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NOP, NOSB And Organic Industry News And Comments

By Ed Maltby

Added March 8, 2012

European Equivalency Agreement

The European Union and the United States announced that beginning June 1, 2012, organic products certified in Europe or in the United States may be sold as organic in either region. Previously, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. This partnership eliminates significant barriers, and is expected to have a significant impact on the trade of organic products – and many are likely to be finished foods rather than agricultural products. All products meeting the terms of the partnership can be traded and labeled as certified organic produce, meat, cereal, or wine. Both parties individually determined that their programs were equivalent except for the prohibition on the use of antibiotics. The USDA organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics except to control invasive bacterial infections (fire blight) in organic apple and pear orchards. The European Union organic regulations allow antibiotics only to treat infected animals. For all products traded under this partnership, certifying agents must verify that antibiotics were not used for any reason. This is especially significant for dairy and livestock products, and apparently there is a commitment to ensure that there are high standards of transparency and integrity, especially over antibiotic use. I hope the policing of livestock records are better in Europe than they are in the US.

Guidance on Handling Bulk, Unpackaged Organic Products

On February 3, 2012, the USDA published some draft guidance, which will directly affect all organic livestock producers. The guidance they are proposing is on handling of organic product, which will effectively require all those that truck milk, hay and grain to carry their own certification. "NOP regulations require brokers, traders or distributors of bulk, unpackaged organic commodities or livestock to be certified organic operations….. Uncertified brokers, traders or distributors of bulk, unpackaged organic commodities or livestock must either:

  • Seek and obtain organic certification, or
  • Be specifically included by direct reference in the Organic System Plan (OSP) of the certified seller or buyer of the organic products, subject to approval and inspection by the certifying agent of the certified operation.

Certified organic operations that receive bulk products from uncertified handlers and subsequently label the products as organic are in violation of NOP regulations, and .. certifying agents are required to review OSPs to ensure producers and handlers receive hay, grain, milk, livestock, or other non-packaged organic products via a certified organic handler."

The comment period is open until April 3, 2012 and NODPA is working with the Accredited Certifiers Association Handling Bulk Products Working Group to provide comments that reflect the reality of transporting bulk organically certified products and the real difficulties for all trucking companies to carry organic certification.

National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)

The next meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is on May 21-24, 2012 at Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, 800 Rio Grande Boulevard, NW Albuquerque, New Mexico 87104. The agenda has not been released yet, but the GMO issue will definitely be on the minds of those commenting at the meeting in the hope that the USDA NOSB will develop a position on GMO contamination.

Organic Research And Promotion Program Or Organic Check Off Program

In January the Organic Trade Association (OTA) Board decided to move to phase II of an initiative to reach a decision on a research and promotion order for organic. After reviewing the feasibility assessment prepared by is member-based steering committee and the DC based Podesta Group,( http://www.podesta.com ) the OTA Board found that an organic research and promotion order is achievable, and any challenges identified in the feasibility assessment should not prevent its success but inform strategy. OTA released a statement that included the following "the Board looks forward to continuing this exploration with the entire organic industry. To do so, OTA plans to hold Town Hall-style forums across the country to evaluate this exciting opportunity to promote the organic brand, and provide critical research for the continued health of the industry."

Until 1996, industry-specific legislation had to be passed by Congress before a research and promotion program could be established. However, under the Commodity, Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996, industry groups may submit a proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), requesting that a research and promotion program be implemented. The implementation process takes at least a year. These programs require the approval through referendum of those who would be covered by the program. Assessments are collected from designated industry segments. Research and promotion boards, usually composed of producer, handler, processor, and, in some cases, importer and public members, are appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to administer the programs.

NODPA and other organic producers have long opposed any movement to establish an agricultural check off program for Organic promotion as part of a Federal Research and Promotion Program (FRPP). Currently the 19 programs that are already established are subject to scrutiny because of conflicts of interest, poor use of funds and lack of effective representation of the interest of producers. Most producers see these programs as flawed and ineffective.

OTA's has overwhelming support for their immediate goal of removing the barriers that exist now that prevent organic producers from opting out of check-off programs that do not provide any benefit to organic production, sales or promotion. Achieving this goal would allow producers to determine how they spend the check-off dollars. Organic Dairy has shown how these funds can be used productively and equitably in ways determined by producers themselves.

As part of its phase II investigation, OTA needs to lead the organic industry as a whole in a discussion of new models for promotion programs rather than attempting to fit organics into a flawed conventional program. In the opinion of most producers, any assessments need to come from all levels of the supply chain and allocation of funds needs to be decided not on which sector contributes the most money but where a diverse and representative committee decides the need. There are many ways that the organic industry can fund generic organic advertising, promotion and valuable research rather than enter into the long and costly struggle to set up a FRPP and have it administered through the Federal government.
NODPA is working with OTA and other groups who have a variety of different perspectives to ensure that the producer voice is heard clearly in this ongoing debate.