(Beyond Pesticides, September 25, 2023) It happens twice a year. The transparent process of a stakeholder board of farmers, consumers, environmentalists, a scientist, retailer, and certifier get together as members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and vote on allowable materials and standards in organic agriculture. This Congressionally mandated board has authorities not often given to people outside of governmentâ€”authorities to determine what should be allowed in organic food production, under assessments of synthetic and natural substances. And the underlying law that makes this happen, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), stipulates that the Secretary of Agriculture may not allow synthetic and prohibited natural materials unless they are recommended by the NOSB.
The values and principles embedded in OFPA far exceed the standards of health and environmental protection of any other health and environmental laws, which establish risk mitigation measures to determine allowable harm, under a set of guiding standards that require the board to (i) protect health (from production of inputs to their disposal), (ii) ensure compatibility with organic systems (with determinations that inputs do not hurt biodiversity of the soil and the ecosystem), and (iii) determine essentiality (is the substance under review necessary given the availability of other materials). Also unique to OFPA implementation is a public participation process that establishes a twice-yearly mechanism for public input to the NOSB and a uniquely efficient process for responding to those comments. As can be seen from Beyond Pesticides comments to the NOSB (see Keeping Organic Strong), there is always room for improvement and updating based on new scientific studies and new materials coming on line, ensuring that the board is always involved in an interactive process of continuous improvement.
The public comment period, which ends on September 28, precedes the upcoming public comment webinar on October 17 and 19 and deliberative hearing October 24-26â€”concerning how organic food is produced. Sign upÂ to speak at the webinar by September 29. Written comments must be submitted throughÂ Regulations.gov. by 11:59 pm EDT, September 28. Links to the virtual comment webinars and the public meeting will be posted onÂ this webpageÂ in early October.Â The publicâ€™s personal concern in upholding the integrity of organic standards is critical, given the pressure from some in the food and chemical industry to weaken organic standards. Public input is important because the success of the organic market is totally dependent on public trust in the USDA certified organic label. Organic is not just important for the individual health of consumers, but has wide ranging benefits for improving Â environmental protection, stopping biodiversity collapse, and drawing down atmospheric carbon to reverse the climate emergency. The holistic benefits of organic land management offer a solution to these existential crises that threaten the sustainability of life.
The NOSB plays an important role in bringing the views of organic producers and consumers to bear on USDA, which is not always in sync with organic principles. There are many important issues on the NOSB agenda this Fall. We encourage you to use the Beyond Pesticides organic webpage and comment on as many issues as you can. For a complete discussion, seeÂ Keeping Organic StrongÂ and theÂ Fall 2023 issues page. See Keeping Organic Strong and the Fall 2023 issues page.Â Â
Some important issues that need your comments:
- â€śInertâ€ť ingredients used in organic agriculture must be evaluated individually.â€śInertâ€ť ingredients are not necessarily biologically or chemically inertâ€”in almost every category of harm, there are more harmful â€śinertsâ€ť than active substances used in organic production.Â OFPA allows the use of a synthetic substance in organic production only if it is listed on the National Listâ€Żâ€śby specific use or applicationâ€ť based on a recommendation by the NOSB, following procedures in OFPA.Â The NOSB has repeatedly passed recommendations telling NOP to evaluate individual â€śinerts.â€ť
- Plastic mulchÂ is under consideration this year as a part of its five-year review cycle. This is part of the larger issue relating to the use of plastic in organic production and handling. Awareness is growing about the impacts of plasticâ€”and the microplastic particles resulting from its useâ€”on human health and the environment. Plastics manufacture requires transportation of hazardous chemicals, such as those involved in the recent derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Organic should lead the way. Plastic mulch should not be relisted as allowable in organic production. Moreover, the NOSB should initiate action to eliminate all uses of plastic in organic processing and packaging.
- Nonorganic ingredients should be eliminated from processed foods under the NOSB review (or sunset) process.Â Materials listed in Â§205.606 in the organic regulations are nonorganic agricultural ingredients that may comprise 5% of organic-labeled processed foods. The intent of the law is to allow restricted nonorganic ingredients (fully disclosed and limited) when their organic form is not available. However, materials should not remain on Â§205.606 if they can be supplied organically, and we can now grow virtually anything organically. The Handling Subcommittee needs to ask the question of potential suppliers, â€śCould you supply the needÂ if the organic form is required?â€ť The materials on Â§205.606 up for sunset review this year are made from agricultural products that can be supplied organically and thus should be taken off the National List of allowed materials.
Need help in submitting comments?Â Regulations.gov requires more than a single click, but it is not difficult. Please feel free to cut-and-paste language from the comments above into Regulations.gov and add or adjust the text to personalize it.Â See thisÂ instructional video. (Regulations.gov has changed its look since this video was made.)Â