The election is behind us, and the next policy balloon destined to go off this week is in St. Louis, Missouri. I am here not to saunter under the Gateway Arch nor worry the corporate offices of Monsanto. I am here to attend the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) biannual meeting which provides an opportunity for organic stakeholders to give input on proposed recommendations and discussions. These meetings can decide the fate of organic farming and manufacturing for many years to come. Indeed the very future of organic is held in the hands of the 15 individuals on the board.
So it’s important to show up.
I come here to make public comment and network with colleagues. Of greater import, I show up to listen and learn to get a read on the openness of our organic process. Will we move forward with new ideas, common sense and thoughtful leadership? Or will organic be reduced to its purest smallest self to placate those who seek perfection over the greater good of the movement? There is much at stake this year, and I am eternally hungry for the outcome.
The first thing I do is download OTA’s NOSB Resource Booklet. I have researched and formulated my own opinions on things, but this booklet clearly lays out the basics to help me comprehend what’s at stake. In the way of background, it helps to demystify the National List of approved inputs.
Organic production isn’t accomplished by sitting still; instead, inputs, amendments, innovative techniques and processes are constantly needed. So the matter at hand is how many tools we include in the toolbox to ensure purity as well as the continued growth of organic acreage and farmers.
A thoughtful balance must be achieved when considering adding or deleting items from the allowed list of inputs. Organic farmers need a complete and well-equipped toolbox to build the infrastructure of healthy soils and vital crops.
Some of the items I will be watching closely are:
The Handling Committee will review a group of input materials that may “sunset” from the national list of allowed inputs. One input in particular, Carrageenan, will be a hot topic at this meeting. While Carrageenan has been given thumbs-down by consumer groups, some documents conclude that there are no verified health and safety concerns. It is made from red seaweed, has been used for hundreds of years, makes products thicker and emulsifies, so ingredients are soft and creamy. Proponents argue that without it some products could become unpalatable for organic consumers.
The question of whether hydroponics, bioponics and container growing should be allowed as certified organic will be another big discussion with vociferous dialogue on both sides. If these production methods are denied from organic certification, what will become of the hundreds of family farmers who are already producing certified organic crops?
The essential discussion is around soil: should all organic products be grown exclusively in the ground? Can soil biology and the preservation of resources be achieved with innovative organic methods? I will be listening with rapt attention to where we land.
The board will delve into the murky discussion of how the new gene- editing techniques are defined and covered in “excluded methods” in the organic regulations. Do we have the right processes to adequately review future techniques we cannot yet fathom? What are the risks?
I will urge the NOSB to eliminate the incentive to convert native unspoiled ecosystems into organic crop production. Certain native lands can easily be certified without undergoing the three-year transition process. I believe some native ecosystems should be protected — even from organic.
The ongoing dialogue is the nexus of traditional beliefs laid down in the first regulations and a collision of new technologies and innovative ways of producing food. It’s a plexus of the old nerves and blood vessels carrying young blood to the organic movement through new pathways. Can we get innovative juices to new areas of the agronomic body?
I think Organic is in its adolescence stages waiting to burst forth into maturity. The organic standards must be nurtured, spoon fed, fertilized, hybridized and organized with enough nourishment so that the adolescent can continue to grow. That growth must come from balanced consideration of the future while rooted in visions of the past.
Organic is the most transparent, public open-source standard in the world. Let’s be accessible to creativity and let’s not reject progress for attaining perfection. We need to allow for the most progressive and positive tools for organic farmers. If we are to eliminate toxic pesticides from our food system, we must grow organic to more than 2-3% of US agriculture.
The NOSB meeting is open to the public November 16 – 18. If you are a Twitter user, you can follow along with the hashtag #NOSB.
Get involved, there is much at stake.