Organics in the News

Heat wave leads to climate change at NOP
Jim reveals the progress made and the new commitment to cooperation seen inside the NOSB October meeting

By James A. Riddle

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Use the links below to go directly to the topics that concern you most.

Antibiotics and Dairy Stock
Fishmeal
Inert Ingredients in Pesticides
Scope of the NOP regulation

Other issues

 

Organics in the News

Editor’s NOTE:

Certified organic farming enjoys success – and challenges – like never before thanks to surging consumer demand, USDA-regulated standards, and increasing attention to how farming impacts our land, water, communities and human health.

We’ve asked Jim Riddle to bring his perspective to our e-pages as a voice from the progressive center of this dynamic food and farming sector. “Organics in the News” will be an occasional series where Riddle shares his insights in the context of current events.

James A. (Jim) Riddle has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector, educator, policy analyst, author, and consumer. He was founding chair of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association, (IOIA), and co-author of the IFOAM/IOIA International Organic Inspection Manual.

Riddle has helped train hundreds of organic inspectors throughout the world. Riddle serves as vice-chair of the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the USDA on organic agriculture policies and regulations. In 2003, Jim was appointed Endowed Chair of Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota.

He serves as an organic policy specialist for NewFarm.org.

October 29, 2004: It’s amazing what a difference it makes to have a CNN camera present at a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting during an election year!

It also helped that Ag Secretary Ann Veneman stated on May 26, 2004, "I have directed the Agriculture Marketing Service to withdraw the Statement of Clarification and now to work with the National Organic Advisory Board and the industry to determine the best solutions to the issues that have been raised. And they will now work with the Organic Standards Board to correct the issues that they had identified that needed the clarifying statement.”

Members of the NOSB met with AMS Administrator AJ Yates and AMS/NOP staff on June 9 to develop a framework for collaboration and a plan to address the contentious issues that had arisen due to the NOP’s April “directives”.

Prior to the October 12-14 NOSB meeting in Washington, D.C., the Consumer’s Union -- in cooperation with the Center for Food Safety and Rural Advancement Foundation International -- had conducted a media event focused on the rescinded directives and management of the NOP.

“What exactly is the status of the directives, since the NOP has continued to claim, even to Congressional staff, that the directives remain in effect?” the Consumer’s Union asked.

The Consumer’s Union press event, and continued media and organic community interest in the issues, turned up the heat.

At the beginning of the NOSB meeting, Barbara Robinson deputy administrator of AMS made it clear that the directives were indeed off the table, and the NOP was waiting for a thoughtful and productive discussion of the position papers developed by NOSB committees on each of the issues. This cleared the way for what proved to be a session where Robinson accepted many recommendations made by the organic community representatives on the NOSB. What follows is a complete description of the issues discussed and the concessions made:

Antibiotics and dairy stock

First up was the Livestock Committee’s position paper on the use of antibiotics in dairy animals and requirements for dairy replacements. The NOP had earlier stated that antibiotics could be used on all dairy animals one year prior to production of organic milk. The Livestock Committee disagreed.

The Livestock Committee (LC) stressed that section 205.238(c)(1) of the Final Rule prohibits the sale of any animals or edible animal products from any livestock treated with antibiotics.
The LC urged the NOP to:

  1. Issue a statement clarifying that antibiotics and other prohibited substances are not allowed in organic production;
  2. Move forward with a rule change to clarify the dairy replacement stock standard to require all animals to be managed organically from the last third of gestation, once an operation is certified organic;
  3. Add to the National List all livestock health care materials reviewed and recommended by the NOSB; and
  4. Broadcast to the industry the opportunity to petition calfhood medications for consideration as amendments to the National List.

With the LC recommendations voiced, the action moved to AMS which showed its commitment to a new era of cooperation when Barbara Robinson responded, “The NOP concurs.”

Fishmeal

On that encouraging note, the Livestock Committee presented the committee’s position on the use of fishmeal as a feed supplement.

The Livestock Committee stated that:

  1. Fishmeal is nonsynthetic;
  2. Fishmeal preserved with natural substances and that “would not be harmful to human health or the environment” should be allowed as a feed additive or feed supplement for organic production;
  3. The use of fishmeal must comply with all applicable requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act;
  4. Nonsynthetic (natural) preservative ingredients are allowed in fishmeal used in organic production; and
  5. Synthetic preservative ingredients used in fishmeal must be petitioned, reviewed, and placed on the National List in order to be allowed.

In a discussion of work plan items, the LC further stated:

  1. The status of fishmeal for use in organic aquaculture will be considered during the development of NOP aquatic animal standards. Issues including sustainability of fisheries exploited for fishmeal production and possible heavy metal, PCB, dioxin, and pesticide contaminants in fishmeal should be addressed during the development of aquatic animal standards;
  2. If NOP standards and definitions are developed for the production of organic fishmeal, then organic fishmeal must be used as feed, feed supplement or feed additive for any organic livestock;
  3. A clear, predictable policy needs to be developed concerning when incidental substances in livestock and crop production materials make an otherwise natural substance a synthetic;
  4. A distinction between natural and synthetic substances should be made. The Livestock Committee recommended that the current definition of “nonsynthetic (natural)” in the Final Rule be revised. They suggested the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) definition of “natural”1 and the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) definition of “natural organic” fertilizers be considered in the revision process; and
  5. The differences between “feed,” “feed additives” and “feed supplements” be clarified. The NOP and NOSB should provide guidance concerning the types of nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, amino acids, vitamins, or minerals) allowed in each category and if there should be limits on the quantities of nonorganic feed “additives” or “supplements” allowed in organic feed rations.

With the committee’s recommendations complete Robinson ended the livestock discussion by stating, “The NOP concurs with all positions presented by the committee.”

Inert ingredients in pesticides

The NOP had issued a directive in April ordering certification agencies to allow the use of unknown inert ingredients in pesticides.

The Materials and Crops Committees took the position that any directive or policy that allows unknown inert ingredients is counter to the requirements of Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) and the Final Rule. Such a policy undermines the EPA labeling program. The committee concluded its evaluation of the directive sternly: “There is no need for NOP to issue a directive weakening enforcement of existing requirements.”

The Committees went on to make several more recommendations about the proper place of pesticides in organic production.

  1. The NOSB encourages pesticide manufacturers who want to market their products for organic production take advantage of the EPA organic labeling program. Manufacturers are also encouraged to disclose all product ingredients on the pesticide label, including inert or other ingredients.
  2. Pesticide manufacturers with products that contain allowed active ingredients and List 3 inert ingredients are encouraged to reformulate to comply with the existing regulation. Other options are to notify the EPA of a need for expedited review, and to petition the NOSB for review of the specific List 3 inert. (Note that petitions to the NOSB may take up to three years for regulatory action.)
  3. Since the EPA regulates the use claims, directions for use, and composition of a pesticide product as a pre-market condition, the NOP should establish functional lines of communication with the EPA in order to provide the EPA consistent information about organic standards and updates to the National List, and to obtain advice from the EPA on the status of petitioned materials.
  4. Certification agents who find that producers are reporting use of pesticide products with unknown inert ingredients should instruct producers to discontinue use immediately unless the ingredients can be verified as compliant with the NOP regulation. Discontinuation of use will be considered sufficient corrective action for use of pesticide products with approved active and unknown inert ingredients.

Again Robinson replied, “The NOP concurs.”

Scope of the NOP regulation

The Policy Development Committee (PDC) presented a lengthy recommendation concerning the specific areas identified in the April 13 NOP Scope Document. Specifically, the recommendation addressed:

  • Personal care products, body care products, cosmetics, and other related products;
  • Dietary supplements, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or health aids, and other related products;
  • Fertilizers, soil amendments, manure, and related products;
  • Fish and seafood, farm-raised or wild-caught;
  • Pet Food; and
  • Mushrooms, apiculture and honey, greenhouse operations and greenhouse products, and hydroponic agriculture.

Overall, the PDC took the position that if the word “organic” is used to identify an agricultural product or ingredient, then the agricultural product or ingredient must have been produced and handled in accordance with the Act and regulation. In addition, if the words “organic” or “Made with Organic” are used on the principle display panel, such usage shall comply with the product content requirements stated in the Final Rule2.

1. Personal care products, dietary supplements, and other related products:

In order to understand the depth of interest in certification and regulation of these product categories, the NOSB encouraged the Organic Trade Association, consumer groups, affected industries, and other stakeholders to solicit information concerning the certification, regulation, and labeling of “organic” personal care, cosmetic, and dietary supplements.

The NOSB recommended that the following general questions be addressed:

  1. Should legislation be adopted and rules written to regulate the labeling of “organic” personal care, cosmetic, and dietary supplements?
  2. Should legislation be adopted to prohibit the use of the word “organic” on products not covered by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, including personal care, cosmetic, and dietary supplements?

2. Fertilizers, soil amendments, manure, and related products:

The NOSB acknowledged that the labeling of fertilizers, soil amendments, manures, and related products is regulated by state authorities. The NOSB endorsed the draft AAPFCO labeling definition of “for organic production” presented below:

"For organic production" - a term that may be used to describe fertilizer or soil amendments whose ingredients comply with the requirements of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) as specified in 7 CFR Part 205.

3. Fish and seafood, farm-raised or wild-caught:

The Policy Development Committee and Livestock Committee recommended the establishment of a new task force on standards for wild-caught and farmed aquatic animals. This recommendation was adopted by the NOSB. The task force will be structured similar to the earlier Task Force on Aquatic Animals, with two working groups -- one on wild caught and one on farmed species. These working groups will develop recommendations for consideration by the full task force, which will in turn issue recommendations to the NOSB.

The new task force will be directed to take into consideration the report issued by the previous aquatic animal task force and the subsequent NOSB recommendations. Task force participants will be drawn from the NOSB and elsewhere. Non-NOSB participants will include fishermen, fish farmers, feed experts, marine conservationists, consumer representatives, academics, and certifiers.

4. Pet foods:

In order to understand the depth of interest in certification and regulation of pet food products, the Handling Committee (HC) of the NOSB is soliciting comments and information on a number of issues concerning the certification, and labeling of “organic” pet food.

The HC will consult with members of the public representing the organic trade, pet food industry, feed control officials, academics, and accredited certifying agents.

The HC will 1) determine which aspects of the existing regulation pertain to pet foods; 2) if needed, draft amendments to the regulation for consideration by the full board; and 3) identify substances used by pet food manufacturers to be petitioned for possible addition to the National List.

5. Mushrooms, apiculture and honey, greenhouse operations and greenhouse products, and hydroponic agriculture:

The NOSB agreed with the NOP that mushroom, apiculture, and greenhouse operations can be certified organic and the products of such can be labeled “organic” and carry the “USDA Organic” logo. The NOSB encouraged NOP to proceed with rulemaking, using recommendations submitted by the NOSB to construct proposed rule amendments.

The PDC pointed out that the NOSB adopted, as part of an April 25, 1995, greenhouse recommendation, a section entitled, “Specialized Standards for Hydroponic Production in Soilless Media.” The recommendation stated, “Hydroponic production in soilless media to be labeled organically produced shall be allowed if all provisions of the OFPA have been met.”

Though the issue has been discussed, the NOSB has not submitted a recommendation on hydroponic production standards since the Final Rule was released. The PDC requested that the Crops Committee place the item on its work plan, and that rulemaking for hydroponic standards not proceed until the NOSB has submitted a final recommendation.

Barbara Robinson stated, “The NOP concurs with the positions taken by the committee, and will post the NOSB positions and clarifying statements which indicate NOP agreement in the next two weeks.”

Other Issues

Other issues addressed during the NOSB meeting included:

1. Materials Committee draft – National List analysis

The Materials Committee presented a draft for discussion to clarify the materials review process and guarantee that it conforms to the Organic Foods Production Act. The document and all other documents discussed in this article are posted at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nosb/meetingbooks/Oct2004/tableofcontents.htm

2. Sunset policy

The NOSB took final action on a recommendation for the procedures to be used for the sunset review of substances on the National List. The draft recommendation was written by the NOP with input from the NOSB.

3. Revised petition process

The Materials Committee presented a draft for discussion containing recommended language to update the petition notification and instructions to submit a petition, which was originally posted in the Federal Register by USDA in July 2000 as a proposed rule.

4. Compost tea

The NOSB accepted the Compost Tea Task Force report, and referred it to the Crops Committee to be merged with the previous Compost Task Force report into one concise and consistent recommendation.

5. TAP contractors

The NOP distributed a revised TAP Contractor Statement of Work to the NOSB, and announced that it had awarded two new TAP review contracts. The new contractors are Woven Egg Consulting of Latham NY and Denver CO, and ICF Consulting of Fairfax VA. Each were awarded $100,000 contracts, to be paid $4,000 per TAP review. The existing contract with the Center for Food and Nutrition at Virginia Tech was renewed with an additional $100,000.

6. Framework for collaboration

The NOP did not like the formal framework document that the NOSB submitted during the June 9 meeting. The NOSB, however, still wants to see written policy as a basis for collaboration. The Policy Development Committee has placed the item on its work plan.

7. Board policy manual

Barbara Robinson had reviewed the NOSB’s Board Policy Manual. She handed out her analysis during the meeting. The NOSB will take Barbara’s comments into consideration as it revises it policies and procedures.

8. Election of officers

The NOSB elected new officers. They are: Jim Riddle, chair; Kevin O’Rell, vice-chair; and Goldie Caughlin, secretary.

9. NOSB executive director

The NOSB developed and presented a draft job description for an executive director position. Congress has already appropriated money for the position and the search for a new director is set to begin. Fitting to the meeting’s theme of collaboration, Barbara Robinson agreed to work with the NOSB to fill the position and with that the meeting concluded.

In light of the cooperation experienced during the October meeting, the climate is right for planting seeds to grow a productive and rewarding relationship between the NOP, NOSB, and organic community. The meeting ended where it had started: with a declaration between the NOSB and AMS to work together to further the mission of the NOP and advance organic agriculture in the United States.

Jim Riddle serves chair of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board and organic policy advisor for NewFarm.org. He was the founding chair of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA).