A more formal standard is needed for a "sustainably grown" label. Some have suggested the lines between conventional and organic produce will eventually blur. Perhaps that day would come sooner with a USDA certification of "sustainable" farming practices.
Because of cost and confusion, retailers should not be involved in setting their own standards for sustainable growing methods.
I think a "sustainably grown" U.S. Department of Agriculture certification/label should be a goal for our major trade associations during the next decade. Determining the parameters of what "sustainable" means will be a matter of debate, of course. I think that in the end. a "sustainably grown" certification will result in enhanced transparency. Consumers who buy USDA-certified sustainable produce will see the inputs applied to the produce and the "continuous improvement" plan for each farming operation.
Under the sustainable certification model, growers and the entire supply chain should be able to add value to their produce without adding as much cost as strictly organic growing methods. With the recent Stanford University study finding no substantial nutrition or food safety advantage to organic, there appears to be an opportunity for sustainable farming methods to step into the gap in the public consciousness.
Here is a poll question about the issue:
I think it is time for a USDA certified "sustainably grown" label. What's your view?