|The offices of MOFGA Certification Services LLC are now at 38 School Street in Unity Village. Photo by Chris Grigsby|
By Chris Grigsby, Director, MOFGA Certification Services LLC
As many know, MOFGA has been certifying organic operations for decades. We are proud to have been one of the first in the nation and well ahead of USDA adoption of the National Organic Program (NOP) in 2002. At that time, MOFGA received accreditation from USDA to be a certifier under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. To comply with regulatory parameters of the NOP rule, which prohibits certifiers from engaging in technical assistance, education and advocacy of organic agriculture – critical parts of MOFGA’s mission – MOFGA formed a single-member limited liability corporation (LLC) to house certification activities. This separate entity, of which MOFGA is the sole member, allows compliance with the rule while maintaining the partnership of assistance and advocacy that our operations and members expect. MOFGA Certification Services LLC (MCS) has conducted all of MOFGA’s organic certification functions ever since.
This has created a unique situation within the world of accredited certifiers, as few of the roughly 80 organic certifying agencies for USDA are affiliated with a nonprofit parent focused on advancing organic agriculture. This partnership has been crucial to the success of the program and the nationally recognized advancements Maine has made in organic production. Maine has one of the highest numbers of organic farms and producers per capita in the country.
Since the inception of the NOP, organics in this country have come a long way. We are no longer a “fringe” movement and have seen the industry explode over the past decade. Organic products are now found on most grocery store shelves, and consumers are familiar with the term “organic” in ways we have not previously seen. While many may argue that USDA rules have watered down the true intent of organic agriculture, MOFGA has maintained, in many cases, policies and interpretations of the national rules that maintain greater integrity than the original intent.
Recent articles in the press have exposed challenges the industry faces due to accelerated growth, such as mega-dairies in the western U.S. and fraudulent imported grain from Eastern Europe. These stories have led consumers and advocacy groups to question the system of certifying and organic integrity. From this outcry the NOP has refocused and reevaluated the way some certifiers interpret the regulation. MCS primarily certifies small to midsize operations selling locally and regionally, although we are cognizant that consistency and trust in the marketplace are the cornerstones of success for organics in general.
To that end, MCS and MOFGA are analyzing our role within the marketplace and are committed to ensuring consumer confidence in the MOFGA Certified Organic seal. We believe that we have a large role in the partnership among producers and consumers and all stakeholders in between. This is truly a partnership of many stakeholders: producers, certifiers, distributors, consumers, advocates, regulators and legislators, among others. For certified organic products to continue to succeed in the marketplace, we need to foster the idea of win-win partnerships at all levels.
As we consider what a win-win partnership looks like, we must consider all stakeholders, but most of all we need to consider the concept of “value.” What is the value of the organic label? What does “value” mean for all stakeholders at the table? The producer, the end user, and the industry will all feel the implications of any discussion of value.
We are often asked, “Why certify?” This is, after all, a voluntary label. The reason why any operation would certify – in addition to the philosophy of organic production – is largely due to market demand, or at the very least market potential. For the producer, the value of certifying can include premium pricing and market recognition of sustainable practices. The consumer receives the affirmation of a healthier choice and environmental stewardship. Win-Win! Additionally, and as the industry continues to grow to meet the consumer demands of the marketplace, the foundation of organic has come under threat. The consolidation of ownership and lack of investment in domestic production are some of the many contributing factors. To maintain this foundation now and in the future, we must ensure unwavering confidence in organic integrity.
We know, now more than ever, that anyone can say anything. False claims come at us every day. Certified organic as a marketing tool, backed by rigorous third-party verification, cuts through a lot of the uncertainty of the marketing claim. Certified organic by MOFGA tells consumers that the product they are purchasing was grown or produced by a trustworthy, honest and hardworking operation that is committed and dedicated to the philosophy of organic agriculture.
Being a certified organic operation is hard work. The requirements are challenging. Sometimes in our marketplace we find false claims or cheating and feel we are waging an uphill battle. Yet we continue to find and be driven by value – whether that is a stellar sales day at the farmers’ market, the excitement of seeing a bumper crop in the field or a herd of happy cows on open pasture. We feel a sense of value in the partnership.
We will rely on these partnerships more and more as the industry grows. We cannot lose sight of the original intent of the organic rules, especially in an increasingly hostile legislative and regulatory battlefield. MOFGA has been at the table since the beginning, fostering these very conversations. We will continue to be that voice, along with all of our partners. We ask that you be there with us.
MOFGA Certification Services Moves to New Unity Location
To accommodate MOFGA’s growing staff, MCS has moved from 210 Crosby Brook Road in Thorndike to 38 School Street in Unity Village. Only our physical address has changed; all mailing still comes through the same the Post Office box.
We are excited to be sharing the neighborhood with the Unity Food Hub and the Unity Community Center, the farmers’ market and Unity Barn Raisers! Stop in for a visit if you’re in the area. We would love to see you!
MOFGA Certification Services, LLC
38 School Street
Unity, Maine 04988
P.O. Box 170
Unity, Maine 04988