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Keeping Organic Strong: Changes in organic regulations and farming practices

National Organic Standards Board

Take Action: Make Your Voice Heard at Upcoming Meeting

Submit comments by November 13, 2011

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet in November to decide on a range of issues regarding the future of organic food and farming in the United States. The 15 member board will vote to allow or prohibit substances and practices in certified organic food and farming after considering input from any interested members of the public, such as farmers, consumers, food processors, or professionals.

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 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. You can also view the agenda for the full meeting.

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 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. 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. This will bring you to a form in which to fill out your personal information and type your comment. When filling out your personal information, you only need to fill in the fields with a blue asterisk next to the label. Other fields, such as Submitter’s Representative and Government Agency should be left blank. Under Organization Name, enter the name of the group you are representing or “None” or “Private Citizen” if you are representing only yourself. You may then type your comment or upload it as a separate file. Finish by clicking the orange Submit button.

You may also 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. To make your comments more effective and easily understood, comment on each issue or material separately and clearly indicate what issue your comments are concerning. 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. organic agriculture NOSB checklist

We recommend using these guidelines and referring back to the organic law in order to organize your thoughts in your comments. As our comments demonstrate, this will help to clearly and succinctly lay out your points and make it easier for NOSB members to follow your reasoning.

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. As you write your comments, you may want to refer to the Principles of Organic Production and Handling adopted by the NOSB. Submit your comments before November 13.

Odorized PropaneCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

A petition was submitted to the Crops Committee to allow propane to be exploded in burrows in order to control underground rodents. We support the Committee’s decision to deny the petition and not allow such explosions for a number of reasons. Firstly, exploding underground burrows does not fall under any category of allowed synthetic substances in the Organic Foods Production Act.

Beyond the legal considerations, controlling rodents by essentially bombing their habitats is wildly inconsistent with organic principles and ideals of minimizing environmental impact and encouraging beneficial natural interactions. Such practices would kill or harm any organisms in the surrounding area, including those in the soil, as well a number of beneficial endangered species which also burrow or live underground. The potential for causing fires and the safety risks to the operator are further concerns around the use of propane devices.

There is also a full range of alternative materials and methods already allowed in organic systems which can effectively control rodents, including habitat modification, traps, introduction of predators (such as dogs), rodenticide baits, and many others. These alternatives, in a more effective and less costly manner, achieve with management what propane would achieve with off-farm synthetic inputs.

Because of the likely widespread damage to ecosystems, the availability of alternatives, and the unpredictable nature of the use of such a material combined with its questionable efficacy, we strongly recommend supporting the Committee’s decision and denying the use of this material.

Transparency in Decision MakingCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

The Policy Development Committee has proposed a recommendation that would enhance the transparency of the NOSB’s committee meetings and decision processes. Specifically, the committee has recommended that full, accurate minutes be taken on Committee meetings and conference calls that reflect the source of positions taken on issues, and that minutes, reports, transcripts, and other documents related to board decisions be made freely accessible to the public in hard copy as well as electronically through the World Wide Web. We fully support this recommendation and encourage further transparency in any way it can be achieved. The development or organic standards is intended to be a public stakeholder process in which anyone who has an interest in organic integrity and the future of the organic sector can also have a voice in the process. Increased transparency allows interested parties to give more informed and effective input, leading to more agreeable results for all involved.

Copper SulfateCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

Support the Crop Committee’s recommendation to place additional protections on the use of copper sulfate in rice production. Routine application rates of this material result in residual copper levels that threaten aquatic organisms including amphibians both in the rice fields and downstream after the irrigation water is released. Dependence on synthetic inputs should not become a chronic replacement for the development of cultural, biological and mechanical remedies to persistent production challenges. The Crops Committee is proposing to add practical, need-based conditions to the annotation allowing copper sulfate in rice production. These conditions will minimize the broad spectrum risks that copper accumulation poses in aquatic environments without denying farmers a practical control practice when the need is documented.

List 3 Inert IngredientsCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

Request that the NOSB adhere to its statutory mandate to review and approve every synthetic material than is used in organic production and handling. Inert ingredients used in pesticide formulations are not at all what their name suggests – these materials can be highly toxic and persistent. EPA is moving to require greater transparency with inert ingredients including the possibility of requiring their identification on the labels of products that contain them. The NOP should also be moving towards greater transparency with inert ingredients by supporting the NOSB in the review and approval process. Support the allowance in organic agriculture for inert ingredients in pesticide products that satisfy EPA’s 25(b) criteria. EPA has classified these materials as “Inerts of Minimal Concern” and requires their identification on the product label. All other inert ingredients must be reviewed and approved by the NOSB through the technical review process. This is the required procedure before any synthetic substance can be allowed in organic production and handling.

Ammonium NonanoateCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

A petition was submitted to the Crops Committee to add ammonium nonanoate to the National List as an herbicide for weed control. However, in its review of the substance, the Committee noted that there are numerous other substances already approved for weed control in organic systems. More importantly, the committee also pointed out that a board spectrum herbicide that would affect any number of plant species, both beneficial and otherwise, and is known to be highly toxic to aquatic organisms, is inconsistent with a system of organic production that aims to minimize the development and impact of weeds through cultural and mechanical practices. We support the committee’s decision to deny the petition and not allow ammonium nonanoate to be used as a weed killer in organic systems.

OzoneCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

Ozone is currently approved for use in organic systems as a disinfectant in irrigation systems. Ozone, when it is produced on site and used only in the irrigation system, is not considered harmful to the environment. If released or injected into the soil, ozone could cause significant adverse effects on a range of wildlife as well as human health as it oxidizes. However, the approved use would prohibit this from happening, and so is largely not a concern. Additionally, ozone is an important alternative to more ecologically damaging chlorine compounds that can also be used to clean irrigation systems. For these reasons, we support the decision on the Crops Committee to relist ozone as a cleaning agent in irrigations systems.

Peracetic AcidCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

Peracetic acid is currently approved for use in organic systems in two categories: as an equipment disinfectant as well as for control of fireblight bacteria. As an equipment cleaner, the substance is likely to pose few risks to human health and the environment due to the use being more strictly defined and the limited amounts that are necessary. This use is consistent with the principles of an organic system and falls under a category of specific allowed substances outlined in the Organic Foods Production Act.

The use of peracetic acid for control of fireblight bacteria, however, is entirely inconsistent with organic principles and would likely present significant risks to human health and the environment, particularly soil organisms, which are highly important to organic production. Fireblight bacteria is a problem, particularly for fruit producers, but the use of a synthetic oxidizing agent to control it does not conform to any category of allowed synthetic inputs in the Organic Foods Production Act. The substance’s effectiveness against fireblight and the associated use pattern are not clear, except to say that this use would necessitate its being sprayed into trees. Such broadcast applications would almost certainly result in detrimental effects to soil organisms and other wildlife as the material oxidized.

For these reasons, we recommend continuing to allow peracetic acid to be used to clean equipment, but strongly oppose any further use of the material to control fireblight bacteria.

Calcium ChlorideCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

Support the Crops Committee’s recommendation to continue the listing of calcium chloride as a prohibited nonsynthetic except as a foliar spray to treat a physiological disorder associated with calcium uptake. This annotation allows farmers to use calcium chloride to meet a valid production challenge in a responsible manner. Removing the annotation would contravene the well-established principle that mined minerals of high solubility are not consistent with a system of organic production. Natural materials including limestone, gypsum, bone meal, calcium chelated with humic acids, and calcium chelated with amino acids are preferable choices for soil incorporation.

Indole-3-butyric Acid (IBA)Committee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

Support the Crops Committee’s recommendation to deny the petition for use of the growth regulator Indole-3-butyric acid (IBA) in organic production. The use for which this material was petitioned – as a synthetic plant growth regulator – is not supported by OFPA. Additionally, there is insufficient toxicological and ecological data (most of these requirements were waived by EPA) on which the base the synthetic materials evaluation required by OFPA. This material has not historically been used in organic agriculture and the information available does not support approving its use at this time.

Organic Aquaculture – Aquaculture Materials Discussion Paper, Beyond Pesticides comments

Over the course of several years, the Aquaculture Working Group (AWG), a group that included several people outside of the NOSB, produced a series of recommendations for organic aquaculture standards.  (Links to these are contained in the discussion paper.)  These recommendations have been controversial and have never been turned into regulations.  Part of the concern is over the fact that the recommendations would allow aquaculture in a range of systems from “closed”—those totally contained inland systems with a means of treating and recirculating water on site—to net pens in open water.

If the recommendations are to be implemented, the NOSB will need to adopt procedures for reviewing materials used in aquaculture.  Many of the critiques of aquaculture, particularly “open” systems, arise from materials issues.  How can we prevent food and other materials from affecting the surrounding ecosystem if the only containment is a net pen?  And on the other hand, how do we prevent pollutants in the open water from affecting the fish in the pens?  This discussion paper offers an opportunity for people concerned about the ecological impacts of aquaculture and the problems of certifying fish raised in these systems as “organic” to voice their concerns in the context of the materials review process.  If you are unclear about what it means to voice “concerns in the context of the materials review process”, then we encourage you to read the Beyond Pesticides comments.

More information concerning the impacts of aquaculture is available from the Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch.

Sulfites in Wine (Sulfur Dioxide)Committee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

The Handling Committee has proposed a change in the allowance of sulfites that added to wine carrying the USDA organic label. Added as a preservative, sulfites have the potential to cause severe allergic responses in certain individuals. Additionally, the addition of sulfites to wine has not been demonstrated to be a necessary practice in the production of organic wine. On the contrary, there are several examples of wineries currently producing organic wine without sulfites, showing that they are not actually necessary in the process. This makes sulfites and necessary synthetic input, which organic systems – and the NOSB review process – are designed to minimize.

ChlorineCommittee Recommendation, Beyond Pesticides comments

The Handling Committee has proposed a recommendation that aims to bring the use of chlorine in handling into compliance with the policy of the National Organic Program. However, we feel that this recommendation does not go far enough. Chlorine gas, when used as a disinfectant, has the ability to cause serious effects on human health as well as to remain in the environment for long periods of time owing to its very high persistence. Because of this, we believe that organic production should avoid the use of chlorine as much as possible. We don’t believe that organic producers should have to filter chlorine out of the water they use for irrigating, cleaning equipment, washing vegetables, or cleaning food-contact surfaces. But they should not be adding more chlorine. There are practices and products that make all uses of chlorine unnecessary, including acetic acid, vinegar, citric acid, and other naturally occurring acids as well as steam cleaning. Therefore, we support the intention of the committee but propose a change in the annotation which would prevent any additional chlorine from being introduced into the environment. Our specific proposal can be found in our comments.

ARA and DHA – Committee Recommendations: ARA, DHA; Beyond Pesticides comments

These oils are ingredients that have been added to foods to provide nutritional fortification. Although they have previously been allowed in organic foods, such as milk, the practice has come under scrutiny recently by a number of consumer advocates who question the source of the oils as well as whether such fortification is truly necessary. A common method of extracting the oils from their natural sources involves the highly toxic material hexane, a prohibited substance under organic standards. Additionally, nutritional supplementation of organic foods is not necessary in order to produce the foods or the formulated product. Consumers expect organic food to be free of unnecessary additives. Those who want to supplement their diet with additional ARA or DHA can do so with supplement products that will allow them to more accurately control the dose they receive.

There is also concern that the substances which were petitioned for addition to the National List by the manufacturer are, in fact, not substances at all, but rather formulated proprietary products. Because "ARA Single-Cell Oil" and "DHA Algal Oil" are formulated products, whose active ingredients could be made from a range of additives, it is inappropriate for the NOSB to consider the petitions as they have been submitted.

For these reasons, we oppose the Handling Committee’s recommendation to approve the petitions submitted seeking to add ARA Single-Cell Oil and DHA Algal Oil to the National List as an allowed ingredient in processed organic foods.

Public Comment ProceduresCommittee Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides comments

The Policy Development Committee has proposed a discussion document in which seeks input from the public on how to better gather and make use of public input in NOSB decision making. In order to make public involvement in the development of organic standards more accessible and more effective, we have proposed several recommendations in response to the questions asked in the discussion document. As the document points out, there are many routes open to the NOSB when faced with overwhelming public interest. We hope that the board will evaluate options keeping in mind the aim of maximizing meaningful public input. Please feel free to use our answers as guidance in submitting your own answers to the questions posed by the discussion document.

Conflict of Interest PolicyCommittee Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides comments

The NOSB is designed to be a stakeholder board composed of representatives of various segments of the diverse organic community. Thus, it is helpful to have policies that differentiate between representing a segment of the organic community – as board members are intended to do – and advocating for one’s personal interest. Most importantly, transparency in the NOSB’s decision making process requires disclosure of interests. The recommended changes in the policy will help clarify when a conflict or potential conflict exists and lay out steps in applying the policy. We fully support the committee’s proposal to clarify and strengthen the NOSB’s Conflict of Interest Policy in order to prevent conflicts which could affect NOSB decisions.

Organic Research PrioritiesCommittee Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides Comments

The Materials Committee proposed a discussion document which “shares the committee’s current thinking on a process to collect, prioritize, and maintain research needs related to organic production methods and materials.” We are happy to see the NOSB address the issue of setting research priorities. Like the committee, we welcome the prospect of a process that will help bring more research efforts to troublesome problems in organic production and handling. We look forward to a time when disagreements will be decreased by the availability of research into alternatives that everyone can support.

We would also particularly like to request better quality control over the technical reviews that are received by the committees scientifically evaluating particular substances with regards to their compatibility with organic systems. These reviews are highly influential in the board’s evaluation of particular substances and they should fully address all of the pertinent issues. We would support a return to the use of Technical Advisory Panels such as were used in previous years, which incorporate more diverse viewpoints and expertise.

About the NOSB

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 the Organic Foods Production Act 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.

To view the results of the previous NOSB meeting, which took place in April of 2011, and more, go to our NOSB Archives page.