Group touts progress toward sustainable agriculture standards


MADISON, Wisc. — Significant progress was made during a meeting of the multi–stakeholder Standards Committee working to develop an American National Standard for Sustainable Agriculture.

Forty- eight committee members, along with 15 observers, convened for the two–day summit earlier this month in St. Charles, Ill.,to review task force recommendations, lay the groundwork for resolution of key issues and establish the initial subcommittees to carry the task force work forward.

The standards committee members have worked over the past six months to examine the need for a standard; define the scope, mission and principles of the process; create a first of its kind library of relevant standards, metrics, reports and related materials; and identify various stakeholder needs.

Key agreements were developed regarding how the process should proceed and they include:

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.

In terms of mission, the committee agreed that the standard should “encourage the widespread adoption of agricultural production and handling practices that are ecologically responsible, equitable, economically viable, science based, meet global demand for a full range of agricultural products and ensure that future generations are able to meet their own needs.”

One of the more difficult issues facing the committee is how to address the technologies utilized by farmers — such as agrochemicals, integrated pest management, crop rotation, biotechnology and nanotechnology — within a sustainability framework.

Key issues will continue to be explored in the subcommittees created by the committee for the next phase of the process: 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 and 7) executive committee.

The subcommittee work is scheduled to begin by the end of June, starting with a transition of the task force work into the appropriate subcommittees and the development of work plans for moving forward. Subcommittees will be open for participation by all interested parties.

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