Jun 10, 2009
Sustainability Standards Committee Makes Progress on National StandardSource: Leonardo Academy, GPN

During the last week of May, 48 committee members, along with 15 observers, met in suburban Chicago to work on the development of an American National Standard for Sustainable Agriculture (SCS-001).

The committee was reviewing previous recommendations from its task force while laying the groundwork for resolution of key issues – and to establish initial subcommittees so the task force can move forward.

“The process of conceptualizing and developing metrics for sustainable agriculture is moving forward,” said Standards Committee Chairman Dr. Marty Matlock. “Particularly impressive was the degree to which all sides in this multifaceted discussion demonstrated their commitment to the ANSI process and their willingness to work with one another toward consensus.”

In the past couple of years, the creation of a sustainability standard has been a hot topic for many growers because of its breadth and diversity. “The need for a national standard for sustainable agriculture has been questioned by many within our industry and in other segments of agriculture,” said GPN consulting editor and committee member Dr. Jim Barrett. “Agricultural production is very diverse, and everyone recognizes that it will be difficult to develop a standard that fits the wide array of crops and production systems that exists.”

“The Sustainable Standards Committee is composed of individuals representing many different views and segments of agriculture including food processors, grocery chains, clothing manufacturers, specialty crops such as vegetable and fruit farmers, ornamentals, organic farmers and large commodity crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton,” Barrett remarked.

According to Matlock, the stakeholder participants have worked over the past six months through several task forces to examine the need for a standard; define the scope, mission and principles of the process; create a library of relevant standards, metrics, reports and related materials; and identify various stakeholder needs. “The deliberations in this meeting provided clear direction, based on the task force work, for subcommittee structure for the next phase of the ANSI process,” Matlock said.

He added that key agreements made by the committee included approval of recommendations posed by the task force leadership regarding how the standards development process should proceed:

1) The standard development should initially focus on activities up to the farm gate, with a clear intention of expanding the focus to ultimately incorporate post-farm gate considerations;
2) The standard should initially be limited to crop production but eventually include other agricultural production; and
3) The standard should be performance oriented.

The Committee also agreed on the following statement: “Our goal is to develop a standard that is based on verifiable metrics and will allow for any technology that increases agricultural sustainability.”

Barrett told GPN he was pleased with the meeting. “Going into our first meeting last fall, most of us on the committee probably felt there was a poor chance of the committee being able to function and come to agreements,” Barrett said. “After our two full committee meetings and the task force meetings, this general view has changed.”

“There are generally two driving forces for the individuals on the committee,” he added.

“First, many feel that a national standard will be good for agriculture and the environment. Second, having a national standard will allow producers to operate under a single set of rules rather than a myriad of different standards that may apply to separate aspects of production or are established by different retailers, processors, or local groups and agencies. The larger segments of agriculture see benefits of a set of standards that emerge from within agriculture and with producer input rather than being forced on producers from the outside.”

The key issues to be explored in the next phase of the process are:

1) Criteria Development – Economic Sustainability
2) Criteria Development – Social Sustainability
3) Criteria Development – Environmental Sustainability
4) Reference Library and Information
5) Structure and Process of Standard Development
6) Fundraising and Communications
7) Executive Committee, to be comprised of the Committee Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Vice Secretary, plus the Chair and Co-Chair of each of the other six subcommittees.

The subcommittee work is scheduled to begin by the end of June. Subcommittees will be open for participation by all interested parties.

“The Standards Committee still has a great deal of detailed work to do, but we are finding ways to reach consensus and common interests,” Barrett concluded.

For more information, go to www.leonardoacademy.org.


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