The National Organic Program has enjoyed a high level of consumer loyalty for most of its seven years. But the program’s mission to uphold standards seems to have come in conflict with the industry’s breakneck expansion. Last week, The Washington Post ran a lengthy story that summed up many of the frustrations the organic community has with the NOP. One telling detail it highlighted: The list of non-organic items allowed under the program has ballooned from 77 in 2002 to 245 currently.
Okay, so the integrity of the organic label is coming under some intense scrutiny. Luckily, though, the new administration isn’t tone deaf. Much to the delight of core users who fear organic has become tainted by synthetic ingredients and operational shortcuts, late last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the NOP will undergo an independent audit this fall. Lasting several months, the audit will look at the program’s more than 100 private certifiers and determine whether or not they’re operating up to snuff, what changes need to be made, and so on.
It’s always good to get a tune up. And after several years of double-digit sales growth and expansion into nearly every category of the supermarket, the organic program could really use it.
Here’s hoping this chance to step back and inspect the system yields some helpful solutions. The organic program could certainly use some added transparency — and the consumer confidence that comes with it.