By Dr. Jean Richardson, Chair National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)
Following the October Meeting in Kentucky the NOSB moved quickly back into its work agenda, increasing the number of subcommittee conference calls to accommodate the required 5 year Sunset Review of materials on the National List as well as petitioned materials. Each subcommittee has NOP staff support. All of our present agenda must be completed by February 24 so that it can be placed in the Federal Register for Public Comment in early March, to be ready for the April meeting in San Diego. Here’s what each subcommittee of volunteers is working on:
Livestock/Aquaculture: The material which continues to occupy much of our time is methionine in poultry production. We asked a number of experts from diverse perspectives and scales of operation with diverse management techniques, and nutritionists to come and answer questions on our conference calls. We have also been in conversation with researchers who have been working on alternatives to synthetic methionine. You can never know everything when researching a substance as there are so many confounding variables, but we have done a lot of research on this developing proposal which we hope to bring to a full board vote at the April meeting. We shall also be voting on acidified sodium chlorite and zinc sulfate, and may have enough research completed to consider a proposal for aluminum sulfate for poultry litter treatment.
We will be presenting the initial Sunset Review of 41 Livestock materials in order to seek public comment and discuss at the April meeting, with a vote on keeping or removing these materials from the National List at the October meeting in Stowe Vermont. I won’t list them all here, but they include chlorhexidine, the parasiticides fenbendazole, moxidextin and ivermectin; iodine, copper sulphate, peracetic acid, lidocaine and methionine. For several of these we have requested updated Technical Reports. Your comments on any material up for Review is critical. If you find it hard to navigate the NOP Website and find the full list, or want to chat about sunset review of materials remember you can call me any time or e-mail me questions.
The Livestock subcommittee also has aquaculture on its Work Agenda, but we are waiting on further discussion on these materials until the draft standards are published, which may not be until late spring 2015- things move slowly in Washington!
Animal Welfare standards should be out soon, and we are all hoping that these will be responsive to the concerns expressed by the NOSB and the public.
Crops: In the crops subcommittee we shall be presenting 4 proposals for new materials at the April meeting, and an update on Inerts, as well as a discussion document on Contamination in Farm Inputs. For Sunset Review there will be final votes on renewal or removal of ferris phosphate and hydrogen chloride, and initial review discussion of an additional 45 materials which will be voted on in October following public comment.
The Materials/GMO subcommittee continues its work on gmo (excluded methods) contamination and will lead a panel discussion on this issue at the April meeting.
The Policy subcommittee was reinstated by the NOP at our request and is working on updating policies and procedures.
Certification, Accreditation subcommittee is working on the Soil conservation document initially presented for public comment in April, and a proposal on peer review accreditation.
The Handling subcommittee is working on 5 petitions which may be voted on in April, as well as 10 Sunset substances for vote in April, and an additional 106 materials (including groups of materials) to be presented for initial Review in April with final vote in October.
So if the NOSB is doing all this work, what is our Deputy Administrator, Miles McEvoy, doing with his time?
Miles is on all of our NOSB Executive calls and we typically talk by phone every week. He has been shepherding the animal welfare and origin of livestock proposed standards through the convoluted pathways in Washington, as well as working on a range of national and international issues in organic agriculture, including equivalency agreements, helping expand markets abroad, and efforts to keep mislabeled products out of the marketplace. To do this the USDA launched a new way to notify buyers when fraudulent organic certificates are identified. This includes surveillance audits of certifiers and operations certified in foreign countries. In 2014, NOP conducted foreign audits of certifiers in Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, Turkey, France, England, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia. He led the work to start up the $11.5 million per year National Cost-Share Program.
Miles and his team have initiated over 200 investigative and enforcement actions, including 60 notices of warning, 26 cease and desist notices, and 48 referrals for investigation by certifiers and by State, Federal and foreign agencies. He has successfully referred two cases to Office of the Inspector General for criminal investigation; publicized 13 fraudulent organic certificates; and levied 9 civil penalties for $81,500 via settlement agreements for knowing violations of the Organic Food Production Act.
Meanwhile, Miles and team NOP continue to provide information about organic agriculture to thousands of USDA employees so that USDA can better serve the organic community. This is an ongoing and much needed task.
I also happen to know that in his spare time Miles goes bird watching!
Do not hesitate to contact me with your questions, comments or concerns any time. If I do not know the answer I will find the right person to help you.
home phone: 802-425-3733