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Keeping Organic Strong: Changes in organic regulations and farming practices

National Organic Standards Board
Take Action to Protect Organic Integrity!

Meeting to be held April 9 - 11, 2013 in Portland, Oregon

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet in Portland, OR this spring 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. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the issues below, and provide a unique public comment to board for their consideration by the deadline on March 19, 2013. You can be sure that NOSB members take public comments very seriously when weighing decisions before the board. We invite you to join us in person at the upcoming meeting in order to take part in the ongoing discussion aboutthefuture of organic production and processing.

Making Your Voice Heard
The organic regulatory process provides numerous opportunities for the public to weigh in on what is allowable and prohibited 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 National Organic Program (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.

Go to Regulations.gov to provide a written public comment to the NOSB by March 19, 2013. If you plan on submitting comments to multiple subcommittees, please consider submitting a separate comment for each subcommittee, as this will make the process easier and ensure that your comments are more effective.

If you'd like to provide an in-person public comment, you can reserve a slot by filling out this form. It should be noted that the NOSB meeting structure has been changed from how it was previously organized. There will now be an open in-person public comment period on the first day of the meeting, Tuesday, April 9, during which you may present general comments or comments on multiple agenda items. If you wish to comment on a specific agenda item, there will be comment periods scheduled during each committee’s presentation for comments related to that committee’s items.

Within the next week, we will be posting Beyond Pesticides' draft comments on key issues. So if you feel like you would like more information beyond the summary and other documents already posted here before sending in your comments, please check back soon.

Issues Before the NOSB for Spring 2013


Crops Subcommittee - View the subcommittee's minutes

Tetracycline
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides' Comments, Comments from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), Statement from the IDSA on Resistance

Beyond Pesticides supports the minority position of the Crops Subcommittee in opposition to the petition. The use of tetracycline to control fire blight in apples and pears meets none of the criteria of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). It presents significant adverse impacts to human health and the environment, is incompatible with organic and sustainable agriculture, and is not essential. We are shocked to see that the majority of the Crops Subcommittee found that tetracycline meets all three criteria. In 2008, the NOSB found that it “only marginally” met the impact on human health and the environment criterion and failed the other two. In 2011, the NOSB found that it failed all three. And this year, the majority recommends only a two-year extension on the expiration date. It is therefore remarkable that the majority found that tetracycline meets all three criteria.

The critical issue with tetracycline is the spread of antibiotic resistance through non-therapeutic and prophylactic use of antibiotics in a way that spreads them in the environment, promoting resistance in bacteria that may spread to human pathogens.

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Polyoxin D Zinc Salt
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides' Comments
Beyond Pesticides agrees with the subcommittee’s recommendation to deny the petition to add polyoxin D to the National List. Polyoxin D is a broad spectrum fungicide, and as such is inherently incompatible with the basic principles of organic production. There are significant concerns about the capacity of this material to negatively affect non-target organisms, including beneficial fungi, insects, and aquatic species. Moreover, there are effective alternatives available to organic farmers to control fungal pathogens. Apart from several currently allowed substances on the National List, crop rotation, crop nutrient management practices, sanitation to remove disease vectors, selection of resistant species and varieties (where applicable), beneficial antagonistic bacteria, and monitoring are effective alternatives.

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Indole-3-butyric Acid (IBA)
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides' Comments

We support the Crops Subcommittee recommendation to deny the petition to list IBA for the purpose of plant propagation via dipping. IBA is a plant hormone in the auxin family and is an ingredient in many commercial horticultural plant rooting products. However, this use of IBA meets none of the requirements of the Organic Food Production Act—it does not fit into a category of allowed synthetic inputs, its health and environmental effects are not sufficiently known, there is no demonstrable need for IBA since successful rooting from stem cuttings depends on numerous factors other than hormones, and finally, it is inconsistent with a system of organic and sustainable agriculture. Just as we are wary of using chemicals with hormonal effects on animals, we should also avoid widespread use of synthetic plant hormones.

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Inerts
Beyond Pesticides' Comments
We congratulate the Inerts Working Group (IWG) and the Crops Subcommittee (CS) on creating a workable policy and procedure for finally meeting the legal obligation to subject so-called “inert” ingredients to the criteria of the OFPA. Ingredients of pesticide products that are labeled as “inert” are generally not physically, chemically, or toxicologically inert. They serve many functions, often increasing the toxicity of the “active” ingredients. They usually make up the largest part of the pesticide formulation. Some materials that are labeled as “inert” in one product are “active” in another product. The use of a word that commonly means “harmless” has led policy makers and the public to discount the problems that might be caused by these chemicals. We urge the IWG and CS to begin the process of reviewing these substances as soon as possible. At this point, if there are problems with the process, they are most likely to be revealed in practice.

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Limited Scope Technical Reviews
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides' Comments
We agree with the Materials Subcommittee that there are circumstances when the materials review process could be shortened by a truncated review considering certain “gateway” issues. However, the process as described in the proposal is puzzling. If the material “passes” the review on the gateway issues, it would then progress to a full review. But what if it fails? We believe that the law does not allow a subcommittee of the NOSB to make a final decision regarding a petition.

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Definition of Production Aids
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides' Comments

We are happy to see that the NOSB is addressing the meaning of the term “production aids.” We believe that its meaning has often been stretched far beyond the intention of the authors of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), especially considering only one item on the National List is actually identified as a production aid. §6517(c)(1)(B)(i) is designed to describe a limited universe of synthetic materials that might be used in organic production. It does not list “pesticides,” “growth regulators,” “solvents,” or others under so-called “production aids.” We believe that the term should be strictly limited to things physical items with minimal direct interaction with crops and livestock, as well as chemical substances that are used on equipment, but not directly on crops or livestock.

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Confidential Business Information
Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides Comments

We are concerned that petitioners may abuse their right to keep secret confidential business information (CBI), which limits the NOSB’s ability to fully evaluate a material. Two currently petitioned materials, DBDMH and sulfuric acid, are good examples of our concerns as the petitioners withheld sizeable sections in the petitions as CBI, without giving a specific description of the redacted information. The DBDMH petition blacked out health effects information, which we believe should always be public. Although petitioners have the right to claim CBI, the NOSB also has the right to make the disclosure of CBI a condition of consideration for listing. Beyond Pesticides believes that the NOSB must be given adequate information to make a decision. The petitioner needs to be able to characterize the CBI in a way that is useful to both the public and NOSB members, as NOSB members will be discussing this information at open public hearings.

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GMOs and seed purity
Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides' Comments
We agree with the subcommittee that preventing contamination of organic crops by genetically engineered (GE) organisms is important to maintaining organic integrity. We also agree about the importance of GE-free seeds as a basic requirement for organic production. It is a tremendous challenge to maintain high quality organic seeds free from GE contamination while not burdening organic growers, who are the victims of contamination of their seed stock.

The current document requests input from the organic community on several issues: 1. The need for a seed purity standard or protocol; 2. GMO seed contamination levels, costs, thresholds for rejection and outcome for rejected seeds; 3. Appropriate testing methods; 4. Impact of the standards “none found” in 3000 samples on farms; 5. Required training and guidance for certifiers; 6. Other methods to safeguard against GMO contamination.

Beyond Pesticides encourages creative responses to the discussion document recognizing that organic growers need seeds that are not contaminated by GE genes, and thatcosts should be borne by the GE seed patent holders, who are responsible for the costs associated with their products.

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Excluded Methods
Beyond Pesticides' Comments
We want to thank the GMO Ad Hoc Subcommittee for addressing the issue of definitions of terms. There certainly needs to be more clarity around the meaning of words used in connection with excluded methods. We urge the subcommittee to consider vehicles in addition to the regulatory definition for increasing clarity. Is a guidance document appropriate? An appendix to the Policy and Procedures Manual (PPM)? It appears that more discussion than is allowed in a regulatory definition would be helpful.

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Calculating Percent Organic
Beyond Pesticides' Comments
While we support, in general, the proposal for , we have some concerns with the assumption that “100% organic” can be achieved from the contribution of ‘single-ingredient’ ingredients and raw
agricultural ingredients labeled as “organic.”
There are two areas of the methodology that need to be addressed to meet the standards of the law:
1. The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) does not distinguish between processing aids and ingredients, as does this method.
2. The method can lead to 100% organic products that are composed of organic ingredients, none of which is 100% organic.

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Public Communications
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides' Comments
We thank the Policy Development subcommittee for beginning the discussion about an online communication system. Establishing a year-round, centralized online mechanism for stakeholders to communicate with NOSB and NOP on matters of interest and concern would greatly enhance the openness and transparency of the organic rulemaking process. Additionally, an online communication system would help the NOSB to become aware of issues that may not be on the work plan, but are of interest or concern to the organic community. We support the Policy Development subcommittee’s recommendation to amend the Board’s policy and procedures manual (PPM) as indicated in the subcommittee’s proposal.

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Material Review Initiation Policy
Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides' Comments
We agree with the subcommittee that the initiation of materials review requires further discussion. Currently there are established policies for NOSB review of petitioned materials. However, there needs to be established procedures if a material comes to the fore outside of the normal public petition process.
Beyond Pesticides urges the NOSB to further to role of transparency and public participation in this process. In particular, technical reviews should be accessible to public such that they can provide comments of substance for the board.

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Sulfuric Acid
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Comments
We agree with the subcommittee’s recommendation to deny the petition to add sulfuric acid to the National List for use in the production of seaweed extracts. The manufacture of the material creates numerous adverse effects on the environment, as sulfuric acid is a primary contributor to acid rain, and hence acidifying natural environments. The material also has the potential to contain heavy metal residues and impurities at levels above FDA tolerances. Additionally, sulfuric acid derived seaweed extracts such as fucoidan are not essential for organic production. Sulfuric acid is a synthetic substance that is neither compatible with organic principles nor necessary in organic production.

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Barley Beta Fiber
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Comments
In a 7 to zero vote, the Handling Subcommittee agreed on the recommendation to allow the petition for barley beta fiber. Beyond Pesticides urges NOSB to deny the petition since adding nonorganic barley beta fiber to organic food is simply not compatible with organic handling: the barley source will not be grown with any restrictions on synthetic fertilizer use or pesticide use; the processing of barley beta fiber involves conventional ethanol grown from GMO corn; alternatives are widely available; and finally, the barley beta fiber is not essential to production, particularly as the so-called health benefits are based on the nutritional value of the whole grain not just the fiber.

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Sugar Beet Fiber
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Comments
We oppose the subcommittee’s recommendation to add sugar beet fiber produced by chemical-intensive methods to the National List. Sugar beet fiber is petitioned for use as a dietary fiber in organic foods. The petition would allow nonorganic sources of sugar beet fiber to be employed, as the petitioner claims that organic sources of sugar beets are not available in Europe. Manufacturing sugar beet fiber from nonorganic sources creates adverse impacts on the environment during both the production and processing stage. Production of nonorganic sugar beets uses toxic pesticides that harm the environment. As the technical review for sugar beet fiber notes, “Pesticide pollution from sugar beet production is a global concern.”

Sugar beet processing emits high volumes of wastewater, and can cause air pollution and emissions problems. Although organic sugar beet fiber processing also has the potential to create these problems, conventional sugar beet processing may use certain chemicals that are not allowed in organic processing, including various antimicrobials not approved for organic processing.

Additionally, there is the possibility that genetically engineered sources of sugar beets will be used given that fact that 95% of sugar beets in the United States are genetically engineered to resist applications of the herbicide glyphosate. Although the petitioner is in Europe where there are no genetically engineered sugar beets in agricultural production, the petition does not restrict sugar beet fiber to European sources. Moreover, this product is not essential for organic production, as whole foods and other grains already on the National List represent reasonable, available alternatives.

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DBDMH
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Comments
We agree with the subcommittee that the petition for DBDMH, an antimicrobial wash in meat packing, should be denied. As an antimicrobial, DBDMH is expected to have detrimental impacts to soil microorganisms, its products are toxic and tend to persist in the environment, and most importantly DBDMH is “extremely destructive to the tissue of the mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract” posing a threat to workers handling DBDMH. The material is not essential as there are numerous alternatives that are already approved for use in organics including hot water and lactic acid. In this instance it seems clear that the Precautionary Principle should be applied.

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Auxiliary/”Other” Ingredients
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Comments
Beyond Pesticides respectfully disagrees with the position the Handling Subcommittee has taken on the treatment of so-called “other ingredients” –that is, ingredients in organic food that get there by virtue of being ingredients in an ingredient. Beyond Pesticides believes that there is nothing in statute that justifies making the distinction between “ingredients” and “other ingredients.” Instead, we support language barring any nonorganic ingredient of any kind in food labeled organic unless it is on the National List.

We disagree with the HS ‘other ingredients’ are not the same as ‘ingredients’ used for a specific purpose directly by a certified handler in or on processed organic products. The regulations are clear that products sold as “organic” must contain “not less than 95 percent organically produced raw or processed agricultural products. Any remaining product ingredients must be organically produced, unless not commercially available in organic form, or must be nonagricultural substances or nonorganically produced agricultural products produced consistent with the National List…”

Additionally, while the HS indicates that other ingredients are not required by the FDA to be listed on the ingredient panel, these concerns are irrelevant to organic production according to the OFPA, which simply requires that all ingredients must be organic or on the National List.

In conclusion, we repeat our central point: All ingredients of a product labeled “organic” must be either organic or on the National List for that purpose.

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Pet Food Amino Acids
Subcommittee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides' Comments
We ask the Board to deny the petition for all synthetic amino acids in organic pet food. Amino acids are proteins and therefore major macronutrients which are particularly important to carnivores like dogs and cats. Consumers paying a premium price for organic pet food do not want a major nutrient to come from synthetic sources. In the case of taurine for cat diets, the one amino acid recommended for approval by the Livestock Subcommittee, it is important to note that manufacturers are currently producing cat food with sufficient levels of taurine without resorting to its synthetic version.

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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.