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Daily News Blog

01
Aug

Take Action: USDA Action Limits Environmental and Scientific Authority on National Organic Board

(Beyond Pesticides, August 1, 2022) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just renewed the charter of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), with changes that threaten the balance on the board created by law. Organic production is successful, with sales topping $63 billion, and still growing. Organic production not only brings healthful food to it consumers, but also reduces the amount of toxic chemicals released to the air, soil, and water. And it helps to reduce climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. To ensure rigorous oversight of USDA and robust advice and management of the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, the NOSB was created to ensure balanced representation from organic stakeholders, including consumers, conservationists, farmers, a scientist, retailer, and certifier. The growth of the organic brand is attributable in great part to public trust in the standards and processes that govern oversight over the USDA organic label.

Tell USDA to classify all NOSB members as “Representatives” to protect the integrity of organic production. Tell Congress to ensure that USDA follows the letter and spirit of the organic law.

The success of organic derives from consumer trust in the organic label, and that trust depends on a system in which the USDA national organic program (NOP) receives direction from a board composed of a balanced group of stakeholders—producers, processors, retailers, certifiers, scientists, environmentalists, and consumers—the NOSB. The composition of the NOSB is laid out in the Organic Foods Production Act. While many organic consumers do not know about the NOSB, they would certainly know about controversies if not resolved within the board’s debates—such as the decision to prohibit antibiotic use on apples and pears for fire blight.

USDA’s new NOSB charter changes the classification of two categories of members—environmentalists and the scientist—from “representatives” to “special government employees” (SGEs). As stated by USDA, “The most important point to emphasize is that SGEs ARE Government employees.” As government employees, not only do SGEs have greater disclosure requirements, but there are additional restrictions on the number of days they can work in a year (even though an NOSB position is a volunteer position) and their actions both during their service and afterwards. In addition, as government employees, such NOSB members may not feel free to criticize USDA when appropriate.

Classifying some NOSB members as “Representatives” and some as SGEs creates an imbalance in the NOSB, whose composition was carefully selected to provide a balance of interests. If some NOSB members are SGEs, who are restricted to working no more than 130 days per year, the imbalance is accentuated.

The balance on the NOSB needs to be restored, in order to maintain public trust in the USDA organic label.

Tell USDA to classify all NOSB members as “Representatives” to protect the integrity of organic production. Tell Congress to ensure that USDA follows the letter and spirit of the organic law.

Letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack, Deputy Adminstrator Jenny Tucker, National Organic Program:

I am writing to express my concern about the revised charter for the National Organic Standards Board, which undermines the balance created by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). The growth of the organic brand is attributable in great part to public trust in the standards and processes that govern oversight over the USDA organic label. This change undermines that trust.

The new charter reclassifies environmental and scientist members of the NOSB as special government employees (SGEs) instead of ”Representatives.”

First of all, in case you are not aware of the work done by this volunteer board, NOSB members work far more than the maximum 130 days per year allowed by SGEs.

Organic production is successful, with sales topping $63 billion, and still growing. Organic production not only brings healthful food to it consumers, but also reduces the amount of toxic chemicals released to the air, soil, and water. And it helps to reduce climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.

The success of organic derives from consumer trust in the organic label, and that trust depends on a system in which the USDA national organic program (NOP) receives direction from a board composed of a balanced group of stakeholders—producers, processors, retailers, certifiers, scientists, environmentalist, and consumers—the NOSB. The composition of the NOSB is laid out in the Organic Foods Production Act. While many organic consumers do not know about the NOSB, they would certainly know about controversies if not resolved within the board’s debates.

In the report accompanying OFPA, the Congressional authors of the bill said, “The membership of this Board was carefully selected to provide a balance of interests. … As a result the Committee restructured the Board so that the farmers and handlers involved in organic production receive six representatives, equal to the consumer and environmental organizations, which together also receive six representatives.” This language makes it clear that members of the NOSB are representatives of their various classes, and that the balance of interests that they represent is essential.

SGEs are treated differently under the law from representatives. As stated by the USDA, “The most important point to emphasize is that SGEs ARE Government employees.” As government employees, not only do SGEs have greater disclosure requirements, but there are additional restrictions on their actions both during their service and afterwards. In addition, as government employees, such NOSB members may not feel free to criticize USDA when appropriate.

Classifying some NOSB members as “Representatives” and some as SGEs creates an imbalance in the NOSB, whose composition was carefully selected to provide a balance of interests. If some NOSB members are restricted to working no more than 130 days per year, the imbalance is accentuated.

Finally, the Federal Advisory Committee Act requires the FACA committee to file the charter and renewals, not USDA, which raises the issue of the validity of the new charter.

Please ensure that the charter reverts to the former classification of NOSB members.

Thank you.

Letter to U.S. Representative and Senators:

I am writing to express my concern about the revised charter for the National Organic Standards Board, which undermines the balance created by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). The growth of the organic brand is attributable in great part to public trust in the standards and processes that govern oversight over the USDA organic label. This change undermines that trust.

The new charter reclassifies environmental and scientist members of the NOSB as special government employees (SGEs) instead of ”Representatives.”

First of all, in case you are not aware of the work done by this volunteer board, NOSB members work far more than the maximum 130 days per year allowed by SGEs.

Organic production is successful, with sales topping $63 billion, and still growing. Organic production not only brings healthful food to it consumers, but also reduces the amount of toxic chemicals released to the air, soil, and water. And it helps to reduce climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.

The success of organic derives from consumer trust in the organic label, and that trust depends on a system in which the USDA national organic program (NOP) receives direction from a board composed of a balanced group of stakeholders—producers, processors, retailers, certifiers, scientists, environmentalist, and consumers—the NOSB. The composition of the NOSB is laid out in the Organic Foods Production Act. While many organic consumers do not know about the NOSB, they would certainly know about controversies if not resolved within the board’s debates.

In the report accompanying OFPA, the Congressional authors of the bill said, “The membership of this Board was carefully selected to provide a balance of interests. … As a result the Committee restructured the Board so that the farmers and handlers involved in organic production receive six representatives, equal to the consumer and environmental organizations, which together also receive six representatives.” This language makes it clear that members of the NOSB are representatives of their various classes, and that the balance of interests that they represent is essential.

SGEs are treated differently under the law from representatives. As stated by the USDA, “The most important point to emphasize is that SGEs ARE Government employees.” As government employees, not only do SGEs have greater disclosure requirements, but there are additional restrictions on their actions both during their service and afterwards. In addition, as government employees, such NOSB members may not feel free to criticize USDA when appropriate.

Classifying some NOSB members as “Representatives” and some as SGEs creates an imbalance in the NOSB, whose composition was carefully selected to provide a balance of interests. If some NOSB members are restricted to working no more than 130 days per year, the imbalance is accentuated.

Finally, the Federal Advisory Committee Act requires the FACA committee to file the charter and renewals, not USDA, which raises the issue of the validity of the new charter.

Please ensure through your oversight that the charter reverts to the former classification of NOSB members.

Thank you.

 

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