AUSTIN, Texas -- The Organic Trade Association appears perfectly positioned to serve as a resource to help retailers and others understand the new organic standards and apply them in the best way for business.
Not accidentally, the OTA, based in Greenville, Mass., will host its first trade show and conference this week -- not even a month after the new USDA regulations became effective, and 17 months before full implementation.
"All Things Organic," the association's premiere trade show and conference, is being held in the Austin Convention Center May 17 to 19. It has attracted 175 exhibitors and expects to draw 1,000 to 1,500 people, according to the OTA.
OTA will hold two Good Organic Retailing Practices Training sessions, one on Saturday, May 19, and a second the next day. Food retailers need to follow the regulations so that they know proper labeling, how to avoid commingling and how to handle product in the back of the house.
Katherine DeMatteo, executive director of the OTA, has worked intensively over the past decade for a national standard for organically produced foods. In its 16 years of existence, the OTA has promoted organic products in the marketplace. Its mission is to encourage global sustainability through promoting and protecting the growth of diverse organic trade.
Jim Lee, president of Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., directs people to the OTA when they call with questions about organic labeling. "We support their position, and we have worked with them for a long time," he said. Wild Oats Markets and Whole Foods Market, headquartered here, are sponsors of the conference, along with United Natural Foods, Horizon Organic Dairy, Wholesome Sweeteners, the Rodale Institute, Organic Essentials, Quality Assurance International, Global Organics and Tradin Organics, USA. The event is being produced by Eurich Management, Lansing, Mich.
The education panels will include several experts: Kathleen Merrigan (former administrator of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service), Keith Jones (National Organic Program), David Arvelo (FDA's SW Regional Office), Carolyn Brickey (National Organic Standards Board), Leslie McKinnon (Texas Department of Agriculture), Susan Stewart (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), Leslie Fair (Federal Trade Commission) and Barbara Robinson (the USDA's Transportation and Marketing Division).
Plus, there is a session for certifiers on the USDA's accreditation that the USDA is conducting on Wednesday, May 16. There is also a training workshop for textile merchants on "Integrating Organic Fiber Into Your Product Line," held on Saturday for three-and-a-half hours.
"A couple of things make it exciting for the organic industry," said Holly Givens, spokeswoman for the OTA. "The conversations really focus on organic production, and there will be a lot of talk about the regulations and what effect they will have." Further information is available by visiting the OTA's Web site, www.ota.com.
Among the highlights of "All Things Organic" will be a keynote address Saturday morning by commentator and political analyst Jim Hightower. His talk will follow the OTA's Annual Meeting breakfast.
New York Times Magazine writer Michael Pollan will open the conference's educational program with a talk on Thursday, May 17, called "Botany of Desire." In the afternoon, he will interview onstage Gene Kahn, president of Small Planet Foods, Sedro-Woolley, Wash., and Dave DeCou of the Organically Grown Co-Op for the second general session, on the topic of "Staying Competitive in a Changing Environment." This session will examine how businesses are coping with industry growth and change, from the point of view of two very differently organized companies.
The first general session follows, regarding the new federal standards and regulations for organic products. Breakout sessions follow each of the three general sessions to help the attendees focus on their particular business.
The trade show will open at noon on Friday. Show hours will be from noon to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. All conference and trade show participants are invited to a mixer-type reception on the trade show floor on Friday.
A yoga session precedes the Saturday events; organic foods will be served at meals; food sampling will be done on reusable or biodegradable dishes, and organic fiber will be used as part of the draping in the exhibit hall.