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A Summary of the National Organic Standards Board
(NOSB) Meeting, November 3-5 2009

Added November 11, 2009: The meeting in Washington DC was well attended by a diverse group of committed organic professionals who were keen to assess any changes in the Program under the new Administration.  Their expectations were not disappointed as the report from the recently appointed Program administrator, Miles McEvoy, gave a very thorough analysis of where the Program is and what the goals are for the future, even venturing into a draft budget ( an unheard of level of transparency). Miles ‘s plan for the next year is ambitious considering the difficulty of working within the huge USDA bureaucracy and increasing the NOP staff from 16-30, and hopefully he will get the support he needs to hire and train new staff while moving the workplan forward. (For a copy of the Power Point presentation from McEvoy's address, click here.)

The remaining part of the first day was dedicated to comments from the public. The NOSB publishes what it is going to discuss 30 days before the meeting and asks for comments. Many groups are able to provide written comment via the NOP website which can be previewed by the Board members and members of the public. The NOSB also allows for folks to comment in person in front of the Board. To comment you sign up and are allocated a 5 minutes slot to provide input to the Board. To summarize your comments into a 5 minute period is difficult but necessary to allow for the up to 100 people to present their input. What is not budgeted for is the questions that Board members ask commentators and the sometimes lengthy discussion that follows. It is not unusual for the meeting to go past 7:00 pm to allow time for all comments. This commitment to openness illustrates the passion of organic advocates and the willingness of the NOSB members (all of whom volunteer their time) to serve the best interest of the organic community.

The second day of the meeting was dedicated to some very technical discussions which ranged from the need for nanotechnology through definitions of “inerts” to the need for excipients, Chlorhexidine, and discussion around the lifestyle choices of bivalves (oyster, mussels and clams) and whether chickens prefer to pile together in the dirt rather than enjoy large areas of pasture.
The final day was all about voting on recommendations that the various committees have made. The vote on vaccines allowed producers to use those that are manufactured with prohibited materials only after it was determined if there was no supply of other vacines commercially available. All sunset and other materials on the agenda were approved as recommended, as were the recommendations on excipients, xylazine, chlorhexidine. You can find all the details on these at the USDA NOP website. The document on classification of materials was adopted with a few changes, and bivalves passed also with no change.

The Animal Welfare recommendations by the NOSB Livestock committee were the focus for a great deal of comment and discussion. The committee made many changes to reflect concerns made during the public comment time. Many of those making comments urged the NOSB to change the recommendations to a discussion document and highlight what animal welfare provisions are already in the regulations. Federation of Organic Dairy Farmers (FOOD Farmers) who are a federation of the three ODPA’s presented detailed comments and recommendations, most of which were adopted. The NOSB decided to take out any reference to pasture as the Final Access to Pasture Rule will be published before the end of the year and removed the tables as to what space is needed for different species for further consideration. Click here for a copy of the final recommendation that was passed by the Board. The next stage of these recommendations is for the NOP to publish a Proposed Rule and ask for comment followed by a Final Rule, all of which will take about a year, unless the program decides to issue the recommendation as guidance.

The new Chair person is Dan Giacomini, with Tracy Miedema as Vice Chair, and Tina Ellor as Secretary.

Next meeting expected to be around the last week of April, in California, possibly Sacramento.