In June, representatives from National Co+op Grocers visited Capitol Hill as part of the National Organic Coalition’s (NOC) annual “Hill Day.” NCG is a cofounder and active member of NOC, which is a coalition of fourteen member organizations that advocate for federal programs to support organic agriculture and strong organic standards. NOC retains a full time legislative consultant, Steve Etka, who works year round to build relationships with lawmakers and federal agencies. Hill Day is NOC’s yearly opportunity to descend upon D.C. as a group and talk directly with key decision makers.
The purpose of the Hill Day visits was to educate political leaders about specific issues related to organic agriculture. These include: asking for more organic research that would help increase the local organic food supply, advocating for organic certification cost-sharing, funding regionally-adapted crop and livestock breeding programs, preventing GMO cross-contamination with organic farms and ensuring that organic farmers are fairly compensated if cross-contamination does occur, and improving animal welfare standards.
“NCG partners with a number of likeminded organizations through which we build relationships with legal, policy and scientific experts on priority advocacy issues,” said Robynn Shrader, CEO of NCG. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with NOC’s diverse membership,” said Allie Mentzer, NCG’s advocacy specialist who participated in Hill day, meeting with legislators individually as well as with NOC as a group. “Hill Day is another opportunity for NCG to literally have a seat at the table in Washington, DC and inform key decision-makers about some of the issues that are important to NCG co-ops and their members.”
Mentzer noted that a majority of NCG’s advocacy work is focused on increased organic agriculture and maintaining organic standards. “Many of our member stores sell organic products, and our work is to help increase the domestic supply of organic foods while also meeting our consumer’s expectations for strong standards behind the USDA Certified Organic label,” she said.
“Trust in our merchandise is one of the most-cited reason our customers shop at BriarPatch Co-op,” said Mellisa Hannum, communication specialist at BriarPatch Co-op in Grass Valley, Calif. The NCG’s advocacy dovetails with their own work in the community by keeping the need for organic foods in the forefront of their customers’ and farmers’ thoughts and focus. “NCG is viewed as a trusted source in our community,” she said. “Their organic advocacy work, done at the national level, helps support our organic promotion at the local level—both because it accentuates the importance of organic, as well as underscoring the trustworthiness and desirability of certification.”
The NCG and its partners continue to strongly advocate for consistent and meaningful organic standards, Mentzer said, “The beautiful thing about organic is that a spirit of continuous improvement is written into the federal law which governs it. USDA Certified Organic already represents a highly regulated and transparent food system, and thanks to the dedicated work of our many partners, continues to improve over time to the benefit of consumers, farmers and the environment.”