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Standards committee approves principles, resolves copyright issue

by John S. Niblock | June 20, 2010
The committee developing voluntary national standards for sustainable agriculture approved a set of principles that outline its work for the next two years at a meeting June 14-15 at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Also, the committee was told that legal opinions held that the copyright of any standards developed would be owned by the committee.

The principles cover economic, social and environmental criteria related to farm labor rights; water, soil and air pollution; biodiversity; greenhouse gases; and other topics. Work will now move forward to develop indicators and metrics for these principles, Douglas B. Johnson, owner of Environmental Intelligence Inc. in St. Paul, MN, told The Produce News June 18 by phone. Dr. Johnson is volunteer co-chairman of the fundraising and communications subcommittee for the standards group.

In other action, the committee set a tentative date of fall 2012 for completion of the standards and heard about the legal opinions on copyright from Michael Arny, president of Leonardo Academy in Madison, WI, which is shepherding the development process.

Marty Matlock, a professor at the University of Arkansas and chairman of the standards committee for the past two years, resigned his post and membership in the committee at the meeting, as he had told The Produce News June 10 he would. He said then that his actions resulted from frustration at the slow process, then in its second year, of turning copyright over from a private for-profit company to a non-profit group.

Dr. Matlock first learned via a phone call June 13 about the legal opinions which said that the copyright was held by the committee and therefore did not have to be assigned to a non-profit group, he said in a phone interview after the meeting. He praised the work of the committee and said it had developed a collegial atmosphere.

"The approval of the principles was an important beginning for the committee," Mr. Arny told The Produce News June 18. He said that the copyright switch from a for-profit company would allow a broader range of fundraising efforts, including foundation grants as well as corporate and individual donations. Principal funder to date has been Scientific Certification Systems in Emeryville, CA, which has paid Leonardo Academy about $200,000 over the past three years for its work.

About 40 of the 58 committee members attended the meeting, and another 10 participated by telephone. Nominations for a new chairman will be taken in early July.