(Beyond Pesticides, June 22, 2012) In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) met to decide on a range of issues concerning allowable materials and practices in certified organic farming. The recommendations adopted by the board have been sent on to USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) for incorporation into federal regulations. A webcast of the entire four day meeting can be viewed here. Additionally, NOP has provided a short summary of the meeting in their quarterly newsletter.
On our Keeping Organic Strong action page, you will find summaries of the significant actions taken by the board at the meeting along with supporting documentation. Each issue is discussed separately, incorporating Beyond Pesticides’ positions on what the outcomes signify for the future of the organic movement.
This was the first meeting to be chaired by the newly-elected NOSB chairman Barry Flamm, who holds an Environmentalist position on the Board. This was also the first meeting for the five newest NOSB members, who were appointed at the Fall 2011 meeting: Harold V. Austin, IV, Director of Orchard Administration for Zirkle Fruit Company (Handler position); Carmela Beck, National Organic Program Supervisor and Organic Certification Grower Liaison for Driscollâ€™s, an organic berry producer (Producer position); Tracy Favre, Chief Operating Officer for Holistic Management International (Environmentalist position); Jean Richardson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Natural Resources, Environmental Studies and Geography at the University of Vermont (Consumer / Public Interest position); and Andrea (Zea) Sonnabend, Policy Specialist and Organic Inspector Specialist for California Certified Organic Farmers (Scientist position).
The next meeting of the NOSB will be held in Providence, RI on October 15-18, 2012. More information about this meeting will be posted as it becomes available. To find information about previous NOSB meetings go to our NOSB Archives page.
Additionally, NOP has begun posting minutes from the weekly meetings of the various NOSB subcommittees. To see how the board subcommittees are proceeding in their work preparing for the next meeting and to review past work that has been done, you can read through the minutes from committee meetings on the NOP website.
Below are some of the significant issues that were addressed by the board in Albuquerque. More issues are discussed on our Keeping Organic Strong page.
â€˘Current NOP Status: Not Subject to Individual Review by NOSB
â€˘NOSB Albuquerque Recommendation: Subject to Individual Review by NOSB as soon as possible.
Beyond Pesticides welcomes NOSBâ€™s recommendation to review all inert ingredients, including those classified by EPA as â€śList 3â€ť and â€śList 4,â€ť as soon as possible. To clarify its decision, the Board recommended new language for the classification of inerts. Inerts will be classified as â€śother ingredients not classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as active ingredients, for use with nonsynthetic substances or synthetic substances listed in this section and used as an active pesticide ingredient in accordance with any limitations on the use of such substances.â€ť List 3 inerts allowed in â€śpassive pheromone dispensersâ€ť may only be used until December 31, 2015, at which time they will be subject to individual review. This decision will bring organic standards back in line with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) requirements specifying individual review by the NOSB of all synthetic materials for use in organic production and processing. Beyond Pesticides is pleased with NOSBâ€™s move toward greater transparency in food labeling.
Vote: Several motions were considered by the Board, including adopting a resolution to work toward reviewing all inerts, specific proposed regulatory language and definitions, and a backup vote to reapprove the current language. All motions passed the board unanimously.
â€˘Current NOP Status: Allowed in organic processing
â€˘NOSB Albuquerque Recommendation: Continue use in organic processing
NOSB voted to relist Carrageenan in a 10-5 vote. The proposal included the annotation that Carageenan would not be used in infant formulas. The recommendation also came with the intention of the Board to explore the matter and take it off the list eventually, â€śif possible.â€ť Many on the Board focused on the need to have an expiration date for this material, though a compromise on that issue was not reached.
Beyond Pesticides does not support the continued allowance of carrageenan in any organic processing because of possible serious health and environmental effects caused by the material. Caregeenan may cause â€śinduction or promotion of gastrointestinal tract inflammation, ulcerations and/or neoplasms.â€ť
Board member Zea Sonnabend said, â€śThere is one issue upon which the committee felt further research should be taken â€“ the possibility that native carrageenan could cause significant amounts of polygeenan either by processing techniques or by acids during digestion. The committee suggested, if feasible, a molecular weight limit less than 5% below 50,000 Daltons should be introduced into the specification to ensure the molecular weight of carrageenan in food is kept to a minimum.â€ť This specification was not adopted for the final vote.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes degraded carrageenan as a â€śpossible human carcinogen.â€ť The harvesting of wild seaweeds for the manufacture of carrageenan can be ecologically destructive to marine environments. Additionally, the USDA technical review noted that there are a number of viable substitutes for carrageenan.
Vote to reapprove with new annotation: Yes – 10, No – 5
Vote to renew as-is: Yes – 14, No â€“ 1
The Board unanimously adopted the proposal to send a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack concerning the increasing number of genetically engineered crops gaining approval for commercial use by USDA. Beyond Pesticides isypports the Board exercising its responsibility under OFPA to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on this critical issue. The Boardâ€™s letter underlined the need for developers of GMO products to share the burden of mitigating gene flow between farms. Additionally, NOSB specifically called on producers to compensate organic farmers for genetic drift. Beyond Pesticides looks forward to the USDA and NOSB working together to prevent contamination of organic agriculture from genetically modified crops.
Vote to send drafted letter to Sec. Vilsack: Yes â€“ Unanimous
For more information on organic food and farming, see Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ organic program page.
Beyond Pesticides’ executive director, Jay Feldman, serves in one of three environmental positions on the NOSB. USDA announced on June 21, 2012 the opening of the nominations process for an environmentalist/resource conservationist on the NOSB for a five-year term, to begin in January 2013. Self-nominations or the nomination of another must be filed with USDA by July 30, 2012. More details and background can be found on the National Organic Program website.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.