An article in Salon outlines a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture ruling which will require every farm in a cooperative to be inspected annually in order to receive organic certification. Previously, about 20% of the farms were inspected annually. The growers and management of the co-op made sure all farms, not just those being inspected, followed the rules. Given the large number of small farmers in some co-ops and their often remote locations, this staggered inspection is the only practical way to certify these growers.
Since farms must pay inspectors, the added cost could prove to make organic certification too expensive for small farmers. Should this ruling really be enforced, it would surely drastically reduce the number of farms offering organic coffee (big plantations would be able to afford it). Stripping the added revenue brought in by organic certification would drive many small farmers out of the coffee business (the ruling covers all organic crops, by the way). Hello land-clearing, pastures, drug crops, and other far less ecologically-friendly alternatives. For a bit more, a little backgrounder on organic coffee and why it’s important from Bloggle, and a deeper post at the Gristmill blog on how this ruling will impact farmers in the developing world. I’ve also written a series on coffee pests, pesticides, and organic certification.
This was an (apparently overzealous) administrative ruling in response to an appeal by a Mexican farmer who was denied certification. I’m not familiar with how binding these rulings are and how they are codified and enforced. But the coffee industry and consumers have started to mobilize. The author of the Salon piece, Samuel Fromartz, is following the issue on his blog and discusses here how the specialty coffee world is beginning to respond. And Nora Edison and Chris Neumann of Sweetwater Organic Coffee Roasters sent me a link to a petition to be sent to the USDA asking them to reconsider their policy change. They are seeking 10,000 signatures, so it can’t hurt to sign on: