Wild Farm Alliance (WFA) published a new report on how Organic System Plans (OSP) are addressing biodiversity. OSPs ensure certifiers, inspectors and farmers are implementing sound practices that represent the integrity of the organic label. While each certifier has a unique OSP they use to ensure compliance, not all are operating on the same playing field in terms of biodiversity conservation - each having varying degrees of biodiversity language and practices.
Our new report is based on a systematic review of a majority of US based certifiers’ OSPs. As a leading organization working on improving biodiversity conservation in organic agriculture, WFA can state that organic certifiers are moving in the right direction but, nearly two decades after the roll out of the NOP, most US certifiers are significantly deficient when it comes to addressing the intent and letter of the standards related to biodiversity.
We successfully engaged 42 of the 48 US based certifiers and obtained some or all parts of their OSPs. Using the model OSP developed in our 2016 Biodiversity Conservation: An Organic Farmers’ and Certifiers’ Guide, we evaluated how well certifiers’ OSPs are conforming to the requirements. What we found is that across the board, and for both cropland and livestock OSPs, certifiers need to update their OSPs to better address biodiversity conservation.
Specifically, only 8 percent of the livestock OSPs and 24 percent of the cropland OSPs addressed 50 percent or more of our model OSP questions - leaving a lot of room for improvement. In order to find out where the gaps were, we looked more closely at how livestock and cropland OSPs addressed biodiversity in questions directed at Soil Biology and Conservation, Wildlife and Habitat Protection and Water Conservation and Quality.
Again for both livestock and cropland OSPs, soil biology and conservation questions had the most questions that used a biodiversity lens. Most likely due to the fact that there has been an international movement to increase soil biodiversity. However, the other two biodiversity categories, wildlife and habitat protection and water conservation and quality, fell way behind. These results indicate that a larger effort (similar to the one to increase soil biodiversity) is needed to better protect water and wildlife in agriculture and this is an important part of WFA’s work and mission.
We also recognize that many certifiers are currently in the process of updating their OSPs and improving the biodiversity lens on their questions, in fact, we have worked with several certifiers over the last year. Our analysis is based on the OSPs currently used in the spring of 2017. We anticipate that in our next analysis (2018) we will see an increase in OSP questions that assess biodiversity protection.
Protecting biodiversity is a fundamental principle of the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. Organic farmers, certifiers, and inspectors have the responsibility to ensure that operations using the organic label do just that. Putting a biodiversity lens on OSP questions is one of the best ways to ensure that biodiversity is incorporated into organic farm operations. Those who first wrote the standards in 2000 had the foresight to understand that biodiversity is the foundation of all living systems, including vibrant and productive farms.
Organic means more than just no prohibited substances; it means food and farms that carry this label are actively working to create healthier ecosystems; it means organic food and farming embody more—supporting the beauty and functionality that biodiversity provides on the farm and to our plate.
Based on our analysis and review of the majority of organic system plans used to certify organic farmers in the U.S., we have several recommendations.
The NOP needs to better enforce the improvement and implementation of OSPs to ensure they are truly protective of biodiversity.
The NOP is mandated with ensuring certifiers and ultimately farmers are following the organic standards. WFA will continue to provide input to the NOP and USDA on how this oversight can be improved to ensure certifiers are adequately addressing this issue on the OSPs.
Biodiversity is defined by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and footnoted as such in NOP’s Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation Guidance, but the definition needs to be incorporated into the regulation.
WFA is working to ensure the organic standards language is fully reflective of biodiversity protection.
Farmers, certifiers, inspectors, and other agriculture and conservation professionals need more education and resources on how to correctly implement practices to protect biodiversity and effectively meet the organic standards.
WFA is outreaching to these audiences on specific practices that protect biodiversity.
Certifiers need to continually update their OSPs to improve our organic farming practices.
OSPs need to not only be updated to increase practices that protect biodiversity, but they also need to be updated to include more questions about practices that integrate resiliency, food safety, and diversification – all are emerging topics that significantly affect our agricultural systems. WFA is reaching out and working with certifiers to update OSPs to reflect these emerging topics and prepare their farmers to face future challenges.