Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Wed, 06 May 2015 00:07:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Farmers Turn to GMO-Free Crops to Boost Incomehttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/farmers-turn-to-gmo-free-crops-to-boost-income/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/farmers-turn-to-gmo-free-crops-to-boost-income/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 20:52:41 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16369 The Des Moines Register by Christopher Doering Source: Fishhawk WASHINGTON –When Justin Dammann enters his southwestern Iowa cornfield this month, the 35-year-old farmer will sow something these 2,400 acres have not seen in more than a decade — plants grown without genetically modified seeds. The corn, which will head to a processor 20 miles down the road this fall, will likely make its way into tortilla shells, corn chips and other consumable products made by

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The Des Moines Register
by Christopher Doering

Source: Fishhawk

WASHINGTON –When Justin Dammann enters his southwestern Iowa cornfield this month, the 35-year-old farmer will sow something these 2,400 acres have not seen in more than a decade — plants grown without genetically modified seeds.

The corn, which will head to a processor 20 miles down the road this fall, will likely make its way into tortilla shells, corn chips and other consumable products made by companies taking advantage of growing consumer demand for food without biotech ingredients.

For Dammann and other Midwest farmers, the burgeoning interest in non-GMO foods has increased how much they get paid to grow crops in fields once populated exclusively with genetically modified corns and soybeans. The revenue hike is a welcome benefit at a time when lower commodity prices are pushing farm income down to what’s expected to be the lowest level in six years.

“We never really thought we would go back to (non-GMO). But the consumer, in my opinion, has sent a clear message that a certain percentage of our customers are willing to pay more for the non-GMO lines,” Dammann said. “This non-GMO thing has seemed to take hold and gain a lot of traction.”

Consumers, particularly on the West and East coasts, have demanded more GMO-free products because of health and safety concerns. And a number of major food companies have responded.

General Mills announced last year it will no longer use bioengineered cornstarch and sugar cane for its original Cheerios.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, the rapidly growing taco and burrito chain, is working to eliminate GMOs from its ingredients.

And Whole Foods will require labeling of all products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018 to indicate whether they contain genetically modified ingredients.

Last year, retail sales of products verified by the Non-GMO Project — the top U.S. certification organization — rose to $8.5 billion, compared with $1.2 billion three years earlier. Despite the torrid growth, it marked a fraction of the $630 billion in total supermarket sales in 2014 estimated by Progressive Grocer Magazine.

Tim Daley, an agronomist at Stonebridge Ltd., said the Cedar Falls company is getting flooded with calls from income-hungry farmers all over the Midwest looking for crops such as non-GMOs that could pay them a premium for their corn and soybeans.

Recently, a farmer growing a non-GMO soybean crop could get as much as $2 a bushel for soybeans and $0.35 a bushel for corn over the market price. Daley estimated growers could save $150 for each bag of corn seed they buy that lacks the traits embedded in genetically modified crops, a difference that could help a farmer reach profitability.

Stonebridge works with major food producers that manufacture energy bars, veggie burgers, soy milk and other products from non-GMO and other niche crops to ensure there will be enough grown by farmers to meet demand.

“Usually I don’t turn people away, and I’m making the calls trying to find the acres,” Daley said. But with lower grain prices “all my acres are filled, as far as my needs go, and I’m pretty much turning farmers away because the demand for the food-grade side hasn’t increased as fast as the interest to produce them.”

The overwhelming majority of corn and soybean crops in the Corn Belt, including Iowa, are grown using genetically modified crops.

Producers have embraced the crops — first commercially introduced in the United States in 1996 with the launch of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans — because they boost yields and reduce the need for costly chemicals to rebuff bugs and weeds.

Last year, an estimated 97 percent of soybeans and 95 percent of corn grown in Iowa were from biotech seeds, figures that were both higher than the national average.

DuPont Pioneer, based in Johnston, Ia., said the agri-business giant best known for its genetically modified seeds hasn’t wavered in its support for non-GMO products. Pioneer, which touts itself as the largest seller of non-GMO corn and soybean seeds, estimates about 4 percent of its soybean seed sales and 5 percent of its corn are non-GMO.

Morrie Bryant, senior marketing manager at DuPont Pioneer, said the company views non-GMO seeds as a niche product.

“We’re very involved in traits, and we believe in traits and the importance of traits, but we also believe in the importance of offering choice. We certainly believe that non-GMOs aren’t going to leave us. It’s going to endure,” Bryant said. “There is a domestic demand for non-GMO, albeit pretty small right now.”

Exactly how many acres of non-GMO crops are grown in the United States for food is difficult to estimate because it is a specialized product and often contracted out to meet changing demand by food manufacturers. Further growth for non-GMO corn and soybeans could come if more livestock producers move toward raising chickens and hogs given GM-free feed. If it comes to fruition, those involved with non-GMO seeds are optimistic more land would go toward animal feed than is going for products found on supermarket shelves.

As much as 80 percent of packaged foods contain ingredients that have been genetically modified, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 300 food and beverage companies, including Kellogg and H.J. Heinz.

Some environmental and consumer groups have expressed doubt about the safety of genetically modified ingredients, even though the Food and Drug Administration, the National Academy of Sciences and other regulatory and scientific bodies have said there is no difference between genetically modified crops and their traditional counterparts.

Farmers across much of the Corn Belt are struggling to stay profitable as prices for maize, soybeans and other crops have plunged below the cost of production for some growers.

Wayne Hoener, vice president of sales for eMerge Genetics, said sales of the West Des Moines company’s proprietary non-GMO seed products have tripled since 2012. This year, eMerge estimates about 30 percent of its sales are from new customers. Already, some of the company’s 35 corn and soybean varieties are sold out.

“It’s all about return on my acre for the producer,” Hoener said. “If there is a contract that can pay them a premium for non-GMO, they are going to be very receptive to that in this day and age, particularly when commodity prices are lower.”

Farm prices for corn have tumbled 46 percent from 2012, while soybeans have declined by about a third during the same period.

The plunge in commodity prices will push down farm income 32 percent this year to $73.6 billion, its lowest level since 2009, according to the Agriculture Department.

All this has spurred farmers to find new ways to offset lost income, making non-GMO and other niche crops even more attractive.

The seeds themselves cost less than their biotech counterparts, but a portion of that savings is lost because of the need to use more chemicals to protect crops. Some growers say they have little to lose by switching back to non-GMO crops because of growing resistance to weeds and pests that have developed to some herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup.

Dammann, who farms in Essex, said raising non-GMO corn does come with some added risk.

He not only must pay more for herbicides to combat corn borer and root worm insects, but the yields can sometimes be unpredictable if the weather is not ideal. Dammann said in some years, his yields were in line with biotech crops and in other years they fell short.

In 2012, when the Midwest was in its worst drought in decades, output was 30 percent less than his genetically modified corn, he said.

“Hopefully we deliver the right product and people are passionate to buy (GMO free) — because that is the direction we are moving,” he said.

Non-GMO product sales

Retail sales of products verified by the Non-GMO Project, the top U.S. certification organization.

2011 — $1.2 billion

2012 — $2.7 billion

2013 — $5 billion

2014 — $8.5 billion

Source: Non-GMO Project

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Popular Pesticide Hurts Wild Bees in Major Field Studyhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/popular-pesticide-hurts-wild-bees-in-major-field-study/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/popular-pesticide-hurts-wild-bees-in-major-field-study/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16365 Phys.org by Seth Borenstein Source: Dottie T A common type of pesticide is dramatically harming wild bees, according to a new in-the-field study that outside experts say may help shift the way the U.S. government looks at a controversial class of chemicals. But in the study published by the journal Nature on Wednesday, honeybees—which get trucked from place to place to pollinate major crops like almonds— didn’t show the significant ill effects that wild cousins

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Phys.org
by Seth Borenstein

Source: Dottie T

A common type of pesticide is dramatically harming wild bees, according to a new in-the-field study that outside experts say may help shift the way the U.S. government looks at a controversial class of chemicals.

But in the study published by the journal Nature on Wednesday, honeybees—which get trucked from place to place to pollinate major crops like almonds— didn’t show the significant ill effects that wild cousins like bumblebees did. This is a finding some experts found surprising. A second study published in the same journal showed that in lab tests bees are not repelled by the pesticides and in fact may even prefer pesticide coated crops, making the problem worse.

Bees of all kinds—crucial to pollinating plants, including major agricultural crops—have been in decline for several reasons. Pesticide problems are just one of many problems facing pollinators; this is separate from colony collapse disorder, which devastated honeybee populations in recent years but is now abating, experts said.

Exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides reduced the density of wild bees, resulted in less reproduction, and colonies that didn’t grow when compared to bees not exposed to the pesticide, the study found.

Scientists in Sweden were able to conduct a study that was in the wild, but still had the in-the-lab qualities of having control groups that researchers covet. They used 16 patches of landscape, eight where canola seeds were coated with the pesticide and eight where they weren’t, and compared the two areas.

When the first results came in, “I was quite, ‘Oh my God,'” said study lead author Maj Rundlof of Lund University. She said the reduction in bee health was “much more dramatic than I ever expected.”

In areas treated with the pesticide, there were half as many wild bees per square meter than there were in areas not treated, Rundlof said. In the pesticide patches, bumblebee colonies had “almost no weight gain” compared to the normal colonies that gained about a pound, she said.

University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who wasn’t part of either study and last year was awarded the National Medal of Science, said in an email that the studies “indicate that, at least with current technology, systemic use of pesticides is fraught with environmental problems.”

The European Union has a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids and some environmentalists are pushing for the same in the United States. Rundlof conducted her study just before the European ban went into effect in 2013.

“This paper has the potential of really shifting the conversation,” said University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEnglesdorp, who wasn’t part of the study. “Neonics may have a very dramatic effect on these non-managed pollinators in the environment. This is the most definitive work I’ve seen in the area.”

One of the more interesting aspects of Rundolf’s study is that she couldn’t measure an effect on honeybees, just wild native bees. There may be an effect but it would be under 20 percent, she said. The different species of bees respond differently and that only results in confusion because until now, scientists have used the domesticated honeybees as the model for all bees.

Scientists speculated why there is a difference. It could be that honeybees, which have colonies in the tens of thousands, can absorb more losses than the more solitary native bees, which have smaller colonies and have more difficulty getting new queens, Rundlof said.

It could be that because honeybees are more social, “they are probably much better adapted at taking abuse,” said vanEnglesdorp.

While many large farms rely on honeybee colonies, a 2013 study found that wild bees and other insects were more important in pollination than previously thought and far more efficient at pollination than honeybees. Plus, the wild flowers around the world are mostly pollinated by wild bees, said Rundolf’s co-author, Henrik Smith of Lund University.

David Fischer, director of pollinator safety for neonicotinoid manufacturer Bayer CropScience, emphasized the lack of harm found in honeybees, saying “that’s the part of the story that seems to be not being paid attention to.” He said this should be reassuring for beekeepers.

Fischer faulted the Rundlof study for using unrealistically large amounts of the pesticide—2.5 times what is applied in the United States. He called it “an overdose.” But Rundlof said she used dosages recommended in Bayer CropScience documents that she provided.

Bee scientist Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the Rundlof study finds the pesticide is a real problem for wild bees and “it does it under real world, well-replicated conditions” while using realistic doses.

Environmental activist groups are using the study to step up pressure on the U.S. government to ban the pesticide class. Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said federal agencies “must step up and take action to ban these dangerous chemicals before it is too late to save our wild bees.”

More information: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature14420
Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature14414

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Is Organic Food Safer and Healthier? The Guy in Charge of U.S. Organics Won’t Say.http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/is-organic-food-safer-and-healthier-the-guy-in-charge-of-u-s-organics-wont-say/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/is-organic-food-safer-and-healthier-the-guy-in-charge-of-u-s-organics-wont-say/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 20:44:56 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16362 Washington Post by Peter Whoriskey Miles McEvoy Source: USDA Are consumers right to think that organic food is safer and healthier? It seems like a straightforward question, especially for Miles McEvoy, the chief of the National Organic Program at USDA. That’s the section of the federal government that champions organic farming practices and defines what food deserves the coveted organic label. But in an interview Wednesday, McEvoy wouldn’t speculate about any  health benefits of organic

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Washington Post
by Peter Whoriskey

Miles McEvoy
Source: USDA

Are consumers right to think that organic food is safer and healthier?

It seems like a straightforward question, especially for Miles McEvoy, the chief of the National Organic Program at USDA. That’s the section of the federal government that champions organic farming practices and defines what food deserves the coveted organic label.

But in an interview Wednesday, McEvoy wouldn’t speculate about any  health benefits of organic food, saying the question wasn’t “relevant” to the role of the National Organic Program. Nor would he say whether growing consumer demand for organics reflects widening public skepticism of conventional U.S. agriculture.

Maybe McEvoy is unwilling to tout organics over conventional agriculture because, after all, conventional agriculture is the larger part of the USDA’s realm. Or maybe he thinks, as some others do, that the science on organics is too tentative.

Whatever the case,  the 57-year-old veteran of the movement was willing enough to talk specifics about how his group decides what foods deserve the USDA’s coveted “organic” label.

McEvoy came to the USDA in 2009 after 20 years leading the organic program in  Washington State. This week, he was in La Jolla attending a meeting of the federal advisory board on organics. And while he steered away from the health question, he did hold forth on other topics, including animal treatment and whether consumers can trust “organic” imported food from China and other countries.

Here are excerpts, lightly-edited for clarity.

The sales of products certified by the USDA as “organic” have more than doubled over the last ten years to more than $30 billion annually. Why are Americans increasingly buying “organic”? What do they find wrong with the conventional way of farming?

Well, I can’t really respond to that. I can just say that sales are increasing dramatically  – over double digit growth each year. Even during the recession, there was growth in the organic market… There’s been an increase in basically every sector of organic food. Organic is about 5 percent of U.S. food sales. In some areas its much higher than that. Over 12 percent of fruits and vegetables are organic at this point.

There is an interest in organics around the world. Organic markets are expanding in Korea, in China, in India, in the European Union.

I think it’s just an interest in quality food. Organic is one of those quality food products that America produces. It has certain production practices that resonate with consumers and they feel good about it.

Lots of consumers buy food with the “organic” label because they believe that the food is healthier and safer than conventional. Are they correct?

Again, I am not going to be able to respond to that. It’s just not…We are a regulatory program that regulates the organic label, to ensure that anything that has that label meets the requirements.

[Note: He later expanded in an email: “The question is not relevant to the role of the National Organic Program. I can say that organic farmers and producers provide consumers additional food options. The National Organic Program supports the continued growth of the organic community by developing clear standards, enforcing a level playing-field, and expanding trade opportunities to create new markets for U.S. organic businesses. “]

At least some organic consumers buy “organic” because they believe that organic farmers provide better conditions for their animals. You are currently working on some new animal welfare regulations. What changes are needed?

The organic livestock standards already include a number of animal welfare provisions. The requirements are that you have to care for the health and welfare of the animals. You can’t use some of those allopathic products – like antibiotics and hormones. An organic livestock producer  really has to care for their animals because they don’t have the same kind of medicines or interventions. They rely on good welfare so that the animals are healthy.

The National Organic Standards Board [the federal advisory board meeting this week]  put together a recommendation after many years of work. It expands on those existing animal welfare provisions….

The most controversial part of the recommendation is around [a requirement for] outdoor access for poultry. There is [already] a requirement that the birds have year-round outdoor access, but there is no specificity in the current regulations – in terms of space.  Because of that there is a wide range of practices.

The Cornucopia Institute took aerial photographs last year in which they showed some facilities without any cows out or chickens out on a perfectly nice day. [The group accused the farmers of violating requirements that organic livestock get out to pasture.] Does that worry you?

No, it doesn’t worry me. We have a complaint process. Anyone who thinks that there’s been a violation of the standards can file a complaint. Those photos were part of a complaint from Cornucopia. They are under review. Our initial review is that those photos were taken at a point in time. It really doesn’t indicate one thing or another.

The [organic] certification process is incredibly rigorous…You have an inspector that’s going out and verifying. They’re  on the ground, they’re looking at the animals, ensuring that they’re getting outdoor access, looking at the records, they’re doing unannounced inspections, they’re taking samples, they’re auditing the feed records

A photo maybe  is an indication that something else needs to be looked at but it does not in any way compare to the intense rigorous certification process.

The international production of organic foods has also increased, and the U.S. is now importing hundreds of millions dollars worth of agricultural products that are certified by the USDA as organic. Why should a U.S. consumer believe that a product from China or Mexico or Colombia is organic?

It’s the same inspection and certification process  in Colombia or China or Mexico as it is in the United States. All the certifying agents [inspectors] are accredited by USDA. Every step in the process – the farms are certified, the packing shed is certified, the distributors are certified – and they’re audited.

We conduct audits of these certifiers all over the world. We do dozens of audits in foreign countries every year.

You run the government side of this $30 plus billion industry with a $9 million budget. One of the ways the government keeps costs down is that you have the farmer or food company pay for their organic certification. The inspectors are often private companies. Is there an inherent conflict of interest if you are  hiring your own inspector? If so, how does the system guard against that?

The ag industry is really set up around user fees. Its very common for…the business that is meeting a standard be paying for  inspection and certification services. The system falls under international norms of accreditation and certification. There are a number of different criteria that we have to meet as the accreditor and the certifier has to meet as the certifier. Those things are audited on an ongoing basis. It includes conflict of interest provisions and transparency in terms of the fee structure. We ensure that there are no conflicts of interest that the certifiers have when they conduct these inspections.

You’re attending the semi­annual meeting of a federal advisory board decides what synthetic chemicals and practices should be allowed in the production of “organic” food. Time and again, farmers or food companies ask for the right to use a synthetic chemical, or a substance derived from conventional farming. And time and again, some of the consumer oriented groups ­ like Consumer Reports and the Cornucopia Institute ­ push to ban these chemicals from organic production.

How do you balance the demands of the industry and of consumers?

That’s the role of the National Organic Standards Board. It’s fifteen members from a variety of different stakeholder groups. There’s four organic farmers, two from the handling side of organics, so six basically industry representatives. Then there’s one certifier, one retailer, three from the public interest groups, one scientist and three from the environmental or resource conservation area.

 It’s trying to have a balance of interests so that no one particular interest can dominate.

The organic movement started out at least by reputation as a movement embraced by  hippies. It has now become much bigger and more corporate? How does that change the industry?

I was the first inspector in Washington State. [It was 1988] There were 63 farms. I went and visited them all  twice a year. They were all small operations. Now it’s a huge industry but it still consists for the most part of people who are dedicated to the principles of organic. There’s all sizes of operations. There are a lot more small organic farm than there were 10, 20 years ago. But there’s also a number of larger operations, both larger farms and processor and handlers.

It’s a little different because there are a lot more voices. But it’s sort of that same kind of conversation. The joy that I find in it is that the people involved have the same principles the same passion – they might have slightly different opinions about what the standards should be or how quickly they should change – but everyone is committed to a biologically rich farming system that protects the environment , protects farm workers and produces quality food.

Peter Whoriskey is a staff writer for The Washington Post handling investigations of financial and economic topics. You can email him at peter.whoriskey@washpost.com.

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Study Puts a Price on the Help that Nature Provides Agriculturehttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/study-puts-a-price-on-the-help-that-nature-provides-agriculture/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/study-puts-a-price-on-the-help-that-nature-provides-agriculture/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 14:32:46 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16357 Washington State University News by Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences Source: Fair Share Farm in Kearney, MO PULLMAN, Wash. – A team of international scientists has shown that assigning a dollar value to the benefits nature provides agriculture improves the bottom line for farmers while protecting the environment. The study confirms that organic farming systems do a better job of capitalizing on nature’s services. Scientists from Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the

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Washington State University News
by Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Source: Fair Share Farm in Kearney, MO

PULLMAN, Wash. – A team of international scientists has shown that assigning a dollar value to the benefits nature provides agriculture improves the bottom line for farmers while protecting the environment. The study confirms that organic farming systems do a better job of capitalizing on nature’s services.

Scientists from Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States describe the research they conducted on organic and conventional farms to arrive at dollar values for natural processes that aid farming and that can substitute for costly fossil fuel-based inputs. The study appears in the journal PeerJ.

“By accounting for ecosystem services in agricultural systems and getting people to support the products from these systems around the world, we move stewardship of lands in a more sustainable direction, protecting future generations,” said Washington State University soil scientist John Reganold, one of the study’s authors.

Tests in organic and conventional fields

Earthworms turning the soil, bees pollinating crops, plants pulling nitrogen out of the air into the soil and insects preying on pests like aphids – these are a few of nature’s services that benefit people but aren’t often factored in to the price we pay at the grocery store.

The value of ecosystem service benefits provided to people by nature is rarely quantified experimentally in agricultural studies and is generally not taken into account in the real world of economic markets.

The research team led by Harpinder Sandhu at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia quantified the economic value of two ecosystem services – biological control of pests and the release of nitrogen from soil organic matter into plant-accessible forms – in 10 organic and 10 conventional fields on New Zealand grain farms.

Values greater for organic systems

The values of the two ecosystem services were greater for the organic systems, averaging $146 per acre each year compared to $64 per acre each year in their conventional counterparts.

The combined economic value, including the market value of the crops and the non-market value of the two ecosystem services, was also higher in the organic systems, averaging $1,165 per acre each year compared with $826 per acre each year in conventional fields.

The study showed that the value of the two ecosystem services on the organic farms exceeded the combined cost of traditional pesticide and fertilizer inputs on the conventional farms. The scientists calculated that the potential value of these two services could exceed the global costs of pesticides and fertilizers for growing similar crops, even if the two services were used in just 10 percent of the world’s cropland.

Economic incentives necessary

The study indicates that widespread conversion to organic agriculture is not required to reap the benefits of nature. The value of ecosystem services can be realized by conventional and other farming systems by adopting farming practices like diverse crop rotations and cover crops.

“Many people think it’s the responsibility of farmers to enhance the benefits that nature provides,” Reganold said. “But it’s not always economically feasible because the current market system doesn’t recognize the value of these services.”Reganold said that government payments or market rewards for ecosystem services are likely required to ensure the widespread utilization of ecosystem strategies to enhance agricultural sustainability.

The study was funded by the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The paper is Sandhu et al. (2015), Significance and value of non-traded ecosystem services on farmland. PeerJ 3:e762; DOI 10.7717/peerj.762.

Contact:
John Reganold, WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, 509-335-8856,reganold@wsu.edu

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Day Four (Thursday) Report: NOSB Members Voting While (not) at the Meetinghttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/day-four-thursday-report-nosb-members-voting-while-not-at-the-meeting/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/day-four-thursday-report-nosb-members-voting-while-not-at-the-meeting/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 01:58:45 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16352 Thursday was the fourth and final day of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California. At least twice a year the 15-member expert stakeholder panel meets at different locations around the country. The NOSB was created by Congress to represent the interests of the organic community, rather than allowing the industry to be dominated by corporate lobbyists, as is the custom in Washington. High Drama: Synthetic

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NOSBSPring2015 NOSBMembers withcaption
Thursday was the fourth and final day of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California. At least twice a year the 15-member expert stakeholder panel meets at different locations around the country. The NOSB was created by Congress to represent the interests of the organic community, rather than allowing the industry to be dominated by corporate lobbyists, as is the custom in Washington.

High Drama: Synthetic Methionine Approved at Higher Levels of Administration

The independent block of NOSB members, farmers and academics courageously led a fight to try to constrain the use of the synthetic amino acid, methionine, in poultry use.

Organic laying hens and meat birds need methionine, an essential amino acid, as part of their diet but they can get it from natural sources, being afforded legitimate outdoor access and a diet more suited to their species (as omnivores).

Intrepidly led by public interest representative Dr. Calvin Walker, the independents on the board tried and failed to convince their colleagues to both restrain methionine use and create a date certain for its removal from organic production.

Dr. Walker cited numerous past votes by the NOSB, working to reduce methionine use, and prevent its increased application, and asked the board colleagues to respect the history, and investment, of past NOSB members — to no avail. The livestock subcommittee chair, who was facilitating the debate, even cut Dr. Walker off before he could finish.

Vote Early and Often

That was a long-term slogan in the old days of Chicago electoral politics. When they looked at voting registrations it wasn’t unusual to find all the residents of a nearby cemetery on the voting rolls.

Well, that didn’t happen at the NOSB meeting, but it came close.

In a sad accident, NOSB handler-member, Harold Austin, fell in the bathroom on Monday, at the Marriott where we were staying, and fractured his hip. He ended up having surgery (we sincerely wish him a speedy recovery).

Since the majority block members of the board needed his vote to approve methionine use, at a higher level, they arranged for him to vote from his hospital bed, presumably highly medicated after surgery (although he seemed perfectly cogent to me).

Based on a question of parliamentary procedure, NOSB farmer-member Colehour Bondera challenged the propriety of someone voting by phone when there was no provision for that in the board’s Policy Procedure Manual (and doing so violated Roberts Rules which governs the conduct of the meetings). His appeal was rejected by board chair Dr. Jean Richardson.  Mr. Austin had also missed the extensive discussion of methionine that occurred Tuesday afternoon during the public testimony period.

It should be noted that, if I recall correctly, there is some history of not allowing votes by members not present. At one juncture in the past NOSB farmer-member Kevin Engelbert (now a member of Cornucopia’s board of directors) asked to participate in an NOSB meeting by phone. That request was denied and he was prevented from participating. (of course, at the time, Kevin served in a similar role as a conservative voice defending the integrity of organics).

When the methionine vote finally took place, in a dramatic move, farmer-member Nick Maravell stated he was going to leave the room and not vote. His gesture was intended to give Mr. Austin the ability to withdraw from voting as well (they both knew well that they were on the opposite sides of this issue).

Mr. Austin, an official of one of the nation’s largest conventional/organic apple producers, from Washington State, remained on the call and voted with the majority to approve the switch to lifetime averaging for methionine limits.

Those seeking this result had successfully – and questionably – manipulated the voting process to achieve their end.  (Cornucopia was neutral on the proposal that was approved, but strongly supported an expiration date to the continued use of synthethic methionine in poultry production.)

We All Love Organics

All the lobbyists, certifiers, nonprofit representatives in the audience, and the various members on the NOSB, all are at these meetings because they care about organics. They just care about organics differently.

Some industrial representatives are fixated on “growth.” It really doesn’t matter whether the organic commodities come from a giant factory farm or China, or might be produced with an inappropriate chemical. As long as the industry is growing we should all be happy.

Others passionately care about maintaining the true meaning of organics (and they want to see growth within those parameters).

As the meeting ended the board chair waxed philosophical about the organic industry. And no one could argue with anything she had to say. But there are plenty who would argue with some of the votes that she and others cast this week, and whether all NOSB members, and all members of the audience, were treated in a fair and evenhanded manner.

Also, at the close of the meeting, “farmer-member” Ashley Swaffar, who came to the board while working for a conventional/organic egg company, Arkansas Egg, and now works for another conventional/organic business, Vital Egg, urged a number of public interest groups, including Cornucopia, Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, and others, to more vocally support organics.

What does she think our staff, board of directors, policy advisors (one of whom, Jim Gerritsen, was present at the entire meeting and helping us), and especially the thousands of members who support these groups, are doing? None of us have any profit motives for attending these meetings (it cost us thousands). We are here because we are promoting real organics. And we hope the business representatives on the board will recognize, and give us some respect, for what motivates us (whether they agree with our positions or not on any particular issue).

That’s all folks! Numerous Cornucopia staff members worked a number of consecutive weekends, and late nights, preparing our formal written comments, the recap of comments from all individuals and organizations, and oral testimony prior to the meeting. We’re going to take a few days off and recharge our batteries but will be back at it next week. I’m still in San Diego and have a few meetings today but I am looking forward to being back at home, in Wisconsin, on the farm.

A special thank you to Cornucopia members who volunteered as “citizen lobbyists” this week at the NOSB meeting in helping us present oral testimony. NOSB members were highly complementary in terms of your individual contributions.

And thanks to Cornucopia members, NOSB members and allies from other important groups who attended our reception last night. We really enjoyed the opportunity to share some hors d’oeuvres and donated organic wine (thank you Ocean Beach Co-op!).

And finally, thanks to all our members for the nice comments and responses concerning our coverage of the National Organic Standards Board meeting here in the Golden State. Your kind words keep us motivated and we are humbled by your continued confidence and financial contributions that funded our presence here in California.

Mark A. Kastel
Codirector
The Cornucopia Institute

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Day Three (Wednesday) Report: Kowtowing to Corporate Agribusiness?http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/day-three-wednesday-report-kowtowing-to-corporate-agribusiness/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/day-three-wednesday-report-kowtowing-to-corporate-agribusiness/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 22:59:59 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16346 NOP Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy Source: USDA Wednesday was the third day of the four-day National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California. At least twice a year the 15-member expert stakeholder panel meets at different locations around the country. The NOSB was created by Congress to represent the interests of the organic community, rather than allowing the industry to be dominated by corporate lobbyists, as is the

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NOP Deputy Administrator
Miles McEvoy
Source: USDA

Wednesday was the third day of the four-day National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California. At least twice a year the 15-member expert stakeholder panel meets at different locations around the country. The NOSB was created by Congress to represent the interests of the organic community, rather than allowing the industry to be dominated by corporate lobbyists, as is the custom in Washington.

Most of Wednesday was dominated by reviewing synthetic and non-organic materials that will “sunset” in 2017. For a few of them, comments were made by board members but most of the 140 materials were listed along with their uses, but with little information pertaining to potential concerns.

According to disputed new USDA rules, organic stakeholders (such as The Cornucopia Institute) must enter into the record evidence of concerns surrounding 2017 Sunset materials before this meeting for the NOSB to consider them. Comments can be submitted prior to the next meeting, when the NOSB will take an actual vote on each 2017 Sunset material; however, those comments will be “untimely” for consideration.

Under its new edicts, USDA’s National Organic Program, led by Mr. Miles McEvoy, has made it, theoretically, impossible for interested citizens to fully participate in the important sunset process:

  1. There are over 200 materials for review at this meeting. That’s why I referred to this as “organic regulatory theater.” The board, and organic stakeholders, cannot possibly do justice to this level of workload.
  1. Next, according to the edict from Mr. McEvoy, we were supposed to have (written or oral) comments in on all 2017 materials by this meeting. However, the USDA has not even released requested Technical Reviews (TRs) for some of the materials, which Congress has authorized for NOSB members and the public. Even with the Technical Reviews that were available, Cornucopia scientific staff spends hundreds of hours looking at these materials. Without all of the TRs needed this becomes a near impossibility.
  1. Our staff uses minutes of the NOSB subcommittees that drill down and look at these materials (Handling, Crops and Materials Subcommittees). Running up to the meeting in San Diego the most recent minutes available to the public were from February 2 even though six additional subcommittee meetings have taken place. The subcommittee notes help us understand what the potential concerns of NOSB members are, or who might be carrying water for corporate interests. This lack of transparency on the part of the NOP process is inexcusable.
  1. And finally, the entire sunset voting process has been turned on its head. Unless the board takes action, materials will stay on the List in perpetuity. They may never sunset (as the law passed by Congress requires). And if they decide to take a vote, in an arbitrary reversal to the entire history of the organic program, it will take a two-thirds supermajority to remove the material. The USDA is already being challenged in court on how they developed this cockamamie legal approach.

By now you might recognize how this process is so stacked in favor of chemical manufacturers and industrial-scale “organic” agricultural producers. One of the farmer-members of The Cornucopia Institute, testifying Monday, Phil McGrath, stated that if you really are good at your job, managing the quality and diversity of soil life, you don’t need a lot of commercial inputs to ensure healthy production.

Long live real organic farming and food production!

Incompetency, Spin or Outright Lying to the Public?

Cornucopia staff has uncovered numerous examples of some board members spinning the science in the favor of corporate interests. Here are just a few examples embedded in a couple of the debates yesterday:

Ferric Phosphate

Ferric phosphate is a material used as a slug and snail bait to protect crops from damage. Ferric phosphate itself doesn’t seem to be an objectionable material, and the products containing this active ingredient seem to be effective. However, there’s a catch: they are only effective if they include an “inert” chelating agent.  All the products on the market today contain the same chelating agent, called EDTA.

EDTA is highly toxic to soil microorganisms and non-target species including earthworms. The earthworms and microbes are our friends. They are needed in sustainable farming systems to help break down organic matter into usable nutrients for the plants (and nutrients for us in our food).

EDTA is not appropriate for use in organic farming and probably shouldn’t be used in conventional farming.

NOSB board member Ms. Zea Sonnabend justified keeping ferric phosphate on the National List of approved substances by stating there was “only one study” that showed EDTA killed earthworms. She went on to state that we shouldn’t consider this study because it has not been replicated. Many scientific studies have not yet been replicated, but that does not void the results of the peer-reviewed publication. Suggesting that it “hasn’t been replicated” sounds ominous. If scientists had tried and failed to replicate a study it might indicate that it could be fraudulent. But if scientists evaluated the study and felt comfortable with its findings they might not have an incentive or the funding to replicate the research. This was pure spin on the part of Ms. Sonnabend, the board’s scientist representative.

But what is even more troubling is that her presentation, and advice to other board members, was factually inaccurate.

One of Cornucopia’s researchers quickly fact-checked her statement and found two peer-reviewed, published papers on the subject, not one:

Edwards et al. (2009)

From line 341 of the 2012 TR: “Results from the OECD test in Edwards et al. (2009) showed that iron phosphate combined with either EDTA or EDDS had the greatest adverse effect on earthworm survival compared with the other treatments [emphasis added]. Estimated LD50 values were 78.16 mg/kg for iron phosphate combined with EDTA, 82.98 mg/kg for iron phosphate combined with EDDS, 156.46 mg/kg for EDTA, and 145.57 for EDDS.

From line 347 of the TR: Iron phosphate by itself was not toxic to earthworms in the OECD artificial soil test with a calculated LD50 value greater than 10,000 mg/kg. (This demonstrates that Ferric Phosphate doesn’t work, isn’t absorbed by worms/slugs without a chelating agent.)

Langan and Shaw (2006)

From line 373 of the TR: The study authors reported that iron phosphate pellets (Sluggo®) caused negative effects on earthworm survival and growth compared [emphasis added] to metaldehyde and control pellets (Langan and Shaw, 2006).

See Table 2 here: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5100083.

In an example of twisted logic she suggested that, somehow, over the next five years, before the next sunset review, these companies would voluntarily take EDTA out of their formulations. We don’t know why they would do so without any economic incentive to do so. Rather, the board could have voted to allow this material to Sunset in 2017, due to the fact that all formulations contain EDTA (and it is ineffective without the addition of EDTA).  The sunset of ferric phosphate (formulated with EDTA) would have created a market for a safer alternative.

As we have frequently noted, the intent of the Sunset provision in the organic law was to prod improvements, and incentivize the threat of a substance’s removal from the National List as a way to encourage the development of organic materials.

We encourage board members to reconsider their 11-3 vote, which keeps this chemical on the List, based on this misinformation.

Ethylene Gas

Another synthetic agent, ethylene gas, proved controversial.  The question is whether this material is “essential” for the production of organic pineapples.  NOSB farmer-member Colehour J. Bondera, from Hawaii, who actually grows pineapples, along with nearby neighbors, explicitly stated that this material is neither essential nor necessary for pineapple production.

Mr. Bondera stated that he and his neighbors have no problem growing pineapples without ethylene gas. Rather, it is used by industrial-scale growers as a ripening agent enabling year-round harvesting and marketing.

Is it proper in organics to use a synthetic strictly to expand the marketing season for a particular crop? Would we be better off having truly organic pineapples available for a shorter season? These are legitimate questions but Ms. Sonnabend postponed debate instead suggesting the board needed to poll foreign growers.

The decisions made by this board should not be a popularity contest. Synthetic chemicals either are safe and meet the letter of the law or they are not.

Copper Sulfate/Fixed Copper

Copper-based materials are used for disease control on organic farms. The Cornucopia Institute and other public interest groups joined certifiers and industry lobby groups in supporting its retention on the List. But it needs to be used carefully because it can cause an unsafe buildup/pollution in the soil.

During discussion yesterday, Ms. Sonnabend stated definitively that it takes 10 years for copper to accumulate to potentially toxic levels in soil.

One of our researchers, Dr. Linley Dixon, has this response:

While that MAY be true for fruit tree production [which Ms. Sonnabend has first-hand experience with], I have first-hand experience from visiting large scale Tomato farms.

Owners of these Industrial Organic operations directly stated to me that they have to stop using their acreage for tomato production after 3 years because of copper toxicity which develops within a few years at their usage rates.

These are “factory farm” producers of tomatoes that routinely use materials like copper as their primary means of disease control instead of more sustainable cultural practices, the kind that farmer Phil McGrath talked about in his testimony. This is an unfortunate example of an NOSB member (who also works for the country’s largest, multimillion dollar organic certifier, CCOF), softening concerns regarding the use of an off-farm input.

Ms. Sonnabend is well regarded by her colleagues.  Our bringing up these discrepancies will, presumably, once again produce allegations that Cornucopia is “attacking” members of the USDA’s organic governance program.

We speak truth to power, on behalf of family-scale organic farmers, and their urban allies, who truly believe in foundational precepts of organic agriculture. Our Codirector, Will Fantle, likes to call Cornucopia “an organic truth squad.”

We demand truth and transparency in this process.

The NOSB is filled with volunteers who truly believe in the merits of organic agriculture. But they need to be treated respectfully by the USDA management, providing timely, objective and accurate Technical Reviews and they need everyone involved in the process to act in an honest and forthright manner.

More news from the organic circus in San Diego later. In the interim, please see updates, in real-time, at www.cornucopia.org or on Cornucopia’s Twitter feed which you can sign up for on our website.

Mark A. Kastel
Codirector
The Cornucopia Institute

DAMNING — LATE-BREAKING NEWS: The staff director at the National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, was interviewed at the meeting here in San Diego by a reporter from the Washington Post. In the article, entitled Is Organic Food Safer and Healthier? The guy in charge of US organics won’t say, McEvoy refuses to outline any of the benefits to human health or the environment embodied in the organic farming and food movement:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/30/is-organic-food-safer-and-healthier-the-guy-in-charge-of-u-s-organics-wont-say/

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Follow the National Organic Standards Board Meeting in La Jolla, CA #NOSBhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/follow-the-national-organic-standards-board-meeting-in-la-jolla-ca-nosb/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/follow-the-national-organic-standards-board-meeting-in-la-jolla-ca-nosb/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 12:28:27 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16170 Last Updated: 4-30-15, 3:22 p.m. PT Join The Cornucopia Institute as we live tweet from the National Organic Standards Board meeting in La Jolla, California. We will be sharing the play by play with our Twitter followers under #NOSB or simply follow our stream. If you’re not already following us on Twitter, please do so here. Read The Cornucopia Institute’s written comments to the NOSB here. You can also stay updated throughout the meeting right

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CI_NOSBTwitterGeneric_1Last Updated: 4-30-15, 3:22 p.m. PT

Join The Cornucopia Institute as we live tweet from the National Organic Standards Board meeting in La Jolla, California. We will be sharing the play by play with our Twitter followers under #NOSB or simply follow our stream.

If you’re not already following us on Twitter, please do so here.

Read The Cornucopia Institute’s written comments to the NOSB here.

You can also stay updated throughout the meeting right here:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

3:22 p.m. PT: Livestock subcommittee concludes its review of 2017 sunset materials. Full board now looking at subcommittee workplans, prior to some ceremonies before adjournment.

2:45 p.m. PT: NOSB back in action after a short lunch. They have turned their attention to the 2017 list of sunset materials – a total of 40 they they are reviewing. The 4 day meeting is set to end late this afternoon.

12:43 p.m. PT: Carmela Beck states there are no alternatives currently and we need to act now, while Nick, Calvin, Francis and Colehour prefer to send it back to subcommittee to propose holistic rulemaking. The vote to average synthetic methionine over the lifespan of the bird passes 10-4 with Nick Maravell abstaining in objection to the ability of Harold to vote from Skype. Harold’s vote allows the motion to pass. A resolution that the NOSB is committed to the phase out of methionine passes quickly after.

12:19 p.m. PT: Board moves to vote on the methionine proposal before it. Nick Maravell announces he is uncomfortable with the process of bringing in an absent member and withdraws from the vote. The board adopts the proposal by a 10-4 vote. It only passed with the questionable insertion of an absent member by Skype allowing him to vote.

12:12 p.m. PT: NOSB debate continues on proposal to change methionine usage in poultry, much of the discussion is complicated by procedural matters. Board member Francis Thicke describes the current approach to methionine as input substitution for better practices. Indicates that there is little motivation by the industry to change practices. Board member Calvin Walker notes that Europe is using different breeds to address methionine issues. To understand more on this issue, check out Cornucopia’s comments.

NOSB (from left to right): Calvin Walker, Jennifer Taylor, Nick Maravell
NOSB (from left to right): Ashley Swaffar, Tracy Favre

12:11 p.m. PT: Colehour Bondera argues that the subcommittee never discussed an expiration date. Zea Sonnabend states this is a multidimensional problem and it requires a whole system approach. A task force is needed but in the end this is an urgent animal welfare matter.

11:48 a.m. PT: Mac Stone states we need to take a holistic view of this and come back with a consensus. Nick Maravell states that management and cultural practices, such as breed selection can be changed to prevent the need for synthetic methionine. We need to look at other alternatives, including an omnivore diet, back in subcommittee. Calvin Walker recalls that we’ve tried expiration dates on this issue in the past and it hasn’t worked to reduce the reliance on synthetic methionine.

11:38 a.m. PT: Long debate on synthetic methionine vote ensues. Calvin Walker’s well articulated argument to respect past NOSB votes and consumer’s desire for an expiration date is cut short by Tracy Favre. Mac Stone wonders whether we should allow retail concerns over maintaining a vegetarian diet in a naturally omnivorous animal should impact policy.

11:25 a.m. PT: Objection over Harold Austin’s right to vote via Skype from the hospital includes the reading of Robert’s Law by Colehour Bondera which states “The right to vote is limited to members that are actually present at the meeting.” Objections overruled by Jean Richardson who, in a written prepared statement, acknowledges Harold’s attendance at the meeting via Skype and allows him to participate. Harold fell and broke his hip two days ago at the meeting. Some view his vote at this meeting as essential to getting their positions passed.

Zea Sonnabend, NOSB

10:25 a.m. PT: Near the end of the seed panel contamination discussion, NOSB member Zea Sonnebend calls for continued GMO labeling efforts and litigation to keep pressure on the promoters of GMO food and crops.

9:57 a.m. PT: Last presenter on the panel notes, if we start with pure seed (no contamination), gmo free food can be grown (he was specifically talking about corn).

9:54 a.m. PT: NOSB members Calvin Walker, Francis Thicke and Mac Stone listen to deliberations at the NOSB meeting, below.

NOSBSpring2015 NOSB2_edited-1

9:45 a.m. PT: Unanimous agreement from the 4 members of the Seed Purity Panel that GMO contamination likely can’t be prevented. Discussing “Coexistence” may appease some in the Organic community. Are there sure answers outside of a ban on GMO production to keep GMOs out of Organics?

9:20 a.m. PT: 2nd panel presenter notes than new genetically engineered techniques are coming online that may not require federal regulation and/or a very difficult to detect. This will further threaten organic seed production and integrity.

8:53 a.m. PT: There is a problem with antitrust and seed, notes the first of four seed contamination panel members, as the NOSB resumes discussion on the last day of its meeting in LaJolla. The speaker was referencing the incredible consolidation of the seed industry, with Monsanto, Syngenta, and others buying up many, many seed companies and shrinking the availability of seed varieities. This is a real problem for organic farmers and consumers.

NOSBSpring2015 SeedPanelSeed Contamination Panel

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

4:37 p.m. PT: As the afternoon wears on, two NOSB members ask “Did I put you all to sleep” as the board offers little reaction to presentations on the various materials. It’s an indication of the overwhelming technical analysis task this 15 member volunteer board faces.

4:06 p.m. PT: NOSB members make very few comments on crops materials.

3:17 p.m. PT: The crops subcommittee has moved onto a discussion of 40 materials that are on the 2017 Sunset schedule. The remainder of the afternoon meeting is devoted to this overarching discussion.

3:11 p.m. PT: The motion to remove Hydrogen Chloride for use as a cotton seed delinter for mechanical planting fails, closing the door for starch-coated organic cottonseed opportunities.

3:01 p.m. PT: Earthworms (the symbol of healthy organic soil) beware! 2016 Sunset material Ferric phosphate (formulated with the earthworm killing chelating agent EDTA) is voted to remain on the NL.

2:45 p.m. PT: NOSB considers contamination of farm inputs discussion document stressing that this is the perfect example of how the NOSB would like the opportunity for a continuous open docket to hear from the organic community between meetings.

2:42 p.m. PT: Board members continue to wrestle with how to allow public comments between meetings to help their deliberations on materials and issues. The board has discussed an open docket. NOP Director McEvoy indicates that they have been looking at this for three years. He adds that to focus on it now would keep resources away from other issues, like animal welfare.

2:30 p.m. PT: NOSB vote 14-0 to reject all 3 petitioned materials – Calcium sulfate (FGD synthetic), exhaust gas and 3-decen-2-one — for addition to National list.

12:38 p.m. PT: Board breaking for lunch, Handling Subcommittee has completed their first review of 2017 Sunset materials.

9:16 a.m. PT: The first half of the NOSB’s morning is devoted to discussion of handling substances scheduled for Sunset in 2017. They have set aside 2 hours for discussion of 104 materials – or about a minute per substance. No votes will occur on these today, that will occur this fall.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

6:39 p.m. PT: Sodium acid pyrophosphate and for use only as a leavening agent is voted to remain on the NL due to the fact that health concerns were raised only at this meeting, which are considered untimely.

Tetrasodium pyrophosphate for use only in meat analog products is voted to be removed from the NL based on availability of non-synthetic alternative protein sources.

6:24 p.m. PT: 2016 Sunset of boiler materials cyclohexylamine, diethylaminoethanol, and octadecylamine are voted to be removed from the National List due to their toxic nature on humans and the environment. The petition to add PGME as a boiler steam additive for use in feed pellet mills is denied based on the fact that PGME DOES come into contact with food, a concern that Cornucopia brought to the NOSB for consideration a year ago.

6:15 p.m. PT: Motion to remove 2016 sunset handling material Peracetic acid for use in wash and/or rinse water according to FDA limitations for use as a sanitizer on food contact surfaces fails. Peracetic acid remains on the National List.

6:10 p.m. PT: Motion to remove 2016 sunset material Activated Charcoal only from vegetative sources; for use only as a filtering aid on 205.605(b) fails, it remains on the National List.

6:06 p.m. PT: Motion to remove Microorganisms from 205.605(a) fails (living organisms such as bacteria and fungi), but the issue of bacteriophage will be referred back to subcommittee).

5:58 p.m. PT: L-Malic acid: Board votes 12 to 2 to keep L-Malic acid on the National List.

5:46 p.m. PT: 2016 sunset material Eggwhite Lysozyme used in wine and cheese making is voted to be removed from the National List. Eggwhite Lysozyme is a purified enzyme preparation extracted from chicken egg whites using an inert polymer resin.

5:31 p.m. PT: Ancillary substances permitted in microorganisms are voted to be sent back to the subcommittee for further work. Ancillary substances are intentionally added to formulated generic handling substances (but do not have a technical or functional effect in the finished product) and are not considered part of the manufacturing process that has been reviewed by the NOSB.

5:15 p.m. PT: Triethyl citrate petitioned for use as a whipping enhancer for egg whites is unanimously voted to not be listed at 205.605 due to lack of essentiality

5:02 p.m. PT: First two votes by the NOSB are unanimous.
Agricultural glycerin is added to 205.606 limiting non-organic glycerin to be used only when organic glycerin is commercially unavailable.
Whole algal flour manufactured with algae by fermentation and used as a food additive is voted to not be added to 205.605a based on concerns over redacted information in the petition.

4:18 p.m. PT: Marty Mesh of Florida Organic Growers closes out public testimony, promoting organics as a way to heal the planet.

4:10 p.m. PT: Derek Casady, co-manager of the Ocean Beach Food Co-op in the San Diego area, presents testimony on a variety of handling materials coming before the NOSB. He is a Cornucopia member and volunteer citizen lobbyist.

4:02 p.m. PT: Mohamed Mousa testifies for the continued need to provide synthetic methionine. Mohamed passes himself off as a concerned citizen interested in animal welfare (a legitimate concern). In reality, he represents the massive Michigan-based egg producer (see photo here: http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-factory-farm-investigation/photo-gallery-green-meadow/), with 85,000 birds per building.

3:41 p.m. PT: Poultry industry representatives continue throughout the afternoon to lobby for continued use of synthetic methionine. See what Cornucopia says.

2:43 p.m. PT: NOSB Board members Francis Thicke (2nd from right) and Calvin Walker (3rd from right) ask several questions of the public during the afternoon about the use of synthetic methionine in egg laying and meat birds.

NOSBSpring2015 NOSB

2:13 p.m. PT: Maggie Yount, a personal trainer and citizen lobbyist for Cornucopia, calls for allowing a broader, diverse diet for poultry and outdoors access to address the need for synthethic methionine (methionine is an essential amino acid). Cornucopia supports an expiration date for the use of the material and aggressive research into viable alternatives to the synthetic.

NOSBSpring2015 WillFantle
Maggie Yount
Will Fantle

2:08 p.m. PT: Cornucopia Codirector Will Fantle tells that NOSB that we are moving from the “age of enforcement” to the “age of litigation” as an antidote to overreach by the USDA into authority and governance of the NOSB. He also calls upon the NOSB to retake control over their agenda and topics they address – a power taken away by the USDA.

12:46 p.m. PT: Faith Attaguile, an urban organic farmer and Cornucopia volunteer lobbyist, expresses her concern about the workload for NOSB members. Expresses support for the relisting of lidocaine for use with livestock.

Faith Attaguile
Elizabeth Wolf

12:19 p.m. PT: Elizabeth Wolf of The Cornucopia Institute calls on the NOSB to take a strong stand against nanotechnology. Notes that Cornucopia’s role as a watchdog is critical, and speaking truth to power. Draws parallels to watchdogs of the past that spoke out against use of sewage sludge and irradiation in organics, a fight fought 20 years ago.

11:43 a.m. PT: Mark Squire, a retailer, calls on the NOSB to keep GMOs out of organics, particularly in ingredients and additives – including the processing of the product’s ingredients.

11:35 a.m. PT: Pam Larry, California mom and organic consumer, tells the NOSB that they need to hold the line to keep organic integrity and trust for consumers.

11:34 a.m. PT: Melody Meyer of food distributor UNFI is critical that proactive steps are taken to keep GMOs out of organics. New form of genetic engineering, synthetic biology, must be precluded from organics.

11:22 a.m. PT: Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth tells that board that products made from synthetic biology – including mutagenesis computer generated DNA – are coming onto the market, and the NOSB needs to make a declaration against them. She also says the USDA needs to declare a full prohibition on nanotechnology.

11:07 a.m. PT: Cindy Elder of accredited certifier OCIA tells the NOSB that they have refused to certify hydroponic operations as there are no clear regulations. Hydroponics should not be eligible for organic certification. Also tells the board that the changes to Sunset are wrong.

9:52 a.m. PT: Hain Celestial representative opposes removal of non-organic lecithin (de-oiled) from the national list, as not all their products can use the organic version of lecithin de-oiled.

9:26 a.m. PT: Representative of maker of non-organic lecithin (de-oiled) opposes removal of material from National List. Her company, a subsidiary of DuPont, argues that new sources of the organic lecithin will not meet demand or perform properly. Cornucopia supports removal of this non-organic material from use in organics.

9:22 a.m. PT: Beth Unger of Organic Valley: We can’t use organic celery powder, must keep non-organic on the list.

9:13 a.m. PT: Alexis Randolph of certifier QAI reached out to clients soliciting comments, and did not receive too many comments to explain the necessity to keep materials on the list.

9:08 a.m. PT: Gwendolyn Wyard, OTA: Move seed purity discussion document forward. Organic gylceryin is ready to go, remove synthetic version.

Charlotte Vallaeys

8:53 a.m. PT: Charlotte Vallaeys of Consumers Reports/Union: All materials on the National List must be fully reviewed. Reject Whole Algal Flour, as an addition to the list. Only synthetic nutrients required by FDA to be in food should be allowed. Calls on board to differentiate between useful marketing tools (ingredients) and what is essential.

8:47 a.m. PT: First two presenters testify in favor of a new teat dip for infection control in dairy cattle, acidified sodium chlorite. The treatment appears promising. Cornucopia is nuetral at this time on adding it to the National List.

Monday, April 27, 2015

6:37 p.m. PT: Cornucopia states: Past recommendations by the NOSB have not taken into account the impact of chemical intensive agriculture from which colors are derived.

Real possibility that high levels of pesticide residues may exist in concentrated fruit or vegetable extracts, which are used to make natural colors.

5:41 p.m. PT: Cornucopia volunteer Sue Ostling says there are outstanding questions that need to be researched before organic aquaculture standards for land-based systems can be considered. Open-water organic aquaculture systems should be banned.

Sue Ostling
Keith Schildt
Cheryl Leutjen

5:38 p.m. PT: Keith Schildt for Cornucopia: Peracetic acid is an effective sanitizer with low toxicity and does not leave residues. Cornucopia supports relisting of Peracetic acid.

5:25 p.m. PT: Cheryl Leutjen for Cornucopia: Coated produce should be labeled, and the components of the coating listed.

Only ancillary substances either from organic sources or approved for organic use be allowed in non-synthetic waxes or shellac-based coatings.

5:21 p.m. PT: Cornucopia member Victoria Wexley questions the essentiality of the 2017 sunset material egg white lysozyme.

James Isaacs

5:06 p.m. PT: Dr. James Issacs, a vetrinarian and Cornucopia citizen lobbyist, tells the NOSB that copper and zinc sulfate, should not be allowed, in his personal opinion. Notes that Cornucopia is neutral on the materials.

4:52 p.m. PT: Elyse Batkis, a consumer and Cornucopia citizen lobbyist: Remove L-Malic acid. Bacteriophages need to be separated from the use of microorganisms, they pose unknown health programs.

4:45 p.m. PT: Bill Wolf of Wolf, DiMatteo & Associates, a consulting company for organic operations, says we shouldn’t think in terms of limiting the National List.

4:40 p.m. PT: Jim Gerritsen, Cornucopia policy advisor and OSGATA president states that Integrity demands that there be independence between the NOSB and USDA.

4:23 p.m. PT: Former NOSB board member Jay Feldman testifies that for this meeting, NOSB members need to make sure that all stakeholders are heard. Sunset is important, and sets a high bar for entry into Organic.

Anne Mossness

4:05 p.m. PT: Commercial fisherman Ann Mossness states openwater aquaculture netpens are incapable of confining fish, disease, and waste.

3:56 p.m. PT: Aimee Simpson, Consumers Union: 71% of consumers want no artificial substances in organics, according to their national polling data.

Requested the NOSB keep legal standards in mind. They don’t mention commercial availability as one of criteria for use of synthetics or artificial substances.

3:38 p.m. PT: Jackie Sleeper of certifier Oregon Tilth expresses concerns about contamination of organic farms by GMO crops and contamination of seedstock.

Dennis Holz
SteveSprinkel2 NOSBSpring2015
Steve Sprinkel
Phil McGrath
Abby Youngblood

3:21 p.m. PT: Judy Frankel, California author, organic consumer and grower of her own fresh veggies:
We live in a soup. Proof of this is the huge deadzone at the end of the Mississippi. Shares her concern that we are not doing a great job of protecting consumers from the creep of synthetic materials into organics.

3:09 p.m. PT: Cornucopia member Dennis Holz questions whether starch coated cotton seed could replace HCl delinted cotton seed for mechanical planting.

3:04 p.m. PT: Steve Sprinkel, former board chair of Cornucopia, organic farmer and organic restaurant owner: We need to listen to the words of Consumers Union and PCC on consumer concerns about organic. I see young farmers that skoff at organic certification. I ran to certification when I was in my 30’s. This is very concerning, these young farmers are on the cutting edge.

2:58 p.m. PT: Cornucopia member Kanta Masters testifies that ferric phosphate is not effective without the use of chelating agents that do not meet OFPA criteria.

2:34 p.m. PT: 5th generation Ventura County, California farmer and Cornucopia member Phil McGrath states copper products are not needed under proper cultural management

2:21 p.m. PT: Jo Ann Baumgartner of the Wild Farm Alliance says to remove copper sulfate from organic agriculture for wildlife health.

2:17 p.m. PT: Abby Youngblood of the National Organic Coalition expresses deep concerns over allowing nanotechnology in organics. Nano materials must be permanently prohibited.
We must also move to abandon synthetic and non-organic materials.

2:04 p.m. PT: Lisa Bunin of the Center for Food Safety recommends the NOSB go back to nanotechnolgy and seek a prohibition in organics.

12:25 p.m. PT: Urvashi Rangen of the Consumers Union: The organic label is out of line with what consumers expect, and has led Consumer’s Union/Reports to downgrade the label. Supportive of lawsuit on Sunset filed by 15 stakeholders (including Cornucopia).

12:20 p.m. PT: Steve Etka of NOC: Close commercial availability loophole created by 606. 606 materials should be reviewed using full OFPA criteria.

12:10 p.m. PT: Terry Shistar comments on hot topics including chlorine materials, copper, fermentation, aquaculture, excipients, and contaminated inputs.

12:05 p.m. PT: Curtis Bennett from Clarkson Soy Products calls on the NOSB to remove conventional lecithin de-oiled from use in organics. Indicates they have developed organic alternatives. This is how the sunset process was intended to work, driving innovation.

Cornucopia’s Linley Dixon, PhD
PCC’s Trudy Bialic

11:56 a.m. PT: Cornucopia’s Linley Dixon urges the NOSB to annotate copper materials to specific uses and work with the EPA to ban persistent herbicides.

11:53 a.m. PT: Trudy Bialic, of PCC Natural markets, calls for organic standards to catch up to consumer expectations on animal welfare (not pasturing animals).
Says organic brand may lose consumer trust, consumer attitudes are frequently belittled by some on the board.
When asked a question by NOSB member Calvin Walker on how to improve consumer confidence, says texturizers and animal standard failures have hurt consumer confidence.

11:35 p.m. PT: Organic winemaker Phil LaRocca says he has a hard time finding a source for organic yeast.

Cornucopia’s Mark Kastel

11:30 p.m. PT: Cornucopia Codirector Mark Kastel testifies that sunset materials deserve a thorough examination, not a cursory examination. Who owns the organic label. We all do, he says.

11:20 a.m. PT: Comment from Colehour Bondera asks how inerts’ interaction with active ingredients causes more powerful product and how that is evaluated.

11:05 a.m. PT: Representative Clive Davies from EPA shares information on their Safer Choice program.

10:50 a.m. PT: Inerts review has been underway since 2010. EPA has a Safer Choice list that is being explored for inerts work review.

10:46 a.m. PT:  NOP staff member Emily Brown Rosen updates on inerts, substances found in allowed pesticides that are not active ingredients. Inerts are known to have their own impacts.

10:14 a.m. PT:  NOP staff member Dr. Lisa Brines outlines the 200+ materials and several petitions up for review by the NOSB this year. See Cornucopia comments.

10:04 a.m. PT:  Richardson adds that she thinks, in the last year, the relationship between the National Organic Program and NOSB has improved.

9:59 a.m. PT:  NOSB chair Jean Richards urging all to seek common ground, notes lawsuits will be decided outside of the process. Calls on Cornucopia to withdraw recent letter calling for new management at NOSB.

9:50 a.m. PT:  Plan for an open docket, between meetings for ongoing public input, still on hold.

9:43 a.m. PT:  Biodegradable biobased mulch film is allowed if 1) Compostable 2) Biodegradable 3) Biobased
Certifiers must verify that all biomulch is biobased, not synthetic.

9:42 a.m. PT:  NOP’s Miles McEvoy says “engineered nanomaterials” are prohibited in organic production…yet recent policy memo allows their use to be petitioned on a case by case basis.

9:33 a.m. PT:  An Aquaculture Task Force will be assigned to survey current organic aquaculture production practices and their alignment with OFPA provisions. This task force will report to the NOSB by the Spring of 2016.

9:20 a.m. PT:  Miles McEvoy describes the strategic plan that has just been released and is online here.

NOSB Factoid: The budget for the NOSB is $190K. There are four new openings on the NOSB, including two farmer slots. Deadline May 15.

9:13 a.m. PT:  Miles McEvoy continues his remarks and indicates that organic aquaculture and pet food standards are expected this summer.

9:11 a.m. PT:  The organic animal welfare standards are being readied for release.

9:09 a.m. PT:  Miles McEvoy, in his opening remarks at the NOSB meeting, announces that the long awaited origin of livestock rules has been released today.

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Day Two Report: Will the NOSB Chicken Out in San Diego?http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/day-two-report-will-the-nosb-chicken-out-in-san-diego/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/day-two-report-will-the-nosb-chicken-out-in-san-diego/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 21:52:03 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16308 Tuesday was the second day of the four-day National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California. At least twice a year the 15-member expert stakeholder panel meets around the country. The NOSB was created by Congress to represent the interests of the organic community, rather than allowing the industry to be dominated by corporate lobbyists, as is the custom in Washington. Corporate Patriots or Pandering for Profit? Unlike

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Tuesday was the second day of the four-day National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California. At least twice a year the 15-member expert stakeholder panel meets around the country. The NOSB was created by Congress to represent the interests of the organic community, rather than allowing the industry to be dominated by corporate lobbyists, as is the custom in Washington.

USDA.PowerGrabCorporate Patriots or Pandering for Profit?

Unlike on Monday, on Tuesday there seemed to be less rhetoric from the opposing sides.  Public interest groups, including Consumer Reports, Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Organic Consumers Association, National Organic Coalition and The Cornucopia Institute, continued to articulate grave concern about what has commonly been referred to as a “power grab” by the USDA, stripping authority from the NOSB, and other related issues.

On the opposite end of the spectrum many professionals in the industry, most associated with the powerful Organic Trade Association, and including employees of multimillion-dollar organic certifiers, continued to praise the USDA and call for peace and harmony in the industry. The coded language was to tell the nonprofits to “sit down, shut up and clap louder.” The corporate-affiliated representatives might have a financial incentive to support the USDA, but all the NGOs are accountable to our members who passionately care about the integrity of the organic movement. We are not about to go away quietly.

Staff member Elizabeth Wolf defended Cornucopia’s role in the organic community stating that, while some might dislike the noise a watchdog makes barking in the middle of the night, it is a necessary function to maintain the foundational precepts of why we have worked so hard, together as a community, to nurture the organic movement.

Chicken Man… He’s Everywhere, He’s Everywhere!

Although there was much diverse testimony regarding the synthetic and non-organic materials that are up for review at this meeting, the discussion regarding removing supplemental methionine, a synthetic amino acid fed to poultry, was front and center.

The nonprofit community considers this an important adjunct to industrial-scale egg and meat production, considering it a “growth promoter.” In contrast, there was much testimony from egg industry representatives claiming that methionine is an important chemical that prevents chickens from becoming aggressive and injuring each other, and is essential to their nutrition.

Although the scientific analysis agrees that methionine is an important component in the birds’ diet, the question of whether poultry can obtain enough through natural supplements and dietary changes, versus feeding the synthetic amino acid, was part of the debate. The elephant in the room was the fact that the industry players did not discuss the fact that these birds, omnivores not vegetarians, were being systematically prevented, on giant factory farms, from exhibiting their natural instinctive behavior outdoors and enjoying a diverse diet of insects, worms and fauna. Also, the question of whether chickens should be allowed to eat organic meat scraps, as had always been the custom in raising poultry, was explored.

Who are these egg industry players? One expert testified on behalf of Herbruck’s, one of the largest players in the industry with an industrial-scale operation in Michigan licensed to hold over 1 million laying hens. He identified himself at the public meeting as a “private citizen” concerned with animal welfare and never even mentioned the name of the company who employs him.

Herbruck’s (Michigan)

Two other giant agribusiness representatives identified themselves with “Coleman,” a long-term player in the “natural” and organic chicken industry. What the representatives failed to articulate is the fact that a number of years ago Coleman was purchased by the poultry giant Perdue. The volume of their organic poultry operation might be — might be — 5% of their total, but it’s likely less than 1%. And they want to influence the direction of the organic industry!

What do all of these egg industry representatives have in common? They all work for companies that have “split” production (producing both conventional and organic eggs). In fact, I think at every one of these companies conventional production is dominant with organics representing a minority, sometimes a minute minority, of their business. These are the folks that are going to set policy for the organic industry?

NOTE:  The photos here of “farms” owned by Herbruck’s, in Michigan, and Chino Valley Ranchers, in Texas, were taken during our 2014 flyover investigation. Cornucopia members underwrote this aerial photography project, which culminated in our filing of 14 formal legal complaints against (certified organic) “factory farm” across the country. None of the confinement poultry operations had any chickens outdoors, as the federal organic law clearly requires. For a full view of the photographic evidence, visit www.cornucopia.org/organic-factory-farm-investigation/.

ChinoValleyRanchersChino Valley Ranchers (Texas)

Secrecy and Subterfuge Continues As Part of Organic Governance

Under previous NOSB chairs there had been improvement in the long-standing problem of agribusiness representatives failing to fully identify themselves at these meetings. Unfortunately, except for the Perdue employees, a number of corporate lobbyists and consultants have been able to testify at this meeting without disclosing who their clients are. In one example, in the past, a pediatrician was allowed to register as a “private citizen” and testify on behalf of adding a gimmicky, and potentially dangerous, nutraceutical to organic infant formula and milk, when, at a time, he was actually retained by the dairy giant Dean Foods (now WhiteWave). We hope the current management of the NOP, and the current NOSB leadership, will refocus the need on transparency in terms of public commentary.

See No Evil

Subsequent to a number of prudent votes choosing not to approve new synthetics, one of the most disturbing events yesterday was the relisting, at sunset, of the synthetic food ingredient sodium acid pyrophosphate, also known as SAPP. The material is used as a leavening agent. It was supported to remain on the National List of approved substances by Hain Celestial Group and WhiteWave Foods (which indiscriminately endorsed every sunset material with the exception of boiler treatments). The giant food manufacturers were joined by two trade-lobby groups, the International Food Additives Counsel and the Organic Trade Association.

I’m sure organic consumers will feel comfortable that their interests are being protected by the NOSB when they listen to lobbyists from the International Food Additives Counsel (sardonic humor intended).

On the other side of the equation, three public interest groups — The Cornucopia Institute, Beyond Pesticides and Consumer Reports — all expressed their concerns about negative potential impacts on the environment, human health risks and the fact that safer alternatives exist for use as leavening agents, approved for use in organic food.

Here’s the rub: the NOSB member who led this debate claimed that the information on potential deleterious impacts came in at the last minute and couldn’t be considered based on current NOP instructions. So the board will revisit this concerning information five years from now when SAPP next comes up for sunset review.

Whoa, Nelly!

How many citizens could have their health impacted in the meantime? When evaluating these materials the board should be using the “precautionary principle” and erring on the side of caution rather than risking the health of eaters who look at the organic label as the last refuge of truly safe, natural food.

First, are the members of this board telling me that if Dr. Jonas Salk rose from the dead today and appeared at this meeting to testify, stating that SAPP was conclusively endangering the health of young children, and he had the scientific analysis to back up that claim, that they would nevertheless allow the use of a dangerous synthetic material in organic foods to continue for the next five years? All because the management at the NOP instructed them not to take pertinent information into consideration at this time?

The fact of the matter is that our colleagues, Dr. Terry Shistar at Beyond Pesticides and Charlotte Vallaeys at Consumer Reports, submitted scientific analysis and basis for the removal of this material, in 2014 and 2015, and again pursuant to the docket that was open prior to this meeting, indicating SAPP could cause kidney damage and calcium deposits and hormone-mediated harm to the cardiovascular system.

Today (Wednesday), NOSB member Zea Sonnabend said the Handling Subcommittee is going to prioritize looking at the health effects of accumulated phosphates in food between now and the next meeting. But that will be too late for SAPP! They just voted to bless it for another five years. It is not clear whether or not this could have been tabled until the next meeting (otherwise this should have been removed from the list).

This is a real stick in the eye to public interest groups like Beyond Pesticides, Consumer Reports and Cornucopia. Just like yesterday, when the OTA received preferential treatment denied Cornucopia, last fall, a certifier, acting as a corporate lobbyist, forwarded a letter, at the 11th hour, stating they needed a particular material (Tragacanth gum) that the NOSB appeared to be posed to remove from the list.

Did the NOSB deem their last-minute lobbying as “untimely” and deny its consideration, as they did with the erroneously described “last-minute” health concerns regarding SAPP? You can bet your bottom dollar they didn’t. They rolled out the red carpet and catered to the one agribusiness in the country requesting to keep that material on the list.

We demand equal respect for the advocacy efforts of researchers like Dr. Shistar at Beyond Pesticides, as that afforded industry trade-lobby groups and certifiers acting on behalf of their clients.

We will contact the board members and ask one of them who voted in favor of the material (the vote was 3 in favor of removing and 11 against), based on parliamentary procedure which governs the meetings, to move for reconsideration and a new vote. The health of organic consumers, and the integrity of the organic label, are at stake.

The long day of work, ending at 6:30 p.m., was rewarded by a gala reception sponsored by one of the largest organic certifiers, Quality Assurance International, at the Scripps Howard aquarium overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The food was incredible and the adult beverages flowed liberally. An organization like Cornucopia could never have afforded to sponsor such a gathering but our staff of five (a larger contingent than any of the other organizations, even the powerful OTA), thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality and sincerely thanks QAI, CCOF and the OTA for sponsoring the event and inviting all attendees to participate.

More news from the organic circus in San Diego later. In the interim, please see updates, in real-time, at www.cornucopia.org or on Cornucopia’s Twitter feed which you can sign up for on our website.

Mark A. Kastel
Codirector
The Cornucopia Institute

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How the Government Allows Chemicals in “Organic” Foodhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/how-the-government-allows-chemicals-in-organic-food/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/how-the-government-allows-chemicals-in-organic-food/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 19:26:50 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16283 Washington Post by Peter Whoriskey You might think  the USDA “organic” label is reserved for foods produced without any man-made chemicals. But under government rules, “organic” food may be grown or processed with the aid of scores of synthetic substances, as long as those chemicals have been deemed essential. Exactly which chemicals should be allowed? This week, in a process that is largely invisible to consumers but that has become a semi-annual ritual of controversy within the

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Washington Post
by Peter Whoriskey

500px-USDA_organic_seal_svg - wikicommonsYou might think  the USDA “organic” label is reserved for foods produced without any man-made chemicals. But under government rules, “organic” food may be grown or processed with the aid of scores of synthetic substances, as long as those chemicals have been deemed essential.

Exactly which chemicals should be allowed?

This week, in a process that is largely invisible to consumers but that has become a semi-annual ritual of controversy within the world of organic politics, a committee called the National Organic Standards Board is selecting those synthetic substances that organic farmers and processors may use.

For a movement largely built around skepticism toward synthetic pesticides and additives, the task of choosing the exceptions can be particularly delicate.

The 15-member board, composed of farmers, processors and other organic experts selected by the USDA, often finds itself balancing the ideal of chemical-free food against the practical requirements of farming.

For while many would prefer to exclude the use of any synthetic chemicals, there are some substances – including herbicides, fungicides, emulsifiers and other additives – that some organic farmers say they cannot do without.

At its meeting this week, for example, the NOSB is weighing the merits of more than 200 substances that at least some farmers say are necessary to produce organic food. Others, including consumer groups, meanwhile urge caution.

The pleadings unfold in a blur of chemistry and agronomy. Among the dozens of public commenters on Monday were a potato grower from Oregon who asked for the board to approve a chemical to keep his stored spuds from sprouting; a maker of organic lecithin – lecithin is an emulsifier common in may foods – who wanted the board to close the loophole that allows synthetic lecithin; and an organic advocate from Vermont who, speaking for some strawberry farms, wanted the board to preserve the exception for ferric phosphate, a chemical used as a slug and snail bait.

The potato grower, Derin Jones, from Chin Family Farms, acknowledged that a natural substance, clove oil, can be used to keep potatoes from sprouting. But a chemical known as “3-decene-2-one” or “3D2,” works much better, and he showed pictures to prove his point.

“Clove oil has been a wonderful product,” he said. But “we don’t feel it is effective enough. It’s hurting our business.”

At stake, however, is the value of the organic label, a word whose value to consumers is the foundation of a growing $32 billion industry.

Organic farms use only a small fraction of the synthetic chemicals allowed on conventional farms, and even the critics generally acknowledge that foods bearing the “organic” label offer distinct benefits. But watchdog groups argue that the board must forcefully move to minimize the exceptions or risk degrading the label’s integrity.

The USDA organic label “may have been in the lead 10 or 15 years ago, but they’re not anymore,” said Urvashi Rangan, executive director of food safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports. “This is something they need to focus on.”

Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog group devoted to organics, blamed the rapid pace of the deliberations for preventing the public from weighing in. He called the meetings this week “organic regulatory theater.”

Others, however, defended the process. Jean Richardson, a maple syrup producer and professor emerita from the University of Vermont, is the chairperson of the panel. She notes that the decisions they make must balance the livelihoods of farmers against the consumer demand for purity.

“We’re romantic realists,” Richardson said. “Our values are really strong – we want the world to be a better place in every way. But we’re realistic…We recognize that there is not a perfect answer.”

The board findings are sent to the USDA, and serve as the basis for the final rules regulating what is and what isn’t organic.

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Sparks Fly on Day One of NOSB Meeting in San Diego – Reporthttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/sparks-fly-on-day-one-of-nosb-meeting-in-san-diego-report/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/sparks-fly-on-day-one-of-nosb-meeting-in-san-diego-report/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 19:00:20 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16264 Miles McEvoy Source: USDA Instead of looking at the legal and ethical concerns articulated by The Cornucopia Institute’s call on the Obama/Vilsack administration for a change of leadership at the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), numerous speakers yesterday, most of them financially benefiting from the status quo in Washington, praised Miles McEvoy, the current head of the NOP. The praise for the USDA’s organic program and leadership was far from universal as a number of

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Miles McEvoy
Source: USDA

Instead of looking at the legal and ethical concerns articulated by The Cornucopia Institute’s call on the Obama/Vilsack administration for a change of leadership at the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), numerous speakers yesterday, most of them financially benefiting from the status quo in Washington, praised Miles McEvoy, the current head of the NOP.

The praise for the USDA’s organic program and leadership was far from universal as a number of working farmers, public interest groups and consumers expressed grave reservations in how the program is undercutting the authority of the NOSB and undermining the integrity and reputation of organics.

A Question of Fairness

The meeting usually opens with reports from the head of the NOP (Mr. McEvoy) and a brief reading/opening statement by the chair of the NOSB (Jean Richardson).

The most newsworthy aspect of the NOP report was the release, yesterday, of the long-awaited draft “origin of livestock rule.” Mr. McEvoy identified this as a top priority in 2010. Many of us believe that the USDA has historically misread the regulations allowing conventional cattle, mostly on factory dairy farms, to be brought into organic operations. Factory farms have operated with a competitive advantage. Cornucopia will be out soon with an analysis and there will be a 90-day opportunity for public comment.

Although Dr. Richardson, in her opening remarks, specifically praised Cornucopia’s research work she was critical of our organization’s call to remove current leadership at the NOP.

We find it troublesome that the current chair would choose to politicize her position, which should be one of neutrality. The NOSB is split, as is the organic community/industry, on whether the actions of the current NOP represent violations of the intent of Congress in terms of running the program and in terms of the ethics and performance of its current management.

Basing Organic Decision-Making on Science — Conflicts of Interest

My opening remarks focused on the “Organic Regulatory Theater” with around 200 different synthetic and non-organic materials needing to be reviewed along with some other policy issues. It has not been humanly possible for this volunteer board and stakeholder groups, like Cornucopia, to perform proper, in-depth analysis of these substances.

One of the problems is we lack current Technical Reviews. The USDA has either decided they aren’t needed (Congress gave this power to the NOSB, not the USDA staff), or they are woefully late, and in some cases they’ve contracted with organizations that have an appearance of a conflict of interest (and they have allowed the scientists performing the analysis to remain anonymous).

I blasted the secrecy and the conflicts of interest and used as an example The Organic Center, which is part of the Organic Trade Association. I said it was “the fox guarding the organic henhouse.”

NOSB Chair Richardson later read, verbatim, an email from an OTA staff person claiming my testimony was inaccurate with The Organic Center/OTA no longer doing technical reviews and trying to distance themselves from responsibility, inferring that was old history and the OTA had nothing to do with the formation of TOC.

Although we have verified that they are no longer doing reviews, the TOC has done reviews as recently as the last 2-3 years and, like much of what is secretive at the NOP, the current list of contractors was never publicly updated. In its last technical review, The Organic Center/OTA did disclose the identity of the author of their studies (an individual with a PhD in agricultural economics rather than the biological sciences that would perhaps better qualify him for such a position).

Furthermore, the OTA had not just recently become involved with The Organic Center as their spin, read by Dr. Richardson, inferred. In reality, OTA leadership founded the TOC as a nonprofit arm so they could raise money for organic research. They’ve always had interrelated Board of Directors and, currently, the OTA appoints the board of TOC and it is housed in the OTA’s offices.

But the OTA didn’t say that, and Dr. Richardson was unwilling to give us the same opportunity for a brief rebuttal as she gave the powerful industry lobby group.  We take great exception when our organization, and its 10,000 members (working organic farmers being our primary constituency), are treated as second class citizens at a meeting sponsored by the federal government.

We hope Dr. Richardson will reconsider giving us equal time and read our brief statement to the board and audience today.

It should be noted that at least one more “nonprofit,” that gets the vast majority of their funding from corporate agribusiness and government, Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), that is also doing technical reviews for the NOSB, praised Mr. McEvoy in testimony —the government official who is responsible for underwriting part of their paychecks.

There are more conflicts of interest in this process than Carter’s got pills.

Certifiers Acting as Industry Trade Groups Rather than Independent Arbiters

We have been concerned for some time about the propriety of the accredited certifying organizations, who are acting as agents of the federal government, lobbying the NOSB regarding materials or practices. A number of them have directly rejected our concerns.

It has the appearance of a conflict of interest when certifiers represent the interest of their paying clients. The claim that they are just doing survey work doesn’t negate the concerns.

Furthermore, it doesn’t matter whether 200 or 2,000 farmers or handlers are using a particular synthetic material. This is not a popularity contest. The law requires the NOSB to judge synthetic materials by three criteria: safety to the environment, safety in terms of human health and the essentiality/necessity of the products. They need to meet all three.

Just because the clients of the certifier want a product (maybe it’s the cheapest alternative) doesn’t mean it passes muster for use in organics. Furthermore, these are not scientific surveys. There might be an equal or greater number of farmers/handlers that have never used the product or find it unnecessary because of their superior management skill and commitment to organic philosophy — like California farmer Phil McGrath testifying on behalf of The Cornucopia Institute.

Who’s a farmer?

Just like some of the vertically integrated industrial livestock companies that sit on the phony-baloney “Farmer Advisory Council” at the OTA and touted in their testimony yesterday (this would be like General Motors having their own hand-picked worker council representatives and calling it a “union”), at least one individual testified in front of the board for the continued use of synthetic methionine and represented himself as a “Farmer.”

What does an organic farm look like? And what does it mean to be a farmer? Here is a photo of the operation owned by the Kreher family.

KreherFacility

This is just one of the facilities operated by this split operation (organic and conventional). They are currently under investigation by the USDA after a formal legal complaint was filed by The Cornucopia Institute, along with 13 other “factory farms,” that aerial photography indicated were not allowing their chickens and cattle legal access to the outdoors for pasture:

http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-factory-farm-investigation/

Subterfuge

Consultants to corporate agribusiness continued to testify in front of the NOSB without being asked to disclose their clients/who they are working for.

One such consultant stated he used to serve on boards in Washington with Mr. McEvoy, and denigrated Cornucopia by saying we were encouraging the NOSB to vote against “all” materials. And then he said he was going to be canceling his Cornucopia Institute membership in making no further financial contributions.

Well, as we like to say, “You are welcome to your own opinion but you are not welcome to your own facts.”

This gentleman has never been a member of The Cornucopia Institute and it’s ironic that he was testifying in favor of retaining copper and sulfur (to materials that can cause pollution even though they are naturally-based) as organic compliant crop materials. Both of these materials are supported by The Cornucopia Institute to be retained on the National List (with restrictions to protect the environment).

Is Hydroponics Organic?

Again, the question is, what does an organic farm look like? Some of the hydroponic installations are now investing tens of millions of dollars in giant industrial complexes, in urban areas, growing food and water and a nutrient solution, under artificial lighting, and suggesting they have the same nutritional value as food grown in healthy organic soil with a complex microbiota that converts organic matter in the soil into vitamins, antioxidants and other diverse, immune-enhancing and flavorful compounds.

HydroponicFarm

hydroponicfarm2

This is somewhat controversial because one of the issues the NOP is charged with is disrespecting the will of the NOSB and unilaterally allowing hydroponic farms to proliferate.

More news from the organic circus in San Diego later. In the interim, please see updates, in real-time, at www.cornucopia.org or on Cornucopia’s Twitter feed which you can sign up for on our website.

Mark A. Kastel
Codirector
The Cornucopia Institute

The post Sparks Fly on Day One of NOSB Meeting in San Diego – Report appeared first on Cornucopia Institute.

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