The 1990 Farm Bill included a provision called the
Production Act (OFPA) which set in motion federal regulation of the
organic industry. OFPA created the National Organic Program
administered by USDA. Eventually, with organic community
a set of national organic production standards was created.
in 2002, all organic farmers were required to become certified by a
USDA-accredited certifying agency (ACA). In
manufactured products bearing the word “Organic” must be produced by
companies certified by an ACA. While no system is perfect,
NOP Certified Organic system represents the gold standard for high
quality organic foods produced, defined and regulated under public and
transparent world class organic standards.
The fifteen-member volunteer
Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was created by OFPA
to be the vehicle through which the organic community would convey its
position on critical organic industry issues to the USDA. NOSB members
are appointed to their five-year positions by the Secretary of
La Jolla Brouhaha.
This week’s four-day NOSB meeting in La
Jolla CA again witnessed
on what is the best direction for the organic industry to
head. On the
one hand are the lobbyists and financially-indebted corporate
supporters which advocate for the status quo and a low bar for
decision-making on inputs which lightens their load and – importantly -
benefits their bottom line.
On the other side are organizations and
individuals – with often zero direct financial stakes in decision
outcomes – which advocate
for the public interest: integrity over growth, fidelity to established
organic tradition over corporate shortcuts, and deep respect
the honest desires of the huge constituencies of both organic eaters
and organic family farmers. Included in this latter group of
interest defenders are many dedicated organizations, including Center
for Food Safety, Cornucopia Institute, Beyond Pesticides, Organic
Consumers Assn, Consumers Union (Consumer Reports), National Organic
Coalition and Organic Seed Growers and Trade Assn (OSGATA).
President of OSGATA, and continuing OSGATA’s long tradition of
advocating for the public interest, this last week Jim attended and
testified at the NOSB four-day Spring meeting.
Defenders of Organic.
As might be easily imagined in the current political
climate, a Board
whose membership owes each appointment to the Secretary of Agriculture,
there exists insufficient independence between the NOSB and the
USDA. The law
intended NOSB members to be primarily committed to representing and
defending the interests of the organic community.
However, in reality, the practical relationship is that the NOSB acts
as a very junior partner and errand boy for USDA.
is clear is the dynamic between NOSB and USDA is not a healthy one.
Rather than the NOSB conduct an independent meeting, it operates
subservient and at the bidding of the USDA - the very agency the law
says the NOSB has been established to advise. Stunningly, as
partner, NOSB no longer forms their own agenda: USDA creates
meeting agenda for NOSB. Nor are NOSB members allowed to
Bogus and Impractical.
One day of the meeting, several NOSB
members requested formation of an “open
as a means of improved opportunity for the organic community to offer
written comment. Immediately, the idea was rebuffed and the NOSB was
advised by USDA the idea was impractical and did not jive with USDA
When in the recent past the NOSB
conveyed its opposition to bogus soil-less “organic
the USDA response was to unilaterally create a “Hydroponic Task Force”
composed of non-organic hydroponic ‘experts.’ One might
expect that in
the fullness of time the ‘expert panel’ will explain how the organic
community doesn’t know what it is talking about in wanting to ban
hydroponics from organic production.
Scale Neutral Failure.
The National Organic Program has a mandate to be “scale
However, despite this requirement, on the meeting’s last day, a
decisive vote was held, designed to ease up rules affecting
corporations like Purdue. These outfits desire to feed grain
containing small amounts of the synthetic amino acid methionine to
chickens in large confinement operations who have insufficient access
to the outdoors where natural sources of methionine (insects and bugs)
are available (think the pastured chickens grown properly by organic
family farmers). With
independent NOSB members – the core of which were the farmers on the
NOSB - holding firm on their resistance to the proposal, the opposition
only had nine members present.
They needed ten votes to
2/3 vote requirement for additions to the National List.
reversing past precedent against such a practice, the absent fifteenth
NOSB member – confined to a hospital bed as the result of an
unfortunate accident – was Skyped in and allowed to cast the deciding
vote for Purdue above protests that such voting violated established
procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order. This spectacle of vote
was perhaps the low point of an otherwise hard fought meeting.
Our allies at Cornucopia Institute have
done a good job of making their daily Reports
on the meeting readily available to the public.