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From May 8, 2006                                                                                                        

Close Loopholes in National Organic Standards, May 12 Public Comment Deadline
(Beyond Pesticides, May 8, 2006) The USDA National Organic Program has issued a major rule proposal with a very brief comment period. These proposed regulations impact the standards that govern the conversion of dairy livestock to organic, and the use of synthetic substances in or on processed organic products. These regulation changes are required by the final judgment in Harvey v. Johanns and are needed to implement the amendment to the Organic Foods Production Act adopted by Congress on November 10, 2005.

IMPORTANT: COMMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY MAY 12.

The rules the USDA has proposed are not clear or complete and could cause confusion for farmers and in the marketplace. Please add your voice to the many who will tell USDA to get the regulations right this time! Here is an overview of the problems with the regulations as proposed, and below is the address to write to.

TRANSITION OF DAIRY LIVESTOCK INTO ORGANIC PRODUCTION

The proposed Rule does not clarify the standards for conversion of dairy livestock to organic. Under this proposal it is still unclear whether a certified dairy operation must manage any new milking cows: 1) from the last third of gestation, or 2) no later than one year prior to the production of organic milk or milk products. It is our position that after a farm transitions to organic, all replacement animals should be managed organically from the last third of gestation to close the loophole that allows many replacement dairy animals to be raised conventionally and transitioned to organic management.

Why is This Important? If this correction is not made, some operators and certifying agents may interpret the rule as allowing for the continuous conversion of conventional heifers to organic production. Without closing this loophole, animals converted this way could be treated conventionally for their first year or so of life, including feed made from genetically engineered soy and corn, as well as the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. In addition, such a loophole would continue to undermine those farmers who raise organic heifers, as well as suppress the market demand for organic heifers, making them less available.

Tell the Department to: Clarify Origin of Livestock. Section 205.236 Should Read:
§ 205.236 Origin of livestock.

(a) Livestock products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be from livestock under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation or hatching: Except, That: …


(2) Dairy animals conversion of herds. Milk or milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management beginning no later than 1 year prior to the production of the milk or milk products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic. Except that crops and forage from land, included in the organic system plan of a dairy farm, that is in the third year of organic management may be consumed by the dairy animals of the farm during the 12 month period immediately prior to the sale of organic milk and milk products.
(3) Dairy animals - replacement stock. Once an operation has been certified for organic dairy production, all dairy animals, including all young stock whether born on or brought onto the operation, shall be under organic management from the last third of gestation.


SYNTHETIC SUBSTANCES

The Department incorrectly believes that no rule-making is necessary on the issue of the use of synthetic substances in or on processed products, because they contend that the part of the Congressional Amendment to OFPA "fixed" what Harvey had undone. Yet while the Congressional amendment allowed synthetic ingredients in food labeled organic, it left out the existing, pre-Harvey list of criteria that has been used by the NOSB to evaluate "synthetic substances."

Why is This Important? Because the Congressional Amendment only refers to "ingredients," it leaves a large loophole for many other non-ingredient synthetic substances used in food processing, including "food contact substances" and other processing aids. This could allow their unlimited use without review by the National Organic Standards Board. This Regulation must make the NOSB review process as rigorous as possible, including strong criteria used in these evaluations. Regulatory criteria are established for evaluation of synthetic substances used for both crop and livestock production. Criteria should be re-instated for processing substances, and should apply to all substances used in processing.

1) Tell the Department to: Apply the criteria in §205.600(b) to all synthetic substances being reviewed for inclusion on the National List. Rewrite §205.600(b) to read:
"(b) In addition to the criteria set forth in the Act, any synthetic substance used in organic processing will be evaluated against the following criteria:…"

The Department also has a "Policy Statement" still posted on the NOP website which specifically exempts the entire class of FDA "Food Contact Substances" (all 555 of them!) from any NOSB review. This policy statement is in direct conflict with the Organic Foods Production Act and the court order. [Go to www.cfsan.fda.gov/%7Edms/opa-fcn.html to see the list of Food contact Substances]

2) Tell the Department to: Close the loophole the National Organic Standards Board must review ALL synthetic materials used in organic processing, including all synthetic substances as well as ingredients. Tell the Department to specifically: Withdraw the Policy Statement of December 12, 2002, entitled: Synthetic Substances Subject to Review and Recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board When Such Substances are Used as Ingredients in Processed Food Products

"COMMERCIAL UN-AVAILABILITY"

The Amendment to OFPA gave the Secretary the ability to "develop emergency procedures for designating agricultural products that are commercially unavailable in organic form for placement on the National List for a period of time not to exceed 12 months.''

Why is This Important? The Department has not proposed guideline regulations for these procedures. Without such regulations, it is unclear how such "emergency procedures" will be implemented.

Tell the Department: If USDA intends to exercise the authority granted under this amendment, they must do Rulemaking to clarify under what conditions and criteria the Secretary shall determine agricultural products [in the 5% portion of an organic processed product] to be "Commercially Unavailable." This Rulemaking must include a 60-day comment period.

TAKE ACTION: Use the analysis above to help in forming your comments. The bold text gives you specific language to use in your comments to make the message clear and consistent.

Be sure to put the following docket number in the subject line: TM-06-06-PR, and email your letter to: nop.livestock@usda.gov
Fax: 202-205-7808
Snail Mail: Mark Bradley, Associate Deputy Administrator
Transportation and Marketing Program
National Organic Program
1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 4008--SO, Ag Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250

Thank you!