I read in a media piece a few weeks ago headlines decrying that organic law had been gutted. The inflammatory article went on to claim the USDA was minimizing incentives for creating organic ingredients and the organic standards were thereby being diluted. In taking a closer look at the National Organic Program’s (NOP) announcement and understanding the regulations, processes and procedures of the NOP, it seems this article is way off kilter.
In 2001 the first US organic standards were written into law after years of discussion, discovery and scientific review. These organic standards are designed to allow most natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting most synthetic substances. The “National List”–part of the organic regulations–spells out the exceptions to this basic rule and the non-organic substances allowed in processed organic products. In order to enhance the regulatory process the law requires that these materials be reviewed every 5 years.
This review process called “sunset” requires the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to do technical reviews of the material to assure new science does not reveal any negative impact on human health, the environment or other criteria under the Organic Foods Production Act. It also asks for public comments to assure that the material is still needed for organic production or that another, more suitable, material is not available. If the material is still needed and deemed not harmful the material is approved for another 5 years. After the NOSB has completed this rigorous “sunset” review, the NOP must renew or remove the substances on the National List to complete the process.
The other way this list of materials can change is if an entity or person petitions the NOP for the addition or deletion of a material. Once again the material must go through the same rigorous testing and vetting process before it is approved.
In preparation for a new round of sunset reviews by the NOSB, the National Organic Program (NOP) explored options for improving the process. Upon reviewing the Organic Food Protection Act, the NOP determined that the “sunset provision” and “decisive votes” sections of the Organic Food Production Act needed to be aligned.
This change actually increases consistency by requiring that two-thirds of NOSB members must support any change to the National List for it to be recommended as a change to the USDA —whether during sunset or the petition process. This means that the Board will need a two-thirds decisive vote to remove an existing listing, rather than a two-thirds decisive vote to retain an existing listing. This change only ensures consistency across all NOSB recommendations related to the National List. In most circles consistency in protocol is an improvement.
The NOP memo reaffirmed that the NOSB and NOP will follow the process to meet the sunset provision of the Organic Foods Production Act while also achieving the goals of a transparent sunset review process with increased opportunities for public engagement through a streamlined administration of the National List.
Ironically, the article I spoke of earlier incorrectly stated that the change was “Allowing the USDA to automatically relist materials without the recommendation of the NOSB.” This is just plain false.
All that’s changed is it now takes two thirds majority to vote to list and two-thirds to delist. Elsewhere the article cites the “lack of public input on this process.” This statement is, again, outrageously bogus. There will not only still be comment from the public regarding sunset, but now there will be TWO periods of NOSB meetings, actually doubling the opportunity for comments to be taken on these items.
I personally know many of the staff at the National Organic Program and they are all deeply committed to the success and integrity of the organic seal and the regulatory process. If you don’t already know Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the NOP, read my Blog Interview and you will discover his lifelong commitment and passion for organic.
Going forward, when someone writes an article or says that the NOP is harming organic, I urge you to question the accusations. Take a deeper look at the language and the intention of what the NOP is saying or doing. Ask an organic authority like the Organic Trade Association (OTA) or reach out to the NOP directly. They are always available to answer questions and concerns. The NOP staff is there to help everyone involved to understand, participate in and abide by the organic regulations.
Let’s cheer the program for the gusto and vigor they deliver to our growing industry! Let’s gut the organic lies!