Once again I find myself in the air racking up miles and enjoying the white cotton-ball clouds festooning my flight path. I cross the continent yet again to have meetings and presentations at Expo East. While my body is hurtling towards the delectable food, illuminating conferences and critical connections to come, my thoughts are set on the future of organic and the NOSB meetings in November. I want to make sure everyone who cares about organic shows up for organic in a meaningful way.
I will take just a moment to refresh those who may be neophytes in the fountain of organic regulations. When the Organic Food Production Act was written, back in the last century, it established an advisory board that is comprised of stakeholders in the organic industry. This board gives recommendations to the National Organic Program. Those early leaders (some of them still among us) established this board because they knew that the regulations would continuously evolve and transform as does nature and technology.
Twice a year this hardworking group of volunteers deemed The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) holds a meeting where everyone can attend to express their viewpoints and exfoliate their thoughts.
The stakes are often high because every 2 to 4 years approved inputs are reviewed and may be rendered unavailable in a farmer or manufacturer’s toolkit should the NOSB deem it so. This dedicated board not only reviews and revises what has come before but also what lies ahead.
The notion that a thing that stops evolving becomes a fossil scuds across my mind, much like the clouds that surge below me. This is not a new subject for these pages dear reader. Thus I feel a sense of repetitive urgency to keep this dialogue front and center.
How does organic continue to develop, transmute, maturate and transmogrify while holding true to the spirit and intent of the law? What do consumers want really want? What would Sir Albert Howard do? Is this a labeling issue or a food issue or both?
But I must digress from these ruminations to attend to the matter at hand. The next NOSB meeting is just around the corner. The agenda can be viewed right here. What’s at stake at this meeting? I can’t punctuate PLENTY with enough imminence and importunity. Two of the most far-reaching in my mind are discussions that may turn into recommendations that could lead to big changes in our industry.
I have spilled a lot of ink on the subject of hydroponic, aquaponic, and bioponic growing systems. My last blogs have unearthed the conspicuous discussion of soil as a base for organic principles. Do consumers really care if their sweet blocky pepper was ripened in the soil or flourished its life in a container of biologically diverse organic matter?
If given a choice, would consumers rather have the option to know something is hydroponic AND grown in the cleanest most transparent way – ORGANIC? Something in my innocent prattling mind says they don’t care, and they do want the organic option.
If you wish to eat luscious tomatoes and cucumbers and happen to be living in the northern hemisphere at depths of the winter Equinox, don’t you want this edible option? If you are a retailer, don’t you wish to offer these luscious soft-ripe tidbits as customers roll in the Yule? If you are a bioponic farmer already certified to organic and supporting flourishing families and businesses, I know what your answer is.
If you care about organic, this is your chance to speak and stand up for organic whatever you believe.
The other sentiment I bring up with a fair amount of trepidation as it could earn me a few of those luscious ripe tomatoes javelined across the room or across the comments of this blog.
At the next NOSB meeting, there will be discussion on excluded methods in organic production that aim to exclude some of the most cutting-edge gene editing techniques that are cavalcading to your plate faster than a team of wild horses.
I stand on the side of caution here and believe these techniques need to be modulated, regulated and coordinated by the government so they do no unintended harm. I also believe they do not belong in organic production.
There is one caveat I bring forward after several rather brilliant and thoughtful souls have whispered it in my ear.
Certain genomic seed breeding techniques and the information they provide may need more investigation and discussion.
What these techniques do is allow one to cut and edit traits out of seeds with accuracy and speed. Changes and improvements can be achieved in a few years rather than a decade or two of traditional breeding.
I only ask the questions here for you to ponder:
If some gene editing techniques are forever banned from organic seed breeding, will we eventually become a Luddite bevy of breeders? Will it slow down our ability to make the changes needed to adapt organic agriculture to the climate changes we are witnessing?
If forever expelled will that brilliant university student of the future want to proceed with organic breeding using outdated tools? Will we be putting ourselves at a disadvantage in the race to heal the planet of unsustainable farming practices? I don’t know the answers.
This seedy discussion needs to happen, and all minds must consider the long-term consequences. That is why it’s important that you show up for organic this fall.
You can attend in person November 16-18th and join the discussion in St. Louis, MO. The deadline to submit written comments and to sign up to present oral comments is October 26th. Your oral comments can be delivered in person during the St. Louis meetings or via a public comment webinar on Thursday, November 3rd.
Written comments on NOSB proposals and other topics can be submitted at Regulations.gov. The docket is open now so there must be no delay.
If you care about organic, show up for organic and get involved in the NOSB process. Let’s allow organic agriculture to evolve and thrive through forward thinking and innovative design.
Will I see you there?