New protocol looks to recognize 'organics in training'

by Eric Schroeder
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Kashi Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits, Kellogg
Kashi Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits is the first product to earn the QAI Certified Transitional mark.

ANN ARBOR, MICH. — QAI, Inc., a certifier of organic food in North America and a part of global public health organization NSF International, has designed a new program to recognize and incentivize farmers as they transition their land from conventional to organic growing methods.

The new protocol, QAI Certified Transitional, is a way for companies to recognize “organics in training.” Producers who want to transition to organic growing methods from conventional must do so over a three-year period. Through QAI Certified Transitional, consumers now will be able to see which products are in the process of converting to organic. Products featuring a QAI Certified Transitional mark must contain a minimum of 51% transitional content.

Sarah Krol, QAI, Inc.
Sarah Krol, global managing director for QAI

“Food companies will be able to use the on-package QAI Certified Transitional logo to guide consumers to these products,” said Sarah Krol, global managing director, QAI, Inc. “With the QAI Certified Transitional program, farmers, processors, distributors and retailers can command a premium for products as they support the expansion of organic acreage to support consumer demand.”

Currently, only about 1% of U.S. farmland is dedicated to organic farm acreage. According to QAI, demand for organic products is strong, but transitioning of farm land to organic is costly with limited return on investment because of the three-year period to become eligible for organic certification. QAI said its new program will help lower the barriers and allow for premium pricing while supporting the conversion of more organic products.

QAI Certified Transitional may be applied throughout the supply chain to train producers how to become organic and includes several key requirements over three years, including:

No prohibited substances. Sewage sludge, irradiation, bioengineered ingredients and other National Organic Program prohibited substances are not permitted on certified transitional land or product.

Farmer spraying pesticides on crops
National Organic Program prohibited substances are not permitted on certified transitional land or product.

Organic training. Producers and manufacturers are required to complete education courses to demonstrate competency in organic regulations.

Accountability. Farms and manufacturing facilities are subject to annual inspections and may be selected for unannounced inspections and sampling.

Due diligence. Records demonstrating compliance with the applicable elements of organic regulations must be created and maintained from the start of the program, including compliance plans, land use, soil fertility, seeds and planting stock, crop rotation, pest/disease control and any inputs or ingredients used.

Approved labeling. Depending on percentage of transitional ingredients, products may display certain claims on packaging. Products with at least 51% transitional ingredients can display the Certified Transitional mark on packaging.

Organic transitional certified stamp
Products with at least 51% transitional ingredients can display the Certified Transitional mark on packaging.

Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co., through its Kashi brand, is the first company to use the Certified Transitional mark. The company said it will feature the mark on its Kashi Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits cereal, which will be available at select grocers and natural food retailers nationwide in early June.

David Denholm, Kashi, Kellogg
David Denholm, c.e.o. of Kashi

“The health of people and the health of our planet are inextricably linked,” said David Denholm, chief executive officer at Kashi. “One per cent organic acreage is just not enough — and we want to promote solutions that benefit everyone working to move organic farming forward. We believe championing farms in transition will make organic foods more accessible and support a more sustainable food system — for all of us.”

Kashi purchased the hard red winter wheat for use in the cereal from farmer Newton Russell, one of two farmers who piloted the Certified Transitional protocol. By contracting the transitional wheat at a price above the conventional market rate, Kashi said it is working to create a marketplace that recognizes the investment farmers make while transitioning to organic practices.

Newton Russel, Farmer
Newton Russell, farmer who piloted the Certified Transitional protocol

“I transitioned some of my farmland to organic in the past and experienced the financial burden and uncertainty firsthand,” Mr. Russell said. “Certified Transitional changes the equation and makes the decision to go organic easier.”

QAI led the development of the Certified Transitional protocol, with input from Hesco/Dakota Organic Products, agricultural suppliers, a global environmental N.G.O., organic experts, farmers, retailers, distributors and food brands. The protocol may be applied to any farmland growing any crop, and any brand using agricultural ingredients may incorporate Certified Transitional sourcing.

Mr. Denholm of Kashi expressed his excitement with the program and is urging others to get involved.

General Mills organic acreage
In March, General Mills said it is accelerating its commitment to more than double the organic acreage from which it sources ingredients.

“To really reach that potential, we need more farmers, processors, and brands to get on board,” he said. “We encourage any brand that relies on agricultural ingredients to explore Certified Transitional sourcing.”

Several companies have ramped up commitments to organics over the past year. General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, in March said it is accelerating its commitment to more than double the organic acreage from which it sources ingredients. The company expects to have 250,000 acres by 2019, a year ahead of its previous goal. Cascade Milling, a division of Royal City, Wash.-based Cascade Organic Flour, L.L.C., in February said it plans to double organic wheat acreage to 5,000 irrigated acres in the Columbia Basin of central Washington by 2018. And last winter, Ardent Mills, Denver, unveiled a new organic initiative committed to helping U.S. wheat growers double organic wheat acres by 2019. As part of the initiative, Ardent said it would provide farmers with access to direct support services, workshops and long-term contracts for transitional and organic wheat bushels.  
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