(Beyond Pesticides, December 11, 2012) The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) is proposing to delay compliance with National Organic Standard Board (NOSB) recommendations to disallow non-essential synthetic vitamins, minerals, and accessory nutrients in products certified as organic. An interim rule proposed by NOP will enable the continued illegal use of these ingredients in organic foods, which was allowed by a previous administration without the normally required NOSB ruling. This move represents a complete reversal by the NOP after the program had signaled its intent to comply with the law in rulemaking proposed earlier this year. The Organic Foods Production Act established the NOSB and vested the board with the responsibility to determine those synthetics that are allowed in certified organic under clear health and environmental standards with an assessment of substance essentiality.
Beyond Pesticides urges that concerned citizens provide a public comment to USDA about this issue. (See below for sample letter.)
In 2007 under the Bush Administration, NOP issued an overly broad interpretation of a NOSB recommendation that allowed synthetic nutrients deemed essential by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be added to organic food. However, in 2010 USDA acknowledged that this policy was invalid. Addressing the spring 2011 NOSB meeting (p. 13), USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan apologized for the agency’s mistake and remarked, “The program has the responsibility to provide a clear and transparent list of substances that are allowed in organic production and handling.” The NOSB was informed that any synthetic nutrients in use because of this faulty interpretation, but not yet reviewed by the Board, would be taken off the National List on October 21, 2012. And on January 12 of this year, NOP’s draft guidance amended language in the regulations to require NOSB review before adding any synthetic nutrients to the National List.
When issuing the draft guidance, NOP included a two-year timeline before any final rule would be enforced, stating, “This timeline is intended to allow time for the NOSB’s review of petitions for substances not within the scope of the current listing or amended listing and provides the NOP with an opportunity to initiate rulemaking if the NOSB recommends that such substances be added to the National List. In addition, the NOP believes this timeline would provide sufficient time for the organic trade to adjust product formulations based on the Board recommendation and rulemaking or to consider relabeling products.” In other words, NOP has proposed providing a generous timeframe for producers to either reformulate or wait for a recommendation by the NOSB to allow their particular nutrient. Instead of being removed on October 21, 2012, synthetic nutrients that the NOSB did not approve would still be allowed to be labeled organic for another two years.
However, in a stark reversal of previous statements, NOP’s recent interim rule “renews, without change, the exemption (use) for nutrient vitamins and minerals on the National List. This interim rule would allow the continued use of nutrients, vitamins and minerals in organic products until the agency completes its January, 12, 2012 rulemaking.” NOP states that the reason for this delay is that the agency “continues to review the public comments of the proposed rule and assess the extent of impacts on the industry that could result from correcting the cross reference to FDA regulations.” In total, only nine comments were submitted to Regulations.gov on the January 2012 rulemaking. This interim rule grants NOP, and therefore manufacturers, an indeterminate, unspecified amount of time to comply with the law. Beyond Pesticides objects to this unreasonable delay. The NOP may not legally allow synthetic substances to be used in organic production unless the NOSB recommends their listing on the National List. There is a long history of going from NOSB recommendations to implementation in 12-18 months, and adding an additional indeterminate time period to this timeframe without adequate justification is arbitrary and capricious.
We urge citizens concerned about organic integrity to speak out and provide a public comment to USDA.
Please note that only the fields with an asterisk are required for entry, for “Organization Name” feel free to put “Private Citizen.”
Here’s a sample comment you can place on the docket, but we encourage concerned consumers to personalize this message:
I urge you to move forward with rulemaking on synthetic nutrients in organic foods.
Each and every synthetic nutrient in organic food should go through the required legal petition process and be subject to review and oversight by the NOSB. As a consumer of organic food I rely on this process to protect both my own health, and the health of the environment.
I find the USDA’s delay to be unreasonable. It is unacceptable to propose an indeterminate time period for implementing a legal requirement without adequately justifying the reason. Since the interim rule went into effect on October 21, 2012, please subtract any time that lapses between then and the issuance of the final rule from the two year implementation date you’ve granted manufacturers.
For additional information on the National Organic Program or the National Organic Standards Board, and for the latest decisions by the NOSB, see Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong program page.