Natural Products Marketing

Gene editing, celery powder and organic enforcement: A roundup from the NOSB’s fall meeting

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Originally Appeared in New Hope Network’s Idea Xchange, November 2019
By Steven Hoffman

The National Organic Standards Board recently addressed some of the industry’s critical issues: protecting small-scale organic dairy farmers; strengthening fraud enforcement; and gene editing.

From protecting small-scale organic dairy farmers and strengthening enforcement over organic fraud, to expressing concern over the use of celery powder in processed organic meats and the threat of gene editing in organic production, the National Organic Standards Board addressed several critical issues surrounding the integrity of the organic seal during its recent fall meeting.

The board voted to prioritize four areas of organic research: ecosystem services and biodiversity of organic systems; managing cover crops for on-farm fertility; identifying barriers and developing protocols for organic nurseries; and assessing the genetic integrity of organic crops at risk.

Approximately 150  advocates, producers, farmers, manufacturers and others attended the fall meeting of the National Organic Standards Board Oct. 23-25 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, according to a USDA spokeswoman. During the 12 hours of public comment, about 115 people spoke to the board members about their concerns, she said.

“Farmers are some of the most innovative people in the world when we need to be,” said Jeff Dean, an organic farmer and member of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. “Please keep our standards strong and give our proud, innovative farmers the chance to provide organic products to the consumers who want them,” he appealed to the NOSB board members.

This overview of the meeting was collected from published accounts and Twitter feeds from Organic Trade Association, Cornucopia Institute, Organic Insider, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Foundation and other organizations attending the event.

Strengthening organic enforcement

Preventing fraud in organic trade is critical to maintaining product integrity and consumer confidence. Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), presented a proposed NOP Enforcement and Oversight Rule that will be issued later this year for public comment, and improvements already underway to strengthen enforcement.

Those improvements include additional training resources focused on oversight of complex domestic operations; traceback and mass balance audits; and research into risk-based certification models for accreditation and certifier oversight. The National Organic program accredits and oversees more than 80 independent certification organizations, examining and verifying how these organizations document, certify and inspect more than 37,000 organic farms and businesses around the world.

In the realm of imports, farm-level yield analysis has been a valuable tool in taking enforcement action, Tucker said. In the Black Sea region, the NOP examined records from organic grain and oilseed producers, data from regional producers and weather models and found many organic farms reported yields far higher than regional averages. As a result, more than 275 operations in that area have lost their organic certification, according to the agency.

The NOP has continued country commodity studies and ship surveillance, increased the number of unannounced visits it makes, Tucker said. Follow-up investigations have led to certifiers and operators adverse actions, she said.

Tucker shared that new training on dairy compliance is available for certifiers and inspectors at the online Organic Integrity Learning Center, which continually offers new courses since its launch in May. 

Also, the comment period for the Origin of Livestock rule—a proposal to change how farmers may transition their dairy animals to organic—has been reopened. Written comments must be received or postmarked on or before Dec. 2. 

What’s the deal with celery powder?

To the relief of organic meat producers but to the chagrin of those concerned about the potential health hazards of nitrates and nitrites in processed foods, the NOSB board voted 11-1, with one abstention, to allow the continued use of celery powder in organic food production. Dave Mortensen, chair of the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire, voted against keeping celery powder on the list, and Emily Oakley, founding partner of Three Springs Farm in Oaks, Oklahoma, abstained from voting.

Used in the curing of processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon and deli meats, celery powder is a key processing ingredient in the organic meat industry, as it is the only allowed alternative to synthetic nitrates and nitrites used in conventional meat production. At issue, reports New Food Economy, is the fact that a significant amount of processing goes into producing celery powder for use in cured meats, and that the celery itself does not have to be organic, which brings with it the concomitant use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Non-organic celery is ranked 11th on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of vegetables that, when grown conventionally, absorb the highest levels of pesticides.

Additionally, whereas the amount of synthetic nitrates is limited in conventionally processed meats, unlimited quantities of celery powder are allowed in meats that are labeled “uncured” or “nitrate free,” New Food Economy reports, which has been cause for concern among some health advocates.

“There is little evidence that preserving meats using celery … is any healthier than other added nitrites,” Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, told New Food Economy. “Until industry provides strong evidence that nitrites in celery juice have different biologic effects than nitrites from other sources, it’s very misleading to label these [products] as ‘nitrite free’ or to consider such processed meats as being healthier.” 

The Organic Trade Association supported continuing the allowance of non-organic celery powder at the Fall NOSB 2019 Meeting so as not to disrupt the organic meat industry. However, the trade association, in collaboration with the Organic Center, submitted a $2 million proposal to the USDA and convened a working group to find organic sources of celery powder and research alternatives to celery powder in organic meat processing. NOSB members expressed hope that when the ingredient comes up for review again in five years, their successors may be presented with more alternatives.

Gene editing in organic

Gene editing, which the organic industry considers GMO technology, remains a prohibited method in organic agriculture, Tucker said, adding that gene editing is not on USDA’s regulatory agenda for organics. However, according to Informa’s IEG Policy News, Tucker also noted that USDA does encourage “continued robust dialogue about the role of new technologies and innovations in organic agriculture.”

That idea alarmed a number of organic advocates concerned that USDA might try to influence the NOSB’s position on gene editing. In response, Mortensen criticized USDA NOP officials. “It’s clear from the many comments that we received that organic consumers and organic farmers do not want genetically modified practices as any part of our production system, end of story,” he said. “And I don’t think we should be encouraging or suggesting that we need robust dialogue. I think this is just one example of where we get ourselves into trouble and compromise the policies that we were charged to do.”

Consistent with its gene-editing position, NOSB voted unanimously to exclude induced mutagenesis via in vitro nucleic acid techniques as a method in organic production, reported the Organic Seed Alliance in its Twitter feed. According to the organic advocacy organization IFOAM Organics International, such mutagenesis technology—as well as CRISPR, grafting onto transgene root stock and other related practices—“are genetic engineering techniques that are not compatible with organic farming and that must not be used in organic breeding or organic production.”

Other board activity

On Oct. 24,  the USDA published a final rule in the Federal Register to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances based on public input and the April 2018 recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board. This final rule allows elemental sulfur to be used as a slug or snail bait to reduce crop losses; allows polyoxin D zinc salt for plant disease control; and reclassifies magnesium chloride from a synthetic to a non-synthetic substance. The final rule is effective Nov. 22.

During the fall meeting, new NOSB officers, who serve 1-year terms, were elected:

  • Chair—Steve Ela (Producer), Ela Family Farms, Hotchkiss, Colorado.

  • Vice chair—Scott Rice (Certifier), Washington State Department of Agriculture, Olympia, Washington.

  • Secretary—Jessie Buie (Producer), Ole Brook Organics, Jackson, Mississippi.

In addition, outgoing NOSB members Harriet Behar, Ashley Swaffer, Tom Chapman and Lisa de Lima were recognized for their public service.

The next NOSB meeting is scheduled for April 29-May 1 in Crystal City, Virginia.

40% of Adults Have Tried CBD in States Where it Is Legal

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Photo: Pixabay

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, October 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Cannabidiol “isn’t just for a select few people,” claims market research firm The NPD Group. Nearly 20% of adults have tried CBD in states where it is legal, and almost half of them have used it recently, reported Darren Seifer, Executive Director, Industry Analyst for The NPD Group. This figure is expected to increase rapidly as CBD is appearing in snack foods and beverages, consumers are getting more comfortable with the idea and just as many people plan to try it as are currently using it, he says. “There is definitely interest on the part of consumers in CBD but its future in the mass market is dependent on legalization, which is now a patchwork of state legislation,” says Seifer. “Even with the complexities of legalization, consumer acceptance and adoption of CBD as a food and medicine is an important topic for food manufacturers to keep on their radar screens.” The Port Washington, NY-based market research firm said among those consumers using CBD, 40% of them are “seeking to better themselves with food and beverage choices…a stat that reflects the increasing use of food as medicine by consumers.”

OSC2, former Rebbl CEO Sheryl O’Loughlin Partner to Promote Women and Diversity on Natural Products Boards

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, October 2019
By Steven Hoffman

According to natural products entrepreneur and investor Brad Barnhorn, of the nine different boards of directors on which he serves, there are a total of 50 board members and only one of them is a woman. He shared this as the only male panelist on the Women on Boards panel at Natural Products Expo East this past September in Baltimore. “Having more women sit on boards of organic and natural companies is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do, writes Max Goldberg in the Organic Insider. Based on a study conducted by financial research firm MSCI, U.S. companies with at least three women on the board experienced earnings growth of 37% over a five-year period, while companies that had no female board members experienced a -8% earnings drop in the same period, Goldberg reported. To address the issue, Northern California-based natural products leadership organization OSC2 has formed JEDI, the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative. Co-founded by OSC2 Executive Director Lara Dickinson and Sheryl O’Loughlin, former CEO of natural beverage maker REBBL, JEDI released a 5-minute survey to collect benchmark data on the current diversity makeup of the natural and organic products industry. The goal, reports the Organic Insider, is to have 500 companies complete the survey by January 2020. JEDI hopes to report findings at Natural Products Expo West 2020, as well as establish and track goals.

U.S. Retail Sales of Herbal Supplements Grew 9.4% in 2018

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, October 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Driven by the growth of CBD, mushrooms and immune-enhancing products, sales of herbal supplements in the U.S. increased 9.4% in 2018, according to a new report published by the American Botanical Council (ABC) in collaboration with market research firm SPINS and Nutrition Business Journal. Consumers spent a total of $8.842 billion on herbal supplements across all market channels in 2018, an increase of approximately $757 million in sales over the previous year, marking the strongest year of U.S. sales growth of herbal supplements since 1998, according to the report, available for download here. In mainstream retail outlets, herbal supplements with horehound (Marrubium vulgare) listed as the primary ingredient, including natural cough drops and lozenges, grossed the highest sales in 2018. Goji berry (Lycium spp.) supplements, many of which are marketed for weight loss, experienced the strongest sales growth in this channel, with a 637% increase from 2017. Booming sales of products containing cannabidiol (CBD), a psychoactive but non-intoxicating constituent of Cannabis sativa, made it the top-selling ingredient with the highest percent sales growth (332.8%) in the 2018 natural channel, says ABC. “CBD and mushroom products dominated the 2018 herbal supplement scene, and sales growth remained strong for Ayurvedic herbs and adaptogens,” said Tyler Smith, Managing Editor of HerbalGram, who has co-authored the report since 2014. “There were also a few surprises in the data — sales of goji berry, for example, which had declined sharply in recent years, experienced a significant rebound in 2018,” he said. “This report strongly supports the continually rising consumer preference for natural, plant-based dietary supplements that can have a positive impact on their health,” said Mark Blumenthal, ABC founder and executive director, and editor-in-chief of HerbalGram. “For over 20 years we have been publishing information on the steady growth of the market for herbal dietary supplements in the United States; the market sales results demonstrate the confidence that consumers appear to have in herbal dietary supplements.”

Natural Products Sales Outpace Conventional

Photo: SPINS

Photo: SPINS

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, October 2019
By Steven Hoffman

If you look at the state of the natural and organic products industry, says market research leader SPINS, one of the primary takeaways is this: “The 5% sales growth rate for natural food and beverages over the year ending May 19, 2019, was nearly three times greater than for the overall food and beverage industry—continuing a now-longstanding trend,” reported New Hope Network. “Natural products have been outpacing their conventional counterparts for some time in terms of dollar growth,” said Jessica Hochman, SPINS senior manager of natural insights and innovation research and the lead author of the State of the Natural Industry report in a webinar presenting results from the study. According to SPINS, natural and organic products sales totaled $47.2 billion over the 12-month period and accounted for 10.5% of the overall $448.2 billion food and beverage market. In addition, natural products sales accounted for 29.3% of all food and beverage industry sales growth, says SPINS. In the convenience store channel, while natural products accounted for only 4.6% of total C-store sales, growth of these products over the one-year period was 12.6%, due to rising consumer demand for convenience and natural snacking. The data, presented as part of the Good Food insights series in collaboration with FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator and Naturally Chicago, Esca Bona and SPINS, will be highlighted on October 7 at Naturally Chicago’s Quarterly Keynote Event in Chicago. Presence Marketing / Dynamic Presence is a Sponsoring supporter of Naturally Chicago.

Whole Foods Workers Demand Amazon Stop Working with ICE

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

A group of current and former Whole Foods Market employees working under an anonymous group called Whole Worker published an open letter on August 12 demanding that Amazon cut ties with Palantir, a company that provides data to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), “to show solidarity with our undocumented sisters, brothers, and siblings.” The letter takes issue specifically with Amazon providing its web services technology to Palantir, which sells data to ICE, and the sale of Amazon’s own facial-recognition software, Rekognition, to law enforcement. These services are often used to deport undocumented people and conduct raids like the one that occurred at a food processing plant in Mississippi this August, reported Eater. The letter expresses solidarity with undocumented people in America who “are fleeing from conditions created by destructive U.S. policies, making it the responsibility of the U.S. to welcome them.” The letter also points out that “Palantir, in 2011, was involved in a plan to spy on labor unions and activists.” The Whole Worker group demanded that Amazon “cease all business with Palantir and any other company involved in the continued oppression of marginalized groups.” In reference to Amazon, the letter further states, “We recognize that expecting a company built on the exploitation of marginalized people and the working class to cease its collaboration with ICE’s deportation machine by way of moral condemnations isn’t enough. Workers that control the levers inside Amazon must make this machine stop and turn in another direction.”

Plant-based Meat Market to Reach $2.5 Billion by 2023, But Whole Foods’ Mackey Says Today’s Most Popular Brands Are “Super, Highly Processed Foods”

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

The plant-based meat market is expected to reach $2.5 billion in sales by 2023, and while Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey does believe that plant-based products are a more ethical choice and are better for the environment than conventionally produced meat, he questions the highly processed nature of some of these products. “The [brands] who are capturing the imagination of people – and I’m not going to name these brands because I’m afraid I will be associated with the critique of it – but some of these that are extremely popular now that are taking the world by storm, if you look at the ingredients, they are super, highly processed foods,” Mackey told CNBC Make It. “I don’t think eating highly processed foods is healthy. I think people thrive on eating whole foods,” said Mackey, who has been a vegan for more than 20 years. “As for health, I will not endorse that, and that is about as big of criticism that I will do in public. So the reason why these plant-based meats have taken the world by storm is that they taste very similar to regular meats, whereas if you get a [healthy] black bean burger with flax seeds and sweet potatoes in it, that’s going to taste great to me,” he said. Mackey added: “A lot of people say ... that [plant-based] meat is a transition food, meaning it’s a way for [people] to begin to reeducate [their] palates”; it’s a good first step in weaning people off of meat products,” he said.

Study Warns Climate Change Could Cost U.S. 10.5% of GDP by 2100

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

While there may have been some hope that certain countries could escape the brunt of global warming, a new study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that “virtually all” nations will be negatively impacted by climate change by 2100. “Using a panel data set of 174 countries over the years 1960 to 2014, we find that per-capital real output growth is adversely affected by persistent changes in the temperature above or below its historical norm,” the study states. The study also suggests that, on average, richer colder countries would lose as much income to climate change as poorer, hotter nations. “Our counterfactual analysis suggests that a persistent increase in average global temperature by 0.04°C per year, in the absence of mitigation policies, reduces world real GDP per capita by 7.22% by 2100,” said the study’s authors. The impact on the U.S. — which accounted for much of the research’s focus to compare economic activity in hot or wet areas — would be even greater, a loss of 10.5% of its GDP by 2100, according to the study. In related news, the United Nations (UN) in August issued an intergovernmental panel report on climate change claiming that 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to agricultural activities. In the report, the UN concluded that humans cannot mitigate the effects of climate change without making drastic changes to the ways we grow food and use land. Organizations such as the Rodale Institute are promoting regenerative agriculture as a solution to sequester carbon and reduce the effects of climate change through agriculture.

Target, Kroger Enjoying Growing Sales of Organic and Natural Foods

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Target Corporation (NYSE: TGT), based in Minneapolis, MN, on August 19 announced the launch of a new flagship private label brand, Good & Gather. The in-house brand will focus on four categories: organic; kids; seasonal; and premium products. More than 2,000 products including dairy, produce, ready-made pastas, meats, granola bars and sparkling water, are expected to roll out under the Good & Gather brand over the next 18 months. Good & Gather will become Target’s largest brand, replacing existing house brands Archer Farms and Simply Balanced and reducing the number of products under Target’s Market Pantry Brand, reports Sustainable Food News. In related news, Cincinnati, OH-based grocery giant Kroger (NYSE: KR) claims its Simple Truth brand now offers more Fair Trade Certified products than any other U.S. private label brand. The company reported on August 20 in its 2019 Sustainability Report that it sold $17.6 billion worth of natural and organic products in 2018. Kroger’s natural and organic private label brand, Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic, achieved sales of $2.3 billion in 2018, making it the second largest brand sold in its stores, the company reported. Kroger said it purchased 17.2 million pounds of Fair Trade certified ingredients for its private label products, and also said it sold more than $1 billion worth of organic produce in 2018. Kroger operates 2,800 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 35 states. Each store carries on average 4,000 natural and organic items, reports Sustainable Food News.

Proposed Tariffs on European Products Would Devastate Specialty Food Sales

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

The Trump administration is currently considering adding tariffs this fall to a large number of items imported into the U.S. from the European Union (EU), including most foreign cheeses. Many top-selling and popular cheeses including Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano and Dutch Gouda could become twice as expensive, reports Modern Farmer. The tariff proposal would increase duties on hundreds of EU products by as much as 100%. Originating from a trade dispute in the aviation industry, the proposed tariffs, supposedly meant to punish the EU, will end up directly impacting specialty food retailers who are already operating on thin margins. According to the Specialty Foods Association, the latest list of proposed tariffs includes 100% levies on a range of pork products, cheeses, pastas, coffee, olives and other goods. “If something happens, we are insulated for a time,” Bob Marcelli, owner of specialty food importer Marcelli Formaggi in Clifton, NJ, told Specialty Food News. “But long term, it would be just devastating. Everybody’s going to pay more; that’s the bottom line, he said.

Trader Convicted in Organic Fraud Scheme Commits Suicide Before Serving 10-Year Prison Sentence

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Photo: Pexels

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Facing incarceration for his role in masterminding a $142 million organic grain fraud scheme, organic farmer and trader Randy Constant was found dead by suicide on August 19 at his home in Chillicothe, MO. Constant was sentenced on August 16 by a federal court judge to 10 years in prison for knowingly marketing and selling non-organic corn and soybeans as organic. Federal prosecutors called the scheme “one of the largest, if not the largest, organic fraud schemes in the history of the United States.” Police officers found Constant dead from carbon monoxide poisoning weeks before he was to report to federal prison. Prosecutors alleged that Constant falsely marketed non-organic grains as certified organic on a massive scale, reported Time Magazine. Sales through his Iowa grain brokerage equaled up to 7% of the organic corn grown in the U.S. in 2016 and 8% of organic soybeans. From 2010 to 2017, Constant was reported to have sold over 11.5 million bushels of grain, primarily used as feed for chickens and cattle, which would then be unwittingly marketed as organic meat products by the respective producers. Constant’s death came as authorities publicized his prison term, which they hoped would deter other farmers from defrauding the National Organic Program, reported Time Magazine. Judge C.J. Williams said during the sentencing hearing that Constant’s fraud did “extreme and incalculable damage” to consumers and undermined public confidence in the nation’s organic food industry.

Presence Marketing’s Tracy Miedema Featured at AHPA Hemp-CBD Congress

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Photo: AHPA

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Comparing CBD to other herb-derived products like echinacea, American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) Chief Executive Michael McGuffin said, “Hemp is just another herb that should be regulated the same as any other dietary supplement.” Speaking at the sold-out AHPA Hemp-CBD Congress held in Denver on August 15-16, McGuffin said CBD producers should be expected to comply with “all federal regulations” including using registered food and processing facilities. Tracy Miedema, VP of Innovation and Brand Development for Presence Marketing / Dynamic Presence, also spoke at the conference, which was sponsored in part by Presence Marketing. Miedema, a “true believer” who was married in the 1990s in a hemp wedding dress, said CBD is a huge phenomenon worldwide, expected to generate between $15 billion and $20 billion in sales in the next few years. Miedema, who is a board member of the Lexington, KY-based U.S. Hemp Roundtable, was quoted in UPI News saying, “When the 2018 Farm Bill passed, taking CBD off the Schedule 1 [drug list], that unlocked the potential in funding.” Commenting on the uncertain regulatory environment, Miedema added, “This is a political problem, not a legal problem. Neither supply nor demand can be stopped at this point.” Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a champion of hemp, opened the Hemp-CBD Congress, declaring hemp “a crop of the past and yes, a crop of the future.”

Natural Products Association (NPA) Files for Bankruptcy

Photo: Natural Products Association (NPA)

Photo: Natural Products Association (NPA)

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, September 2019
By Steven Hoffman

The Natural Products Association, (NPA) the oldest trade group in the natural products industry, filed for bankruptcy protection on August 19, 2019, which it attributed to six straight years of losses and a costly arbitration with the association’s former CFO. According to Reuters, NPA CEO Daniel Fabricant said in a filing with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Wilmington, DE, that the Chapter 11 case will provide a “breathing spell” for the Washington, D.C.-based trade group to focus on advocacy and membership. Founded in 1936 and formerly known as the National Nutritional Foods Association, NPA said it has more than 1,000 members comprising over 10,000 retail, manufacturing, wholesale and distribution locations for natural foods, dietary supplements and natural health and beauty products. According to Reuters, NPA’s former CFO Brent Weickert holds the largest unsecured claim in the bankruptcy petition – a disputed $780,179 arbitration settlement awarded as a result of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Weickert in 2015 against NPA.

Market Update: Organic and Plant-Based Food Sales

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Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, August 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Rabobank: Organic Food Sales Growth Slows; Market to Hit $60 Billion by 2022

Between 2010 and 2016, organic food retail sales grew by an average of 10% per year, however, that growth has slowed to 5.9% for the past two years, says Rabobank. The international bank, known for its focus on food, predicts that organic food sales will reach $60 billion by 2022. While fruits and vegetables remain the top organic food category, representing 36% of all organic food purchases in 2018, even that category is showing signs of slowed growth, noted Rabobank Senior Analyst Roland Fumasi in a report by Food Navigator USA. “Organic produce availability has now become mainstream which means that the organic produce market will continue to more closely resemble the traditionally grown produce market,” Fumasi told Food Navigator USA. “Just a few short years ago, both organic produce prices and organic produce volumes were rising, indicating that demand expansion was occurring more rapidly than supply growth. However, there are indications that continued growth in the organic movement has partially been driven by lower prices for some of the top-selling organic product items.” Fumasi predicts that in a few years, demand for organic produce will see an increase in sales as millennials grow their income and start their own families.

Plant-based Food Sales Growing 5X Faster than Overall Food Sales

Plant-based food sales are growing like a weed, according to new research from the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute. According to the research published in July 2019, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 11% in the past year, bringing the total plant-based market value to $4.5 billion. Since April 2017, total plant-based food sales increased 31% according to the study. Additionally, plant-based foods unit sales are up 8.5%, compared to total U.S. food sales, which are flat, showing the overall health and momentum of the plant-based foods category. The data covers the total U.S. grocery marketplace and was commissioned from SPINS, a wellness-focused data technology company and retail analytics provider, says the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA). According to PBFA, sales of the plant-based meat category alone is worth more than $800 million, with sales growth of 10% in the past year. Refrigerated plant-based meat is driving category growth with a 37% sales increase. Sales of plant-based milks, which grew 6% over the past year, now comprise 13% of the entire milk category, while cow’s milk sales have declined 3% over the same period. In addition, in the past year, plant-based yogurt has grown 39%, while conventional yogurt declined 3%; plant-based cheese has grown 19%, while conventional cheese is flat; and plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty has grown 27%, while conventional ice cream and frozen novelty has grown just 1%, according to the PBFA study.

Good Food Insights: Natural Continues to Set the Pace

Here’s some good news for natural products marketers, writes New Hope Network’s Bob Benenson: Natural product sales are growing five times faster than conventional product sales nationally—in the Multi-Outlet (MULO) channel, a.k.a. traditional grocery chains. Here’s the even better news: Natural product growth in this channel, where the vast majority of Americans get their groceries, outstrips conventional growth in all seven regions of the U.S., as defined by SPINS, the leading data market research firm for the natural, organic and specialty products industry. Along with FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator, Naturally Chicago and Esca Bona, SPINS is a collaborator in the Good Food Insights series. Based on the annual State of Good Food Report, derived from SPINS’ analysis of MULO market data for the 52 weeks ending May 19, 2019, while natural products comprise 9% of total sales in the MULO channel, sales in this category grew 5% over the study period, compared to 1% growth for conventional products. “Conventional retailers are recognizing that the rise of natural is an ongoing historic and generational shift, not a fad. And as they address consumer demand by adding more natural products to their shelves, they are jump-starting further growth in the sector,” writes Benenson. According to SPINS, California has the largest MULO market share of natural products at 14%, followed by the Northeast, with 12% MULO market share for natural products. The South-Central states recorded the lowest MULO market share, with only 6% of sales attributed to natural products. According to Andrew Henkel, SVP of Brand Growth Solutions at SPINS, the forerunner regions have the biggest consumer bases that are apt to adopt a “good food and natural products lifestyle.” “Parts of the country that have significant urban, progressive consumer bases are indicators of where the rest of the country is going to go,” Henkel told New Hope Network.

Can Unilever Stop Massive Plastic Pollution of Our Oceans?

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Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, August 2019
By Steven Hoffman

An estimated 1 million ocean animals are killed each year as a result of plastic pollution. Now, one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters – Unilever – has made it a top priority to reduce plastic pollution. According to CNBC, on any given day, 2.5 billion people use Unilever products that comprise 400 household brands, yet the company knows its $158-billion market cap has come as the expense of the environment. According to Unilever, the company invests more than $1 billion annually on research and development, of which new plastics innovation is a component. In 2018, Unilever’s brands most committed to sustainability, including such “sustainable living” brands as Ben and Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Pukka Herbs, grew 46% faster than the rest of its business and delivered 70% of its turnover growth.

“All of Unilever's brands are on a journey towards reducing their environmental footprint and increasing their positive social impact. Sustainable living brands are those that are furthest ahead on the journey to achieving the company’s ambitious sustainability goals,” Unilever said in a statement. As a result of its initiatives, the consumer giant says it has cut down on plastic use by 15% and is beginning to use bioplastics and refillable metal bottles for bodycare and other items. Since the company signed on in 1017 to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative called The New Plastics Economy, Unilever committ3ed to making all of its plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Addressing the issue of packaging is a great way to start changing the way plastic is used, Shelie Miller, a University of Michigan professor who studies packaging and sustainability, told CNBC. “Packaging is produced to become waste,” she says. “That makes it unique among manufactured goods.” Natural products manufacturers can find a wealth of sustainable packaging resources at OSC2’s Climate Collaborative: https://www.climatecollaborative.com/packaging_resources, and at New Hope Network: https://www.newhope.com/manufacturing-and-supply-business-resources/what-can-my-brand-do-help-solve-our-plastics-problem.

Hemp Happenings This Summer

Originally Appeared in Presence Marketing News, August 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Compass Natural is pleased to organize the following hemp leadership events.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis to Give Keynote Speech at AHPA Hemp-CBD Supplement Congress, August 16, Denver

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Colorado Governor Jared Polis will present the keynote speech during the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) Hemp-CBD Congress on Friday, August 16, 2019, in Denver. The address by Gov. Polis helps set the national stage for the vitality of the hemp industry and the positive economic impact the commodity will have for farmers and for dietary supplement companies nationwide, says AHPA. Currently, the industry is navigating a rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscape on how to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).

“We’re proud that Governor Polis will present AHPA’s keynote presentation. His participation is integral to the future of hemp and we look forward to continuing to be a voice of the herbal products industry and share his groundbreaking message to our 500+ leading members,” said Michael McGuffin, President of AHPA. “This collaboration with Governor Polis solidifies his plans to make good on the promise he made in January to position and help shape the future of industrial hemp.” The two-day congress includes speakers from USDA and FDA, plus legal and regulatory experts, farmers and producers, manufacturers, retailers and hemp and dietary supplement association leaders. Presence Marketing’s VP of Innovation and Brand Development, Tracy Miedema, will speak at the event, and Presence Marketing / Dynamic Presence will also be a featured Sponsor Partner of the AHPA Hemp-CBD Summit. Visit http://www.ahpa.org.

Photo: Office of Colorado Governor Jared Polis

Second Annual Southern Hemp Expo Returns to Tennessee, Unites Rapidly Growing Hemp Industry

More than 5,000 farmers, entrepreneurs, investors, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers will gather at this year’s 2nd Annual Southern Hemp Expo, a program-rich conference, exhibition and trade show structured specifically for the rapidly growing industrial, nutritional, and therapeutic hemp industries, held at Williamson County AG Expo Park in Franklin, TN, Sept. 6-7, 2019.

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Participants at the 2019 Southern Hemp Expo will learn about the exploding hemp market, which is expected to surge to more than $26 billion in sales by 2025. This year’s Southern Hemp Expo will include a business and investment conference; hemp farm symposium; industry day with a business-to-business expo hall; general public day with an expo hall for consumers; workshops and demonstrations; and networking and entertainment. Attendees will receive up-to-date information about federal and state legislation and regulations, current trends in CBD and hemp supplements; the latest developments in processing, technology and innovation; certification, compliance and lab testing; and breeding, genetics, seeds and clones, and more. Exhibit space and sponsorship opportunities for the Southern Hemp Expo are available online at www.southernhempexpo.com. Southern Hemp Expo is produced by the Colorado Hemp Company—which has been producing the NoCo Hemp Expo, the world’s largest hemp industry gathering, in Colorado since 2014.

Beyond “Best By” – MOM’s Organic Market CEO Ate Expired Food for a Year

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in Presence Marketing News, July 2019
By Steven Hoffman

“I mean, I ate heavy cream I think 10 weeks past date, and then meat sometimes a good month past its date. It didn’t smell bad. Rinse it off, good to go,” Scott Nash shared with the Washington Post in a June 18, 2019, interview. Nash is the founder and CEO of MOM’s Organic Market based in Rockville, MD, with 19 stores in four Eastern states. According to the Post, Nash consumed yogurt months after the expiration date printed on the label, and tortillas a year past their expiration date. It was all part of his year-long experiment to test the limits on food that had passed its expiration date. Nash blogged about that experiment in February 2019. 

Of course, you can get very sick eating expired food, but more often than not we're throwing away food that is perfectly safe to eat. Some foods, such as deli meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and prepared foods like potato salad that you don't reheat, probably should be thrown away after their “Use By” date for safety reasons. However, in many cases, the Post reports, expiration dates do not indicate when the food stops being safe to eat; rather, they tell you when the manufacturer thinks that particular product will stop looking and tasting its best. 

Why does it matter? A lot of good, safe food gets thrown away, generating unnecessary food waste in landfills and greenhouse gas emissions. The FDA estimates that we throw out a third of our food, worth $161 billion a year, and the agency believes that confusion over expiration dates may be contributing a significant portion of that waste, reported Popular Science.

In an effort to find a solution for clearer package date labels, in 2017, the grocery industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, announced a voluntary standard on food-date labeling. Together, they narrowed a number of date-label terms down to two: "Best if Used By" and "Use By." "Best if used by" describes product quality, meaning that the product might not taste as good past the date but is safe to eat. "Use by" is for products that are highly perishable and should be used or disposed of by that date. 

To help dispel confusion, the FDA announced on May 23, 2019, that it is supporting the food industry’s efforts to standardize the use of the term “Best if Used By” on its packaged food labeling “if the date is simply related to optimal quality – not safety,” said the agency in a statement. Studies have shown that this best conveys to consumers that these products do not have to be discarded after the date if they are stored properly, the agency said. “We expect that over time, the number of various date labels will be reduced as industry aligns on this ‘Best if Used By’ terminology,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “This change is already being adopted by many food producers.”

When it comes to food safety, the FDA said that manufacturers can put whatever terminology they want to convey health risk. While the FDA is encouraging manufacturers to use "Best if Used By" terminology as a best practice, it is not required by law. There is no federal law that requires dates on food, except for infant formula, which is required to bear a “Use By” date, reports the FDA. Other industry experts have suggested using language that indicates shelf life after opening or the date when the product was packed.

“They’re trying to bring clarity to the descriptor of the date,” MOM’s Organic Market’s Scott Nash said. “OK, that’s great, that’s better than what we have now. But I think some things just shouldn’t be dated.” 

FDA advises consumers to routinely examine foods that are past their “Best if Used By” date to determine if the quality is sufficient for use. “If the products have changed noticeably in color consistency or texture, consumers may want to avoid eating them,” FDA advises. FDA also developed a FoodKeeper App for Apple and Android phones, designed to promote understanding of food and beverage storage to maximize freshness and quality.

FDA says its efforts are part of a White House initiative called Winning on Food Waste, a collaboration between the FDA, USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to educate consumers on ways to reduce food waste and how to do it safely without risking illness from consuming spoiled food.

Learn More:
Winning on Reducing Food Waste
FDA Letter to Food Industry, May 23, 2019
FDA’s Food Waste and Loss Resource Page, May 23, 2019

Upcoming:
Southern Hemp Expo, September 6-7, 2019, Franklin, Tennessee – Learn about the exploding market for “all things hemp” – from bioplastics to CBD – at the second annual Southern Hemp Expo, the largest hemp exposition and conference in the Eastern U.S., featuring an investors summit, business conference, agriculture symposium and a full exhibition hall. Visit www.SouthernHempExpo.com. To exhibit, sponsor and for info, contact steve@compassnatural.com.

Hemp Harassment: Leading Online Retailer Thrive Market Forced to Cease Sales of All Hemp and CBD Products in Banking Backlash

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in the Let’s Talk Hemp Blog & Newsletter
By Steven Hoffman

In a seeming backlash to the burgeoning hemp economy, hemp and CBD retailers, industry associations and other hemp-centric businesses are being denied or threatened with denial of banking, credit card processing and other key business services, including a national newswire service that announced this past month it will no longer accept press releases from hemp companies, and is, in fact, deleting all existing and previously issued press releases related to hemp and CBD from its online archives. It is a disturbing trend in an industry that was made legal across the U.S. as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill and is projected to grow to $26.6 billion by 2025.

It has forced such retailers as leading online natural products grocer Thrive Market to cease sales of all hemp and CBD products, a best-selling category over the past 18 months on its nationally recognized ecommerce site. The member-based online retailer boasts more than 500,000 members. “In early June, we received a notice from our merchant processor demanding that we cease the sale of all hemp and CBD products on Thrive Market. We unfortunately have no choice but to comply, and we’ll begin removing our assortment as early as Thursday, June 20,” wrote Thrive Market’s cofounder and CEO Nick Green in his blog on June 17. As of this writing, clicking on that assortment link takes you to a blank product page on Thrive Market’s website.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Hemp Authority, a not-for-profit trade group developing certification standards for the industry, lost payment processing services in June after being dropped by its vendor, Stripe, based in San Francisco, reported Hemp Today on June 20. According a report in CNN Business, Stripe said it dropped the U.S. Hemp Authority’s account because of liability concerns, despite the fact that the trade organization is not a seller of any hemp products. “We’re being told we’re high risk. We’re actually trying to minimize human risk,” Hemp Authority president Marielle Weintraub told CNN.

Abrupt Notice
Since a leading credit card processor, Elavon, a subsidiary of U.S. Bank, abruptly notified its hemp and CBD clients in March 2019 that it had recategorized hemp and CBD merchants as a “prohibited business type” and was backing out within 45 days of handling payment processing for such companies, a number of hemp businesses have been scrambling to establish secure and durable payment processing relationships. According to one estimate by Philippa Burgess, cofounder of MMJ FinSol, a Denver-based financial services solutions company for hemp, cannabis and other “high-risk” businesses, Elavon’s policy changes affected up to 40,000 CBD companies.

Another merchant processor, Fortress Payment Technologies, in May 2019 notified all its ecommerce customers selling CBD products that they would no longer be able to process Visa credit card payments through the bank. Some sellers received less than eight hours’ notice of these changes, reported Folium Biosciences, a vertically integrated hemp-derived phytocannabinoid producer based in Colorado Springs. The company recently launched a CBD/hemp friendly financial services platform for its customers to help remove the financial hurdles faced by the CBD industry, it said.

Kyle Rapoza, cofounder of Vermont-based Mansfield Provisions, which distributes CBD products online and through brick and mortar retail partnerships, lost credit card processing services for his company in late May 2019, when Elavon stopped doing business with the hemp industry. He explained to Ganjapreneur Magazine that, in the wake of Elavon’s action, many of the industry operators he knows and does business with are moving back to high risk (and high fee) accounts. Rapoza has since been able to access more traditional business accounts through a state credit union, Ganjapreneur reported.

Biggest Challenge Facing the Hemp Industry
It’s a “difficult time” for the industry as it related to financial services, which he called “the biggest challenge in the industry right now,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for Kentucky-based industry association Hemp Roundtable, told Ganjapreneur. “The law, we believe, is clear that since the [2018 Farm Bill], hemp and CBD are no longer controlled substances. There should be no concern whatsoever that there would be violations of federal law to engage in commerce. …Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation – it’s banks, it’s credit card companies, it’s merchant services that have been refusing to do business with these hemp and CBD companies.”

Because banks have been so hesitant to serve hemp and CBD businesses despite the legalization of hemp in the Farm Bill, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Ron Wyden (R-OR) – chief proponents of legalizing hemp – in April 2019 sent individualized letters to four federal banking and financial regulatory institutions, imploring them to prevent banking discrimination of the hemp industry, reported Cannalaw Blog.

In addition, when pressed by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) at a hearing in June 2019, Marijuana Moment reported that Federal Reserve board member Michelle Bowman pledged to inform banks that they can service hemp businesses. When Tester asked specifically how the Fed is advising institutions when it comes to hemp, Bowman responded, “We have not told them that they cannot bank them.” Tester countered that while he and Bowman might be on the same page, it is possible that banks were hearing a different message—hence why hemp businesses have said that they’re still experiencing difficulties accessing credit. Tester said clarification is especially important at this stage because of fallout from trade wars with China and Mexico, as hemp represents a potentially lucrative crop for American farmers. “I would agree with you. We would not discourage banks from banking these types of customers,” Bowman said. “We’ll try to clarify that. Hemp is not an illegal crop.”

What, No Press Releases?
While certain merchant banks seek to stifle hemp industry growth through the denial of critical financial services, another service provider in the media newswire business seeks to silence its voice.

One leading hemp industry media and event production company, Colorado Hemp Company, based in Loveland, CO – producer of the NoCo Hemp Expo, Southern Hemp Expo, and the Let’s Talk Hemp weekly newsletter and podcast – was recently informed by its newswire service, ReleaseWire, that it will not post or distribute any new press releases that mention hemp, and in addition, it was deleting all existing and previous press releases mentioning hemp that Colorado Hemp Company had posted in the past. In a policy update issued on May 8, 2019, ReleaseWire, one of the nation’s leading online national newswire services, issued the following statement, after which it began informing hemp-centric businesses that not only were they not accepting new press releases for distribution, they were deleting all existing press releases and archives related to cannabis, hemp or CBD:

“ReleaseWire was recently contacted by our credit card processor and informed that they have a policy in place that restricts merchants, including ReleaseWire, from linking to, or providing information about, marijuana, cannabis, CBD, hemp and related products. As such, we have been instructed by our credit card processor that we must not only stop taking press release submissions on these topics, but we must remove any existing press releases and related content from our site. They have provided us with a small window of time to complete this process or risk losing the ability to process credit cards.”

Meanwhile, other newswire services including Cision, owner of PR Newswire and PRWeb, continue to accept and publish hemp, CBD and cannabis related press releases on behalf of clients.

Hemp Friendly Payment Processors
So which payment processors are willing to serve hemp and CBD companies? One such processor, Adept Payments, says on its website that it helps high risk businesses, including vape, CBD, adult, casinos and more.

While financial services group, Edward Jones, has no official policy about outreach to the hemp industry, a broker in Bend, OR, contacted Hemp Industry Daily to say he was offering a “full spectrum of banking, investment, insurance and financial planning services to hemp farmers.” Officially, Edward Jones is “looking at the provision in the Farm Bill that addresses hemp growing,” John Boul, manager of global media relations for the St. Louis-based Edward Jones told Hemp Industry Daily in April 2019.So which payment processors are willing to serve hemp and CBD companies? One such processor, Adept Payments, says on its website that it helps high risk businesses, including vape, CBD, adult, casinos and more.

Square, a leading online payment processor, recently soft-launched credit card processing for CBD companies, but the program is still in beta testing phase and is by invitation only. Former credit card processing professional and current blogger Phillip Parker, who describes his site, CardPaymentOptions.com, as a credit card processing watchdog group, posted a guide to the Best Merchant Accounts for Hemp Products in June 2019. Also, Merchant Maverick, a self-described comparison website that reviews and rates credit card processors, mobile payment services and other small business software, published a guide to the Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers in April 2019.

For CBD sellers on Shopify and other major ecommerce platforms, a recently launched processor, Organic Payment Gateways, advertises that its mission is to help people in the CBD business process payments online, and that its payment gateways work smoothly with Shopify, WooCommerce and others. Leap Payments, Instabill and other services promote that they are dedicated to ensuring CBD businesses “can accept debit and credit card payments just like any other business can.”

So, for now, you won’t find any hemp or CBD products at Thrive Market, however, the ecommerce retailer says it won’t give up without a fight. “We believe that ethical and sustainable hemp is another cause worth fighting for, so rest assured that we will be working behind the scenes in the coming weeks to get hemp products back on Thrive Market,” Nick Green wrote in his blog. “In fact, we’re already in conversations with a new processing partner to try to make that happen.”

Kroger, Nation’s Largest Supermarket, to Carry CBD in Nearly 1,000 Stores

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By Steven Hoffman, Compass Natural

As the hemp and CBD market continues to evolve at hyper-speed, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, Kroger, announced it is joining Walgreens, CVS, Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, Nieman Marcus and other major retailers that have all started carrying CBD products in their stores.

Kroger, which made a “meaningful investment” in Boulder, CO-based natural foods chain Lucky’s Market, which itself is a leading seller of CBD products, announced on June 11 that it will now sell hemp-derived CBD topical products, including creams, balms and oils, in 945 Kroger-owned stores across 17 states, reported CNBC News, which referred to CBD as “one of the hottest consumer trends.”

“Like many retailers, we are starting to offer our customers a highly-curated selection of topical products like lotions, balms, oils and creams that are infused with hemp-derived CBD,” said Kristal Howard, head of corporate communications and media relations at Kroger, in a statement. “CBD is a naturally occurring and non-intoxicating compound that has promising benefits and is permitted within federal and state regulations. Our limited selection of hemp-derived CBD topical products is from suppliers that have been reviewed for quality and safety,” she added. 

Consumer interest in and demand for products made with cannabinoid compounds or CBD derived from hemp extract is at a fever pitch. Hemp Industry Daily projects hemp-derived CBD retail sales will surge to as much as $7.5 billion by 2023, up from about $1 billion in sales in 2019. 

Yet, while CBD derived from hemp is now legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress late last year, the FDA maintains that companies still can’t add CBD to food or sell it as a dietary supplement. However, with so many CBD supplements and CBD-infused food and beverage products already on the market, the FDA on May 31 held a public hearing to learn more about the issue and hear from hemp industry representatives, manufacturers, advocates and others as it considers its position regarding sales of these products.

For major retailers, selling CBD-infused, topical beauty and skin-care products brings less legal risk, which may explain why retailers such as Kroger, Nieman Marcus and others are starting to offer those types of products first. Given the explosive growth of the market, big box retailers Walmart and Target are also reported to be exploring the potential for hemp and CBD-related products in their stores.

Kroger, headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, is the world’s largest grocery retailer, with fiscal 2018 sales of $121.2 billion, and operating stores under names including Kroger, King Soopers, Ralph’s, Dillon’s, City Market, Fry’s, QFC, Mariano’s, Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter and others. Kroger also is a leading seller of healthy lifestyles products – it’s sales of natural and organic products alone exceeded $16 billion in 2017. Kroger’s private label organic brand, Simple Truth, with sales exceeding $2 billion, is one of the largest natural and organic brands in the U.S.

Kroger says it will sell the CBD products in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Organic Hemp Production Emphasized to Lawmakers, Farmers During “Organic Week” Policy Conference in Washington, DC

Originally appeared on www.LetsTalkHemp.com

One Organic Farmer Treats Hemp Grown for CBD Like a “Specialty Vegetable Crop”
By Steven Hoffman

The importance of certified organic in hemp agriculture cannot be overstated. Currently, nearly 80,000 acres are in hemp production in the U.S., and very few of them are certified organic. That means that the majority of hemp produced in the U.S. is being grown conventionally, using potentially toxic, synthetic pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer derived from the fracking of natural gas.

Frankly, that’s not very good for the environment or for the oncoming climate crisis, as conventional agriculture is one of the largest non-point sources of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to global warming, and fracking releases massive quantities of methane – another potent GHG – into the atmosphere. On the other hand, organically grown hemp can actually sequestercarbon out of the atmosphere and put it back in the soil where it belongs, helping to keep CO2 and other noxious GHGs out of the atmosphere.

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Additionally, when given a choice, I’ll choose CBD and hemp extract products that are produced and processed organically, thus minimizing my dietary exposure to toxic pesticide residues and other chemical solvents, because who wants pesticide residues included with their concentrated botanical medicine?

Seeing the explosive growth of the hemp market in the wake of the 2018 Farm Bill, the organic industry’s leading trade association, the Organic Trade Association (www.ota.com) invited my communications agency, Compass Natural, to help plan and present an educational track focused on farmers’ perspectives and market opportunities for certified organic hemp, CBD and related products as part of OTA’s annual Organic Week policy conference, held May 20-23, 2019, in Washington, D.C. OTA’s Organic Week draws organic industry leaders from across the U.S. to interact with policymakers and Congressional leaders to help forward the interests of organic food and agriculture.

At the Organic Week conference, OTA announced that sales of organic products in the U.S. surpassed $50 billion, growing 6.3% to reach a record $52.5 billion in 2018. Almost 6% (5.7%) of all food sold in the U.S. is now organic, driven in large part by demand for organic produce, dairy, plant-based products, dietary supplements, textiles and fiber. “Organic is now considered mainstream. But the attitudes surrounding organic are anything but status quo,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the OTA. “In 2018, there was a notable shift in the mindset of those working in organic toward collaboration and activism to move the needle on the role organic can play in sustainability and tackling environmental initiatives.”

Lobbying for Hemp
As part of OTA’s Organic Week, I was scheduled to visit several congressional offices on Capitol Hill, lobbying on behalf of organic food and farming and industrial hemp, CBD and related products. The staff at the offices of Colorado Senators Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner were supportive of industrial hemp in our meetings, and in alignment with Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ goal of furthering Colorado’s leadership in industrial hemp, as were staff leaders in the offices of Colorado Representatives Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette. However, staff at the offices of Idaho Congressmen Russell Fulcher and Mike Simpson deferred to their state’s legislature when it came to my questions regarding Idaho’s seizure in January of a container shipment of industrial hemp from a licensed grower in Oregon bound for processing in Colorado, despite the 2018 federal Farm Bill declaring that interstate transport and commerce of hemp-derived products is now legal throughout the U.S.

In addition to our Capitol Hill visits, I moderated a lively seminar attended by a number of organic farmers interested in or already growing hemp for food, supplements and fiber as part of an educational track focused on hemp during OTA’s Organic Week. At the seminar, longtime organic farmer Chris Jagger, owner of Blue Fox Farm in Oregon, shared how he began growing hemp three years ago. Instead of planting hemp densely, like they do for fiber production where tall stalks and little foliage are desired, Chris farms his hemp like a specialty crop, or “like vegetables,’ he says, to cultivate the delicate hemp flowers for CBD extraction. Currently, a small number of organic certifiers, including OneCertCCOF and MOSA are certifying farms for organic hemp production, and rumor has it some other major certifiers will soon follow.

At the same time across town, hemp advocate Ben Droz participated in the inaugural Congressional Cannabis Forum hosted on May 21 by Washington, D.C.-based KCSA Strategic Communications. “While covering all aspects of the cannabis market, the KCSA forum presented a hemp panel that examined capital markets and the global economic implications of the legalization of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Droz. “If hemp extracts become a global commodity, it might not necessarily benefit small scale farmers and producers,” he cautioned. “However, until the FDA comes up with more clear guidelines concerning hemp products, the big corporate players will continue to sit on the sidelines, allowing time for smaller brands to establish and build market share, but that could change at any time,” he said. Droz noted that the FDA scheduled its first public hearing on hemp and CBD in food and beverage for Friday, May 31, 2019. Information on the hearing is published in the Federal Register.

Organic agriculture is a bright spot in the U.S. farm economy, continuing to grow at a rate more than double the growth rate of the overall U.S. food market. According to new OTA data, the number of organic farms grew by 39% while the total number of farms in the U.S. shrank by 3% between 2012 and 2017. Organic products can now be found in more than 82% of U.S. homes, and in some states, including California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and my home state of Colorado, organic products are in over 90% of U.S. households. Here’s hoping that organically produced hemp follows suit.