More than 50 representatives from a broad range of industries and areas have begun discussions to set a standard for sustainable agriculture. The talks, facilitated by the non-profit Leonardo Academy, are aimed at creating a voluntary standard under the rules of the American National Standards Institute.

Members of the sustainable agriculture Standards Committee, which met in late September, include diverse agricultural producers, food and clothing makers and retailers, including Dole, Earthbound Farms, the National Corn Growers Association, General Mills, Amy's Kitchen, Levi Strauss & Co. and Whole Foods Market. The Committee also includes environmental, labor, government, academic and certification representatives.

The group identified the main issues it will need to tackle, and laid out its course of action. Major topics will include the relationship between organic, mainstream and sustainable agriculture; genetically engineered crops; continually improving standards; including small and medium farms and conventional agriculture; carbon sequestration in soil; labor protections; the intersection of product safety and sustainability; and applying standards to livestock and non-plant agriculture sectors.

But before the Committee delves into those topics, it has settled on six steps to take next: conduct a needs assessment for the standard; review and articulate the mission, principles and scope of their work; collect reference documents; report on different methodologies for measuring various aspects of sustainability; identify potential funding to ensure full stakeholder participation; and develop outreach efforts to include all stakeholders.

The Committee has so far chosen one reference, Scientific Certification Systems' Draft American National Standard for Trial Use for Sustainable Agriculture.