cows in field

National Organic Standards: Notes from the Fall Board meeting

Compiled by Ed Maltby from information supplied by Abby Youngblood and Christie Badger from the National Organic Coalition

The Fall National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting took place in Pittsburgh, PA in late October. The board heard public comments in person, and voted on seven proposals and over 50 sunset materials on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

There was also a report from the National Organic Program, and retiring Board Chair Harriet Behar took some time to assess the state of the NOSB. The board also elected new officers: Steve Ela (chair), Scott Rice (vice chair), and Jessie Buie (secretary). As of this writing, there had been no announcement of new Board members.

In her remarks, Harriet Behar highlighted that organic is at a crossroads with too many NOSB recommendations in limbo and gave some examples: native ecosystems, Origin of Livestock, pasture rule enforcement, NOP accreditation program, hydroponics, sodium nitrate, The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. She noted that fraud on many levels is directly affecting organic producers whose families rely on the integrity of the organic seal, notably organic dairy, organic grain and organic produce hit hard by ‘organic’ hydroponics. Behar credited the work of the NOSB as being thoughtful and comprehensive, giving examples of the unanimous votes to exclude gene editing and other methods. She spent some time talking about climate change and how hundreds of thousands of species are in danger of extinction. Harriett highlighted the role that organic agriculture plays in mitigating the effects, stressing that organic certification is a voluntary system that allows farmers, suppliers and processors to opt-in to a more rigorous and environmentally sensitive standard of farming and food production. Because of the federally regulated standards that require use of soil-building farming practices and prohibit the use of fossil-fuel-based chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, certified organic production should be seen as the gold standard for climate-friendly agriculture. As always, she ended on a positive note by talking of the carbon that organic agriculture can sequester to slow climate change and start to heal the damage humans have caused. Organic agriculture can turn things around. Thank you, Harriet for your great leadership and hard work in your unfortunately all too short tenure at the NOSB.

Jennifer Tucker, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program gave her presentation and summarized her 2020 priorities under the following headings:

  • Rules: Strengthening Organic Enforcement, Origin of Livestock, National List
  • Enforcement: Investigations and Surveillance
  • Import Certificates
  • International Arrangements
  • Federal Partnerships
  • Certifier and Other Partner Training
  • Launch Noncompliance Library and Certifier Portal
  • Building the Organization

Under enforcement, Tucker emphasized three points: investigations of complaints, market surveillance and coordination with federal enforcement agencies. She stressed that NOP is focused on imports, livestock, grain and oilseed handling, and has developed and strengthened the many tools that help in both domestic and import oversight. These tools include farm level yield analysis studies that have provided evidence for suspension, and she used the example of the suspended Turkey office of Control Union. NOP has hired an agricultural economist who is using public data to flag areas of risk in order to uncovering and proving fraud. Its priority is to detect fraud prior to leaving the country of origin and before it reaches the USA. Under Livestock Compliance, NOP is invigorating the tried and tested methods such as unannounced visits to high risk operations with a history of non-compliance. They have recently begun offering a course on dairy compliance, which takes 2-3 hours to complete. Of course, she highlighted the release of the Origin of Livestock rule and the reopening of the comment period as a priority for NOP in the next six months.

Tucker presented a whole slide in her PowerPoint on gene-editing with some forceful language:

  • Many public comments for this NOSB meeting focused on gene editing in organic agriculture.
  • The Excluded Methods definition in the USDA organic regulations does not allow for gene editing: it is prohibited.
  • USDA encourages continued robust dialogue about the role of new technologies and innovations in organic agriculture.
  • Changing the definition of Excluded Methods is not on the USDA regulatory agenda.

Livestock Subcommittee

The Livestock Subcommittee, chaired by Sue Baird, had a full agenda to report out from the NOSB. One of great interest to organic dairy is the use of excluded methods (GMO) vaccines in organic livestock production. This is a large, complex topic, and one on which NODPA has commented repeatedly, that vaccines are an essential tool for building herd immunity and necessary in some situations where approved remedies are not working. The committee had lengthy discussions about how to bring uniformity to the implementation of the regulations but their motion listed below moved away from having a defined list of acceptable vaccines which they saw as the work of certifiers. There was also some skepticism on using the ‘commercially available’ criteria which has been universally abused with the requirement to use organic seed and was also one of the justifications for the varying implementation or the Origin of Livestock rules.

Motion to change the USDA organic regulations at § 205.105 (e): Excluded methods, except for vaccines: Provided, That, vaccines produced through excluded methods may be used when an equivalent vaccine not produced through excluded methods is not commercially available.

The motion was accepted Yes: 12 No: 0 Abstain: 1 Absent: 1 Recuse: 0

Sunset Reviews

National list references:

§ 205.603 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic livestock production

§ 205.603 (a) As disinfectants, sanitizer, and medical treatments as applicable.

§ 205.603 (b) As topical treatment, external parasiticide or local anesthetic as applicable

Atropine 205.603(a)

Remains on the National List for approved use

Hydrogen peroxide 205.603(a)

Remains on the National List for approved use

Iodine 205.603(a) & 205.603(b)

Remains on the National List for approved use for both categories - 205.603(a) & 205.603(b)

Magnesium sulfate 205.603(a)

Remains on the National List for approved use

Peroxyacetic / Peracetic acid 205.603(a)

Remains on the National List for approved use

Xylazine 205.603(a)

Remains on the National List for approved use

National list references:

205.603(a) (23) Parasiticides - prohibited in slaughter stock, allowed in emergency treatment for dairy and breeder stock when organic system plan-approved preventive management does not prevent infestation. In breeder stock, treatment cannot occur during the last third of gestation if the progeny will be sold as organic and must not be used during the lactation period for breeding stock. Allowed for fiber bearing animals when used a minimum of 36 days prior to harvesting of fleece or wool that is to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic.

(i) Fenbendazole (CAS #43210-67-9) - milk or milk products from a treated animal cannot be labeled as provided for in subpart D of this part for: 2 days following treatment of cattle; 36 days following treatment of goats, sheep, and other dairy species.

(ii) Moxidectin (CAS #113507-06-5) - milk or milk products from a treated animal cannot be labeled as provided for in subpart D of this part for: 2 days following treatment of cattle; 36 days following treatment of goats, sheep, and other dairy species.

Fenbendazole remains on the National List for approved use under §205.603(a)(23)(i)

Moxidectin remains on the National List for approved use under §205.603(a)(23)(ii)

Methionine 205.603(d)

The use of Methionine as a feed additive for poultry remains on the National List as defined in 205.603(d)

Trace minerals 205.603(d)

Widespread comments in support of continued listing and the motion to remove trace minerals from the National List failed.

Vitamins 205.603(d)

The vote on removing vitamins from the National List failed with the knowledge that there are no other non-GMO vitamins available and the NOP are mandated in three different sections to provide these vitamins.

The next NOSB meeting will take place April 29 – May 1, 2020, at the Westin Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. Notable work agenda topics are expected to include Marine Materials in crop production, Paper Pots (petition for crop use), Sodium carbonate lignin (petition for crop use), low acetyl gellan gum (petition for handling), red jalapeño pepper (petition for handling), Fenbendazole (petition for livestock use), Biodegradable bio-based mulch film, and discussions on 2022 Sunset Reviews.