Keeping Organic Strong: Changes in organic regulations and farming practice


National Organic Standards Board

Click here for the Spring 2018 meeting issues

 Where? Tucson University Park Hotel, 880 East Second Street, Tucson, Arizona 85719

When? Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 8:30am to Friday, April 27, 2018 - 6:00pm

Public Comment

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) invites the public to submit written comments and/or provide oral comments on the Spring 2018 meeting issues. The written comment period closes on April 4, 2018. Reservations for oral comments at the in person meeting on April 25 and via the on-line webinar on April 17-19 also close on April 4, 2018.

Review a summary of Beyond Pesticides' Spring 2018 comments here.


About the Board

The 15 member board, consisting of 4 farmers, 3 environmentalists, 3 consumers, 2 food processors, and one retailer, scientist and certifying agent, votes to allow or prohibit substances and practices in certified organic food and farming. The NOSB acts as a life-line from government to the organic community as it considers input from you, the public - the concerned citizens upon whom organic integrity depends. That is why your participation is vital to the development of organic standards. Rest assured, if you submit a public comment either in person or online, your concerns will be considered by the Board. Remember that the NOSB can't take serious action to protect organic integrity without your input!

Issues Before the NOSB for Spring 2018

Materials are either the subject of petitions or the subject of sunset review. Petitioned materials must have evidence summarized in the proposals that they meet the OFPA requirements of essentiality, no adverse effects on humans and the environment, and compatibility with organic practices. Sunset items are already on the National List, and being considered for delisting. They are subject to the same criteria, but are being considered under NOP's new rules.

Following the implementation of the NOSB recommendation adopted in April 2013, which called for the establishment of a “year-round online communication mechanism for all stakeholders to communicate with the NOSB and with the program on matters of interest and concern,” the docket is now open for public comment.

This was to achieve the specified goal of publishing the next NOSB meeting docket as soon as possible after previous NOSB meeting to create an “open docket” for public input. In doing so, it allows NOSB subcommittees to receive information that can meet two of the goals of the public communications policy previously adopted by the NOSB:

1. Inform discussions early in the materials or policy review process through the collection of complete background and perspectives; and

2. Reduce the amount of new information coming to the Board and NOP late in its deliberations on an issue without adequate time to verify or fully assess it.

However, the communications policy was also designed to facilitate two-way and open communication. The other two goals of the public communications policy were thus:

3. Increase transparency for the NOSB, NOP, and the public itself to ensure that everyone has access to the same information in a timely fashion; and

4. Help the Board and NOP to become aware of issues that may not be on the workplan or may not have been generated internal to the NOP and NOSB process, but are important based on the experience and expertise of those in the organic community.

These goals are consistent with Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirements and must be considered. The open docket must solicit not only comments addressing “specific topics noted on the meeting agenda,” but also comments on the organic program in general.

A Framework to Keep in Mind When Commenting to the NOSB:

According to the Organic Foods Production Act, a synthetic substance may only be allowed for use in organic production if it meets the following criteria [7 USC 6517(c)(1)(B)]:

  • It contains an active synthetic ingredient in the following categories: copper and sulfur compounds; toxins derived from bacteria; pheromones, soaps, horticultural oils, fish emulsions, treated seed, vitamins and minerals; livestock parasiticides and medicines and production aids including netting, tree wraps and seals, insect traps, sticky barriers, row covers, and equipment cleansers.

  • It contains synthetic inert ingredients that are not classified by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency as inerts of toxicological concern.

Additionally, it must be fully established that the use of the substance [7 USC 6517(c)(1)(A)]

  • would not be harmful to human health or the environment;
  • is necessary to the production or handling of the final product because natural substitutes are not available; and
  • is consistent with organic farming and handling (see the NOSB’s Principles of Organic Production and Handling).

Structuring your comments on synthetic substances around these points and referencing the specific stipulations in the law will help the members of the NOSB to understand your argument and will make your input more effective.

Click here to view issues that were before the Board at the Fall 2017 meeting!

Also see our NOSB archives pages to read about current and past opportunities for public involvement in the development of organic standards.

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. OFPA and NOP regulations provide for the sunsetting of listed substances every five years and relies on public comment in evaluating their continuing uses.Sunset review, the process of reviewing substances on the National List every five years, is mandated by the Organic Foods Production Act. No substances are up for sunset review at this meeting. To be added to the list of allowed synthetics, it must be shown that the use of such substances – (i) would not be harmful to human health or the environment; (ii) is necessary to the production or handling of the agricultural product because of the unavailability of wholly natural substitute products; and, (iii) is consistent with organic farming and handling. The public may also file a petition to amend the National List, either by removing a material currently on the list or by adding a new one. In both cases, sunset and petition, the NOSB is authorized by OFPA to determine a substance’s status.

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.