cows in field

The National Organic Standards Board

Fall Meeting October 31, 2017

While most federal committees are set up to advise the leaders of different agencies, the NOSB is unique in so far as its role of making recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture is written into the regulation that established the National Organic Program (NOP), by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). Like other federal committees, its operation is governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). In the last few years, the NOSB’s role and its importance in the process of rulemaking, has been challenged by the NOP. From comments made by Consumer Union at the last NOSB meeting: “The USDA Organic label communicates to consumers that the food was produced on a farm that adheres to a comprehensive set of government standards designed to support a system of sustainable agriculture. The integrity of the organic label is worth protecting and, where warranted, its standards should be improved. This is why the work of the National Organic Standards Board is so important.” The National Organic Coalition (NOC), in which NODPA and the Consumers Union are members, has been a leader in pushing back against the NOP to preserve the integrity of OFPA. Along with many other organizations, they have challenged NOP administrative decisions on process and work-plan for the NOSB, plus have drawn attention to regulations that ignore NOSB recommendations.

The NOSB is designed to provide input and make recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products. The NOSB also has special responsibilities related to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances which identifies the synthetic substances that may be used and the nonsynthetic (natural) substances that may not be used in organic crop and livestock production. It also identifies a limited number of non-organic substances that may be used in or on processed organic products. Changes to the National List are initiated through a petition to add or remove a substance, or through the sunset review process. The NOSB reviews petitions and makes formal recommendations to the USDA. If an NOSB proposal receives a decisive vote (2/3 majority) by Board members in favor of the proposed motion, it becomes a recommendation to the USDA, and is provided to the Secretary through the AMS NOP. The role of the NOSB is clearly stated in OFPA, section 6517(d) which says: (d) Procedure for establishing the National List (1) In general The National List established by the Secretary shall be based upon a proposed national list or proposed amendments to the National List developed by the National Organic Standards Board. The NOP has recently raised questions around the role of the NOSB by ignoring the NOSB recommendations for removing substances from the National List The NOSB recommended eleven materials for removal from the List at the 2015 NOSB meeting in Stowe, VT. With a recently published Final Rule, NOP has only removed eight of the materials, deciding to keep three on the National List. Many organizations did not submit comments on the Proposed Final Rule assuming that these decisions are made at the NOSB level through an NOSB process. The organic community has always assumed that NOP would honor the NOSB vote to exclude materials from the National List. The Organic Trade Association was one of seven comments recorded on the Proposed Final Rule and it’s recommendations were the ones that the NOP followed rather than the NOSB’s recommendations.

The make-up of the NOSB is designed to reflect the different stakeholders that participate in and benefit from organic certification. NOSB members include: four that own or operate an organic farming operation; two that own or operate an organic handling operation; one that owns or operates a retail establishment with significant trade in organic products; three with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation; three that represent public interest or consumer interest groups; one with expertise in the fields of toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry; and one that is a USDA accredited certifying agent. One of the challenges of serving on the NOSB is that members do not receive any compensation for their work. In order to do the work of an NOSB member, and fulfill the duties of serving on various committees, the commitment of time is equal to at least a half time paid position. This time commitment limits those who are able to serve on the NOSB and, inevitably, members tend to have salaried positions and be supported by their employers. FACA prohibits payment for work performed on federal committees which makes it nearly impossible for independent owners of small to mid-size farm operations to be represented. In the past, producers and their families have made that commitment and have done a great job of bringing the perspective of working farms to the committee. We need to find another way to support the inclusion of working, full-time producers, who experience the effects of changes to regulation first hand, to serve on the NOSB to ensure the continuing integrity of the process for farmers and ranchers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking nominations to fill an upcoming vacancy on the NOSB for individuals with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation. Written nominations, with cover letter, resume, and an advisory committee background information form, must be postmarked or received on or before Aug. 7, 2017. The appointee will serve a 5-year term of office beginning January 24, 2018.

Importance of Organic and the Role of the NOSB

Reprinted from the comments of the National Organic Coalition at the April, 2017 public meeting:

Before the passage of the federal law creating a single, uniform, federal standard for organic food, we had a multitude of state, local and private organic standards, each with its own slightly different variation of organic. Consumers were confused by the differing standards. In contrast, since 2001, the federal organic program allows farmers and processors to sell their products into the organic market, but only if they agree to go the extra mile to meet the uniform federal organic standards.

These uniform standards have been key to the success of the organic sector in the past decade, giving consumers confidence in the value of organic products. Prior to USDA regulation of organic, organic sales were $3.6 billion in 1997, growing to $43.3 billion in 2015. As a result, organic production and processing have become major economic engines of opportunity in many communities across our country.

We must invest in and continue to improve the regulatory framework if we want to sustain organic as one of the fastest growing sectors of the food economy.

The House GOP Blueprint document from last year, “A Better Way”, argues that voluntary regulations are the preferred way of establishing regulations. And in that document, House Speaker Ryan argues that:

“The Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program provides a regulatory program for organic producers who choose to market their agricultural products under the USDA organic seal. The program is not mandatory for all agricultural products, but provides uniform standards, certification, and enforcement for the farmers and ranchers who choose to participate in the program.”

Organic depends on the regulatory process. But it is important to remember that these regulations are opt-in – for both farmers and consumers. Only those farmers who choose to certify as organic are required to follow the regulations. If we want organic to continue to grow and succeed in the marketplace, regulators must have the ability to continually update these standards and ensure uniformity through the regulatory process.

Organic is an economic driver for our local economies. Demand for organic products far outstrips our ability to produce them domestically. This means that we are importing a lot of organic food that we could instead be growing here, and in the process creating more jobs here at home.
In addition, it is important to remember that organic is not a partisan issue: organic farmers and consumers come from all ends of the political spectrum.

NOC would like to thank the members, both past and present, who serve on the NOSB. Thank you for your help to create a strong organic label that we can all trust. The continued success of organic depends on a robust regulatory process and on having strong, consistent standards.

Schedule for meetings and submittal of comments
to the fall meeting of the NOSB

Meeting topics will encompass a wide range of issues, including: Substances petitioned for addition to or deletion from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List), substances on the National List that are under sunset review, and guidance on organic policies.

The public meeting allows the NOSB to discuss and vote on proposed recommendations to the USDA, receive updates from the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) on issues pertaining to organic agriculture, and receive comments from the organic community.

Fall 2017 Pre-NOSB Meeting: Monday, October 30 in Jacksonville, Florida

Fall 2017 NOSB Meeting: Tuesday, October 31 – Thursday, November 2 in Omni Jacksonville Hotel, 245 Water Street, Jacksonville, Florida 32202, (904) 355-6664

Docket Opened 5/30/17, with comments due by 11:59 pm ET October 11, 2017:

Webinar Comments scheduled for October 24, 2017, 1-4 pm eastern, 3 minutes each, and on October 26, from 1-4 pm eastern (only if needed); The Board will hear comments during a pre-meeting webinar on October 24, and during the face-to-face meeting on October 31. A second webinar will be added on October 26 only if demand for comments exceeds the maximum number of commenters (150) on October 24. Commenters may only sign up for one comment slot. Deadline to sign up: 11:59 p.m. October 11, 2017. Please note: Registration will close either when the maximum number of commenters has been reached, or at 11:59 p.m. October 11, 2017.

Register by October 11 to give in person comments, 3 minutes each:

Written comments or request for more information should go to: Ms. Michelle Arsenault, Advisory Committee Specialist, National Organic Standards Board, USDA-AMS-NOP, 1400 Independence Ave. SW., Room 2642-S, Mail Stop 0268, Washington, DC 20250-0268; Phone: (202) 720-3252; Email: