(Jan. 19, 10:45 a.m.) The Leonardo Academy will continue its work in the development of a national standard for sustainable agriculture, according to a ruling by the Washington, D.C.-based American National Standards Institute.

The institute (ANSI) on Jan. 13 announced it rejected a U.S. Department of Agriculture mid-December appeal to remove the Madison, Wisc.-based Leonardo Academy’s accreditation status.

The USDA has until Feb. 4 to file another appeal to ANSI. A spokesman for the agency was not immediately available Jan. 19.

Leonardo was accredited as a standards developer by the ANSI Executive Standards Council in December 2005 and began work on the sustainable agriculture standard last year.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service had argued that the Leonardo Academy’s accreditation status should be removed based on their management of the standard development process for the “Sustainable Agriculture Practice Standard for Food, Fiber and Biofuel Producers and Agricultural Product Handlers and Processors.”

Raising objections to a draft standard for agriculture sustainability that has since been set aside by the Leonardo Academy, the USDA also had argued that the academy was not inclusive enough of all of agriculture.

However, in its ruling, the ANSI Executive Standards Council said the work on a standard for sustainable agriculture was in its early stages and that ample opportunities for inclusiveness remained. The ANSI council said that the Leonardo Academy has been appropriately following ANSI-accredited procedures in its administration of the process to develop a national standard for sustainable agriculture.

“There should be ample opportunity for Leonardo to demonstrate its stated commitment to equity and consensus to all those interested in its work,” the decision said. “There should also be ample opportunity for the USDA as well as those who may feel at this point that they are excluded from the process, to participate in some way,”

An official for the Leonardo Academy said the ANSI decision to reject the USDA appeal was not a surprise.

“We were expecting, based on the conversations at the appeal, that we would maintain our accreditation status,” said Amanda Raster, project manager for the Madison, Wisc.-based Leonardo Academy. However, Raster said it was somewhat of a surprise that ANSI did not ask the academy to implement any corrective action.

“The appeals board didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to show we weren’t following our process,” she said. “That was good news for us.”

ANSI did suggest that the academy continue to strive for inclusiveness and representation throughout agriculture before filing a final standard with ANSI.

Raster said Leonardo Academy was hoping for a constructive relationship with USDA in continuing work on the standards.

“We are making greater efforts to extend our outreach and be as inclusive as we can in the task forces, so hopefully that will alleviate some of the issues around representation on the committee and the process,” she said.

Raster said there is no deadline for development of a national standard for sustainable agriculture.

There are six task forces gathering data and seeking input from industry stakeholders. They plan to report their findings and recommendations to the full standards committee in May, Raster said.