(Beyond Pesticides, August 26, 2011) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will hold a free public listening session on the department’s activities related to organic food and farming in order to gather input from farmers, consumers, and other interested parties regarding a wide range of subjects. The agency is hoping to gather more feedback and guidance from stakeholders in the world of organic food and agriculture in order to “help USDA programs examine and prioritize their activities and objectives in order to best serve the organic community.”
The scope of matters on which USDA is hoping to hear comments is very broad and seemingly includes any of the department’s actions which could potentially impact organic growing practices or organic producers. The announcement for the listening session outlined two general areas on which comments can be submitted. The first concerns any activities of the National Organic Program (NOP) that do not relate to matters likely to come before the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Since the NOSB has its own process for soliciting and reviewing public comments at its biannual meetings, NOP is seeking comments on actions that it takes which are independent of the NOSB. These may include the implementation of organic standards, monitoring for compliance, and ensuring the compatibility of organic products from foreign countries.
Secondly, USDA would like to hear comments on the actions of other agencies, outside of NOP, which may nonetheless impact organic food and farming. USDA’s strategic plan states that it has a goal of growing the American organic sector by 25% between 2010 and 2015. In order to accomplish this, multiple agencies across the department will have to analyze their programs and make priorities which will enhance the ability of producers to farm organically and spur the growth of the organic industry.
The session will be hosted by NOP and the USDA Organic Working Group, an internal communications network. It will be held at the USDA in Washington, DC on September 20, 2011. Those who are interested in participating may do so in person by registering to submit oral comments or, if unable to travel to the meeting, by submitting written comments to 2011OrganicListening@ams.usda.gov before October 1st (written comments will not be read at the meeting, but will be read and taken into account by the hosting agencies).
Following the listening session, a full transcript and other related documents will be posted to the USDA website for anyone who was unable to attend.
The process of regulating organic food and agriculture allows many opportunities for public input and represents one of the most open and democratic regulatory systems in the federal government. The NOSB, charged with maintaining the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, is composed of 15 citizen stakeholders from the organic community and meets biannually to review petitions and public comment regarding changes to the National List.