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21
Oct

Public Input Needed on Organic Standards

(Beyond Pesticides, October 20, 2011) With the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) set to meet next month to decide on a range of issues regarding the future of organic food and farming in the United States, the public is invied to weigh in on a set of issues that continue to shape organic standards. The 15-member board will vote to allow or prohibit substances and practices in certified organic production and consider the adoption of new rules that address the functioning of the board and public participation –after considering input from any interested members of the public, such as farmers, consumers, food processors, or professionals through written comments and/or public testimony. Public participation is vital to the development of organic standards, as farmers and consumers relay their ideas to the board for consideration. Take action now.

The documents on the issues that will be considered at the Fall 2011 NOSB meeting (November 29-December 2, 2011 in Savannah, GA) are open for written public comment until November 13. To read all of the recommendations from the various board committees, go to this page and select the committees from the drop down menu. The proposed recommendations are then sorted by date.

The organic regulatory process depends on informed public involvement. The NOSB needs to hear input from the organic community, including organic consumers, farmers and processors, in making its decisions. It seeks comments from anyone with an interest in protecting the integrity and the future of organic food and farming. Beyond Pesticides will be publicizing our positions on the key issues before the board in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for updates regarding recommended actions as well as Beyond Pesticides’ comments that will be submitted to the board for review.

To make your own comments more effective and easily understood, comment on each issue or material separately and clearly indicate what issue your are addressing. If you would like to submit comments on multiple issues, it is preferable to submit them individually. However, if you do choose to comment on multiple issues in a single submission, please clearly separate them with subheadings.

Take Action: Making Your Voice Heard
The organic regulatory process provides numerous opportunities for the public to weigh in on what is allowable in organic production. USDA maintains a National List, set by the NOSB, of the synthetic substances that may be used and the non-synthetic substances that may not be used in organic production and handling. The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and NOP regulations provide for the sunsetting (review with the potential for expiration) of listed substances every five years and relies on public comment in evaluating their continuing uses. The public may also file a petition to amend the National List by either adding or removing a material. In both cases, sunset and petition, the NOSB is authorized by OFPA to determine a substance’s status.

Submit your comments using this form before Sunday, November 13 or register if you would like to present a statement to the board in person at the meeting in Savannah. View the full docket to see other comments already submitted.

Issues Before the NOSB for Fall 2011
Beyond Pesticides urges public comments on the following issues. All these issues and use of substances have direct bearing on organic integrity, so it is critical to have public input into the NOSB decision making process. Submit your comments before November 13.

Some of the issues under consideration include (PDF links):

• Copper sulfate for rice production
• Inert ingredients in organic pesticides
• Ozone gas for cleaning irrigation systems
• Livestock welfare and handling
• Development of organic aquaculture standards
• Unannounced inspections of organic farms
• Discussion of organic research priorities
• And many other substances, inputs, and issues which can be found on the USDA website

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service oversees the National Organic Program (NOP) and the NOSB. The NOSB includes four producers, two handlers, one retailer, three environmentalists, three consumers, one scientist and one certifying agent. The board is authorized by OFPA and makes recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture regarding the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic operations. The NOSB also may provide advice on other aspects of the organic program. For more information on the history of organic agriculture and why it is the best choice for your health and the environment, please see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food Program Page.

Organic vs. Conventional: Don’t forget the big picture
As we raise our voices in defense of the integrity of the organic label, it is important to bear in mind the differences between organic farming and conventional, chemical-intensive agriculture. Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that focuses on feeding the soil and growing naturally healthy crops.

Conventional, chemical-intensive agriculture depends on toxic chemicals that poison the soil, as well as the air, water, and consumers of the crops. Organic farmers can use natural pesticides, after exhausting other strategies including crop rotation, cultural practices, beneficial species, etc. However, synthetic chemicals can only be used in organic farming and processing if they are approved by the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a process that includes a detailed checklist of possible health and environmental impacts and considers the need for the chemical.

In contrast, the process for registering pesticides for crops explicitly does not consider the need for the chemical. Currently, about 50 entries are included on the “National List” of allowable synthetic materials. These include alcohols used as disinfectants, soap-based insecticides, newspaper weed barriers, and vitamins. On the other hand, there are tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals, including over 200 pesticide “active ingredients,” approved for use in conventional systems, not to mention chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics, sewage sludge and irradiation.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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