Organic Policy and Regulations, What is Organic

The National Organic Program is waiting to hear from you!

pollenatorSpring is finally in the air, the buds are sprouting and the sap is flowing. Songbirds are migrating forth to burst their color and symphonies across our landscape. So too the organic community is entering into a spring wake up call to action. Twice a year, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meets to listen to public comments and to discuss specific items pertaining to organic agriculture. This April, they will meet and vote on recommendations for the National Organic Program (NOP) to consider.  This spring meeting is especially important because they will be discussing over 200 materials up for review in organic production! NOSB meetings are an important forum for all organic stakeholders to comment and support transparency in the standards development process. They need everyone to weigh in! 

This spring cacophony of organic voices highlights the amazing transparency and rigor of the USDA organic process. In my mind there is no other food system that is as highly vetted, transparent and always seeking continuous improvement than our organic program!

200px-National_Organic_ProgramTo get inside the process you must first understand it. The NOP was established to protect the integrity of organic products in the U.S. and throughout the world. This 50+ person team inside the USDA is responsible for developing and maintaining the national standards for organically produced agricultural products. They depend on a federal advisory board called (NOSB) to provide recommendations on improving those standards.

The NOSB isn’t the party you think it might be. It’s actually quite a lot of work and the 15 members give a hefty part of their week to develop recommendations and proposals for the NOP to enact into regulations. They in turn they depend on comments from the public, from farmers and producers, consumers and scientists to help base their recommendations in reality. That’s where you and I come in!

The NOSB advises the NOP on which substances should be allowed or prohibited in organic farming and processing, based on criteria under the Organic Foods Production Act. In general, synthetic substances are prohibited unless specifically allowed (e.g. vaccines) and non-synthetic substances are allowed unless specifically prohibited. The NOSB must also review each substance on the National List every five years to confirm that it continues to meet all required criteria; this is referred to as the “sunset” review.

I will not take the time here to opine on the current kerfuffle surrounding the sunset process. Instead I vigorously implore it is imperative that everyone reading this is aware that over 200 materials will be under review.

Over the course of the next two meetings, NOSB will review the large majority of all fertilizers, pest control products, processing aids and ingredients currently allowed for use by certified organic operations! These production and handling inputs will be reviewed and voted on by NOSB based on their Sunset timelines (October 2016 or 2017), and may not be renewed if new information indicates these substances are incompatible with organic production.

Who needs these materials? Which ones are essential in the toolkit for farmers or the pantry for our processors? Only those folks know and they need to weigh in!

It is critical that NOSB hear from certified farmers and handlers prior to the April, 2015 NOSB meeting on whether these inputs are consistent with and necessary for organic production, or whether there are other effective natural or organic alternatives available.

If you are a farmer or handler and reading this blog please take a moment to review how these meetings and sunsets will affect your business! If you know a farmers or processer please give them a springing heads up! They need to educate and activate on these changes!

The next NOSB meeting will be held April 27-30 in La Jolla, CA, at the San Diego Marriott La Jolla.  Can you attend?

If you can’t be there in person please submit written comments!

  • Visit (use docket number AMS-NOP-15-0002 for more information and to submit direct comments)

The final deadline to submit written comments and sign up for oral comments is Tuesday, April 7, at midnight Eastern.

USDA OrganicTo help facilitate a robust comment process, OTA has created a survey system for collecting feedback from certified farms and processors. The information collected will help NOSB identify the inputs that should be renewed or removed from the National List.  Each survey is CONFIDENTIAL and contains about 10 short questions that will take an estimated five minutes to complete.

Let’s spring forth and assume our position and role as full-fledged organic stakeholders. Public comments are needed now. Spread the word throughout the organic community. The NOP  is waiting to hear from you!

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