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Stutzman: “It’s Time for Congress to Protect Organic Farmers”

Last Friday, U.S. Congressman Marlin Stutzman led a bipartisan group of Representatives in urging members of the Farm Bill conference committee to include critical due process protections for organic producers.

“When small farmers face legal threats from the Department of Agriculture, they deserve nothing less than a fair and full hearing process. Unfortunately, until Congress comes together to protect farmers, certified organic producers have no guarantee to a fair defense if the USDA suspends their license. My colleagues and I urge the conference committee to include the Senate’s due process protections for organic producers in the Farm Bill. It’s time for Congress to protect organic farmers.”

·           Under current law, an organic producer must obtain certification from a certifying agent accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, without a change to the current law, a producer whose license has been suspended is not guaranteed an administrative appeal after receiving a ruling from an administrative law judge and before receiving a final judicial appeal.

The letter is found below.

Dear Conferees:

We write to urge you to support the enforcement language from Section 10009 of S. 954, the Senate Farm Bill, instead of its companion language in Section 9005 of H.R. 2642, the House Farm Bill.  Section 10009 of S. 954 provides critical due process protections for organic agricultural operations, of all varieties and sizes, nationwide, while the House bill has inadequate due process protections.  With constituents in this fast-growing industry, we support the strong language of the Senate Farm Bill. 

Under existing law, when USDA takes enforcement action against a certified organic producer, the producer is granted the opportunity for an informal administrative appeal, which is then followed by an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).  Only then is there a final decision from USDA, which can be appealed in court.  The Senate bill preserves the all-important right to an informal administrative appeal at the agency level in cases where USDA acts to suspend the organic certificate from a certified organic producer.  This point is critical, yet precisely where the House language is lacking.

The House bill would also roll back other needed due process protections.  For “reckless” violations – a much lower legal threshold than the Senate’s “willful, noncorrectable” violation threshold – a 90-day suspension order could be issued after notice and a hearing before an ALJ.  A suspension order can be terminated if the producer “cures,” or corrects, the deficiency.  However, according to the House bill, in such suspension cases, there exists no due process guarantee of an administrative appeal of the decision by the ALJ.  This is another significant step back from the protections that organic agricultural producers have today, with the potential to cripple business operations. 

This is why it is crucial for the Senate language to be included in the final, conference-negotiated Farm Bill.  The difference could mean millions of dollars and thousands of jobs lost if organic agricultural operations are harmed because their due process protections are diminished.

Sincerely,

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R, IN-3), Rep. Jared Polis (D, CO-2), Rep. John Garamendi (D, CA-3), Rep. Cory Gardner (R, CO-4), Rep. Dan Benishek (R, MI-1), Rep. Susan Brooks (R, IN-5), Rep. Todd Rokita (R, IN-4), and Rep. Scott Tipton (R, CO-3).