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Keeping Organic Strong: Changes in organic regulations and farming practices
National Organic Standards Board

Thank you for your input for the Fall 2012 Meeting!
October 15-18 in Providence, RI

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) met in October to decide on a range of issues regarding the future of organic food and farming in the United States. The 15 member board voted 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. Thank you to all who submitted written comments to the board. You will be sure that your concerns are considered by the board at the next meeting. You can read about the issues below and we invite you to join us at future meetings to take part in the discussion and follow all of the developments.

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. Check in with this page to learn about how you can take part in future NOSB meetings.

View the full docket for the Fall 2012 meeting to view a list of all public comments. It should be noted that the NOSB meeting structure has been changed from how it was previously organized. There will now be an open public comment period on the first day of the meeting, Monday, October 15, 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.

organic agriculture NOSB checklist

Issues Before the NOSB for Fall 2012

Full Meeting Packet with Agenda and All Proposals

Crops Committee

Livestock Committee

Handling Committee

Materials Committee

Policy Development Committee

GMO Ad Hoc Committee

Certification, Accrediation, and Compliance Committee


Ferric Phosphate

Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We support the petition to delist ferric phosphate from the national list. Ferric phosphate is used in the control of slugs and snails, and in order for it to be effective it must be combined with the substance EDTA. EDTA does not act as an inert, but as a synergist when combined with ferric phosphate. Scientific reviews have shown the combination of the two substances to be toxic to the environment, particularly earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms. Additionally, the production of EDTA uses the toxic materials sodium cyanide and formaldehyde. EDTA is persistent in the environment, and can result in the detrimental movement of metals in soil and river sediments.

At the November 2007 NOSB meeting, a petition for sodium hydroxyl EDTA was rejected by the Board because it “is not consistent with environmental and compatibility with organic farming OFPA criteria primarily due to the behavior of EDTA in the environment and the toxic chemicals used to manufacture.” A scientific review of the combination of ferric phosphate and EDTA finds that “EDTA poses the same concerns whether used with ferric phosphate or as sodium hydroxyl EDTA.”

Because ferric phosphate must be combined with EDTA in order to be an effective slug and snail bait, it is not compatible with organic agriculture. It is not effective on its own; therefore it is not essential and should be taken off the National List. Moreover, cultural practices have been shown to be effective alternatives to ferric phosphate/ EDTA products.

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Proplyene Glycol Monolaurate (PGML)
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We support the Crops Subcommittee’s recommendation to deny the petition to list Propylene Glycol Monolaurate (PGML) because it fails to meet any of the criteria for placement on the National List—it has negative impacts on the environment, and it is not essential or compatible with organic production.

PMGL has broad spectrum impacts on the environment. The substance is nonselective, meaning does not only target problem pests; it can cause harm to beneficial soil organisms and upset the predator-prey balance in agricultural ecosystems. This makes PMGL counterproductive at controlling pests in the long run. Given that cultural practices have proven much more effective at solving pest problems, PMGL is inessential and incompatible with organic production and should not be added to the National List.

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Oxidized Lignite
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation
Beyond Pesticides supports the Crops Subcommittee proposal to deny the petition for oxidized lignite. We find the recommendation to consider oxidized lignite in the context of the listing for humic acids is appropriate. Humic acids are important to organic farmers because they enhance plant uptake of nutrients, as well as the soil's fertility, water holding capacity, and stability (which helps prevent erosion and nutrient leaching).

However, it is profoundly contrary to organic principles to use a fossil-fuel-derived synthetic substance such as oxidized lignite as a substitute for basic organic sources of humic acid such as compost, cover crops, manure and mulch. The cradle-to grave impacts of oxidized lignite include all the negative impacts of coal mining, as lignite must be strip-mined in order to be reached. Individuals exposed to dust and water pollution near areas where lignite is mined are at greater risk of kidney failure and renal cancer. Therefore we support the Crops Subcommittee proposal to deny the petition for oxidized lignite.

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Biodegradable Bioplastic Mulch
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We support the Crops Subcommittee’s recommendation to list Biodegradable Biobased Bioplastic Mulches under specified conditions. Currently plastic mulches are only allowed in organic production if they are removed at the end of the growing or harvest season. This is because plastics can be harmful for the soil. Their removal allows beneficial soil organisms time to recover from the heating and smothering impacts of the plastic cover.

While we continue to advocate for the use of natural organic mulches, bioplastic mulches seem to side-step many of the problems associated with conventional plastic mulches. Nevertheless, we are concerned whether bioplastic mulches really biodegrade into simple carbon dioxide and water before the next growing season, and we are concerned that the bioplastics are truly made from materials with minimal environmental impact. We view this as an opportunity to encourage earth-friendly technologies and we especially encourage input from those knowledgeable about advances in bioplastic technology.

We recommend the next sunset review for conventional plastic mulches consider the question of need in light of the availability of bioplastic mulches, though we do not suggest that bioplastic mulches replace natural organic mulches.

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Rotenone
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We support the proposal by the Crops Subcommittee to list rotenone as a prohibited non-synthetic substance. Even though registrants of rotenone voluntarily cancelled all uses of the chemical except as a piscicide (fish poison), there is a widespread misconception that organic farmers still use it. We encourage the Board to clarify this issue.

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Sulfuric Acid
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We support the Crops Subcommittee recommendation to deny the petition to list sulfur dioxide for the stabilization of anaerobically digested poultry manure. The Crops Subcommittee voted unanimously in 2006 to reject a similar petition requesting sulfuric acid’s use in digested livestock manure. It stated, “Sulfuric acid, when used in livestock manure, is changed to sulfate, which is in this case a synthetically derived plant nutrient. Additionally, it is an important air pollutant, e.g. acid rain. Other wholly natural materials can be used.” Sulfuric acid exposure can cause irritation of the eyes and skin and produce altered lung function. Asthmatics are particularly sensitive to the pulmonary irritation produced by exposure to sulfuric acid.
Other materials on the National List could be used to stabilize anaerobically digested poultry manure. Moreover, anaerobically digested manure is not essential for organic production; aerobic composting can be employed with greater success because it adds beneficial organisms to the soil.

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Inert Ingredients
Committee
Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We congratulate the Inerts Working Group and the Crops Subcommittee for creating a workable policy and procedure for meeting the legal obligation to subject inert ingredients to the Organic Foods Production Act. As Beyond Pesticides has long pointed out, inert ingredients used in pesticide formulations are not at all what their name suggests – these materials can be highly toxic and persistent. Using 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. Therefore we encourage the subcommittee to begin this important work as soon as possible, and we encourage the National Organic Program to support the work of the subcommittee, requesting more resources as needed.

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Antibiotics Update
Beyond Pesticides Reccomendation

The antibiotics tetracycline and streptomycin are permitted for use to control the serious disease fire blight on organic apples and pears. While antibiotics are not up for consideration this NOSB meeting, in view of the petition that has been received to remove the expiration date for tetracycline, and, we assume, another for streptomycin, we think it is important to take this opportunity to reinforce our opposition, as organic consumers and advocates for environmental protection and public health, to any attempt to extend the use of these two antibiotics in organic agriculture. Based on testimony from growers and researchers that additional time was necessary to implement alternative practices, in April 2011 the Board voted to relist both antibiotics with an expiration date of October 21, 2014.

Critical organic criteria of essentiality, compatibility and human and environmental health impacts reinforce our view that allowed uses for these antibiotics should not be extended. Ninety-six organic producers are certified as EU-compliant (EU rules do not allow antibiotics) in the state of Washington alone, revealing that other methods and cultural practices can control the fire blight damage which leads producers to use antibiotics. Moreover, antibiotics are incompatible with organic principles as their use is unsustainable, their input requires synthetic off-farm production, and their presence does not satisfy organic consumer’s expectations regarding the authenticity and integrity of organic products. The use of any antibiotics anywhere increases the risk of bacterial resistance everywhere. At a time of diminishing efficacy for current antibiotics, it is important that we curtail the use of antibiotics in fruit production in order to prevent the spread of antibiotic resist human pathogens.

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Nonanoic Acid
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We support the Livestock Subcommittee’s recommendation to deny the petition for nananoic acid as an insect repellant. This synthetic material is less effective than proper fly management systems and a number of other insect repellants. Although its toxicity to humans is low, it is and irritant and can damage plants and beneficial soil organisms if used incorrectly. If natural systems and controls can be properly employed, it is incompatible with organic principles to use a synthetic substance such as nonanoic acid in organic production.

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Pet Foods Amino Acids
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

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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Omnivore Diets
Committee Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We would like to thank the Livestock Subcommittee for addressing this difficult issue in a way that fits so well with the spirit of the Organic Foods Production Act. We appreciate the issue being framed in terms of how omnivores like poultry and pigs can have a diet which fits their natural behavior, because, as it stands currently, we have seemingly made vegetarians out of poultry and pigs. We would like the Board to consider insects and earthworms raised specifically for feed as possible sources of animal protein.

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Organic Infant Formula
Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We oppose the addition of any of the petitioned synthetic substances (see table) to organic infant formula. The use of synthetic macronutrients in organic food, specifically organic infant formula does not satisfy consumer expectations of organic food. Moreover, according to the OFPA, synthetic antioxidants must not be used as preservatives in organic foods. Therefore the petitioned use of ascorbyl palmitate and beta carotene as antioxidants to preserve the quality of polyunsaturated fatty acids does not meet criteria for listing.

Constructing “organic” soy infant formula from mostly synthetic materials such as isolated soy protein and synthetic L-carnitine and L-methionine is contrary to organic principles. Though NOSB has not acted on isolated soy proteins since the issue was deferred at its April 2004 meeting, the Board has proceeded on the assumption – based on the unanimous opinion from technical reviewers- that isolated soy protein is synthetic. Until the NOSB can resolve issues surrounding isolated soy protein, we believe it would be improper to base other materials decisions on the need to supplement a formula which is based on synthetic chemicals.


Infants do not have the ability to process excess nutrients as well as adults. Experts have warned that the inclusion of unnecessary components to infant formula may put a burden on an infant’s metabolic functioning. We urge the Board not to permit fortification of organic infant formulas with synthetic and nonorganic ingredients. Instead, we encourage the Board to support breastfeeding. Scientific studies stress the fact that feeding infant formula instead of breastfeeding causes adverse health effects for both mother and child. Therefore, we do not believe infant formula, or any of its ingredients, meets the health effects criterion for addition to the National List as “organic” or “100% organic.” For rare cases in which it is necessary to have an alternative to breast milk we do support a high quality formula labeled “made with organic milk.”

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Table of Peitioned Materials - Click the material in the table to view the Handling Subcommittee's Proposal

Petitioned material

Milk/soy formula

Recommended by Handling Subcommittee?

Preservative?

Required?

Ascorbyl palmitate

Both

No (0-6-1)

Yes

No

Beta carotene

Both

No (0-5-2)

Yes

No

Lutein

Both

No (3-4-0)

No

No

Lycopene

Both

No (0-5-2)

No

No

L-carnitine

Soy

No (2-3-1)

No

No

L-methionine

Soy

Yes (6-0-1)

No

Protein quality

Nucleotides

Both

Yes (4-3-0)

No

No

Taurine

Both

No (0-4-3)

No

No

Other Ingredients
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

Other Ingredients in organic food are being approached as “ingredients within ingredients.” However, the OFPA sets three simple criteria for any and all ingredients in organic food: Does it harm people or the environment? Is it essential? Is it compatible with organic principles? Distinctions concerning whether an ingredient is “incidental” or whether it’s added by certified handler add unneeded confusion to the certification process. There should be no divisions between what is defined as an “ingredient” and what is defined as an “other ingredient.” We support the idea that no ingredient of any kind can be in food labeled organic unless it is on the National List.

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Research Priorities
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

Research priorities must satisfy several criteria relevant to the need to find alternatives to synthetic or nonorganic materials on the National List. Proposed areas of research must be challenging and based on controversial NOSB decisions. They must also concern areas where the research need is persistent, lacking in primary research, and difficult to identify but obviously necessary (such as the need for improved weed control methods). We encourage concerned citizens to include their own comments on areas where they think organic production needs further research.

Whole Farm Systems Research
This topic is important both on its own and as an approach to the other research topics proposed by the Materials Subcommittee. Organic farmers are innovators, and solutions developed on farms do not always fit into the typical research framework. As research on whole farm management methods progresses from farms to research institutions and back to farms, these systems questions need to be integrated into research proposals.

Copper Sulfate in Rice
As noted above, this topic could be better studied in light of questions involving whole farm systems. For example, how can biodiversity that eliminates/reduces the need for intervention be supported? Can rotation be used in rice production to reduce problems? How can the rice agroecosystem interact with the surrounding ecosystem in a beneficial way?

Antibiotics for Fire Blight
Researchers should start by studying the practices of growers who have had success without the use of antibiotics. Some growers note that the production of pome fruits has changed significantly in the last 30 years. Many current practices actually promote fire blight epidemics. Researchers should look into the possibility of changing those practices in the context of whole farm systems. New yeast products should also be explored further as a way to reduce intervention.

Organic Aquaculture
Questions involving organic aquaculture should concern how fundamental organic principles can be applied to aquatic systems. For example, what is the analogy to “feeding the soil” in an aquatic system? What does “essentiality” mean in an aquaculture system? How can the natural world, biological life, diverse habitats, and cropping systems be incorporated and benefit aquaculture?

Methionine Alternative
The Livestock Subcommittee has framed this issue in a very productive way through their omnivore diets discussion document. We suggest research look into insect and worm culture for animal protein needs in domestic omnivores. For example, do mealworms, crickets, and earthworms have a balance of amino acids that would make them a good supplement? How practical is it to raise them as feed?

Carrageenan
While we are happy to see the Board acknowledge shortcomings concerning its previous decision regarding carrageenan, most of the questions posed about carrageenan have already been answered by respected scientists. Therefore, research into the health impacts of carrageenan does not fit the criteria for the kind of research to be addressed because it is not lacking in primary research. What is lacking is the Board careful consideration of this research. Similarly, evidence was submitted to the board showing alternatives to carrageenan.

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Public Commenting
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommedation

We support the committee’s efforts to make a clear commitment to the time required to hear each person’s comments. We believe that four minutes is a compromise worth trying, however the precise time is not as important as a commitment to a designated amount of time. We encourage the chair to be prepared to be flexible according to circumstances (including allowing unused time for those on the wait-list to speak or additional questions). Public comments can raise important new issues, so it is important that the NOSB and NOP afford time to deliberate over new issues before voting.

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Conflict of Interest
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

While we supported the proposal presented to the Board in Albuquerque, and we agree with the intention of this proposal, we are concerned about issues of transparency, openness, and due process in the current proposal. As it stands, this proposal establishes a system that enforces unstated rules and does so out of the public’s eye.

There are two sets of conflict of interest rules applicable to the NOSB – those that come from Congress and federal agencies and those that come from the NOSB itself. In terms of Congressional/federal oversight, applicable conflict of interest statutes and regulations are not named in the current proposal. In terms of NOSB policies, the proposal only requires conflicts of interest to be disclosed to the NOP. Both of these policies would be detrimental to the public’s perception of transparency within the NOSB. Conflicts of interest should be revealed to all stakeholders – the NOP, NOSB, and the public. Additionally, any policy framework for conflict of interest should specifically reference applicable federal statutes and regulations.

Many recommendations within this proposal are broad and need refining. For instance, in recommendation #8, “potential conflict of interest,” defined in terms of the “appearance of a loss of impartiality” is so vague as to be meaningless. The intention of the proposal is positive; however we recommend that the Board send this proposal back to the Policy Development Subcommittee.

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Public Communications with the NOSB
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We support both aspects of the proposed public communications policy. The ability for the NOSB to inform the Secretary of the organic community’s views is critical, particularly for views that are contrary to USDA’s other policies (such as concerns over “coexistence” between organic farms and those which grow genetically engineered crops). It is also important that NOSB members be able to receive input from the organic community during all stages of deliberations. Experts should be given the opportunity for input as early as possible in the decision process in order to prevent important information from coming to light during the public comment period. This would help the NOSB and NOP save both time and resources at Board meetings. We are troubled by the NOP’s declaration that public communications outside public comment periods are inappropriate, and we support NOSB in asserting its desire to hear from the public at any time.

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Seed Purity
Committee Proposal, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

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.

Though OFPA does not require a seed purity standard, consumer expectation and the threat of contamination by GE crops forces organic seed producers to go beyond the requirements of the law. Thus, seed companies are finding it necessary to perform costly tests in order to check for presence of GE organisms. We endorse the development of a seed purity protocol only in combination with a comprehensive plan to prevent GE contamination, along with a rigorous enforcement strategy. This enforcement strategy should be spearheaded by the USDA. According to the OFPA, the USDA must set terms and conditions necessary for organic products to be grown, sold, and labeled. Given the threat to organic production posed by contamination by GE organisms, the USDA must take actions to prevent this contamination.

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Calculating Percentage Organic
Committee Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

We thank the Certification, Accrediation, and Compliance Subcommittee (CACS) for raising this issue in a discussion document, and hope that the end result of this conversation will be a single, consistent and transparent method of calculating the percentage of organic ingredients in a product. The method adopted should be consistent with other board efforts, such as the attempt to identify all ingredients (including so-called “other ingredients”.). This may require processors to learn the precise percentage of organic ingredients within their ingredients.

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Biodiverstiy Update
Committee Discussion Document, Beyond Pesticides Recommendation

Our survival depends on our ability to protect biodiversity. We are part of and sustained by a diverse community of life – from the microbes in our gut that help us digest food, to the microbes in the soil which help feed plants, the ecological services provided by this complex arrangement are of phenomenal importance to the future of humanity.

We believe that questions used on the checklist for materials should address positive impacts on biodiversity, as the OFPA states, “production practices implemented in accordance with this subpart must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.” In terms of converting native conservation lands to organic production, we support Wild Farm Alliance’s (WFA) guidance emphasizing the need to weigh the benefits of more farmable acreage against the loss of habitat functions (decreased water quality protection/ pollinator food and shelter) as a result of the conversation.

We agree that additional education and training is needed at all levels of the organic food production process. We also support the consideration of biodiversity in organic handing operations. Indoor operations are not self-contained. Waste which is generated moves into air, land, or water, and cradle-to-grave impacts should be measured.

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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.The executive director of Beyond Pesticides is serving a five-year term (2010-2014) on the NOSB as one of three environmentalist/resource conservationist stakeholders. 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.

 

 

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