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Certified organic producer perceptions of U.S. organic regulations and organic certifying agents

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Title:
Certified organic producer perceptions of U.S. organic regulations and organic certifying agents
Creator:
Weible, Christopher M.
Brett, John
Siddiki, Saba N.
Basurto, Xavier
Place of Publication:
Denver, Colo.
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School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado
School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University
Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
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English

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Abstract:
Organic food is one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. agricultural industry. Be-tween the years 1990 and 2010, national sales of organic food grew from $1 billion to $26.7 billion.1 From 2009 to 2010 alone the sector grew eight percent – eight times the growth of the food industry as a whole.2 Central to the continued growth of the organic food sector is consumer confidence in the legitimacy of food products marketed and sold as “organic.”3

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University of Colorado Denver
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Copyright [name of copyright holder or Creator or Publisher as appropriate]. Permission granted to University of Colorado Denver to digitize and display this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.

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Certified Organic Producer Perceptions of U.S. Organic Regulations and Organic Certifying Agents
Produced by the Workshop on Policy Process Research at the School of Public Affairs,
University of Colorado Denver
Summary Report November 2014
School of Public Affairs
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO DENVER
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IUPUI
SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS
INDIANA UNIVERSITY Indianapolis
Duke ?
NICHOLAS SCHOOL OF THE
ENVIRONMENT


Research Team
Christopher M. Weible
Associate Professor David P. Carter
PhD Candidate School of Public Affairs University of Colorado Denver
John Brett
Associate Professor Department of Anthropology University of Colorado Denver
Saba N. Siddiki
Assistant Professor Sara Miller Chonaiew
MPA student
School of Public and Environmental Affairs Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Xavier Basurto
Assistant Professor
Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University
Funding & Acknowledgements
This study is part of a research project entitled "Assessing Policy Designs and Improving Outcomes: An Institutional and Behavioral Analysis of the U.S. National Organic Program, funded by the National Science Foundation grant number 1124541. We are grateful to the individuals that volunteered their time to participate in this project. Any opinions, findings, or conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors affiliated institutions or the National Science Foundation.
Citing this Report
Carter, David P., Christopher M. Weible, Saba N. Siddiki, Sara Miller Chonaiew, John Brett & Xavier Basurto. 2014. "Certified Organic Producer Perceptions of U.S. Organic Regulations and Organic Certifying Agents. School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver.
Questions & Comments
For questions, comments, or requests for more information regarding this summary report and related research, please contact:
Christopher M. Weible Associate Professor School of Public Affairs University of Colorado Denver 1380 Lawrence Street, Suite 500 Denver, CO 80217 (303) 315-2010 Chris.Weible@ucdenver.edu
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Introduction
Organic food is one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. agricultural industry. Between the years 1990 and 2010, national sales of organic food grew from $1 billion to $26.7 billion.1 From 2009 to 2010 alone the sector grew eight percent eight times the growth of the food industry as a whole.2 Central to the continued growth of the organic food sector is consumer confidence in the legitimacy of food products marketed and sold as "organic.3
As established by the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act, organic food marketing in the U.S.A. is governed by the United States Department of Agricultures National Organic Program (NOP). Under the Act, operations that make over $5,000 a year in organic food sales and wish to market their products as "organic must hold organic certification under the NOP. To acquire and maintain organic certification, operations must comply with NOP regulations that establish the practices and input substances that are allowed and prohibited in organic food production.
The NOP design is based on the International Organization for Standardization standards for third-party monitor accreditation and certification systems. As such, the NOP is responsible for accrediting independent third-party organizations (referred to as accredited certifying agents; ACAs), to serve as regulatory administrators. ACAs in turn certify operations according to NOP regulations, and then inspect certified operations for regulatory compliance. As of 2012, the NOP accredited 82 ACAs globally, 48 of which were based in the U.S.A.4 These ACAs have a variety of organizational forms, including private for-profit organizations, nonprofit organizations, and state and county government departments.
Reflecting the diversity of U.S. agriculture, generally, certified organic operations produce a wide variety of products, and are categorized according to four organic certification types: crops, wild crops, livestock and handling. In 2012, the NOP recognized 27,109 organic certifications issued globally. Based on the determination of the research team, 18,212 of these were organic producers (farmers), while the remainder were food product handling and processing facilities.5
This study sought the perspectives of certified organic producers on several facets of organic food regulation in the U.S.A. The objectives of the study were to better understand:
Producer motivations for using organic practices and pursuing organic certification.
Producer selection of accredited certifying agents.
The services provided and regulatory behaviors exhibited by accredited certifying agents.
Producers assessment of U.S. organic regulation appropriateness.
Producers experiences in maintaining compliance with U.S. organic regulations.
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Study Data
The data for the study were collected through an online survey of National Organic Program certified organic producers in the winter of 2013-2014. All certified operations holding any combination of crops, wild crops, and livestock certifications for whom the USDA listed a valid email address were included, representing approximately half of all certified organic producers. Processing operations that held only handling organic certification were excluded. In total, 9,542 domestic and international certified organic producers were sent a survey request. Responses were received from 1,055 domestic producers (17%) and 413 international producers (13%) for a total of 1,468 survey respondents and an overall response rate of 15%.
Key Findings
1. Reducing worker exposure to chemicals, decreasing the environmental impact of agricultural production, and personal values contribute to the use of organic practices, with 86% or more of respondents agreeing that these factors motivate them to choose organic practices over conventional practices (see Question 1).
2. A majority of producers pursue USDA organic certification to differentiate their products from other products claiming to be natural or sustainable, with 75% of respondents listing this factor as "important or "very important (see Question 2).
3. Accredited certifying agent reputation and regulatory expertise are reported to be the most important factors in producers selection of certifiers, with certifier services reported as the least important factor (see Question 3).
4. A solid majority of producers report that their accredited certifying agents and inspectors are highly competent in regards to the National Organic Program regulations (85%), and strictly interpret the regulations (89%; see Question 5).
5. Almost half of producers (49%) express that National Organic Program regulations should more precisely specify allowed and prohibited substances. Seventy percent disagree with allowing more synthetic substances under the regulations (see Question 8).
6. Eighty-five percent of producers agree or strongly agree that National Organic Program regulations increase consumer confidence in products marketed as "organic, while a smaller percentage (59%) indicate that the regulations directly increase consumer understanding of the difference between conventional and organic products (see Question 9).
7. Producers report high levels of compliance with National Organic Program regulations. Under 26% report receiving one or more notices of noncompliance in the last year, 2% report that their operations organic certificate has at some time been suspended, and under 1% indicate that their organic certificate has at some time been revoked. Ninety-three percent disagree when asked if their operation is frequently out of compliance, and 81% deny ignoring trivial instances of noncompliance at their operations (see Questions 10-13).
8. Ninety-five percent of producers report that a concern for their operations reputation is an important reason for maintaining compliance with National Organic Program Regulations, while a minority (37%) indicate that pressure from other certified producers is an important reason for maintaining compliance (see Question 14).
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Section I: Producer motivations for using organic practices and pursuing organic certification
Ql. Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements. I practice organic farming because, compared to conventional practices, it...
Neither
Strongly agree nor Strongly
disagree Disagree disagree Agree agree
reduces workers' exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. 2% 2% 5% 28% 63%
decreases the environmental impact of agricultural production. 2% 3% 7% 27% 60%
more closely aligns with my personal values. 2% 2% 9% 27% 59%
results in superior products. 3% 6% 15% 39% 38%
is more efficient, and requires less technology, equipment or inputs. 10% 27% 30% 21% 13%
Ql(a). (Open ended) Other indicated reasons for pursuing organic practices:
Consumer demand
Higher market price compared to conventional products
Improved animal welfare
Improved soil health
Reduced chemical content of food products
Avoidance of genetically modified organisms
Differentiation of product
Spreading business risks among several markets
Contract requirements
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Q2. How important are the following factors in your decision to be certified USDA organic?
Not at all Slightly Somewhat Very Extremely
important important important important important
To differentiate my products from other products claiming to be 'natural' or 'sustainable' 5% 5% 15% 37% 38%
To support the organic movement by participating in the National Organic Program 12% 13% 24% 30% 23%
To increase my operation's profits 10% 10% 28% 30% 21%
To avoid the penalty of marketing non-certified products as 'organic' 41% 11% 15% 16% 16%
Q2(a). (Open ended) Other indicated factors in the decision to be certified USDA organic:
Import and export sales
Contract or purchaser requirements
Consumer trust in organic products
To encourage others to adopt organic practices
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Section II: Producer selection of accredited certifying agents
Q3. How important were the following factors in selecting your organic certifier?
Not at all important Slightly important Somewhat important Very important Extremely important
Certifier reputation 8% 6% 19% 39% 27%
Certifier expertise regarding the
National Organic Program regulations 9% 7% 21% 40% 22%
Certifier expertise regarding your
organic products 9% 9% 23% 38% 22%
Certifier proximity to your operation 17% 12% 24% 27% 19%
Cost of services 11% 12% 34% 29% 15%
The particular services offered by
your certifier 11% 14% 28% 33% 13%
Q3(a). (Open ended) Other indicated factors in selecting an organic certifier:
Only available certifier in the area
Local/regional knowledge
Quick turn-around on paperwork, inspections, and certification decisions
Customer service
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Section III: The services provided and regulatory behaviors exhibited by
accredited certifying agents
Q4. How would you rate the quality of the following services provided by your certifier and inspectors?
Very Not
Poor Fair Good good Excellent provided
Education related to National Organic Program regulations 4% 12% 25% 29% 26% 4%
Education related to organic practices 5% 11% 24% 26% 27% 7%
Organic Systems Plan guidance 6% 12% 25% 29% 21% 6%
Advocacy related to organic policy 4% 11% 21% 27% 26% 11%
Marketing 12% 19% 24% 15% 9% 20%
Additional certification labeling such as "fair trade" or "gluten free" 11% 11% 16% 10% 7% 45%
Q4(a). (Open ended) Other indicated services provided by organic certifiers:
Export labeling
Apprenticeship and training
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Q5. What is your level of agreement with the following statements regarding your certifier and inspec-
tors?
Neither
Strongly agree nor Strongly
disagree Disagree disagree Agree agree
Mv certifier is highly competent regarding the National Organic Program regulations. <1% 2% 9% 49% 40%
Mv inspectors are highly competent regarding the National Organic Program regulations. 1% 3% 11% 50% 36%
Mv certifier strictly interprets the National Organic Program regulations. <1% <1% 12% 49% 38%
Mv inspectors strictly interpret the National Organic Program regulations. <1% 2% 12% 50% 35%
Mv certifier understands the intricacies of my organic business. 2% 7% 19% 46% 26%
Mv inspectors understand the intricacies of my organic business. 2% 7% 17% 45% 28%
Q6. How many times in the last year has your organic certifier conducted the following inspections of your operation?
Has not conducted Once Twice Three or more times 1 don't know
Scheduled inspection 2% 84% 10% 4% <1%
Unannounced inspection 75% 17% 1% <1% 6%
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Q7. What is your level of agreement with the following statements regarding your certifier and
inspectors?
Neither
Strongly agree nor Strongly
disagree Disagree disagree Agree agree
My certifier always administers notices of noncompliance for serious issues. <1% 2% 29% 43% 25%
My certifier always administers notices of noncompliance for minor issues. 1% 8% 35% 41% 16%
Before administering a formal notice of noncompliance, my certifier always allows me to correct the noncompliance 5% 13% 35% 33% 13%
issue.
Mv certifier frequently offers infor-mation and/or assistance that help me comply with National Organic Program regulations. 4% 10% 22% 45% 19%
Mv inspectors frequently offer infor-mation and/or assistance that help me comply with National Organic Program regulations. 5% 11% 24% 42% 18%
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Section IV: Producers' assessment of U.S. organic regulation appropriateness
Q8. Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements: The National Organic Program regulations...
Strongly disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly agree
establish a minimum standard for organic practices, but my operation goes 1% 5% 28% 42% 23%
"above and beyond" the requirements.
reflect what 1 consider to be ideal organ-
ic standards. 4% 18% 34% 39% 5%
should specify allowed and prohibited
production practices more precisely. 3% 12% 36% 38% 11%
should allow more synthetic substances. 35% 35% 20% 8% 2%
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Q9. Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements: The National Organic Pro-
gram regulations directly result in...
Neither
Strongly agree nor Strongly
disagree Disagree disagree Agree agree
increased consumer confidence in the integrity of products marketed as "organic." <1% 3% 11% 59% 26%
improved environmental conditions and biodiversity. 1% 5% 19% 49% 26%
potential organic producers opting out of Program participation due to burdensome certification requirements. 3% 16% 27% 38% 16%
a profitable organic market for my products. 3% 11% 29% 44% 13%
increased consumer understanding of the difference between organic and conventional products. 4% 16% 22% 46% 13%
cooptation of the organic market by "Big Ag." 2% 10% 43% 33% 12%
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Section V. Producers' experiences in maintaining compliance with U.S. organic
regulations
Q10. Approximately how many notices of noncompliance has your operation received in the past year?
None ] 2 to 3 4 to 5 Over 5 1 don't know
74% 16% 8% 1% <1% <1%
Qll. Has your operations organic certification ever been suspended?
No Yes 1 don't know
96% 2% 2%
Q12. Has your operations organic certification ever been revoked?
No Yes 1 don't know
99% <1% <1%
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Q13. What is your level of agreement with the following statements regarding your operations compli-
ance with National Organic Program regulations?
Strongly disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly agree
1 immediately notify my certifier of noncompliances at my operation. 3% 7% 31% 11% 48%
When my operation is not in compliance, it is for administrative requirements such as paperwork. 12% 13% 31% 10% 34%
Maintaining compliance is extremely difficult. 13% 45% 13% 4% 25%
1 ignore noncompliances at my operation that 1 consider to be trivial. 47% 34% 3% 1% 15%
My operation is frequently out of compliance. 60% 33% 2% <1% 5%
Q14. How important are each of the following reasons for you in maintaining compliance with National Organic Program regulations?
Not at all important Moderately important Extremely important
A concern for your operation's reputation 4% 15% 80%
A personal sense of duty 2% 18% 79%
Fear of penalty from your certifier 29% 44% 27%
Fear of penalty from the National Organic Program 31% 42% 27%
Pressure from other certified producers 63% 28% 9%
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Section VI. Survey respondent demographic characteristics
Q15. U.S. domestic vs. international survey respondents:
Domestic 72%
International 28%
Q16. Was your operation certified organic prior to the implementation of the National Organic Program in 2002?
No 61%
Yes 36%
1 don't know 3%
Q17. How would you characterize the size of your operation, relative to other operations producing similar certified organic products?
Smallest 10%
Small 37%
Average 32%
Large 16%
Largest 3%
1 don't know 3%
Q18. Please indicate your professional role(s) within your organization (Check all that apply):
Owner or manager 68%
Field supervisor 19%
Farm hand 16%
Crew foreman 12%
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Q19. Please indicate the scope(s) for which your operation is currently certified USDA organic (check all that apply):
Crops 67%
Handling 16%
Livestock 14%
Wild crops 1%
Q20. Please indicate the types of commodities you produce, and whether they are certified organic or not (check all that apply):
Certified NOT-Certified
Organic Organic
Vegetable crops 31% 5%
Grains, alfalfa, mixed hay, other field crops 24% 5%
Tree or vine fruit, nut crops 24% 4%
Herb crops 22% 3%
Brambles, berries 15% 3%
Nursery, floriculture, greenhouse crops 11% 3%
Beef 7% 6%
Eggs 5% 6%
Dairy products 5% 2%
Poultry 4% 5%
Apiculture 3% 4%
Lamb 2% 3%
Pork 1% 5%
Other 12% 3%
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End Notes
1. Organic Trade Industry. (2011). U.S. organic industry overview. Retrieved from http:// www.ota.com/pics/documents/20110rganicIndustiySurvey.pdf. Accessed October 7, 2014.
2. Reuters. (April 8, 2011). Organic farming grew eight percent in 2010. Retrieved from http:// www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/18/idUS3458720020110418 Accessed October 7, 2014.
3. Spnderskov, K. M. & Daugjberg, C. (2010). The state and consumer confidence in eco-labeling: Organic labeling in Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Agriculture and Human Values, 28(4), 507-517.
4. National Organic Program. (2014). USDA Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs). Retrieved from http://www.ams.usda.gov. Accessed October 7, 2014.
5. As of the writing of this report, the NOP published a list of all certified operations which is available at the NOP website: http://www.ams.usda.gOv/AMSvl.0/nop.
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Workshop on Policy Process Research
School of Public Affairs University of Colorado Denver 1380 Lawrence Street, Suite 500 Denver, CO 80204 www.ucdenver.edu
The Workshop on Policy Process Research is
a research center under the School of Public Affair's Buechner Institute for Governance at the University of Colorado Denver. The Workshop brings faculty and students together in the pursuit of cutting-edge research focusing on the interactions between individuals, public policy, and contemporary governance.
Contact:
Christopher M. Weible Workshop on Policy Process Research School of Public Affairs University of Colorado Denver (303) 315-2010 Chris.Weible@ucdenver.edu
BUECHNER INSTITUTE FOR m
Governance /flit
School of Public Affairs
University of Colorado Denver
School of Public Affairs
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO DENVER
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