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Pundit’s Mailbag — Organic Icon DiMatteo Weighs In On
Sustainability Standard

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 12, 2008

In the world of organic agriculture, few names are held in higher esteem than that of Katherine DiMatteo, the longtime Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association, so we are honored she has weighed in with a response to our Special Pundit edition entitled, Sustainability Standard Being Steamrolled — Does A Sustainable Vision Encompass Only Organics?:

I read with interest your March 6, 2008 Pundit on Sustainability Standards. I was pleased to read that you believe that sustainability and social responsibility are important issues for the fresh produce industry. I share this belief for all of the agriculture sector worldwide, which is why the ANSI initiative to develop a Sustainable Agriculture Standard is very important.

I attended the information meeting convened by the Leonardo Academy on February 29th and from that meeting I took away a different perspective than you have stated in this Pundit.

It is my understanding that:

  1. The committee that will develop the ANSI Sustainable Agriculture Standard has not yet been formed. The deadline for applications is April 7, 2008, and if the fresh produce industry wishes to have their viewpoint included then industry members must step forward. It is definitely not too late to have representation.
  2. The Leonardo Academy will select the 40 committee members and must, according to the ANSI protocol, select a balanced committee that represents the four sectors — producers, users, environmentalist, and general interest. This protocol is widely accepted among international standard-setting organizations. If the 1990 Farm Bill definition for sustainable agriculture is supported (as stated in the January 31, 2008 letter reprinted in your pundit), then it is justified that environmentalists are included as a stakeholder group.
  3. The draft standard is just that — a draft! The committee that will be formed after applications are reviewed will decide how the draft standard will be used to develop the ANSI Sustainable Agriculture Standard. The committee may decide to use it as the basis for their discussions or reject some or all of the draft. The committee will most likely form sub-committees to work on specific sections of the standard. The sub-committee members will be drawn not from the committee itself but from the pool of candidates that submit applications. The work of the sub-committees will have as much, or perhaps, more influence than the current draft standard. After deliberation and consideration, the ANSI Sustainable Agriculture Standard committee’s work will become the proposed standard that is posted for at least one round of public comment. These comments must be addressed by the committee before there is a final standard.

It seems to me that there is a process that will allow many voices to be heard and that to reject the ANSI Sustainable Agriculture Standard at this stage is just pre-mature.

Katherine DiMatteo — Katherine DiMatteo
DiMatteo Consulting

Katherine DiMatteo is a passionate advocate for her beliefs and for organic agriculture, a recipient of many accolades and awards, an icon of late 20th century agriculture and certain to be a powerful force long into the 21st. She is a gifted woman, and we share many beliefs on the importance of sustainability and social responsibility, but on this particular process and the way this is being conducted, we can only ask Katherine to apply the same sense of fairness and same skills at consensus-building as she has in shepherding the organic movement to its current place of prominence.

If she helps in this process, her influence is so vast and her guidance so respected, we may yet achieve an industry standard for sustainability. If she refuses to engage in a fight for an objectively fair and sustainable process, there is a major battle brewing.

Here are the basic principles of fairness that this process is violating:

1) The Neutral Party Must Be Agreed On By The Stakeholders

The first element of sustainability is stakeholder engagement. In acting on its own to select the Leonardo Academy to conduct this process, Scientific Certification Systems neglected to engage in this kind of outreach.

This is elemental. Imagine a husband and wife having difficulties; now imagine the husband announcing to the wife that he has selected a neutral third-party to arbitrate the couple’s disputes.

Surely we do not even need to write any more. The Katherine DiMatteo we have long respected would tell that woman that she is under no obligation to participate in that process. If there is going to be a neutral party helping resolve differences, both parties to the dispute need to agree on a neutral party to handle the process.

Without a doubt the Organic Trade Association, California Certified Organic Farmers and Scientific Certification Systems should be a part of this process. However, so should PMA, United Fresh, Western Growers, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Texas Produce Association, Northwest Horticultural Council, Primus, NSF Davis and many other groups.

At this point, the only way to right this wrong is to take a step back, end the relationship with Leonardo and start again with the outreach to stakeholders with the goal of selecting a neutral facilitator AGREEABLE to the stakeholders.

No one party gets to choose who conducts the process.

2) The Scope Of The Project Must Be Agreed On By The Stakeholders

There are many options here. We can have a sustainability standard for all agriculture, for all crop-based agriculture, for all produce, separate standards for organic and conventionally grown produce, etc.

This program pre-supposes the proper extent of the standard. Once again, this is properly a subject of stakeholder engagement.

No one party gets to decide how broad or narrow the scope shall be.

3) No Thumb On The Scale

In an open process, you begin something like this with an exercise in stakeholder mapping to ascertain who the relevant stakeholders might be. This map is revised as we identify additional stakeholders through this process.

The Leonardo Academy practice of a priori reserving 25% of the seats on the decision-making body to go to environmentalists is a way of putting a “thumb on the scale” to bias the decisions in a particular direction.

There are direct stakeholders such as consumers and producers — these people could be environmentalists or advocates of economic development, we don’t know. And there are indirect stakeholders such as environmentalists or advocates of economic development.

We stand with Katherine DiMatteo in insisting that environmentalists have a seat at the table, but we hope she will stand with us in rejecting a priori allocations of seats on the Committee. These are not required by ANSI; they are required by Leonardo’s Constitution. With a different facilitator, we can engage in a proper stakeholder mapping and engagement process, defining who the stakeholders are and agreeing to an allocation of seats on this Committee.

No one party gets to put a thumb on the scale and weight the Committee in line with their predilections.

4) No Participant Gets to Establish Rebuttable Presumptions

It biases the process for one party to establish a draft and then tell the word that they are free to rebut its points.

A fair process starts out from a position of neutrality.

So after we map our stakeholders and engage them, we ascertain areas of interest for these standards to address. So if there is consensus that the standard needs to address GMOs, we start from a position of neutrality.

We ask all stakeholders for position papers and feedback on GMOs, then a subcommittee absorbs all this and drafts a clause taking this input into account.

We repeat this process on each aspect of the proposed standard.

To allow a draft at all creates, at best, a rebuttable presumption, but no stakeholder should be in that position of having to rebut any presumption.

No one party gets to establish rebuttable presumptions.

***

Katherine DiMatteo is, of course, correct that people can apply to be on the Committee, but if the process is inherently biased, as this one is, nobody wants to lend the credibility of their organization and person to such an unfair process.

We’ve never known Katherine DiMatteo to be unfair, we hope she will join with us to recognize that mistakes were made in the way this particular procedure has been conducted.

Fortunately, we can begin again, with a broad movement encompassing all stakeholders and conducted with stakeholder buy-in. Surely Katherine DiMatteo would recognize that such a solution is far more likely to be sustainable than one shoved down the throat of an unwilling industry.

We appreciate Katherine DiMatteo’s letter and look forward to engaging with her in building a sustainable future.

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