Many of you may have seen the emails and headlines regarding the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting that was held in San Antonio at the end of April. The context of this biannual meeting was already askew as the fall meeting had been canceled because of the government shutdown. So there was old business and new business and changes on the agenda. The hot spring air felt ominous, like we were headed for some kind of showdown. Many activist groups and engaged individuals were very passionately opposed to some changes our National Organic Program made last fall. I pen this blog not to agree or disagree with the changes but to help engaged stakeholders understand what really changed and how this is affecting our community.
The meeting was barely called to order when a small but vigilant group stood up and commanded the attention of everyone in the room, chanting “Don’t change Sunset”. A few intrepid souls braved men in uniforms and, yes, one even managed to get arrested. How do you wrap your head around such zeal in the context of a USDA meeting? Perhaps it was because there was no public comment period when the change was promulgated.
After the one hour commotion the changes were described by Miles McEvoy in his presentation on the National Organic Program. But to understand the issue you must first understand what sunset means. The US organic regulations clarify the what, how and why of organic agriculture. Within the regulations there is The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances which outlines which substances may be used in organic production. These materials have been reviewed, vetted and discussed with great vigor by many previous and knowledgeable souls in order for them to be ever allowed. When the organic law was first penned these materials were given a “Sunset” clause so they would be reviewed by future NOSBs every five years to examine whether they should stay on the list.
On September 16, 2013, the National Organic Program announced a new transparent and streamlined sunset review and renewal process. They believe this new process better clarifies the procedures, provides increased opportunity for public comment and ensures a decisive, majority vote for all recommendations to change the National List.
The new process requires that the sun setting materials are discussed and reviewed at two public meetings now, not one. So if a farmer hasn’t read the public register in time for the first meeting, she can go to the second and describe why she needs it and how this material keeps her livestock healthy. The new process makes the voting requirement consistent whether substances go off or get added to the National List; both now require a 2/3 majority vote. Yes that is a majority to take materials off and a majority to add new materials. The National Organic Program made these changes with the benefit of wisdom gained after watching the organic industry grow.
Agriculture is, in its essence, a material working of the soil, water and weather to produce food and textile on a regular basis. Materials have been utilized since the dawn of agriculture when the first manure dropped from nearby grazing animals. The materials included in organic production have had the highest amount of scrutiny and examination by hundreds of qualified and passionate individuals.
The National Organic Program has made enormous strides in the last few years. Their mission is to ensure the integrity of USDA organic products in the United States and throughout the world. Their work in the following areas is staggering while their budget in 2013 was a mere $6.36 Million. The NOP has worked diligently to:
- Develop and maintain the organic standards
- Accredit and oversee third party organic certifying agents who review, inspect, and approve organic producers and handlers
- Implement international organic trade agreements
- Investigate complaints of violations (example: uncertified farmer selling food as organic, selling conventional food as organic)
- Support the work of the National Organic Standards Board
I may not always agree with everything the NOP does, but I appreciate many of their accomplishments. Because of the NOP’s exemplary work, we have a better and more sustainable food system that far outshines the dim light of conventional chemical agribusiness. Because of the program, we have more organic fertile soil, clearer running waters and a choice for millions of Americans to purchase certified organic food and textiles. It is my greatest hope that as a community we can come together and discuss our opinions and beliefs and agree that sometimes we will disagree. It is through solidarity that we will remain strong. Splintering and fighting is the very thing that will weaken the organic movement we have worked so hard to build.
I am not shy about standing behind my National Organic Program and ask the entire community to acknowledge the good it has already grown. We who have worked so hard for so long need to begin talking and working with the program.
My friend Marty Mesh weighed in with this comment: “As I watch, listen, and feel the evolution of our community, I am frustrated in how we frame our common goal of furthering organic agriculture. Organic is a way to protect our natural resources, our precious ground water, the biodiversity of nature, and to affect farmers’ and workers’ health. I’m here to urge a more civil discourse, an open mind and heart in hearing others. I want a reaffirmation that we collectively view the widespread adoption of organic agriculture practices as beneficial to helping solve some of the most pressing issues of our time. We will be leaving our planet in a healthier state for not only our children, but for generations to come.”
As my friend Dennis said, “I have EVERY CONFIDENCE that our Organic Community will ‘come together’ and then we’ll pose the toughest UNITED FRONT our nonorganic competition has EVER SEEN!”
Change your food, change your life, and change your thoughts to the good organic way!