Organic Broadcaster

Rodale Institute, partners introduce Regenerative Organic Certification

By Diana Martin

Earlier this fall, Rodale Institute announced a new “Regenerative Organic Certification,” a holistic agriculture certification with guidelines for soil health and land management, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness. The standard was generated by a cooperative effort among a coalition of farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists, and brands, led by Rodale Institute, including Patagonia, Dr. Bronner’s, Agriculture Justice Project, Compassion in World Farming, Fair World Project, White Oak Pastures, Maple Hill Creamery, Grain Place Foods, and others.

The goals of the certification include increasing soil organic matter over time, sequestering carbon in the soil, improving animal welfare, providing economic stability and fairness for farmers, ranchers, and workers, and creating resilient regional ecosystems and communities. Regenerative Organic Certification does not aim to compete with or negate current organic standards. The certification uses the USDA’s National Organic Program (USDA Organic) certified organic standard (or its international equivalency) as a baseline requirement, and adds criteria in the areas of soil health and land management, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness.

“The Regenerative Organic Certification builds upon the nearly 100-year legacy of organic movement visionaries like J. I. Rodale and Dr. Rudolf Steiner and provides stepwise guidance for farming and ranching operations, transportation, slaughter, and processing facilities that produce food, cosmetics, and fiber,” said Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute’s executive director. “It is essential to farm in a way that enriches rather than degrades the soil, and values animals and workers. Regenerative Organic Certification leverages existing high-bar organic, animal welfare, and social fairness certifications, and includes additional regenerative requirements.”

The new Regenerative Organic Certification requires rotational grazing. Photo by Rodale Institute

The standard is based on three pillars: soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. Specific practices and guidelines apply to each pillar based on the level of certification the producer is seeking. The levels are bronze, silver, and gold, offering a tiered approach so producers can adjust and adapt their practices over time.

The standards for each level of certification are very detailed. Complete details are online at Here’s a simplified look:

Soil Health
• Operation has proof of existing USDA Organic certification or equivalent.
• Producers use a minimum of one cover crop per year per acre on an annual basis.
• Land maintains adequate green cover year-round, with roots remaining in the ground, when possible.
• Tillage must be less than 8 inches. Cultivation tillage, under 2 inches, is permitted as outlined by level.
• Monogastric feed comes from organic or regenerative organic sources.
• Ruminant feed comes from grass/forage/baleage/hay (“grass-fed”) or organic sources.
• Operation has a rotational grazing plan.
• Aquaponics, hydroponics, and other soilless practices are not eligible.
• Operation does not use any genetically modified inputs. Cloned animals are not eligible for Regenerative Organic Certification.
• Requires soil health testing.

Animal Welfare
• Operation does not feed animals in a manner that meets the USDA’s definition of a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).
• Environment considers an animal’s welfare needs and is designed to protect animals from physical and thermal discomfort, fear, distress, and allows them to perform natural behaviors conducive to good animal welfare. Includes adequate shelter, indoor space for avian species, appropriate exposure to light, pasture for livestock and more.
• Operation has implemented an animal nutrition plan that encourages consumption of forage/ regenerative organic grains, wherever applicable.
• Producers promote compassionate care and handling of animals. Operations do not abuse animals or treat animals with cruelty.
• Operations do not use any type of temporary or permanent confinement (including cages, crates, tie-stalls, and any other system that restricts mobility) at any point during the production cycle, except if necessary for veterinary treatment or transportation.
• All slaughter/killing systems need to be designed and managed to ensure animals are not caused unnecessary or intentional distress or discomfort.

Social Fairness 
• With the exception of the operator’s family members, no children below the lowest of 15, legal age, or age of compulsory schooling are employed. Children under 18 do not perform work that jeopardizes health, safety, education, and emotional or physical development.
• Workers earn a living wage as calculated based on the region’s cost of living and typical expenses.
• People are not forced to work or remain on premises against their will.
• Operation minimizes number of immediate threats to workers lives (immediate physical hazards; lack of emergency preparedness; improper handling or storage of flammable materials/chemicals).

History of Regenerative Organic Agriculture
Rodale Institute has pioneered regenerative organic agriculture since founder J.I. Rodale wrote “Healthy Soil=Healthy Food=Healthy People” on a chalkboard in 1942. His son, Robert, coined “regenerative organic agriculture” in the 1980s to distinguish farming that goes beyond “sustainable.”“To us, that always meant agriculture improving the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them,” Moyer explained. “It is a holistic systems approach to farming that encourages continual innovation for environmental, social, and economic wellbeing.”

Next Steps:
 Public comment period ends Nov. 30, 2017. See
 Incorporate public comments into certification.
 NSF to conduct pilot program with select farms and brands (December-January).
 Share updated Regenerative Organic Certification and incorporate final feedback from Steering Committee (January 2018).
 EcoFarm Conference (Jan. 24-27): David Bronner, Dr. Bronners, and Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute, will keynote and hold panel.
 Expo West (March 7): Rose Marcario, Patagonia, will keynote and announce the new label to consumers.

Diana Martin is the communications director for the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. Learn more at


From the November | December 2017 Issue

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