed the underlying risks and inequalities in the global food system." Even food policy professor Corinna Hawkes called for something similar to B-Corp certification for food growers in a recent piece in The Conversation, "some sort of instantly recognizable qualification that notifies shoppers of its healthfulness." ROC sounds like a perfect fit.

Patagonia Provisions, the branch of the bigger Patagonia company that sells food (learn more about that interesting project here), will now be the go-to e-commerce store for all ROC products, including ones in the pilot phase and undergoing the transition to full certification.