cows in field

Notes from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting

Portland, Oregon, April 9 -11, 2013

By Ed Maltby, Executive Director, NODPA

Added May 20, 2013. The meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, which occurs twice a year, provided a public forum for the organic community to weigh in on issues concerning organic production and processing. The controversial and much discussed petition that tetracycline be put back on the National List and the existing expiration date of October 21, 2014 be removed attracted a great deal of public attention and comment at the meeting. In considering the petition the NOSB Crops Subcommittee recommended instead a new proposal for an extension of use of tetracycline to October 2016 with the condition that it may only be used if the grower has implemented an integrated system of practices and materials to control fire blight. Their recommendation also stated that orchard management systems must demonstrate an annual increase in the extent or number of alternative practices for managing fire blight.

When this proposal was put in front of the full NOSB, the subcommittee proposal was defeated which meant that Tetracycline use on tree fruit will not be allowed after October 2014. As the regulation stands right now, use of tetracycline (oxytet is the name growers know) will be prohibited after October 21, 2014. The proposal needed 2/3 vote in favor by all NOSB members to pass and it failed to meet that requirement with six members voting no. The NOSB members voting no were: Jay Feldman, Jean Richardson, Colehour Bondera, Jennifer Taylor, Calvin Walker, and Francis Thicke. All others voted yes for the extension.

Throughout the meeting there were discussions to reach a compromise because of the serious effect that a ban may have on farmers who are using it now and may have no alternatives for fire blight. There were many articulate statements by all the Board members as they grappled with the tension between consumer expectations, scientific knowledge and the practicality of organic production. Board members tried to introduce a longer, more specific motion on emergency use during the three years following expiration which was, surprisingly, never publically discussed by the public or debated by the Board. The NOSB did pass (unanimously) the following:

The NOSB requests that the NOP investigate the ability of the Secretary to invoke its authority under the “Emergency Spray Programs” provision of the Organic Foods Production, 7 U.S.C. 6518(k)(6) and Act 7 C.F.R section 205.672, to allow the emergency use of oxytetracycline for fire blight during the period of October 21, 2014 to October 21, 2017.

Miles McEvoy head of National Organic Program (NOP) stated that the program would have a lot to consider about the proposal for emergency use and would have to consult with its attorneys. He noted that the NOP’s provision about emergency provision had never been invoked before.

The other votes of the NOSB are summarized below:

Materials Subcommittee

  • Proposal: Examine and update petition and technical review process—turned into discussion document for fall workplan

Crops Subcommittee

  • Proposal: Polyoxin D Zinc Salt – petitioned to be added to the National List as a synthetic substance allowed for use inorganic crop production failed.
  • Proposal: Indole-3-butyric acid (IBA) 2012 - re-petitioned to be added to the National List as a synthetic substance allowed for the purpose of plant propagation via dipping failed.
    Livestock Subcommittee
  • Proposal: Pet Food Amino Acids – Add Taurine (CAS 107-35-7) to the National List as a feed additive in pet food passed. All other petitioned amino acids for pet food failed. The report on excluded methods (GMO’s) in vaccines was tabled for the fall meeting.

Policy Subcommittee

  • Proposal: The revised guide for new members and the updated policy on how the Board receives public communications which ensure more openness and transparency passed unanimously

Handling Subcommittee

  • Proposal: Sulfuric acid – petitioned as a synthetic processing aid in the production of seaweed extract-failed.
  • Proposal: Barley beta fiber – petitioned as a non-organic agricultural fiber source in organic products- failed.
  • Proposal: Sugar beet fiber – petitioned as a non-organic agricultural fiber source in organic products - failed.
  • Proposal: 1,3-Dibromo-5,5-dimethylhydantoin (DBDMH) – petitioned as a synthetic antimicrobial treatment for beef carcasses - failed.

CAC Subcommittee

  • Proposal: Calculating Percentage of Organic Ingredients: Amendment to clarify that ‘calculating 100% organic is not equivalent to labeling 100% organic’ was passed unanimously.

GMO Ad Hoc Subcommittee

  • The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is prohibited in the production and handling of organic products, including seeds. The discussion document presented by the committee requested comments on the establishment of a seed purity standard, presence of GMOs in seed, and the amount of testing currently conducted. This was added to the NOSB’s workplan for the fall.