The chairman of a committee developing voluntary national standards for
sustainable agriculture, including flowers and potted plants, told The Produce
News June 10 that he would resign in frustration when the 58-member
committee meets Monday, June 14, because a for-profit firm continues to
hold copyright on standards developed by the committee.
Marty Matlock, a professor at the University of Arkansas who was elected to
head the committee almost two years ago, said in an exclusive interview that
a for-profit firm which initiated the standards process, Scientific Certification
Systems in Emeryville, CA, has failed for two years to deliver on its promise to
turn copyright over to a non-profit firm.
"I finally drew a line in the sand and told SCS it had to be done by this April,"
Dr. Matlock recounted. “All I got was another deadline. They said maybe
they'd do it in June.”
Leonardo Academy of Madison, WI, an accredited standards development
organization, was named by the American National Standards Institute, which
oversees development of voluntary standards and assessment systems, to
shepherd the process. The academy has unsuccessfully sought foundation
funding to underwrite the committee’s operations.
“No foundation is going to give a grant to a project where a private, for-
profit firm holds copyright,” Dr. Matlock explained. SCS has been sole funder
for the work of the committee, aside from a recent donation to cover some
travel expenses to the upcoming meeting. A Leonardo Academy spokesman
declined earlier to disclose how much SCS had paid the academy.
“I cannot ask the taxpayers of Arkansas to continue to support my work for
this committee when its product will benefit only a private for-profit
company,” Dr. Matlock said. He is stepping down as chairman of the
committee and resigning as a member, he said, but is proud of the work it has
“The members were aggressive in finding common ground among the wide
range of interests represented on the committee,” he said. “We developed
principles that our standards will be outcomes-driven, informed by science,
neutral on technology and encompass social, environmental and economic
impact.” He added that the committee could complete its recommendations to
the American National Standards Institute in about a year, and expected the
final standards to include an annex specifically for cut flowers and potted
The group is scheduled to hold its third face-to-face meeting June 14-15 at
the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, home base for Dr. Matlock, who is
also director of the Center for Agricultural & Rural Sustainability there.
At the June 14-15 meeting, subcommittees will present draft statements for
approval. For example, the labor rights subcommittee will offer principles on
wages and benefits, working hours, child labor, forced labor, discrimination,
freedom of association, violence and harassment, and work contracts.
Yet to come from that subcommittee are statements on health and safety,
migrant workers and access to justice, followed by development of criteria
and indicators to measure compliance. Even when completed, the standards
will have to go through a series of review and comments by the industry and
The process began in April 2007 when SCS proposed that standards it had
developed for the “VeriFlora” label, and charged fees to certify, be adopted as
U.S. standards. The American National Standards Institute, which oversees
development of voluntary standards and assessment systems, turned to
Leonardo Academy, a non-profit in Madison, WI, to shepherd the process.
At the committee’s first meeting in 2008, one of its early actions was to start
with a clean slate and set the SCS standards aside as a resource document.
The committee met in St. Charles, IL, in 2009. Other meetings and
subcommittee meetings took place via conference call and the Internet.
Will Healy, research and technical manager at Ball Innovations, the research
and development arm of Ball Horticultural Co. in West Chicago, IL, serves as
secretary of the committee. Other floral industry representatives are Metrolina
Greenhouses in Charlotte, NC; Asocolflores, the Colombian flower exporters
group in Bogotá; Stan Pohmer of Pohmer Consulting in Minnetonka, MN; the
Department of Environmental Horticulture at the University of Florida in
Gainesville; the Horticulture Department at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison; and SCS.