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 Final
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
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 USDA bids.
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
Clarifications of the rules
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 type.
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
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, click
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
For more from the conference on compost tea advances, see the first
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.