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NOSB Chair Opening Remarks at Recent Meeting in Kentucky

By Dr. Jean Richardson, Chair NOSB

The NOSB meeting was held in Louisville Kentucky from October 27-30. It was an upbeat meeting where everyone seemed to feel that their issues were heard and discussed on the record.

Since the April meeting the NOSB has worked quietly to strengthen the public role again and improve collaboration with the NOP. Here are my Opening Comments:

As we all recall there were a number of changes which the NOP made over the last year or so. Some of these did not seem quite right and adjustments have been made. So the NOSB is once again Chairing the meeting, not the NOP. The confusion over altering the NOSB Charter in a manner which created the impression that the NOSB could be terminated in 2 years, has been corrected.

In the last few weeks the NOP has reactivated the NOSB Policy and Procedures subcommittee and we will work collaboratively with the NOP to re-write the PPM and also clarify the Sunset policy, and bring back a procedure for annotations, especially at Sunset.

As Chair I talk with the Deputy Administrator every week, so you can be sure I share your concerns and questions. So these are all good things. And I am confident we can continue to make further improvements. But there is work for all of us to do.

Like many of you here in this room I have been involved in “organics” since long before we had the USDA Green Seal. But I was reminded recently when I gave a presentation to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture that we can loose our way and forget that even though Organics is now a 35 billion dollar industry, it is still only about 3% of agriculture in terms of dollar sales, and only 1% in terms of farmable land. Quite small when put into perspective.

Then think about the USDA. It is a HUGE agency. And I found that when you walk around the extensive cafeteria in the Washington USDA Building you can not buy whole fat organic milk, let alone creamline non homogenized milk, and certainly not RAW milk!.

The NOP has been working to increase the organic literacy of the inhabitants of the USDA building but it is slow going. There are a lot of entrenched ideas and over complicated Rules and Regulations and competing interests – and we must all work with all of that.

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) component is very small part of USDA, and the NOP is a tiny part of AMS.

When the Organic Food Production Act was written in 1990 and Regulations were developed we were an even smaller sector and there was almost no processed organic food. Now processed organics is growing fast, but we have to produce organic food within the context of our US cheap food policy which reduces slim profit margins and increases competition. The Europeans by contrast are happy to pay much more for their food, so farmers and processors in Britain and Europe can have higher profit margins for organic products.

We must work to boost consumer confidence, improve labels on products, reduce consumer confusion and maybe spend less time and energy on the one hand suggesting that our organic products may be dangerous to eat, or on the other complaining that the NOSB is failing to give every producer and processor all the chemicals they want on the National List.
So my plea with us all here today is “Pick your battles!” Working together, building partnerships is the only way to go.

We are part of a complex system, so we should use Systems Thinking, from the farm as a system to the multi-ingredient chocolate chip cookie production to the global market place, constantly challenged by change.

Let us remind ourselves that everything is interconnected, and our interlocking agriculture policies and regulations must strengthen the connections, not destroy them. Because if WE cannot work together, building partnerships between diverse stakeholder groups, we may face the economic and environmental Tragedy of the Commons articulated many years ago by Garrett Hardin. This theory outlines how individuals, acting independently, and rationally, each according to individual self-interest, behave contrary to the best long term interests of the whole group and thus deplete the common resource, such as soil or water. And in this case we may lose our market niche in organic food production.

It is not realistic to demand that there be absolutely no synthetics in anything with the organic seal and it is not realistic to ask for every synthetic or every tool in the tool box – and the NOP must work more collaboratively with the NOSB in all aspects of our work. We all have our roles to play.

Together we have to move towards the common ground.

So we must be as proactive as possible as a COMMUNITY, working with all the changes, be sure we are asking the right questions and always think in an interdisciplinary manner with systems thinking.

Let’s seek common ground together.

Dr. Richardson is very approachable and welcomes any comments or questions. To reach Jean Richardson, you can email her at:
jeanrichardson43@comcast.net.