Are we entering the golden age of certifications? From keto to kosher, labels are getting more informative every year. Certifications allow specialty diet shoppers to arm themselves with knowledge and further diversify the foods they can eat. They also allow both shoppers and brands to make their value statements about their commitment to organic more rigorous and meaningful.
Regenerative Organic Certified™ is one such label. Brought to us by Patagonia, Rodale Institute, and Dr. Bronner’s, ROC takes USDA Organic to the next level. Total compliance with USDA Organic, or in the case of operations outside the US, compliance with a USDA Organic equivalent, is the minimum requirement for a brand to even be considered for ROC.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, just what is Regenerative Organic Agriculture?
Regenerative Organic Agriculture
According to Rodale Institute, one of the founding members of the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA) – the governing body of the ROC certification – regenerative organic agriculture is a holistic combination of farming methods that sequester carbon and heal and strengthen the soil. For the time being, ROC is a label that can be earned for specific products in a company’s offerings. In truth, Regenerative Organic is not a new idea. Regenerative agricultural practices draw heavily from Indigenous practices – the original stewards of the land.
Such practices include:
- Vegetative Cover
- Crop rotation
- Minimal soil disturbance
- Rotational grazing
- No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides
There are many more practices that can be layered on top of these core six, like pollinator habitats or vegetative barriers. However, it doesn’t end with the soil or the crops – ROA adds that true Regenerative Organic prioritizes wellbeing of animals and farmers as well.
The additional prioritization of animal and worker welfare is a major differentiator between ROC and USDA Organic. ROC’s worker protection standards ensure that producers are paid fairly, have guaranteed days off, maximum weekly hours, are protected against retaliation by employers, and much more. Click here to read ROA’s Farmer and Worker Fairness guidelines.
The animal welfare guidelines laid out by ROA are equally comprehensive. At the top of the list is the prohibition of feeding animals in a manner that meets the EPA’s definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). Animals must be provided indoor shelter consistent with their physical and behavioral needs and there can be no permanent confinement that restricts animal mobility and lifestyle. In the case of both worker fairness and animal welfare, clear, transparent documentation is paramount. Click here to read ROA’s Animal Welfare framework.
Regenerative Organic Certified™
The ROC certification uses USDA Organic as a minimum baseline and expands it. ROC is strict but it is also designed to create change. By breaking it down into levels based on progressive improvement, USDA Organic-certified operations of any size can get involved so long as they commit to "leveling up."
ROC is built on three primary pillars. They are:
- Soil Health & Land Management
- Animal Welfare
- Farmer & Worker Fairness
The actual certification is broken down into three levels – Bronze, Silver, and Gold – each with progressively strict requirements.
- Bronze – at least 10% of fiber- or food-producing land within an operation must meet ROC standards at initial certification, with a commitment to reach 50% by year five
- Silver – at least 50% must be up to standard at initial certification, with a commitment to reach 75% by year five
- Gold – 100% of fiber- or food-producing land must be ROC and USDA Organic-certified
Lastly, each individual level of ROC certification is categorized into Required Practices (R), Optional Practices (O), and Critical Tolerances (CT). Optional Practices generally begin as optional, but as an operation advances from Bronze to Silver to Gold, they shift to Required.
Critical Tolerances are, as implied, critical. These are the most urgently required guidelines outlined by ROA. Producers must resolve lapses in CTs within 30 days or lose ROC status.
These are the baseline requirements. For a full list of R, O, and CT, head to page 9 of this document.
The State of ROC Today
Regenerative Organic Certified began in 2017 with the inception of the Regenerative Organic Alliance. To date, there are 106 ROC-certified farms providing ingredients to 55 brands and nearly 300 applicants across the world, from the US and Canada to India to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many more in between.
For retailers, this is a certification to watch closely. There are currently few companies with ROC verified products, but that number is only going to go up as consumer preferences change. Shoppers are increasingly looking for brands that align with their values and ROC is one of the most comprehensive value statements out there.
For shoppers, this is also a certification to watch closely! While package labels and certifications are undergoing a bit of a renaissance, it’s important to know how to differentiate between genuine value statements and greenwashing. As the industry grows and terms get diluted, certifications that make unequivocal value statements will only grow in importance.
ROC is one such statement with strict, transparent guidelines so shoppers can be confident the products they buy support true conservation and fair treatment of workers and animals.
To learn more about ROC and the Regenerative Organic Alliance, click here.
Click here to find ROA on Instagram.