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Head of USDA’s organic program steps down after 8 years

The USDA’s National Organic Program will have new leadership as of October when Miles McEvoy steps down after eight years at the helm.

McEvoy, who has been deputy administrator of the National Organic Program within USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, announced his departure in a Sept. 10 letter he said he sent to the “organic community.”

“I’m headed back home to Olympia, WA,” McEvoy wrote in the letter. “It has been an incredible honor to serve you and an extremely gratifying experience. I’ve been contemplating this move for the last few years, but now is the right time to move on. I’m 60 now, my grandchildren are growing, and I want to spend more time with them. I’m ready to have a less intense work-life and to spend more time biking and birding.

“Then I’ll look for other opportunities to serve the organic community from my home in Olympia.”

Until Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue names a replacement, the organic program will be overseen by AMS acting Administrator Bruce Summers and acting Deputy Administrator Jenny Tucker.

McEvoy thanked organic certifiers, producers, processors and consumers for their work and participation in the organic movement. He also included his Top 10 list of accomplishments:

1. Quality Management — We developed a quality management system to improve program consistency and effectiveness. We implemented the NOP Strategic Plan that incorporates the vision of the program – Organic Integrity from Farm to Table, Consumers Trust the Organic Label. We initiated a peer review process as required by the Organic Foods Production Act.

2. Communication — We improved communication and the transparency of the program through improvements to the website and the NOP Organic Insider. We implemented the Organic Literacy Initiative, which trains USDA personnel and farmers about certification and market opportunities in the organic food industry.

3. Certification — We developed and implemented the NOP Handbook, which has transformed the organic control system by providing all NOP policies and guidance in one place. We implemented a Sound and Sensible certification process to make organic certification more affordable and attainable for organic operations. We developed new interactive training programs for certifiers and inspectors, and improved the certification process by requiring unannounced inspections and residue testing.

4. Accreditation — We ensured that all audits were conducted, and tightened up the accreditation process to promote consistency between certifiers. We strengthened the quality of the organic control system by suspending, revoking, or accepting the surrender from certifiers who did not embrace the “Age of Enforcement.” We ensured that all certifiers improved the rigor of their inspections and certification processes.

5. NOP Appeals — We reengineered NOP appeals, cutting appeal times in half.

6. Enforcement — We implemented the “Age of Enforcement” and now use civil penalties regularly for violations to the USDA organic regulations. We assist certifiers in their enforcement actions, which have included over 900 suspensions or revocations over the last 5 years. We assisted the Department of Justice with multiple cases of fraud including liquid fertilizers and seeds.

7. Standards — We finalized and implemented the Pasture rule to ensure that all organic ruminant livestock operations are pasture based. We published and implemented the Residue Testing rule. We published the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rules. We published multiple Sunset Materials rules, as well as multiple National List rules.

8. National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) — We collaborated with the NOSB, and moved the NOSB meetings out of Washington, DC. We received an Office of Inspector General “No Findings” Report on NOP’s management of the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. This was particularly significant, as advocacy groups and the media have scrutinized the program’s handling of the National List over the last few years. We revised the Sunset Review Process to provide for more public input and a fair and transparent process.

9. International Activities — We negotiated the U.S. – EU Organic Equivalency Arrangement, opening up the second largest organic market to U.S. organic producers and handlers. We conduct regular assessments of all equivalency and recognition arrangements. We’ve conducted competent authority and certifier training for governments and certifiers operating in Latin America.

10. Organic Integrity Database — We went from having no public listing of organic farms and businesses, to having a robust database updated by certifiers in near real time.

Challenges ahead
The outgoing administrator also outlined remaining work to be done at the National Organic Program.

“Organic food should be available to everyone from the cities to the countryside. We need all systems and scales of production to transform the agricultural system,” McEvoy said in his letter.

Specific suggestions from McEvoy were:

Embrace diversity The organic world is diverse from many perspectives. Organic food is produced in diverse environments, from temperate climates to deserts to tropical rainforests. Organic farmers and processors have developed a diversity of practices that comply with the organic standards and organic principles. Embracing this diversity of production is critical as the organic sector grows. Organic farms come in all sizes and shapes. All types of people of varying cultural, religious, and political perspectives participate. It is critical that we embrace organic diversity in all its sizes, shapes, and colors.

Upwards for the future —We will be much more successful if we support each other as we confront challenges of water availability and climate change. We will be more successful if we treat each other with respect and dignity.

Materials — Inputs used in organic production and processing are critical to the success of the organic sector. Farmers need inputs for fertility and pest control. Livestock producers need feed supplements and health maintenance materials. Processors need minor ingredients and processing aids to bring the full diversity of farm production to the table. All allowed organic inputs need to align with organic standards and principles. Materials should be viewed by how they support the organic system. The material review process should not become too reductionist, or focused on ingredients within ingredients within ingredients, when they have no effect on the agroecosystem.

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