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Keeping Organic Strong: NOSB Archives

(Archived page, Spring 2011 NOSB meeting)

Take Action: Make Your Voice Heard at Upcoming Meeting

Submit your comments by April 10

Do you care about synthetics in your organic food? How about antibiotics? Do you think organic farmers should be spraying a known human carcinogen, nickel, or using pheromone products with toxic inert ingredients? Take action now.

The documents on these issues that will be considered at the Spring 2011 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (April 26-29, Seattle, WA) are open for public comment until April 10. Public involvement is vital for the organic regulatory process. The NOSB depends on input from the organic community, including organic consumers, farmers and processors, in making its decisions. It seeks comments from concerned consumers, farmers, professionals, or anyone with an interest in protecting the integrity and the future of organic food and farming.

organic To make your comments more effective and easily understood, comment on each issue (see below Beyond Pesticides' positions on key issues) separately and clearly indicate what issue or materials 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.

Submit your comments before April 10 or register if you would like to present a statement to the board in person at the meeting in Seattle. View the full docket to view other comments already submitted.

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.

ISSUES BEFORE THE NOSB (April 2011 Meeting)
Beyond Pesticides urges public comments on the following issues: A synopsis of the issues follow with a link to additional background on the subject. All these issues and use of substances have direct bearing on organic integrity, so it is critical to have publc input into the NOSB decision making process. Submit your comments before April 10.

IDENTIFYING/REVIEWING SYNTHETICS IN ORGANICS- This debate focuses on a specific input known as corn steep liquor (CSL) (See background), a byproduct of the corn wet mlling process. The Crops Committee first voted in September 2010 that this material is a synthetic material --because corn is subject to a manufacturing process with the addition of sulfur dioxide that it said caused chemical change. After bringing this contenious issue back to committee, with a new member added to the committee and a vote change, the majority of the comimittee changed its position in January 2011 to find that CSL is nonsynthetic by a vote of 4 to 3. Beyond Pesticides has studied this issue and believes strongly that CSL must be found under the organic guidelines to be a synthetic synthetic material and therefore subject to health and environmental review by the NOSB..

Action: Urge the NOSB to find that CSL is synthetic.

Why is this important? The issue being considered, in determining whether CSL is synthetic or non-synthetic, is a foundational issue in the determination of allowable inputs in organic production. The determination itself of whether an input is synthetic does not always determine whether that input is allowable in organic. It simply ensures that the NOSB carries out its responsibility to review and evaluate whether the use of that synthetic material meets the law’s standards of sustainability. Organic integrity is built on the principle of objective review and transparency to ensure that the organic consumers’ expectations are being met and that there is a level playing field for all those engaged in organic production.

The minority’s position that CSL must be defined as a synthetic product is actually very straightforward and follows the policies and history of longstanding positions of the NOSB. Simply put, the process of making CSL --the wet milling countercurrent process-- is different than the natural practices that are defined in our standards, expressly because the process requires adding a synthetic chemical to an otherwise natural steeping/lactic acid fermentation process to effect a chemical change, necessary for the end product to be created. So, even though this process involves corn and a steeping process, the end result would not get that product to where its manufacturer wants without the introduction of a synthetic chemical that breaks chemical bonds and manipulates corn to turn it into something else with distinct functionality. And USDA researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (who do not have a financial interest in this discussion) have confirmed to the Crops Committee that CSL could not be created naturally with biological activity alone or as is allowed in what we have until now understood to be the nonchemical processes, as stated in the organic Rule: “cooking, baking, curing, heating, drying, mixing, grinding, churning, separating, extracting, slaughtering, cutting fermenting, distilling, eviscerating, preserving, freezing, chilling, or otherwise manufacturing and includes the packaging, canning, jarring, or otherwise enclosing food in a container.” Learn more.

CLASSIFICATION OF MATERIALS - Should any level of a synthetic be evaluated for harm? - (See background) This particular policy recommendation seeks to implement the NOSB's classification of materials policy which allows insignificant amounts of synthetic substances in organic food production to escape the normal NOSB process of reviewing synthetic inputs for harm. Beyond Pesticides believes that the majority of the Materials Committee errs in proposing "that a significant level of a synthetic substance in the final material means a level exceeding any applicable regulatory limits, were in effect for the material being classified, and a level without any technical and functional effects in the final material." The minority opinion, supported by Beyond Pesticides, reaches the conclusion that while the law does not envision the use of purposefully added synthetic materials not on the National List, the list provides the mechanism for evaluating harm. This statutory intent is captured in the “Evaluation Criteria for Substances Added to the National List” with the questions, “Is there any harmful effect on human health? [§6517 c(1)(A) (i) ; 6517 c(2)(A)I; §6518 m.4]?” and, “Is the substance harmful to the environment and biodiversity? [§6517c(1)(A)(i);6517(c)(2)(A)i]?”

Action: (i) Reject the committee recommendation on “significant level of a synthetic substance” because it relies on standards that are not part of OFPA and does not allow the application of OFPA standards to low levels of synthetic substances; (ii) Instead, define “significant level of a synthetic substance” as “any known level of a synthetic substance in the final material or in the environment, as a result of the substance’s manufacture, use and disposal.”

Materials Under Review

ANTIBIOTICS-(See background) Support the Crops Committee recommendation to discontinue streptomycin and tetracycline use in organic fruit production by allowing streptomycin to sunset and rejecting the petition to repeal the 2012 phase-out of tetracycline.

Antibiotic resistance is an important threat to human health, and the use of antibiotics in agriculture contributes to the problem; Organic consumers do not want antibiotics used on their food; Organic growers have a responsibility to choose varieties that are resistant to diseases before adopting a chemical response to the disease; Support the committee recommendations to allow streptomycin to sunset and to deny the petition to remove the expiration date on tetracycline.

CHLORINE - (See Background) Chlorine is a toxic chemical that should be eliminated from organic production as much as possible.

Change the Crops Committee recommendation to read:
Chlorine materials (calcium hypochlorite; chlorine dioxide: and sodium hypochlorite)—Residual chlorine levels in the water in direct crop contact or as water from cleaning irrigation systems applied to soil or for disinfecting and sanitizing equipment or tools should not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Make the Handling Committee recommendation on food contact use consistent with the Crops Committee use.Since chlorine compounds have so many adverse impacts in the production-to-disposal life of the materials, we ask that the NOSB form a working group to determine how organic production can move beyond reliance on chlorine-based materials. These are uses that the TR does not report as being allowed in the organic production in the EEC, which indicates that the allowance of chlorine materials for these uses may not be in conformance with international practice.

COPPER COMPOUNDS - (See background) Support the Crop Committee’s addition of a periodic testing requirement to ensure that copper residues do not build up in the soil to the extent that they pose a threat to soil-dwelling organisms. Include language in the recommendation implementing the committee’s intention to “work with the National Organic Program to advance guidance that ensures that organic operations are strictly meeting, and to the extent possible, exceeding the standards established by the product label in meeting principles of sustainability and a sustainable work environment for all those who work in organic production.” Change the listing to reflect the crops and diseases where copper compounds are used so that future sunset examinations can make a more informed decision.

NICKEL - (See background) Nickel) Support the recommendation of the Crops Committee to deny the petition to allow nickel as a micronutrient. Nickel is toxic and a known human carcinogen, and supplements are not needed.

PHEROMONES - (See background) Support Crops Committee recommendation as amended below: List pheromones for insect management on §205.601, provided that they are identical to or substantially similar to natural pheromones as defined in 40 CFR 152.25(b), in passive dispensers, without added toxicants, and with only approved inert ingredients. There may be other pheromone products that should be listed on §205.601, but the petition process should be used in order to determine whether they meet OFPA's legal criteria.

SODIUM NITRATE- (See background) The Crops Committee has offered two possible recommendations on sodium nitrate, also known as Chilean nitrate, which is used as a soluble nitrate fertilizer. Beyond Pesticides supports the first. The second is the status quo.

1. Relist sodium nitrate § 205.602(g) without annotation.
2. Relist sodium nitrate § 205.602(g) with annotation: “—unless use is restricted to no more than 20% of the crop's total nitrogen requirement.”

Sodium nitrate is a natural form of soluble nitrate that is mined in Chile. Its listing on § 205.602 indicates that it is a prohibited natural material, with the exception noted in the annotation. Sodium nitrate is not permitted at all in organic production in most countries because the use of soluble fertilizers is considered to be contrary to organic principles.

Other substances/inputs under review

Vitamin D3 – This vitamin, in the form of cholecalciferol is a synthetically created substance which is currently used in organic production to kill rodents. It is incorporated into bait traps, so that the animals will ingest it. Although it is a vital mineral to both humans and rodents, it is toxic to both in high quantities. The amount that is used in the bait traps, although enough to be toxic to rodents, is still a comparatively low dose for humans.

The recommendation from the Crops Committee states that there are few viable alternatives currently available for organic producers. However, the technical review prepared for the committee suggests that there are several alternative materials and practices that some farmers are currently using and which more could use. These include castor bean oil, which is known to be a rodent repellant, as well as practices such as planting naturally repellant crops, use of mechanical traps, and introduction of natural predators, such as cats or owls.

Lignin Sulfonate – Lignin sulfonate is a chemical that is used as a “floatation agent” that is added to water in the processing of apples and pears. The substance increases the density of the water, making the fruits float, and thus making them less likely to be damaged in processing. Lignin sulfonate is also used as a soil amendment for the purposes of both dust suppression and as a chelating agent, meaning that it binds with micronutrients and enables them to be more effectively taken up by plants.

When wastewater containing lignin sulfonate is dumped into the environment, it can have drastic effects on wildlife. It can remove dissolved oxygen from water as well as increase acidity, killing aquatic life and exacerbating pollution. Support the Crops Committee’s recommendation requiring farmers and processors to document their wastewater disposal practices in order to prevent adverse impacts on aquatic species.

Magnesium Sulfate – Magnesium sulfate is a material that is currently allowed in organic production for use as a plant micronutrient in the form of a soil amendment, and only when there is a documented deficiency of the nutrient in the soil. It is available in both synthetic and natural forms, with both currently being allowed for use on the National List. However, the Crops Committee has expressed their view that it is inconsistent with organic principles to allow the use of a synthetic material where there is an available naturally-based option, providing that the natural form is equally as effective as the synthetic. Beyond Pesticides urges support for this position.

Other substances/inputs will be added here prior to the filing deadline. Please check back.