National Organic Standards Board to address two meetings' worth of serious issues this spring

Thursday, April 10, 2014 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: organic agriculture, National Organic Standards Board, spring meeting

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(NaturalNews) We are quickly approaching a pivotal moment for the future of organics, as the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) readies to meet this spring to discuss a number of important agenda items spanning two sessions. Because of the federal government shutdown last fall, the NOSB skipped its semiannual meeting at that time, which means it will now be addressing two meetings' worth of policy issues at its next gathering.

CI challenging elimination of 'sunset clause,' which protects organic integrity

Among these issues are the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) attempted power grab concerning the approval process for certain synthetic substances in organic production when natural alternatives are unavailable. As you may recall, National Organic Program (NOP) Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy issued a memo last fall arbitrarily changing the rules for the "sunset process" of non-organic and synthetic materials in organics, taking control of the process away from vested stakeholders.

The rule change, explains the Winter 2013 issue of the Cornucopia Institute's (CI) The Cultivator newsletter, changes the process from requiring a two-thirds vote to approve the continued use of non-organic and synthetic substances after five years, to requiring a two-thirds vote to remove these substances after five years. In other words, the new standards will provision the use of prohibited substances in organics as the norm rather than the exception.

"The new policy allows a subcommittee of the Board to renew materials, thereby reducing public input and transparency," explains CI, which is raising awareness about the change and pushing to have it overturned. "This change in policy was undertaken without public comment and without the participation of the NOSB."

CI challenging NOSB proposal to continue allowing antibiotics in organics

Related to this is the continued use of the broad-spectrum antibiotic streptomycin on organic pears and apples, many varieties of which are prone to a bacterial disease known as fire blight. The sunset period for this drug is set to expire at the end of 2014, but the NOSB is now proposing that this date be postponed to the end of 2017.

"Streptomycin for plant disease control is prohibited in organic production in Europe, Canada, Japan, and many other countries," explains CI, pointing out that it is possible to grow organic pears and apples without the harmful chemical. "Orchardists in those countries, and many in the U.S. as well, grow apples without antibiotics."

"They decrease exposure to disease by using cultural controls, natural materials, approved synthetic materials, and biological controls," it adds. "Much research has been done recently to predict when outbreaks of disease are likely to occur, and to develop effective control measures."

CI challenging approval of synthetic materials in fish farming

What constitutes organic aquaculture is also up for debate at the upcoming meeting, as the NOP prepares to push for the approval of even more synthetic materials in organic fish farming. The NOP has not even finalized or enforced the recommendations it issued back in 2007 and 2008 for organic aquaculture, which CI believes should be the group's first priority.

"[A]ll petitions for the use of aquaculture materials should be tabled until the organic regulations pertaining to aquaculture have been finalized by the NOP," says CI. "Approving materials before regulations are in effect is putting the cart before the horse. Instead, the NOP has asked the NOSB to review petitioned materials."

Each of these issues is vitally important to the integrity of the certified organic label, which is still one of the best ways to discern food quality when shopping commercially. CI understands this, which is why the group will be attending the upcoming meeting and providing public comments on these issues in the hope that doing so will reverse the trend toward diluting organic standards.

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