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

Take Action: Join Us at Upcoming Meeting
Meeting to take place May 22-25, 2012

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet at the end of the month 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. 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 meeting in Albuquerque. You can read about the issues below and we invite you to join us at the meeting to take part in the discussion and follow all of the developments.

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

View the full docket for the Spring 2012 meeting to see other comments already submitted. It should be noted that the NOSB meeting structure has been changed from how it was previously organized. The NOSB will now complete all activities (listen to public comments, then discuss/vote on agenda items in light of those comments) on a given committee before moving onto the next. To help the NOSB use your comments, please use your written comments to address multiple topics and focus your oral comments on one committee’s agenda items. If you choose to address multiple committees’ topics in your oral comments, the National Organic Program (NOP) asks that you be very clear about which topics you wish to address so they can schedule your comments before the NOSB votes on those agenda items. organic agriculture NOSB checklist

Issues Before the NOSB for Spring 2012

Final Meeting Agenda

Full Meeting Packet with Agenda and All Proposals

Inert Ingredients
Committee Proposal

  • Current NOP Status: Not Subject to Individual Review by NOSB

  • NOSB Albuquerque Recommendation: Subject to Individual Review by NOSB as soon as possible.

Beyond Pesticides welcomes NOSB’s recommendation to review all inert ingredients, including those classified by EPA as “List 3” and “List 4,” as soon as possible. To clarify their decision, the Board recommended new language for the classification of inerts. Inerts will be classified as “other 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.” List 3 inerts allowed in “passive pheromone dispensers” may only be used until December 31st, 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 NOSB’s move towards greater transparency in food labeling.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comments on inerts.

GMO Vaccines
Proposed Committee Recommendation

  • Current NOP Status: Not for use in organic production

  • NOSB Albuquerque Recommendation: Additional Information Requested from NOP

The NOSB resolution requested additional detailed information from the NOP and other USDA agencies in order to create a meaningful and implementable record regarding the use of GMO vaccines. This recommendation included creating a list/tracking system specific to pathogens by strain, and updating the system regularly. NOSB also recommended the encouragement of truthful labels about the presence/ absence of GMO’s in vaccines. The Livestock Committee resolved to continue to work on a list of questions that would better inform the policy-making for GMO vaccines. The committee planned to revisit the issue at the next meeting. Beyond Pesticides is pleased that the board delayed this important decision. It is imperative to allow time for public review and input concerning livestock welfare and GMOs in organic production.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comment on GMO vaccines.

Carrageenan
Proposed Committee Recommendation

  • Current NOP Status: Allowed for use in organic processing

  • 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, “if possible.” 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 “induction or promotion of gastrointestinal tract inflammation, ulcerations and/or neoplasms.” Board member Zea Sonnabend said, “There is one issue upon which the committee felt further research should be taken – 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 50000 Daltons should be introduced into the specification to ensure the molecular weight of carrageenan in food is kept to a minimum.” This specification was not adopted for the final vote.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes degraded carrageenan as a “possible human carcinogen.” The harvesting of wild seaweeds for the manufacture of carrageenan is ecologically destructive to marine environments. Additionally, the USDA technical review noted that there are a number of viable substitutes for carrageenan.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comment on the carrageenan proposal.

Public Communications with the NOSB
Proposed Committee Recommendation

The Policy Development Committee withdrew this recommendation to the NOSB board due to time constraints. There were some notable changes to public communication with the NOSB in the PDC proposal. They noted that NOSB members should be informed by the NOP of issues, but should also find information from independent sources. The committee proposed that the NOSB send advice/clarification/information to the Secretary of Agriculture after board meetings to facilitate public communication. Additionally, after a request for clarification by the NOP, the committee spoke about the NOSB accepting public communications outside committee/board meetings and public comment periods. NOP requested that these comments be sent to all members of the applicable committee, or, when appropriate, the entire NOSB board. Beyond Pesticides is pleased with the progress the NOSB made concerning public communication with the Board. We welcome a vote on the resolution at the fall meeting.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comments on Policy Development Committee issues.

Significant Residues
Proposed Discussion Document

The National Organic Program determines whether or not a substance is a synthetic or not based on two elements: whether there is chemical change, or whether there is a significant residue of a synthetic in that product. The Board’s discussion focused on the need for NOSB to clarify what the term “significant” means when speaking about a synthetic substance in an organic product. Further discussion concerned the idea of creating language that identifies the removal of a synthetic product so that it does not interfere with a product’s organic classification. Beyond Pesticides encourages the board to define “significant residue” in a way that classifies the material as synthetic if any synthetic chemical is used in producing the material. Doing so will allow for a full review of these materials as required by the OFPA.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comments on Materials Committee issues.

Solvents and Extractants
Proposed Discussion Document

The Board resolved to continue their work on this issue. The Materials Committee presentation noted the need to clarify limitations on the use of extractants and solvents used in manufacturing materials and ingredients for organic food and farming. It also noted the importance of creating consistency in the classification process for these materials. When discussion the definition of “volatile synthetic solvents” the committee noted that the most widely used definition for volatility was, “a chemical with a boiling point less than 287 degrees Celsius,” hence a proposed definition for a “volatile synthetic solvent” was given as, “a synthetic chemical with a boiling point less than 287 degree Celsius that can dissolve another chemical.” The committee presentation noted from public input that ingredients which had extractants applied to them could conceivable end up in organic products, even though the ingredient in question would not qualify for organic certification. Beyond Pesticides urges the NOSB to adopt a policy which makes it clear that the use or presence of a synthetic solvent in an ingredient disqualifies the product from being labeled as “organic.” We believe the presence of a synthetic solvent in any material used in organic production or handling should trigger a full review of the material by the Board.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comments on Materials Committee issues.

Public Comment Procedures
Proposed Committee Recommendation

The Policy Development Committee withdrew this recommendation to the Board due to time constraints. The Policy Development Committee proposed that individuals will have 3 minutes to voice their comments, with possible 5 min. extension at the discretion of the board. Beyond Pesticides prefers a procedure where public commenters know in advance that they have a full 5 minutes to present their input to the Board. This would allow them time to prepare a more comprehensive statement in advance, instead of having the completion of their input subject to the discretion of the Board.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comments on Policy Development Committee issues.

Research Priorities
Committee Proposal

The Board’s proposal on research priorities is based on the discussion document from previous NOSB meetings. The committee made one change from the discussion document due to public comment. This change was the proposal to “focus on research needs that are relevant to accessing the need for alternative cultural biological and mechanical methods for materials on the national list.” The committee noted that this change would help the Board make more informed decisions about petitioned materials or those up for review. The proposal contains a process by which the Board determines important research areas relevant to upcoming NOSB decisions. They also resolved to support increased field research on organic management systems. The Board and public comments expressed their support for this proposal.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comments on Materials Committee issues.

Conflict of Interest Policy
Committee Proposal

The Policy Development Committee withdrew this recommendation to the Board due to time constraints with the following statement: our committee hereby requests complete written communication from the National Organic Program regarding how FACA informs our policy efforts. The Board outlined general procedures for declaring, evaluating, and acting upon a conflict of interest.  The committee’s proposal kept the original policy for Conflict of Interest but strengthened the term “conflict of interest” by providing a set definition. The proposal also added procedural requirements for NOSB members to follow. These include deferring to the NOP instead of the NOSB to determine conflict of interest, and a requirement to disclose financial interests at the committee level. Beyond Pesticides is pleased that the Board is working towards increased transparency in their decision-making process.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comments on Policy Development Committee issues.

Letter to Secretary Concerning GMOs
Proposed Letter

The Board unanimously adopted the proposal to send a letter to Secretary Vilsack concerning the increasing number of genetically engineered crops gaining approval for commercial use by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA). Beyond Pesticides is excited to see the Board exercise its right under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on this critical issue. The Board’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.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comment on the letter to the Secretary concerning GMOs.

Sanitizers and 100% organic status
Committee Discussion Document

This discussion concerned the legitimacy and virtue of the “100% organic” label, and whether the distinction from a simply “organic” label was necessary. The Board discussed process issues with how products are labeled 100% organic. For instance, it is possible for raw agricultural products such as apples labeled “organic” (not 100% organic because they were sanitized with chlorine) to be placed in juice labeled “100% organic.” It was pointed out that while products labeled 100% organic do not contain synthetic ingredients, they still may have come into contact with synthetic sanitizers. This prompted the Board to consider a proposal to more stringently define “100% organic” in terms of sanitizers involved in direct food contact, or get rid of the “100% organic” label.

At the request of the NOSB, the NOP clarified that there is a difference between food contact materials (processing aids such as antimicrobials) and surface contact materials (sanitizers used on belts bins equipment). They stated that food contact materials would preclude the 100% organic label while surface contact materials would not. This still leaves the question of “100% organic” apple juice made from only “organic” apples open. Beyond Pesticides believes the NOSB should clarify regulations on “100% organic” products in order to maintain their distinction as products without any contact with synthetic materials.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comment on the issue of sanitizers and "100% Organic" status.

Agar-agar
Committee Proposal

  • Current NOP Status: Allowed for use in organic processing

  • NOSB Albuquerque Recommendation: Continue use in organic processing

An amendment to the proposal to distinguish between natural and synthetic forms of Agar-agar was put forth, however NOSB did not adopt this distinction. Therefore, the synthetic form of the substance was allowed for continued use. Beyond Pesticides disagrees with the Board’s decision to continue the allowance of synthetic forms of the substance, due to the clear availability of its natural form.  Moreover, the ecological impacts caused by the production of synthetic Agar-agar are not in line with organic standards.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comment on Handling Committee issues.

Curry and Kaffir lime leaves
Committee Proposals: Curry leaves, Kaffir lime leaves

We support the listing of curry leaves and Citrus hystrix leaves as ingredients in organic food that may be non-organically sourced. Although we always advocate for the use of organic ingredients in processed organic food whenever possible, the plain fact is that, currently, organic production does meet the demand for these products. However, we urge the board to thoroughly review these ingredients again in five years when they come up for sunset review, and try to ascertain whether the supply of organically sourced spices has grown to the extent that the non-organic allowance is no longer needed. This appears to be a classic case where the lack of availability of certain ingredients could well be met by the time of sunset action.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments for full background.
See selected public comment on Handling Committee issues.

Other Handling Committee Materials

Choline
Committee Proposal

We urge the board to reject the Handling Committee’s recommendation to allow synthetic choline in organic infant formulas. The Committee has not shown a need for synthetic choline to be added to the National List. The manufacture requires nonrenewable feedstocks, may release toxic air pollutants, and may result in a formulated product containing toxic chemical residues in the synthetic choline.

Inositol
Committee Proposal

The Handling Committee has not shown a need for synthetic inositol to be added to the National List. Additionally, the addition of an unnecessary synthetic ingredient to organic food is not compatible with consumer expectations of organic food. Therefore, we urge the board to reject the recommendation to list synthetic inositol for use in organic infant formulas.

Gibberellic Acid
Committee Proposal

Lacking any data supporting need, and in view of the potential harm, use of volatile synthetic solvents in its production, and long distance transport as a justification, we must take a precautionary approach and oppose the listing of gibberellic acid for use on bananas on the National List.

Calcium Sulfate
Committee Proposal

Calcium sulfate has been used as a coagulant for tofu for over 2000 years in China. Although there are other coagulants that may be used, calcium sulfate is essential for traditional Chinese tofu. However, other uses are allowed under the current allowance for this material, and the need for them has not been established. We have not seen sufficient evidence to support the use of calcium sulfate for all food uses. Therefore we support renewing the listing of calcium sulfate, provided that it includes the annotation, “For use only as a coagulant in bean curd (tofu and similar products).”

Glucono Delta-Lactone (GDL)
Committee Proposal

Although some questions remain about its essentiality in the production of silken tofu, we support the relisting of glucono delta-lactone with the following annotation: ”For use only as a coagulant in bean curd (tofu and similar products); when produced by oxidation of D-glucose by non-genetically-modified, nonpathogenic, and nontoxicogenic microorganisms or by enzymes derived from these organisms. No volatile synthetic solvents may be used in the crystallization process.”

Cellulose
Committee Proposal

We urge the committee to update its review to examine the availability of nonsynthetic, possibly even organic, forms of cellulose for the proposed uses. The board has received a petition to remove silicon dioxide for some of these uses because of the existence of an organic rice concentrate alternative, which should be considered. We also urge the board to delist microcrystalline cellulose as an anticaking agent because it is a highly processed synthetic material, and nonsynthetic alternatives are available.

See Beyond Pesticides’ comments on Handling Committee materials for full background.
See selected public comment on Handling Committee issues.

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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