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Washington — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking comments on a proposal for a new industry-funded research and promotion program.

The proposed Organic Research, Promotion, and Information Order would cover certified organic products and would include a range of agricultural commodities, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, poultry, breads, grains, snack foods, condiments, beverages, and packaged and prepared foods. It would also include non-food items, such as textiles, personal care products, pet food, and flowers. Organic imports – both those certified under the USDA organic regulations and those entering the U.S. under an organic equivalency arrangement – would also be covered.

Like all USDA R&P programs, the proposed program would establish a framework to pool resources to develop new organic markets, strengthen existing markets, and conduct important research and promotion activities. Under the proposed order, certified domestic producers, certified handlers and importers of organic products would pay the following initial assessment rate:

Producers and handlers with gross organic sales greater than $250,000 for the prior marketing year would pay one tenth of one percent of net organic sales; and Importers of organic products declaring a transaction value greater than $250,000 for the prior marketing year would pay one tenth of one percent of the declared transaction value of organic products imported into the United States.

The program would provide exemptions for:

  • Producers and handlers with gross organic sales of $250,000 or less during the prior marketing year;
  • Importers with $250,000 or less in transaction value of imported organic products during the prior marketing year; and
  • Organic products produced domestically and exported from the United States.

The proposed order would provide otherwise exempt producers, handlers, and importers the option of being voluntarily assessed and participating in the program.

A 17-member board would be appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to administer the program and would be responsible for developing, financing and coordinating activities to support research to benefit the organic industry, to raise consumer awareness of certified organic products in the marketplace, and to improve access to information and data across the organic sector.

A proposed rule with information about the proposed program will be published in the Jan. 18, 2017 Federal Register. A 60-day public comment period, ending on March 20, 2017, will follow the publication of the proposed rule.  Comments should be posted on www.regulations.gov or mailed to: Promotion and Economics Division, SCP, AMS, USDA, Room 1406, Stop 0244, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC  20250-0244.

Copies of the proposed rule may be requested from the address above or viewed at www.regulations.gov.

Should USDA proceed with promulgating a program based on public comments, a referendum would be held to determine whether a majority of eligible domestic producers, handlers and importers support a program prior to it going into effect.

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