December 17, 2003: In a packed conference room during
the recent annual conference of the Washington Tilth Producers,
Miles McEvoy of the Washington State Department of Agriculture
Organic Food Program (WSDA-OFP) presented a National Organic
Program (NOP) Final Rule update and answered dozens of questions
from the audience. (The WSDA-OFP is a USDA National Organic
Program-accredited organic certification body.) Not all the
news he passed on was good news.
The Final Rule is the term given to the NOP guidelines and
rules for organic certification, which officially went into
use in 2002. McEvoy discussed the ramifications for Northwest
farmers of recent changes in the Final Rule, and offered clarifications
on issues that have been confusing to growers.
Additions to NOP
Changes to the USDA National Organic Program Final Rule are
published in the U.S. Federal Register. On October 31 and
November 5, 2003 two NOP entries were made in the Federal
Register having to do with Materials List substances. One
entry was for processing materials and one was for crop production
materials. Regional organic certification organizations will
have the necessary information on these changes. Although
they are written in “legalese”, the Federal Register
NOP entries can be viewed by going to the “Today’s
News” section of the NOP website (www.ams.usda.gov/nop).
The effects of these changes to the NOP Final Rule will depend
on the region and type of organic operation. The main
ramification for Washington state growers is the approval
of mating disruption pheromones.
NOSB snubbed. Author’s note:
Several materials recommended by the National Organic
Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory board to the NOP, were
not approved. An ongoing issue throughout the evolution of
the NOP Final Rule has been the NOP refusal to fully implement
the recommendations of the NOSB. The NOSB is made up of volunteer
members from the organic farming, support, and consumer sector,
while the NOP is part of USDA and, in the end, does what the
The NOP zero tolerance problem. Another
issue that McEvoy raised is that the NOP is going with a zero
tolerance policy on what the WSDA-OFP has considered to be
minor non-compliance issues having to do with the use of inert
ingredients in various products.
Treated wood. Wood treated with chromium
arsenate can’t be used as new or replacement items that
come into direct contact with certified organic soil, plants,
or animals. The issue of “direct contact” was
discussed. A fence in a pasture is considered not to be in
direct contact, since it is a border. A farrowing pen, a trellis,
or a raised bed structure is considered to be in direct contact.
When WSDA-OFP asked the NOP for clarification on this issue,
they were told to “read the rules.” Existing treated
wood structures that are allowed (legacy items) cannot be
moved to another part of the farm. Other substances like copper
are also prohibited. There is apparently a natural product
from Canada that would be allowed, but no information was
given on it.
Compost. The chlorpyralid herbicide problem
has receded since restrictions on chlorpyralid use were put
in place. The problem has been that plant materials that have
been in contact with chlorpyralid and still have the residues
on them, pass through the composting process and kill plants
that come into contact with the compost. There have been no
reports of chlorpyralid contaminated composts for two years,
so testing of composts for chlorpyralid is no longer mandatory
in the state of Washington.
Compost teas. According to McEvoy, the NOSB
Compost Tea Task Force will come out in the next couple of
months with their much-awaited recommendations for NOP rules
on compost teas. Some, most, or all of these recommendations
will then be taken by the NOP and put into the Federal Register
as a change to the NOP Final Rule at some future date.
The most significant recommendation that is expected is on
the use of sugar compounds. If molasses or other sugars are
used in compost teas, a common practice for getting increased
microbial counts, those compost teas will be considered to
be raw manures and will fall under the raw manure harvest
restriction. This restriction prohibits application of these
amendments 90/120 days before harvest, depending on the crop
Author’s note: The molasses-amended-compost tea-as-raw-manure
view is a controversial one and is based on a highly conservative
interpretation of research. Compost tea researchers, led by
Dr. Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web Inc., say it is pretty
darn hard, if not impossible, to get E. coli to multiply in
molasses-amended compost tea made from composts. There are
no cases of this ever occurring, and only one questionable
research report to base the ruling on.
Editor's note, 4/20/04:
Contrary to the author's opinion expressed above, ongoing
research remains inconclusive regarding the safety of teas
brewed with simple-sugar amendments. The Compost Tea Task
Force ultimately decided to err on the side of caution, based
on the best information available, in its recommendations
to the NOP released this month. For more on these developments,
The WSDA-OFP attempted to clarify compost tea rules in its
guidelines. However, NOP auditors had these compost tea guidelines
removed, saying that WSDA-OFP was promulgating rules rather
than implementing the NOP Final Rule. Therefore WSDA-OFP will
not put out specific restrictions on compost teas, instead
they will publish guidelines on how to properly produce compost
teas. They are waiting to see if the NOP is going to provide
clear restrictive guidelines on compost teas.
For more from the conference on compost tea advances, see
article in our Washington Tilth series.
Livestock feed. It was one year ago that
a Georgia congressman, representing chicken producers, managed
to push through Congress a bill allowing the use of non-organic
animal feed if organic feeds were not available to organic
animal production operations. The amount of negative feedback
from the organic community on this change to the Rule caused
it to be relatively quickly repealed. So we are now back to
the 100% organic feed requirement. Included in the repeal
was the ruling that wild-caught fish be considered organic.
This ruling was pushed through by Alaska representatives for
the salmon industry.
Cost-share program. Up to $500 for up to
75% of the cost of organic certification is available via
the federal cost-share program. This needs to be re-approved
by Congress, therefore, farmers need to pressure their congressional
representatives on this.
Unannounced farm inspections. McEvoy said
that unannounced farm inspections by WSDA-OFP will be much
more prevalent in the coming year. At least one serious non-compliance
incident came to light this year, in which a grower was fraudulently
using a pesticide. “A lot more testing of samples for
prohibited pesticides will be done,” says McEvoy.
International compliance. The program for
complying with Japanese and European (EU) organic standards
is becoming more rigorous. Accreditation of U.S. certification
organizations by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements) is necessary to be approved for trade
with the EU.
Four things that are approved in the U.S. are not approved
for organic use in the EU – sodium nitrate, giberellic
acid, Mycoshield (a Syngenta product for suppression of bacterial
disease in stone fruits), and factory farmed manures.
WSDA-OFP is applying for IFOAM accreditation and is having
a lot of problems with it. Oregon Tilth (OT) administrators
were so frustrated with the process, and with what they saw
to be double standards, that they have withdrawn their application
for IFOAM re-accreditation. OT saw other certification organizations
getting away with things that OT was prohibited from doing
by IFOAM, things that would be a major problem for their farmers
to change. OT is one of the early organic groups in the U.S.,
and no slouch of an organization.
Miles McEvoy can be reached by email at the WSDA-OFP: firstname.lastname@example.org.