Part of the USDA’s National Organic Program’s role is to produce technical reports on the industry and they just awarded blanket purchase agreement status to three well-known players in the organic industry: Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI), Pesticide Research Institute (PRI), and ICF International. The “blanket purchase status” will allow these three organizations to compete on bids for technical reports for the next four years.
Who are these players and what role will they have in supporting USDA organic standards?
OMRI is a non profit founded in 1997; it provides certification services and came out of a need for the first wave of organic certifications to have verification–i.e., an organization that serves as a kind of watchdog and a place for materials review–critical to organic certification. They are in effect the second generation; their founding represents a collaboration between many of the major organic players in the US in the last nineties, including OTA and Oregan Tilth.
Based in Eugene, Oregon, OMRI has matured and may be the predominant organization for organic certification materials review in the US. They have an advisory board comprised of industry players and academics–like many nonprofits, and a staff of 25. They contract out for many of their technical reports.
The Pesticide Research Insitute (PRI) does exactly what its names says: it researches and advises on pesticide impacts. Recent projects include surveys on pesticide impact on bees; water evaluation for the Marin County area and other risk assessment projects. The organization is led by Dr. Susan Kegley, an organic chemist who has extensive experience in assessing pesticide impacts and in recommending alternatives.
The third organization is ICF International. ICF is an extremely large consulting agency founded by Tuskegee Airman C.D. Lester. Its original purpose was to promote inner city business but today ICF is a very large player with a diverse portfolio. ICF has provided significant consulting on energy and climate change and its CEO, Sudhakar Kesavan, has been active in a variety of green initiatives, including long-term service as a board member of the Rainforest Alliance, which promotes sustainable land use.
While technical reports may not seem critical to progress in the organic industry, they are the basis for decision points and the USDA’s selection of these three organizations suggests a solid commitment to science that will lead to a positive support of organic standards.
The players also show the maturation of the organic industry into a very corporate world, and the increasing complexity of decisions that go into organic certification standards.