The Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced the appointment, on March 29, 2022, of Tom Chapman as the new Chief Executive Officer of the trade-lobby group based in Washington DC.

Mr. Chapman was appointed by USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack to serve a five-year term on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in 2015. During part of his term, he acted as the board’s chair, as well. While serving on the NOSB, he was an executive with Clif Bar, a prominent OTA member.

“It’s the perfect choice—if the intent is to ramp-up the influence between the OTA and the USDA,” said Mark Kastel, Executive Director of OrganicEye, a farm policy research group and one of the country’s preeminent organic industry watchdogs. “But for those of us who care about protecting family-scale farmers, and having access to authentic organic food, the news perpetuates a sad legacy.”

The following comments can be attributed to Mr. Kastel and/or OrganicEye:

While NOSB Chairman, Mr. Chapman partnered with the USDA National Organic Program Director at the time, Miles McEvoy, to rewrite the board’s Policy and Procedures Manual (PPM), stripping the power of the NOSB to create their own work plans and agenda. And, without objection, during his chairmanship on the NOSB, the USDA stood the Sunset regulations on their head, pretty much putting the OTA in the driver’s seat in terms of non-organic and synthetic materials approved for use in organics (because most of the board members now have a direct relationship with the organization).

[Note: previously all non-organic/synthetic materials approved for use in organics would sunset every five years, with a two thirds vote required for relisting. Based on the collaboration of Mr. McEvoy and Mr. Chapman, that was reversed. Materials now, in essence, stay on the approved list in perpetuity unless they are voted off by a two thirds super majority. We now live “in the land of the midnight sun.”]

The proverbial revolving door in Washington is alive and well in the organic regulatory theater at the USDA. Connecting the dots:

After ethics complaints were filed by Mr. Kastel against Mr. McEvoy, he retired to go ‘birdwatching’ and ended up working as a consultant for two of the largest OTA members—and the largest certifiers in the country—CCOF and Oregon Tilth (both controversially certifying “organic” livestock factories and soilless hydroponics produce). Mr. McEvoy is currently also a contractor working for the OTA.

Mr. Chapman gained prominence as a political appointee to the NOSB and now will take the helm at the country’s largest organic corporate lobby. He was formerly employed by Quality Assurance International (QAI), another prominent OTA member and the most corporate-preferred certifier. He was on the board of CCOF, the country’s largest certifier which partnered with the OTA in lobbying the NOP to approve soilless hydroponics production (subject to a lawsuit that claimed that was in conflict with the enabling organic legislation requiring maintaining or improving soil fertility).

As I like to say, “Why is organics any different than anything else that happens in Washington? Because we said so!”

Those of us who were involved in lobbying for the Organic Foods Production Act in the late 1980s know that the NOSB was designed as a buffer between corporate lobbyists and the rulemaking. Our values have been betrayed, as have the spirit and letter of the law (the intent of Congress).

And so, I say again: Mr. Chapman is the perfect choice! He can now continue the long-standing direct dialogue between OTA lobbyists and political appointees at the USDA.

Additionally (and I wish I was making this up), Secretary Vilsack’s new organic and emerging markets point person is the former chief legal counsel and head lobbyist at the Organic Trade Association.

It’s one big happy family!

Unless you’re milking cows, getting your hands dirty and cracking a sweat for a living, and faced with competition from “factory farms” milking thousands of “organic” cows each in the desert West. And living on the edge without any security because one of the OTA corporation members (like Danone, which owns the Horizon milk label and sits on the OTA board) can sign your death warrant on a whim, as they have recently done by terminating contracts with scores of family farmers in the Northeast.

The Organic Trade Association has worked very hard, and invested heavily, to create the false impression that it is an umbrella group representing all elements in the organic movement. That is patently false.

They do not represent farmers. They represent businesses that buy from farmers.

And they do not represent eaters. They represent manufacturers, marketers, distributors, and retailers that sell to consumers.

Throughout the history of the organic movement, as it has morphed into an industry, the OTA has become just one more self-serving Washington-based lobby group representing the interests of businesses rather than society as a whole.

Organic Trade Association Announces New CEO & Executive Director 

Tom Chapman will replace outgoing CEO Laura Batcha in April 2022

Washington DC (March 29, 2022) — The Organic Trade Association (OTA) today announced the selection of its next CEO and Executive Director, Tom Chapman. The announcement was made during OTA’s 2022 Organic Week, which Chapman attended. Chapman’s hiring concludes a year-long planned succession process for Batcha that began in 2021. Batcha has been a key figure in the organic movement for several decades. She joined the staff of OTA in 2008 and has served as CEO and Executive Director for the past nine years. Chapman, who also has a long history of service to the organic industry – including a five-year stint on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) – will formally assume the position at the association on April 18.

“I couldn’t imagine a better, more experienced person for this role than Tom,” says outgoing OTA Executive Director and CEO Laura Batcha. “Tom has been contributing to the advancement of the organic industry for nearly 20 years, and has led many different aspects of the work, which gives him a great sense of the entire organic tapestry. With Tom at the helm and working alongside our capable staff and dedicated members, OTA and organic will continue to thrive.”  

Chapman is a proactive leader with a deep background in organic that spans the value chain. Over his many years in the industry, Chapman has helped to advance certification and compliance, successfully managed global supply chains and managed multi-million dollar contracts, and worked closely with diverse brands, growers, and other organic stakeholders. He has significant experience building relationships from the ground up and nurturing public-private partnerships. Chapman is also a skilled policy setter with years of experience at both the state and national levels.  

“I am honored to be joining the Organic Trade Association,” says Chapman. “More and more, Americans are looking for products that protect the environment, that make positive impacts on climate change and that enhance their communities – choosing organic achieves all that and more. I am thrilled to be leading an organization with such incredible staff who are ready to champion organic causes on behalf of our members.”    

Most recently, Chapman served as Senior Director, Supply Chain at Kinder’s Sauce and Seasoning. Before that, he worked with OTA members Clif Bar and Quality Assurance International. Chapman has also served as a board member with OTA members Mercaris and California Certified Organic Farmers, as NOSB Chair from 2015-2020, and as a member of the California Organic Products Advisory Committee at the California Department of Agriculture from 2007-2016.    

“We are thrilled to have Tom Chapman join the Organic Trade Association as our new CEO,” says Paul Schiefer, OTA Board Chair and Senior Director of Sustainability at Amy’s Kitchen. “Tom has dedicated his career to furthering organic agriculture and brings professional expertise, values-alignment, and a collaborative and deliberate management style that delivers results. We have full confidence that Tom will make an immediate positive impact to grow our trade, move our bold steps forward, and support continuous improvement to achieve even more remarkable social and environmental outcomes.”

Source: Organic Trade Association