(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)
As we’ve reported previously, many of us believe the USDA label regulates more than it actually does. For example, the USDA rules focus on mitigating environmental damage through the use of synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge, and genetic engineering. All of that is a good start, but many feel it doesn’t go far enough when it comes to ensuring healthy soil, biodiversity, and high animal welfare standards.
Related: The Organic Trade Association Is Suing The USDA On Behalf Of Chicken Welfare
The Rodale Institute, which is spearheading the Regenerative Organic Certification label along with a coalition of farmers, scientists, nonprofits, and sustainably-minded companies, aims to plug the gaps in the USDA standards and address some of these long-held consumer concerns. The Regenerative Organic Certification consists of three pillars: soil health, social fairness, and animal welfare.
This 4-year-old vegetarian definitely cares a lot about where his food comes from:
The first pillar, soil health, is one of the founding principles of the Rodale Institute and has been the basis for much of their research over the past 70 years. They believe that organic agriculture should do more than just strive to mitigate damage to soil; instead, it should—and can—improve soil quality over time by adding nutrients and building up organic matter. In fact, research conducted by the Institute in 2014 estimated that if all current farmland and pasture shifted to regenerative organic practices, 100% of annual carbon dioxide emissions could be sequestered in the soil. The Regenerative Organic Certification moves towards making this a reality by promoting the use of cover crops, no or low tillage, and rotational grazing. (This small farm used regenerative practices to save farmland damaged by conventional practices, including pesticides and over tilling.)
Related: 3 Scientifically Proven Ways Organic Food Is Safer And Better For Your Health
The social fairness pillar of the new label is entirely missing from the USDA organic standards. It draws on international Fair Trade standards that protect growers in developing countries who are often exploited with harsh working conditions and meager compensation by big corporations. The Fair For Life label, which also serves as inspiration, extends Fair Trade standards to all countries, though it is not as widely recognized. However, the Regenerative Organic Certification is unique in considering human welfare a part of organic agriculture, making it as important as soil and animal welfare. Notably, the certification requires that living wages be paid to all farm workers and sets fair pricing standards.
Related: Why Grass-Fed Dairy Is Better For You—And How To Avoid The Fake Stuff
In terms of animal welfare, the Regenerative Organic Certification looks for grass-fed and pasture raised animals, which goes further than the USDA organic rules, which only say animals must have access to the outdoors and that rudiments, like cows and sheep, must have access to pasture land during the grazing season, a minimum of 120 days a year. The new label would also prohibit concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are massive industrialized feedlots that cram upwards of 1000 cattle into crowded, concrete quarters. In addition, it would adhere to the five freedoms of animal welfare, and seek to minimize transport distances for animals that can lead to excess suffering.
The label, which is being administered by NSF International, is currently undergoing a public review period that lasts until October 12, 2017. You are encouraged read the certification details here and send feedback.