Last Updated: April 27 at 6:08PM CT
Join The Cornucopia Institute as we live tweet from the National Organic Standards Board meeting in Tucson, Arizona. We will be sharing the play by play with our Twitter followers under #NOSB or simply follow our stream.
For background on issues up for discussion at the meeting, see:
- Cornucopia’s formal written comments on regulating organic imports, emergency use of parasiticides, and preserving native ecosystems
- A scorecard rating NOSB member voting records on contentious organic issues
You can also stay updated throughout the meeting right here:
Friday, April 27, 2018
6:07PM CT: The spring meeting of the NOSB has now adjourned.
5:42PM CT: For those who are interested, the NOSB’s workplan for its next meeting can be found at
5:22PM CT: Behar says seed transparency on the seed tag is something that seed producers favor, rather than a contamination threshold level that organic has to stay under, as that level will keep rising over time.
5:18PM CT: NOSB member Mortensen raised awareness of how prevalent herbicide resistance commodity crops are and how awful they are for the environment and organic farmers. Currently, drift from the herbicide dicamba is killing non-GMO crops of both conventional and organic farmers on a massive scale. The reaction from the biotechnology industry (dicamba is made by Monsanto, BASF, and DuPont) is for other farmers to plant dicamba resistant crops in case they are victims of drift! All members agreed that it is the biotechnology company that should be paying for the testing, not the farmers or the certifiers.
5:15PM CT: In organic, process-based standards are in place to avoid genetic engineering contamination, such as buffer distances from GMO crops. Farmers who purchase and plant non-organic seed (due to the commercial unavailability of organic seed) need to obtain non-GE affidavits if their crop has a genetically engineered equivalent in the marketplace. These affidavits have been accepted as enough proof by their organic certifiers that the seed is non-GMO, without testing requirements.
Public comments on the discussion document recommended that farmers could save a small sample of their planting seed from commodity crops at high risk to better understand where the contamination came from. In other words, was the contamination present in the seed when it was planted, did it blow in on pollen through the season, or was it co-mingled? The idea was raised for a government pool of money, like a superfund, to cover losses to organic farmers whose crops get contaminated despite their best practices.
5:02PM CT: The board’s discussion of a document on protecting the genetic integrity of seed begins. The USDA organic regulations do not allow the use of “excluded methods” in certified organic production, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In the U.S., over 90% of soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola are GMO, as well as 75% of Hawaiian papaya. In contrast, less than 1% of crops grown in Europe are genetically modified, and that production is limited to a handful of countries in southern Europe.
Planting stock of a GMO non-browning apple has been developed, as well as fish, pigs, and a wide variety of vegetables and fruits in the U.S. Various traits are engineered into these patented crops, with herbicide and insect resistance as the current most prominent traits used. The hope is to raise awareness about the base level of contamination in the seed before planting. Contamination largely arrives from pollen drift. The NOSB also discussed threshold levels allowed in organic products.
4:47PM CT: As its last agenda item, the Handling Subcommittee voted unanimously to reclassify magnesium chloride from a synthetic substance to a non-synthetic substance because it is derived from sea water drying with no ancillary substances added.
4:46PM CT: The petition for allowed use of sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate was made by the manufacturer, Ecolab. They want its approval as a sanitizer for use as a fruit and vegetable wash in restaurants and other retail environments. Essentiality was not demonstrated, and the substance was unanimously rejected for addition to the National List.
4:40PM CT: The NOSB looked at various gums for review (arabic, guar, locust bean, and carob bean). Used as thickening and stabilizing agents, they will likely be relisted in the fall as alternatives to carrageenan.
Lecithin de-oiled – produced from soy, sunflower, canola, or corn oils – will likely be relisted for use as a surfactant to stabilize oils at the fall meeting. Organic forms are available, but not commercially available in forms other than soy.
Tragacanth gum made from the sap of legumes used as a thickener and emulsifier will likely be renewed in the fall. Each gum has unique functionality.
Farmer members Ela and Oakley both raised concerns about how to understand essentiality and how to drive the market toward organically produced handling materials if there is no demand because conventional products are on the National List.
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: The original purpose of the Sunset process was to allow use of non-organic and synthetic materials in organic agriculture and food production for a period of five years. It would then take a two-thirds vote from the board, a supermajority, to renew them for another five years. This was meant to drive home the point that organic alternatives would be encouraged to develop. This process was turned on its head in 2013 by former NOP administrator Miles McEvoy when he decreed, without board input, that it would take a two-thirds vote to remove any material from the National List. This has de-incentivized the development of organic alternatives, as it is very difficult to gain 10 votes for a material’s removal, especially with the NOSB being stacked with members with commercial interests that are less concerned with organic integrity and more concerned with growth of product sales. The arbitrary decree of McEvoy is the subject of a federal lawsuit, of which Cornucopia is one of the plaintiffs.
4:16PM CT: Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are on the National List as a non-organically produced agricultural product allowed in processed organic products. FOS are carbohydrates, mostly indigestible by human digestive enzymes, that are used as a soluble prebiotic fiber, sweetening agent, flavor enhancer, bulking agent, and humectant. They are used in yogurts, infant foods, medical food, baked goods, candies, soups, beverages, and other dairy products. This can be derived from GMO sugar beets, so a discussion ensued on the board about how to ensure that the FOS used is not derived from GMO beets. Certifiers need to ensure that an affadavit from the manufacturer states that handlers source non-GMO products.
4:08PM CT: The board had no discussion about a number of other materials up for Sunset review. Natural flavors are widely used, but some commenters noted we should apply a commercial availability clause to natural flavors. Gellan gum (high acyl form) only is used as a thickening agent and will likely be relisted for use as an alternative to carrageenan. Oxygen will likely be relisted as for the packaging of olives. Potassium chloride will likely be relisted as an additive for use as a flavor enhancer, flavoring agent, nutrient supplement, pH control agent, and stabilizer or thickener. Alginates will likely be relisted in the fall for use as gelling, thickening, and stabilizing agent. Calcium hydroxide will likely be relisted for use as a component of aluminum-free baking powder, to clarify sugar for molasses, and as a conditioner for corn tortillas.
Ethylene for use in fruit ripening post-harvest and de-greening of citrus was discussed as essential, and it will likely be relisted in the fall. Glycerides for use only in drum drying of food like potato flakes. In conventional food, they are also used as an emulsifier, but are not allowed for this use in organic products. Gum lecithin could be used as an alternative, but it doesn’t seem that anyone is currently using alternatives. Magnesium stearate for use as a binding agent and nutritional supplement and only in products labeled “made with organic.”
Phosphoric acid for use of cleaning of food-contact surfaces and equipment only in agricultural products labeled “made with organic.” Potassium carbonate will likely be relisted in the fall for use as pH control, leavening agent, boiler water additive, and in the Dutch alkali process for processing cocoa and chocolate to reduce acidity. Sulfur dioxide for use in wine labeled “made with organic grapes” to prevent spoilage and oxidation in wine will likely be relisted in the fall. And xanthan gum for use as a thickener common in gluten-free baked goods will also likely be relisted in the fall as an alternative to carrageenan.
3:45PM CT: The NOSB Handling Subcommittee leads the discussion of a number of materials also up for Sunset review. Calcium carbonate will likely be renewed for use in the fall. It is widely used as a dietary supplement, antacid, dough conditioner, acidity regulator in wines, food stabilizer, anticaking agent, and gelling agent. The FDA allows the use of calcium carbonate as a binding agent in meat and poultry pieces. Calcium carbonate is also a precursor to calcium citrate, which is identified on the National List. Calcium carbonate has been used as a coloring agent. However, in historic organic food processing, both within the United States and internationally, calcium carbonate is not allowed for coloration purposes.
2:31PM CT: Next, the board reviews a petition to add sulfur as a slug and snail bait to the National List.
Oakley says that since sulfur is already on the National List, it seems like we could add it for this use. But some concerns were raised about inert ingredients in the public comments we received that we should address. Environmental/conservation rep Asa Bradman says it is formulated as a bait, and we don’t know what the inerts are. Ela notes that we’re just approving the use of sulfur, not the inerts. Another review process will be required for those.
Mortensen: We’re at the really early adoption of various no-till practices and slug damage is currently really high from no-till. Briones says it will be effective for rat lungworm disease transmitted by slugs on Hawaii. Oakley notes that the diverse stakeholder community is so important to organic integrity, and she really appreciate all viewpoints. Rice says it is important to understand how a material is used, not just what the material is.
The petition to add elemental Sulfur to the National List for use as a slug and snail bait passes unanimously.
2:18PM CT: The Crops Subcommittee moved onto a petition for the use of polyoxin D zinc salt, a synthetic fungicide for use in control of plant diseases. It was first petitioned in 2013 and was rejected due to concerns about its effects on non-target organisms. It is used by conventional farmers, particularly in humid climates, to control black rot of grapes, but it is effective against other fungal diseases including disease on cranberries.
Behar says the need for this product was apparent in public comment, particularly to grow the organic cranberry industry, which is short of demand of supply in the marketplace. Chapman mentions how this is an example of where a material is objected against the first time with not enough evidence on its essentiality, but then the petitioner provides more information the second time around.
Oakley says they had to wait 14 months for the Technical Review, and then once they received it, the petition was rushed onto the agenda. She says the weakness in the review is that it relies on the petitioner’s own studies. Oakley says she has also experienced thousands of dollars of loss from Botrytis in strawberries and adds that we don’t fully understand the effects of this substance on soil.
Consumer/Public Interest rep Dan Seitz says it would have taken more time than we had to thoroughly review this material. He notes the conflict of interest was really apparent where studies were directly funded by the industry. That’s not to say that such studies aren’t acceptable, but it would be nice to see independent studies. This may be a case of the industry getting people to lobby on their behalf. NOSB farmer member Jessie Buie notes that the substance hasn’t been approved for organic use in other countries, but in Japan it has been used conventionally for over 40 years.
Mortensen says no board member ever has a clean decision on any of these decisions, and we all wade through the gray area based on evidence and experience. After the hydroponic vote, he does acknowledge that folks growing in soil have much more disease pressure than hydroponic folks outside of natural systems.
Oakley says she understands this material could reduce the use of more toxic substances. We also received comments from universities supporting this that didn’t have links to studies. She mentions her concerns about impacts to soil fungal communities on the use of this material.
Swaffar favors this material based on essentiality. Ela also says it seems to be needed. Oakley says the fact that it is so broad-spectrum is a concern because that means it will harm a lot of soil fungi.
Chapman says this product will help reduce the reliance on imports and help more domestic production of fruit. Certifier rep Scott Rice says we’re not just giving any material a “go” to add to the tool-box because it is needed, we are scrupulously looking at the toxicity of the material. Mortensen echoes Oakley’s comment that we need more independent research.
1:43PM CT: Potassium chloride, also under review, is used as a soil amendment and is listed as a prohibited substance in organics unless it is derived from a mined source and applied in a manner that minimizes chloride accumulation in the soil. It is commonly used by growers either alone, as a complex in potassium chloride, or as an ingredient in a fertilizer blend for soil supplementation. Chloride is also an essential element for plants. However, monitoring of chloride use is required to assure soil salinity is managed appropriately. Current NOP regulation stipulates monitoring in the current annotation for potassium chloride to prevent chloride accumulation.
Polyoxin D zinc salt was added to the National List with 11 votes yes, 1 vote no (Oakley) and 1 abstention (Seitz).
1:40PM CT: Microcrystalline cheesewax is used in log-grown mushrooms. It must be made without either ethylene-propylene co-polymer or synthetic colors. The Technical Review says it biodegrades in the environment. Behar observes that she has seen these little plugs laying around almost fully decomposed logs and thinks it takes at least five years to decompose. She supports removing this from use in organics, as there are better alternatives. Oakley says it is hard to reach out to smaller-scale growers that are not represented by larger organizations to find out how commonly a substance is in use.
1:36PM CT: Next, the subcommittee reviews sulfurous acid for use as a soil conditioner. It will likely be renewed in the fall based on essentially for Western soils with high pH. Some concerns were raised about the environmental impacts of the sulfur burners.
Ethylene for use of pineapple flowering was a very controversial issue in 2015. Stakeholders are concerned this isn’t an OFPA criteria because it was added for an economic purpose. The plant will flower on its own, but not uniformly. It has been used for quite awhile now and an entire industry has grown as a result of its use. Behar says it isn’t just used by large-scale monoculture production, but also by small growers to allow for the commercial production to justify shipment/trucking. Oakley adds that most of the producers not using this product are selling to a local market, and they can more easily vary their harvest time.
1:34PM CT: Liquid fish products used as fertilizers are pH adjusted with synthetic sulfuric acid, citric acid, and phosphoric acid for stability. Concerns were raised about the wild harvest for fish products. Out of 110 such products listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute, 30 were derived exclusively from wild catch exclusively caught for fertilizer. Another 70 products used wild-harvested fish in their end product. So a really high percentage of fertilizer products source wild fish. Perhaps the subcommittee could encourage the use of invasive fish species and byproduct.
NOSB farmer member Oakley says we should look into an annotation that limits the sourcing to byproduct and perhaps invasive species. Consumer/public interest rep Baird mentions that the Department of Agriculture funds the harvest and processing of invasive Asian carp in Missouri into fish emulsion/meal. NOSB scientist member Mortensen says we should be aware of potentially unintended consequences of bycatch of native species during the net harvest of invasive species.
Environmental/conservation rep Behar adds that the subcommittee should address the pH issue and the use of phosphorous to adjust pH, which also acts as a synthetic fertilizer.
Consumer/public interest rep Briones says she can look into this issue from native tribes’ perspective, given the current litigation against contamination of native fisheries with GMO salmon.
1:27PM CT: Sucrose octanoate esters are being reviewed for continued use as insecticides and are most effective against soft-bodied insects. It is not considered to be toxic and is used to control verroa mites. There were a few public comments on the material. It will likely be renewed for continued use based on some comments that it is used in bee keeping.
Hydrated lime is used to suppress foliar diseases. This material has long been used in organic agriculture, and it will also likely be relisted in the fall.
1:10PM CT: The subcommittee reviews elemental and lime sulfur, listed for use in organics as an insecticide, plant disease control, and a soil amendment. It is clear that this is an essential material, but many public comments discussed the use of wettable sulfur versus sulfur dust applications. The use of protective equipment is very important with this material. It has been used for hundreds of years across many crops and around the world throughout history. Sulfur materials do impact soil micro-organisms, and users should be aware of trying to use preventative practices before resorting to sulfur materials.
1:03PM CT: Members of the subcommittee say they are unclear as to the extent to which this is used and its effectiveness and request to see research presented on this substance before the fall meeting of the NOSB.
12:59PM CT: The subcommittee discusses aqueous potassium silicate as part of the Sunset review. Synthesized by the high temperature fusion of silicate sand and calcium carbonate and then crushed, it is sprayed onto plants to prevent insect activity. It is also incorporated into the plant as a physical barrier to disease and insects. Usage concerns include human health effects from oral inhalation and skin irritation.
12:46PM CT: The subcommittee discussion shifts to plastic mulch. Says Behar, there were numerous comments that plastic mulches are essential and widely used. I would like to talk about plastic burning, which is already banned under the federal Clean Air Act, but I have heard from certifiers that there is no enforcement of the burning ban on some farms. We should consider adding to the annotation to verify that burning is not occurring on organic farms. Many comments noted that we should be moving to biodegradable plastic mulches which are more sustainable in their full life cycle because of plastic in landfills. Many regions have recycling of some plastics used on farms, such as high tunnel film, although this isn’t everywhere.
This material will likely be renewed in the fall.
Bradman says that he has a growing discomfort with the enormous amount of plastic waste produced on organic farms. Oakley is concerned that the burning is a real problem, and we should ensure that certifiers are asking the question. Swaffar reiterates that this material is critically important for weed control.
NOSB farmer member Steve Ela notes that we’re hearing the need for biodegradable mulches and we’d really like to see research on those. Oakley suggests they should consider an annotation that additionally concerns on-farm disposal to avoiding burning.
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: Some of the discussion/questions yesterday by NOSB members after the panel on import fraud was disappointing, representing a lack of a full scope of knowledge or concern about this watershed problem.
One member expressed apprehension that the cost of testing for agrichemical residues would be onerous. It should be noted that in testimony it was related that a testing panel could cost as little as $300. Even if it was five times that amount, or more, that is an infinitesimally small cost if you reconcile the fact that one cargo ship could hold the annual average production of 50-80 certified organic grain farms in the U.S. Think about the total cost to certify those farms on an annual basis ($100,000-200,000). Testing each arriving ship? That’s a cheap investment, protecting ethical U.S. grain farmers, their livestock-producing customers, and dedicated organic consumers.
Another member thanked and lauded the OTA for their involvement in the issue and for testifying at the meeting yesterday. It should be noted that, over the last decade, as Cornucopia and others have rung the alarm bell, the OTA has done nothing but voice their full faith in the oversight of the NOP. It was only after the incredibly damaging investigative reporting conducted by the Washington Post, and a damning audit of the NOP’s oversight on organics by the Office of the Inspector General, that the OTA changed their tune and decided that something had to be done. A “thank you” to the industry lobbyists representing the companies that have been buying the cheap fraudulent imported grain all along.
And finally, another NOSB member seemed to be more concerned with the damage control “messaging” to consumers than the problem itself. Clean up the fraud, demand the USDA truly fulfills their congressionally mandated oversight responsibilities, and there will be no problem with messaging.
12:26PM CT: Newspaper or other recycled paper will likely be maintained on the National List in the fall for use as a weed barrier and mulch.
Behar says we requested a Technical Review to look into whether there are more benign colored inks now, so that we might want to remove the annotation that colored inks are prohibited. We received comments to keep this listing with the annotation remaining. We also did hear from the public on including paper pots. Chapman notes that the proper process is for someone to submit a petition for use of paper pots. We will probably be able to move forward very quickly on the petition process, he adds.
12:26PM CT: The NOSB’s Crops Subcommittee begins its review of materials under the Sunset process. Ethanol and isopropanol for use as algicides, disinfectants, and sanitizers, including irrigation system cleaning systems, will likely be renewed for use in the fall because of essentiality. No comments were received in favor of removal.
Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate is used as an algicide in rice fields, ponds, ditches, and irrigation lines. It was added to the National List in 2007 with the hope that growers would use it as an alternative to more problematic materials such as copper and chlorine for this purpose; it has been registered for use in rice since 2010. The 2014 Technical Report states that the material is a precursor to hydrogen peroxide and is used widely in household cleaners and detergents.
NOSB member Oakley says that though this was originally put on the National List for use in rice, it isn’t clear how much it is actually being used for that purpose. But it does seem to be used currently for the cleaning of irrigation lines, and it is listed for this purpose.
12:15PM CT: The NOP’s Lewis notes that the USDA has an Office of Tribal Communications and they have a responsibility and mandatory obligation to consult with tribal communities on these types of legislative changes.
12:01PM CT: In the debate leading up to the NOSB vote, Mortensen says we measure biodiversity in our research including what we call the “agroecosystem matrix.” It’s amazing how small slivers of natural habitat give rise to so much of the biodiversity present. For example, we can measure 160 pollinators in these slivers of biodiversity.
Swaffar announces that she will be voting yes for this now even though she was a no vote before. These amendments in language today alleviated a lot of her former concerns that came from New England farmers in particular.
Briones says it is a hard vote for her. She will vote no, even though she feels biodiversity is so important. She has concerns, for example, about practices like controlled burns based on indigenous knowledge that have yet to be documented scientifically. There are tribal communities that are interested in entering the organic industry.
Baird says she is worried that this will have the opposite effect that we want it to have, meaning, native land is immediately converted into conventional production.
Oakley says she is in communication with many native communities in the Ozarks, and burning is used as an important tool for maintaining and improving the health of lands and eradicating invasive species, for example. Oakley reads sections of OFPA that pertain to “must maintain or improve the natural resources of land” to demonstrate that when we take native lands and convert them to native ecosystems, we are already in violation of OFPA. What has been put forward here is a compromise. As a farmer, she admits she was really naive and didn’t realize the extent to which this was occurring. She says she came into organic farming as an environmentalist and feels this is so necessary because of how much this is occurring. She expresses her appreciation for all the efforts from the community, over many years, to get this language right.
Seitz mentions unintended consequences. For example, the people who formulated OFPA didn’t realize that they created an incentive to convert native land. This proposal came out of a need to address this unintended consequence. We should be ready, he says, in case there is an unintended consequence from this proposal.
The proposal passed with 12 yes votes and one no vote from Briones.
11:44AM CT: Native Ecosystem Definition proposed amendment vote:
Native ecosystems can be recognized in the field as retaining both dominant and characteristic plant species as described by established classifications of natural
and semi natural vegetation. These will tend to be on lands that have not been previously cultivated, cleared, drained or otherwise irrevocably altered. However, they could include areas that had been substantially altered over 50-100 years ago, but have since recovered expected plant species composition and structure.
The change in language was made to ensure concerns expressed by some farmers that wildlands that have been cultivated in the past and that have not returned to “native” status would not count as native ecosystems (because of species composition, for example). This change was accepted by twelve members with an abstention by NOSB member A-dae Romero-Briones (consumer/public interest rep). Briones said earlier in the meeting that native cultures should not have rights restricted on their land.
11:30AM CT: Next up is the discussion of the proposal to Eliminate the Incentive of Native Ecosystems. Protection of the natural resources on an organic operation (soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, biodiversity, and wildlife) must be maintained or improved by the organic operator through production practices applied in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act and the federal organic regulations.
However, there is currently an incentive under the law to convert wildlands and native econsystems into organic production because there is not a three-year waiting period for certification, as no prohibited substances have been applied to the lands. This proposal would eliminate this incentive by not allowing organic certification of native ecosystems for a full decade if the native ecosystems are altered for organic production. Ecosystem preservation is in line with consumer expectations that organic farms and ranches have the highest standards for land stewardship. [See Cornucopia’s public comments for more details.]
11:16AM CT: The NOSB unanimously passes the proposal for the NOP to develop inspector minimum qualifications, training, and continuing education guidelines. Emphasizing knowledge, skills, experience, training (including continuing training), and evaluation.
11:13AM CT: NOSB farmer member Emily Oakley says she appreciates and wants to reiterate how the process of NOP communication with the NOSB will occur. NOSB scientist member Dave Mortensen asks if there is an external body, like the Accredited Certifier Association perhaps, that we can vet the final plan with. NOP’s Jennifer Tucker says they will invest where we feel we can have the greatest impact initially. She adds that she agrees with the need for a greater whole system over time.
NOSB member Harriet Behar (environmental/conservation rep) says not to forget that the auditors also need to be trained when they do the inspection of the certifiers. NOSB member Ashley Swaffar mentions that she does poultry inspections, but not dairy inspections. She doesn’t think all livestock inspectors can do methionine calculations for poultry, while poultry inspectors can’t necessarily do dry matter intake calculations for cattle. It is important to ensure training matches the type of inspections done.
NOSB member Sue Baird (consumer/public interest rep) indicates that apprenticeships are critical. She says she now does 200 inspections and used to do 400 and would love to take newer inspectors under her wing with this lifetime of knowledge. She notes a barrier to this, in that she can do an inspection on her own and get full price, but if she takes two apprentices, she only gets 1/3 of the price, which doesn’t incentivize this type of training. We need a good system to incentivize apprenticeships, she says.
10:52AM CT: The last day of the NOSB’s spring meeting has started with a discussion between board members and NOP staff about the qualifications of the pool of organic inspectors employed by certifiers. The proposal put forth by the NOSB recommends the NOP develop minimum qualifications and training and continuing education guidelines to ensure we have a competent inspector pool to meet the demands of the complex organic supply chain.
Commenters urged caution in overly prescribing specific qualifications. There is both a greater need for mentorship opportunities for new inspectors and a need to be mindful of scope and scale when an inspector is chosen for a specific job. It is recommended that inspectors are licensed. Some concern is expressed that turning the final decisions over to the NOP at this point would prevent a participatory process at the NOSB and stakeholder level. It is the intent of the NOSB to continue this dialogue with the NOP so there is an understanding in the organic community about what the required qualifications will look like.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
8:19PM CT: Hutchinson continues the discussion, saying he really likes a 332 review by ITC with a focus on grain and the enormous loss to the organic community. This, he thinks, might provide a basis for policy.
Oakley says we have an immediate crisis that needs short-term solutions. As a farmer myself, I’m sensitive to grain imports. We need short and long term approaches.
Lisa de Lima (retailer rep) asks to put yourself in retailers’ shoes. How does a retailer boil it down to make the consumer feel better? Of course this is affecting farmers, but also how are consumers going to react?
Seitz says NOP Compliance should identify areas that are straightforward and focus on those while more subtle questions that require research can be worked on. Behar notes we need to prioritize and ask what is achievable in the short-term.
Mortensen says there is going to be cost, but people bearing the cost are American growers, so somehow we need to look at what is influencing the cost. Really impressed by the panelists. Ela sees areas where accredited certifiers differ. We need to promote consistency so it’s not okay to shop around.
Chapman agrees that the expert panel was an incredible resource and looks forward to using expert panels in the future.
The board adjourns until Friday morning.
7:58PM CT: Discussing Full Supply Chain Audits, Mortensen says he got a sense that full supply chain audits are critical, as well as challenging. Behar says it’s a new area where there is a need for training.
Tucker (NOP) suggests they find a pilot study that is small enough to know how to apply it. She agrees that this is new territory. Mortensen notes that this is where models would be helpful. He says he was impressed with what Pipeline was sharing and what they have put in place for their own chain.
Baird agrees this is an inspector education issue and says that we are instructed as inspectors to do an audit in four hours–and that’s a problem. Knows that entities shop based on pricing, so there has got to be education for certified entities and cooperation, as much as possible, between certifiers. It’s a business.
7:49PM CT: The use of additional import fraud controls was also discussed. NOP staffer Tucker said we’ve learned more about CBP’s [Custom and Border Patrol] ability to stop or hold a product. The stop import would require very high evidence. The question is, is it fair to stop sale if it can be sold as conventional? They are two different things: stopping sale vs. stopping sale as organic. We are more interested in getting an operation’s certification revoked or suspended, with civil penalties used more often for uncertified operations.
Chapman asks her how can you make a civil penalty more effective. Tucker says this is worth more discussion and research and is outside her knowledge area if she speculates.
7:38PM CT: The issue of fumigation and imports was also discussed. Tucker says we receive fumigation notices from APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service]. But we don’t know if the shipment was actually fumigated, and the rules are incredibly nuanced with lots of different mitigation approaches. We are still learning and trying to get arms around the nuances.
7:34PM CT: The board also discusses testing and its use with imports. Chapman observes that people talked about volume as a risk factor. He mentions the importance of testing as a deterrent, but questions if it is an effective deterrent. Behar says testing is only one tool in the tool-box.
Rice says produce testing might not catch it in real time. But random testing of soils might reveal a fraudulent system. Baird says we shouldn’t require all shipments to be pesticide tested as its way too expensive. Oakley says the imports panel also discussed the disincentive around cost and adds, when testing reveals fraud, we need to look at how to pass that on to the fraudulent entity.
Chapman notes that California has a monitoring program, and they test end-market product and sample as part of audits of facilities. He says it’s funded through a fee that’s imposed upon operators in California. Could this be implemented at the federal level?
The NOP’s Tucker says costs and resources are always the limit. Certifiers do have fee schedules and unannounced inspections. If a certifier has reason to believe they need to do an investigation, and unannounced inspection is a tool, then this should be on the fee schedule.
Brackman says technologies are changing and improving rapidly, and costs may go down.
7:25PM CT: The discussion next focuses on international organic equivalency agreements. Chapman says generally people are concerned about equivalent and recognition partners. Behar states that when an equivalency partner flags a certifier, we don’t have the same risk attention. She says she wonders about if we have a policy to scrutinize an operation if an equivalent partner has flagged them. If Canada has identified an operation as being problematic, then we should also be somewhat suspect about the sales and flag them to look at.
Chapman says we can’t even get a full list from Canada as to who their operations are. Baby steps, he says.
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: In 2011, Cornucopia, working with Canadian and U.S. farmers, helped expose fraudulent imports from a Canadian exporter, Jirah Mills. Before Canadian authorities could perform a full audit of the company that was mixing conventional animal feed grains with organic grains and then selling the product at below market prices in the U.S., Jirah voluntarily surrendered its organic certification to provincial authorities in the Province of Quebec. They were subsequently banned from organic commerce in Quebec, but more importantly dodged punitive action. Jirah was later recertified for organic commerce by the U.S. certification agent, Oregon Tilth, under the U.S. – Canadian equivalency agreement.
7:16PM CT: Chapman notes that there is definitely a divide over whether yield data is possible in the long and short run and how accurate and useful it would be in terms of crop types. ERS data, even now, is at least a year back. If the data is old and has errors in it, how do you deal with crop issues?
Behar says data from certifiers is much better. She notes that the last USDA organic survey had only about 2/3 of operations compared to what’s in the Organic Integrity database.
Swaffar says, without a transaction certificate, the acreage data doesn’t get us anywhere–except maybe on a global scale–but not domestically.
Oakley thinks high-level financial accounting comes into play, and Baird agrees with her. Says Baird, I didn’t realize inspectors didn’t calculate acreage and yields. Maybe we don’t want to put it in the database because it is subject to sunshine, maybe it doesn’t need to be reported publicly.
Chapman says he is hearing the barrier is that we need information in a database. He mentions that data is great, but there is a lot of cost and effort in accumulating and maintaining data, plus the need to figure out what we are going to use the data for.
Rice says you have got to send the right inspector to the right operation, in terms of scope and scale, so they can see yield and acreage and what makes sense for that and if something smells funny.
The NOP’s Jennifer Tucker notes that certifiers can log in to the Organic Integrity database and see acreage associated with their own operations. They would like to make that acreage field open to all certifiers to see acreage in the database, but it would still be proprietary. And the acreage field is always redacted. She says they are looking into if they are allowed to share acreage data between certifiers. She adds that a lot of certifiers did not want this, but this view seems to be shifting.
6:59PM CT: As board member discussion on imports continues, Chapman says the role of uncertified operations is the biggest issue. Then there are the ugly details of where to draw the lines on who is excluded, and these controversial areas include warehouses, transport companies, and retailers.
NOSB member Sue Baird (consumer/public rep) says this is the most critical point–uncertified operations in the supply chain. It’s a problem because there are commodity brokers who collect organic producers’ certificates and use them to move other products. And there are warehouses that don’t have a clue about maintaining organic integrity because they aren’t educated.
NOSB member Swaffar says there could be fraud in any category, domestic or imported. There is a need for a better certification program.
NOSB member Oakley says we need a risk-based approach; let’s take a smart approach in terms of the risk.
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: Cornucopia has a rulemaking petition pending before the USDA detailing steps that can be implemented to reduce the threat of import fraud.
6:39PM CT: As the NOSB continues to assess the question of fraud and imports, board chair Chapman says they have received a massive amount of helpful input. He noted good dialogue on the panel about documents and the process about maintaining documents and a lot of comments around transaction certificates. Some folks think they are useful, others raised concerns.
NOSB member Mortensen notes that a couple things struck him and left him wondering about the extent to which they need to be reflected in documents: perishables v. non-perishables and the idea that a ship could carry millions of bushels. I’m trying to imagine if the human dimension is captured well enough there, he says.
NOSB member Scott Rice (certifier seat) acknowledges the challenge of linking documents across private labels and in fresh produce trade, as well as the need for clear labeling, labeling that is clear enough to provide traceback.
NOSB farmer member Steve Ela says documentation is somewhat easy to replicate if you have a computer, so making sure to put links together is critical. He says we need traceability all the way back to where a commodity came from and to be able to contact the farmer and certifier where it all started.
Chapman adds that no one fix will solve the problem.
NOSB member Behar calls for a standard recall procedure. The problem is not just in grain but in tracking the organic status. For example, did the product get fumigated, was it commingled or contaminated?
NOP staff Jennifer Tucker says traceability value is through QR codes, and electronic data is better at preventing fraud.
Rice mentions the huge opportunity and need for education and outreach.
Behar additionally adds that it was an interesting idea to bring in financial auditors. You can’t expect an organic inspector to have a PhD in accounting.
NOSB member Hutchinson (environmentalist/conservationist seat) says the idea of a trade commission review of the market would provide valuable information. Chapman says most of our conversation is about getting the right info on the documents, not adding new documents.
6:10PM CT: Next up for the NOSB, further discussion on imports:
6:02PM CT: The use of approved synthetic parasiticides in organic livestock production under the current regulation is confined to “emergency use” and cannot be used routinely, but a clarification of what counts as an emergency is needed.
The organic status of animals must not result in withholding of medical treatment. If there is no organically approved material or activity to solve the health problem, the farmer must use a non-approved material and then remove the products from this animal from sale into the organic marketplace.
The NOSB voted unanimously to define emergency as: Emergency (treatment for parasite control in breeding, dairy and fiber bearing animals). An urgent, non-routine situation in which the organic system plan’s preventive measures and veterinary biologics are proven, by laboratory analysis or visual inspection, to be inadequate to prevent life-threatening illness or to alleviate pain and suffering.
5:30PM CT: The Livestock Subcommittee received a petition to add glycolic acid for use as a component of pre-and post-milking teat dips to control mastitis. Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance supported adding glycolic acid, while other commenters stated that there were alternatives for mastitis already on the National List, and it may not be essential. There was a split vote on the subcommittee based on whether or not it was essential. Acidified sodium chlorite was approved as a teat dip, and so that will be added to the National List soon.
There is no “cure-all” for mastitis and there are many teat dips out there. There are a lot of cultural methods to prevent mastitis as well. 7 yes to add, 6 no. The motion fails as it needs a super majority of the board to pass.
5:05PM CT: Livestock Subcommittee continued their discussion with a look at phosphoric acid. It is allowed for use as an equipment cleaner as long no direct contact with organically managed livestock or land occurs. It will be likely be relisted based on essentiality/need. Beyond Pesticides commented that some certifiers require a water rinse whereas others do not, and perhaps that could be clarified before the fall.
Hydrated lime is proposed for re-approval in the fall for use as an external pest control (but not permitted to cauterize physical alterations or deodorize animal wastes).
Mineral oil will likely be re-approved for topical use and as a lubricant. NOSB member Behar noted that it is used internally to alleviate constipation. Staff for the NOP clarified that there is a proposed rule to allow it to be used to alleviate constipation, but not to be used as a dust suppressant.
Sucrose octanoate esters (SOEs) are surfactants that lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading and evaporation for foliar sprays. They are used for controlling varroa mites in honey bees and as mushroom growing media. There were not a lot of comments on this material, and there are alternatives for control of varroa mites. It is unclear how much this material is being used.
4:47PM CT: Electrolytes are used to restore ionic balance, treating a variety of metabolic conditions such as hypocalcemia, scours, milk fever, dehydration, mastitis, ketosis, and acidosis and will likely be relisted for use in organics in the fall.
Glycerin for use as an ingredient in livestock teat dips will likely be relisted as well, but it must be produced through saponification (the hydrolysis of fats or oil). NOSB Chair Chapman asked if the recommendation is to list it so that organic glycerin would have to be used if it is available. He asked that, before the fall meeting, the supply of organic glycerin be investigated.
4:38PM CT: The Livestock Subcommittee will likely relist vaccines in the fall, but they want to add to their work agenda to look into vaccines made with excluded methods. There is inconsistency between certifiers in how they address the use of vaccines made with GMO technologies.
Possible solutions include: 1) allow GMO vaccines for use in organics 2) ban GMO vaccines 3) only allow GMO vaccines if non-GMO versions are not commercially available.
NOSB member Mortensen asked if diseases are much more prevalent in livestock that is stocked more densely. And he asked how to think about the need for certain vaccines, given some might not be necessary with better cultural practices.
NOSB member Behar also noted that there are certain breeds that are more resistant than others.
Sue Baird (consumer/public interest rep) said that some diseases are in the soil, so pasture-based systems require them too.
NOSB member Seitz noted that it is good, as a board, to be mindful of cultural interventions that may mitigate the need for vaccines.
Ashley Swaffar said some laws require certain vaccines.
4:24PM CT: The NOSB reordered their agenda so as to discuss all livestock issues first this afternoon. Aspirin is another non-organic substance up for review that is used in organics to reduce inflammation. It too will likely be renewed at the fall meeting for continued use.
4:19PM CT: The NOSB has resumed their meeting in Tucson. The Livestock Subcommittee is reviewing a number of materials as part of the Sunset process. Alcohols (ethanol and isopropanol) are used in livestock production as disinfectants and sanitizers, particularly to sanitize medical tools for treatments. The Livestock Subcommittee didn’t get many comments and will likely vote to retain them on the National List of substances approved for use in organics.
3:05PM CT: Bobbe notes that the U.S. is currently importing about 40% of our corn and 70% of our soybeans. If farmers are going to take the risk of transitioning to organic production, they need a transparent market. He says we are not against imports, we are against what has been done to transparency.
Carlson says we are talking about a reactive system, and we need penalties.
The imports discussion ends with the board breaking for lunch.
3:01PM CT: The OTA’s Marez tells the NOSB that we need a culture that prioritizes organic integrity over organic supply.
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: Many of the OTA’s most influential members have benefited enormously from the purchasing of cheap imported grain (much of it suspect or fraudulent) for their factory farm livestock facilities, be that in dairy or poultry. The mega-farms’ refusal to buy authentic organic grain from American farmers has crushed domestic markets for their crops, and the cheaper eggs, meat, and dairy products coming from the factory farms have destroyed family farm incomes and opportunities for organic farmers across America. Despite Cornucopia’s attempts to move the NOP on the issue of fraud for a decade, the OTA, its members, and regulators have been only been forced to address this concern due to the widespread media attention the issue has drawn in the past year and a half.
2:50PM CT: NOSB member Seitz asks if you can limit a certified operation from shopping around for a certifier.
Welsch says that the NOP’s Organic Integrity database helps because if a certified entity withdraws its certification due to noncompliances, the next certifier has access to that information. Benzing says the noncompliances should be made easier to find on the database and an ID should be linked to every operation to prevent certifier shopping.
Silke adds that it would be great to have annual inspections by certifiers with a certain focus; one year look at this, and another one look at that. Don’t just repeat the annual audit in the same way every year.
2:34PM CT: NOSB chair Chapman asks the NOP about their handling of complaints.
Jenny Tucker (NOP) says they do accept anonymous complaints. Tucker explained that Betsy Rakola (NOP, not in attendance) gets a lot of complaints that don’t have enough data to allow investigation, and they don’t have a way of following up. Rakola introduced the process where the NOP immediately writes back to the filer of the complaint to explain what information is needed to follow up, and 90% of time, they never hear back from them. Staff mentions the need to think about a risk-based approach posed by the complaint, with a need to focus on what follow up.
NOSB member Bradman asks about potential lawsuits around trafficking.
Lewin says private party suits can be effective. He adds that it is his belief that there is under-utilization of law enforcement. Law enforcement should investigate and prosecute fraud.
NOSB member Oakley asks again about stop-sale on imports.
Lewin responds that we should use all legal recourse we have. If stop-import can be executed, sure. If evidence supports it, and if legislation is necessary, he says we need to work together to push it through Congress.
The OTA’s Marez suggests using the organic equivalency arrangements (between other countries and the U.S.). They are reviewed every few years, she notes.
2:18PM CT: NOSB chair Chapman (processor rep/Clif Bar) says of uncertified organic handlers that it seems we need to eliminate as many as we can. Who should be excluded?
Welsch says everybody except retailers ought to be certified.
Lewin says to give retailers directives about how to label without certification and that this could be a pathway.
Dills says that anyone handling a product that is not finished, labeled, and sealed needs to be certified. He says if you’re storing, handling, selling, or buying, then you need to be certified.
Welsch adds that any produce with packaging that can be opened or closed should be certified. Stores that handle organic and not organic have extra stickers for organic, so if you want another suggestion on where to spend money, inspect retail stores and verify if what they are selling as organic really is.
Albrecht Benzing notes that under EU regulations, even supermarket chains that have their own stores from which they distribute are required to be certified.
2:08PM CT: Questions for Full Panel on Imports:
NOSB member Dave Mortenson (scientist) asks what kind of staffing we need in this block chain system with the growers on the ground and communities doing the local handling? He doesn’t have a good sense of what that looks like internationally.
Albrecht Benzing responds that if certifiers are not strongly controlled by the government, the risk of business interests becoming more important than integrity is very high. I’m not longing for more audits, he says, but I see that they are necessary, and more audits that focus on real issues. The last audit from the NOP had 20 nonconformities, and none of them were substantial–not a single nonconformity that has anything to do with the things we are discussing here. The auditing is focusing on the procedures, but nobody checks to see if procedures lead to what they need to.
Silke Fuchshofen says if there is real determination to find the fraud, that is the first question.
Sam Welsch says to encourage USDA and NOP when somebody suspects a problem, and ask everyone in the supply chain for information. This information, Welsch notes, should be readily available with a quick turnaround. A lot can be done if there is a willingness to accomplish it.
Mike Dills mentions that certifiers should engage with trade members to find out the seasons when fraud is more likely to occur. He says we’ve invited our certifier to spend a day with us. It hasn’t happened, but the offer is still on the table.
Asa Bradman (environmentalis/conservation rep) wants more feedback on testing. Is the view that it’s a blunt tool and not effective?
Jake Lewin says we need to work together to identify what we should be testing.
Sam Welsch observes that certifiers are required to test at least 5%, but it’s at certifier expense, so there is not an incentive to test more than that. Finding out where contamination occurred is very difficult. He says the NOP could take samples on produce at the NOP’s expense. If there’s extra money, here is an idea on where to spend it.
1:27PM CT: NOSB member Behar (environmentalist/conservationist) asks if we need to change definition of “retailer.”
Panelist Dill notes that Amazon, for example, has warehouses all over. FDA asked them to register under the Bio-Terrorism Act. Amazon doesn’t intend to–their response is they are a retailer. They are exempt as a retailer and as a certified handler. Changing the definition of retailer isn’t going to do it. Need to change exclusion and let packaging of product determine if certification is required.
NOSB chair Tom Chapman (processor seat/Clif Bar) asks Bobbe about reporting ships to the NOP.
Bobbe responded that (former administrator) McEvoy said the NOP doesn’t track ships. NOP’s Betsy Rakola mentioned they tried tracking ships, but data disappeared when the government tried to track it. Bobbe said you can actually watch ships and track with Google.
Chapman then asked how Bobbe identifies the ships to track.
Bobbe told him that they can go to the port websites in some cases. When Chapman asked who the source is, Bobbe said that they have people who talk to them and know they’re fighting fraud. Chapman wanted to know why these people weren’t talking to the NOP. Bobbe said these people need a level of trust, and they don’t have that now.
1:05PM CT: NOSB member Asa Bradman (environmentalist/conservationist) asks if there could there be more enhancement to testing.
Panelist Peter Carlson says the system in Europe has slowed down trade. Testing is helpful on verification but not where it will find solutions to reduce fraud.
NOSB scientist member Dave Mortensen says, for produce, testing is not going to help a lot; the turnaround time is way too slow. It is wise to hold a product until you get test results. For produce this will lead to rejections but also reduced quality.
Panelist Monique Marez says it costs $300 per test with an 8-day turnaround on produce.
Mortensen also asks whether, with six-fold increases in imports, we have boots on the ground.
Bobbe notes that in the case of the Black Sea area, we have contacts, but we also have organized crime syndicates (Turkish, Ukrainian, and Russian). The criminals make contact with producers, saying, ‘you sell us your grain or we’ll make sure you never sell another kernel of corn.’ That’s what you’ve going on with grain.
12:42PM CT: Monique Marez of the Organic Trade Association shows this slide:
12:40PM CT: Panelist Erin Heitkamp says Pipeline is a global clean label supply chain company. It was founded 14 months ago. Heitkamp says the risk of supply chain disruption is huge.
12:36PM CT: Mike Dill says produce is unique, as it needs airflow and is always open to the environment. The produce supply chain is complex with uncertified operations. Major retailers and big box stores are often left out of the conversation. These businesses have their own warehouses and distribution systems and aren’t certified. Uncertified handlers are purchasing and selling organic product, and no one is looking at sources, while often purchasing from uncertified handlers. This means the product could travel from grower to retailer with the only certified operation being the grower.
12:33PM CT: Panelist Peter Carlson says fraud is endemic, not rare. He mentions that residue testing is important, but it also provides cover for the fraud. Every single company and importer knows how much they purchased, from where, and at what price. Carlson says keeping track of those quantities through the supply chain is what is important.
12:20PM CT: Members of the second panel include: John Bobbe of OFARM; Peter Carlson of Terra Ingredients; Mike Dill with the Organically Grown Co.; Erin Heitkamp of Pipeline Foods; and Monique Marez, the OTA Director of International Trade.
Bobbe shows slides of huge cargo ships coming into U.S. He mentions that former NOP administrator McEvoy told him the NOP didn’t track ships at that time. Bobbe notes that Turkey does not produce a single kernel of corn or any soybeans organically. Kazakhstan, he says, has no organic production (he was in Kazakhstan on a UN project).
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: Twenty-five thousand metric tons of purportedly organic corn, grown in Russia, Moldova, and Kazakhstan has been blocked from entry into the U.S. by U.S. Customs, with Turkey erroneously identified as the origin point.
Bobbe says we don’t rely on the NOP to get our information on what is going on in the marketplace. Ships are required to file a travel plan, similar to an FAA plan. He says the bottom line is that USDA submits to an outside audit, as called for in OFPA (not skirting the issue by using peer review). Bobbe states that Midwestern grain farmers have suffered $400 million in lost sales over the past several years due to buyers purchasing imports.
12:17PM CT: The second panel on imports begins its presentation. Panelist John Bobbe (OFARM – Organic Farmers Agency for Relationship Marketing) says Turkey doesn’t produce organic grain. Why are they exporting organic grain to the U.S.? They even import organic grain from the U.S.
12:08PM CT: NOSB farmer member Emily Oakley: A stop-sale [stopping the sale of a product] — should the NOP look at this?
Jake Lewin says a stop-sale is a big deal, and it is something we should be considering. This is a legislative matter and is a matter of legal authority; it is a tool we should be considering, but it needs to be fair.
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: Congress would have to give the NOP the authority for a “stop-sale” and define parameters through legislation.
Oakley says it is almost impossible to go forward effectively without some sort of authority for stop-sale.
11:48AM CT: NOSB member Behar (environmentalist/conservationist rep): We need to implement tracking systems for large loads. Fraud happens when it is easy; we need to make it harder.
Welsch responds that the NOP has much more authority to look through an entire supply chain than certifiers. We are only certifying one entity in the chain and don’t have the resources or authority in some cases to go further.
11:45AM CT: NOSB member Dan Seitz (consumer/public interest rep) asks: Jake, you said you think fraud is rare. How do you get a sense of how prevalent fraud is, and how do you gauge the amount?
Lewin says: In all cases of fraud there is always an injured party. As a general rule, the trade itself has a really good idea of what’s happening because they are the ones who are being cheated and hurt. We do pesticide residue testing, and instances where we find positives are really quite low. We’re looking for fraud all the time. While there are great risks, the fact that we aren’t finding it all the time is an indication that it is rare.
Adds Welsch: If fraud occurs at a 1% level and you’re sampling shipments, you need to sample close to 90% to detect a small amount of fraud. A single transaction of high volume could affect the price of organic products in the U.S. The concern is not the percentage of occurrence but the size of the shipment. He mentions that some people have excellent records–so excellent, the records are of things they didn’t do.
CORNUCOPIA NOTE: The NOP should impose additional requirements on operations doing business with countries with documented fraud, such as Turkey. Testing should be mandatory for imports from high risk countries.
11:37AM CT: NOSB members begin engaging with the panel. Farmer member Jessie Buie says as a small farmer this traceability process is so precise; it goes from the row it came from to where it’s ultimately going. Wonders whether he is being overly simplistic: it seems like there is a process in place, but what’s not being done?
Sam Welsch notes that yield information is great if certified by the NOP, but if certified under a recognition agreement, none of those certified operations show up on the database. We have certified operations that ask shipments be sent to Turkey [this has been a shipping source point for much of the fraud] without a transaction certificate. Transaction certificates can indicate sales (who bought and sold), but it can fail to indicate where product is moving and whether other parties are involved. Transaction certificates can conceal and reveal. Sometimes people who own the product don’t know anything about the movement or know where their product is; they don’t know where their product has traveled.
Albrecht Benzing says part of the fraud we experienced was with the imports through Turkey. Part of that was organized through traders in Ukraine who made contracts with large farms, instructed those farms to use low levels of fertilizers, and then didn’t buy from these farmers. But those farms were listed to be shown to inspectors while the product was not really bought there. Just having acreage figures isn’t enough. It’s not difficult to discover these tricks, Benzing says. We need competent inspectors who want to find out. Too many people, he observes, aren’t interested in finding out.
Lewin says a key piece is missing in both the EU and U.S.: more effective supervision of what certifiers do. The NOP audits certifiers, and it’s a good system, but it does not help to prevent fraud because it’s too predictable. The audits are announced months in advance, so its easy to ensure what the NOP won’t see. Resources need to be allocated to less predictable audits and focus on risk-based audits.
Good photographs are not possible since the NOP staff has cordoned off
the testimony area of the room from the media and public interest
11:22AM CT: Sam Welsch, President of the international certifier OneCert, says “Sometimes transaction certificates can conceal as much as they reveal because they don’t have enough trace-back information through the supply chain. Getting that information can take several weeks.”
11:14AM CT: CCOF’s Jake Lewin says all certifiers should report crop acreage to the Integrity database. After the U.S., only 7% of the world is reporting acreage. Certifiers must collect this data as acreage and operation reporting should be part of trade agreements. Lewin says the NOP should direct certifiers to collaborate on investigations. Certifiers have a tendency to withhold information from each other, leading to missed opportunities for full supply chain verification. Lewin states that certifiers should track and report export activity to the NOP. He believes fraud is serious “but rare.”
11:02AM CT: Albrecht Benzing discusses where things go wrong and what can be done. He says certifiers are businesses, and you have to keep a balance between integrity and surviving as a business. He notes that the loyalty of the local inspector is often with the farmer and not the consumer. Some certifiers have models where inspectors get a bonus if they find new clients. Benzing adds that there is a social hierarchy in certifiers that does not make it easy for an inspector to address fraud, as well as competition between certifiers and lack of supervision.
Some of the things being done in the European Union: Compulsory certificate of inspection is required by customs authorities to get product into the EU, so it is a strong tool. As for the Organic Farming Information System, pesticide residues are reported and certifiers are required to report what they have done to investigate. Certifiers then enter the results. Similar tools exist in the U.S., but the ratio of investigations are dramatically different. It’s completely different from the NOP’s approach of issuing notification of non-compliance, which still allows fraudulent product to end up on the market. Benzing says the NOP is not effectively supervising certifiers in other countries.
11:00AM CT: The NOSB Compliance, Accreditation, and Certification Subcommittee has also presented an Import Oversight Discussion Document to combat fraud. It notes that strong growth has led to an increase in imports, particularly in grains.
10:53AM CT: The NOSB spring meeting in Tucson has moved into the second day. Two panels discussing organic imports and fraud will fill the morning. The first panel features Sam Welsch, founder of OneCert and chair of Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA); Silke Fuchshofen of Organic Insights, Inc. and independent organic processing inspector; Albrecht Benzing, the manager partner with Ceres as well as an agronomist and farm advisor in South America; and Jake Lewin, the head of certification services for CCOF.
Sam Welsch begins by saying that it’s not sufficient to match an organic certificate to a product, you have to make sure the certificate came from a particular supplier. What does it mean for a warehouse to be certified organic if they aren’t required to verify the origin of the product? Just getting certified isn’t enough. Certification has to be meaningful.
Silke says she has developed risk assessment methods as an inspector; often one certificate is on file, but products are coming from different locations.
10:35AM CT: Meeting begins:
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
8:49PM CT: Emily Musgrave of berry marketer Driscoll’s testifies in support of elemental sulfur, lime sulfur, sulfurous acid, and fish fertilizer.
NOSB farmer member Oakley: Do you think your growers have a preference on whether or not their fish fertilizer is harvested from wild fish or made from a byproduct?
Musgrave: As long as the cost per unit of nitrogen doesn’t go up, our growers would prefer that their liquid fish fertilizer be sourced from byproduct, not harvested fish.
8:40PM CT: Nicole Dehne is Certification Director for Vermont Organic Farmers which certifies 700 producers in the state of Vermont. She testifies in support of the proposal to reduce the incentive to convert native ecosystems, but wants to make sure that it doesn’t harm organic maple producers. She says 50% bio-based biodegradable mulch should be allowed and over time increase the requirement toward 100%. It is more sustainable than plastic.
8:25PM CT: Richard Conn of Conn and Smith, Inc. expresses support of polyoxin D zinc salt as a fungicide.
Daniel Martens with Novamont North America testifies in support of bio-based plastic mulch. Today 30% of the product is bio-based, he says.
8:12PM CT: Isaura Andaluz of Cuatro Puertas testified in support of seed purity. The situation has become worse, she says. Landrace seeds need to be preserved. They have wonderful traits like drought tolerance, high germination rates across different temperatures, years of genetics that they have developed over the process of a lifetime. People don’t want to tell anyone that they are contaminated because they are losing their markets.
8:08PM CT: Representatives from Heart of Nature and Reiter Affiliated Companies state their support of elemental sulfur as an antifungal and insecticide for fruit. Wettable sulfur is used in the early season of strawberries when mites are a problem, but powder is used when there is fruit so there are no residues on the fruit. Those residues are higher with the wettable form.
7:59PM CT: Michael Menes of True Organic Products testified in support of fish emulsion, claiming they do not source wild-caught fish for their products, only byproducts. OMRI submitted evidence that many fish fertilizers do source wild fish for their product.
7:56PM CT: Ruth Watts from chemical giant BASF testified in support of the biodegradable bio-based plastic mulch that they produce. Even though genetically modified organisms produce the carbohydrate used to make the mulch, the organisms are not in the final product. She says it is a much more sustainable option than plastic.
NOSB scientist member Dave Mortensen question: BASF also produces dicamba. Dicamba is currently drifting onto hundreds of organic farms and putting them out of business. So I’m asking about company ethic here.
Watts: That is a different department that I am not affiliated with.
7:50PM CT: Jackie DeMinter of the certifier Midwest Organic Services Assoc. testifies in support of the paperpot transplanter. Lots of small growers are using this tool, and they have been told by some certifiers that it is okay under the listing for paper on the National List, only to find out from the NOP that it isn’t allowed.
NOSB member Oakley: Small farmers have invested in this tool under the premise that it is allowed. Is there any way the NOP can increase the allowance of this tool beyond the 2018 season?
NOP representative replied they may be able to do that.
7:33PM CT: Cornucopia’s lead scientist, Linley Dixon, PhD, addresses the NOSB: This Real Organic Project add-on label would not be necessary if farmers felt the current NOSB process of continuous improvement was working, if the NOP assurance of a level playing field was enforced. There is a deep feeling of frustration and earnestness to save the family farm that the organic label brought back to life in the first place.
I see the Real Organic Project as an opportunity to tell our organic story again; to remind consumers that organic was built by family farms and that they are still overseeing the success of the label; to inspire the next generation of farmers and eaters to be part of organic.
Read the full testimony [PDF].
7:30PM CT: As public testimony continues, Pat Meyer, a Cornucopia consumer-member, testifies in support of the spirit of organics. She is concerned that conventional operations “use” the label in name only, not in the spirit of continuous improvement. To bend the law to their practices rather than change their practices to meet organic ideals.
7:00PM CT: Michael Sligh of the Rural Advancement Foundation International: Why has organic become so successful? Because we promised farmers a level playing field and checks and balances in the system between the NOSB and NOP. These fraudulent imports are emblematic of problems throughout our entire industry. We need NOP oversight and it is incumbent on all of us to defend organic now.
John Bobbe of OFARM and Anne Ross of
Cornucopia at the spring NOSB meeting in Tucson
6:37PM CT: Cornucopia’s Anne Ross tells the NOSB that Cornucopia recently reported that a shipment of 25,000 metric tons of what is purportedly organic corn was rejected by U.S. Customs. It was determined that the corn originated in Russia, Moldova, and Kazakhstan – imported cracked corn from these countries is not allowed. She says she has been tracking this vessel off the coast of the U.S. and through the Panama canal. Is it going to come back into the U.S.? Is the USDA tracking this ship?
6:18PM CT: Alan Lewis of Natural Grocers states that there are major problems in the retailer space in co-mingling of organic and conventional products. Bulk bins need complete labels with certifier names and trace-ability. Stickers, applied by anyone, need to have a certifier listed on them. A typical waxed cardboard case will say ‘organic’ but no certifier or product is mentioned – this cannot continue. It is a recipe for fraud in the retailer space.
6:11PM CT: The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Amalie Lipstreu raises concerns about oil and gas waste water for use in irrigation. There are several unknown materials that are not disclosed. What should certifiers do if we find they are using this water with unapproved materials in it? There is no process. [Cornucopia has petitioned the USDA for an end to this potential use in organic agriculture.]
6:00PM CT: Johanna Mirenda of the private Organic Materials Review Institute recommends relisting carrageenan as a synthetic because of alkali treatment.
NOSB farmer member Emily Oakley thanks her for her thorough written comments that were submitted. Notes that there were many fish fertilizer products that OMRI listed that do harvest wild stock for fertilizer production.
[Hydroponic producers, including Wholesum Harvest and the Coalition for Sustainable Organics, testified that they would be concerned if their use of fish products for fertilizing their hydroponic crops was contributing to the wild harvest of fish.]
5:50PM CT: Dan Seitz: Why haven’t all the ingredients been disclosed for polyoxin D in the petition?
Cynthia Smith, representing Conn and Smith (the manufacturer of polyoxin d): The petition is simply for polyoxin D salt without added ingredients. She says the formulated product will be evaluated by OMRI or other materials review organizations and adds that all of the inert ingredients are on the EPA Safer Choice list.
5:32PM CT: Gwendolyn Wyard of the powerful Organic Trade Association (OTA) says the OTA recently produced a guide with suggestions for imports oversight. The guide provides an organic business with systems and solutions to prevent fraud that can be integrated into its required Organic System Plan. We hope for industry-wide adoption of this guide, she says. This is a great opportunity for private/public cooperation. There are other examples out there with this model. NOP can endorse our guide. [Cornucopia observes that many of the OTA’s most influential members and factory farm operators have benefited from the flood of cheap imports into the U.S. that have been crushing domestic organic farmers.]
5:26PM CT: National Organic Coalition’s (NOC) Christie Badger says inspector qualifications and trainings are essential to organic integrity. NOC strongly opposes the idea that the NOP would decide what trainings inspectors need. We support licenses for inspectors and reviewers but think it should come from the NOSB. We don’t agree with passing the current proposed instructor training document. The NOSB must have the ability to advance important issues to organic stakeholders, such as the container discussion document. This creates an uneven playing field in the marketplace. She adds that vaccines should be added back to the NOSB work agenda.
5:21PM CT: Sam Welsch, representing organic certifier OneCert: Certification is meaningless if you can’t trace a product you receive back to a certified operation. Labeling needs to be on products and paperwork all the way through the supply chain. If it doesn’t go all the way through the supply chain, you can’t verify that it is organic. Packaged products are excluded from certification by handlers, so there are major loopholes. [This has been a glaring loophole facilitating organic fraud in imports.]
5:19PM CT: Albert Straus, of Straus Family Creamery: New labels such as Non-GMO are creating consumer confusion. We need to protect organic.
[Cornucopia agrees – but acknowledges that the system of NOP continuous improvement is failing.]
Cameron Harsh from the Center for Food Safety says the container discussion document, related to hydroponics, should come back on the agenda. Container production that relies on liquid fertility does not comply with the Organic Foods Production Act, he says. Separately he brings up nanomaterials, known to have health effects, and says the NOSB shouldn’t have to review individual nanomaterials petitioned for this reason.
5:02PM CT: Jennifer Berkebile of the certifier Pennsylvania Certified Organic requests a more detailed explanation as to why paper chain pots are prohibited from the NOP. NOP stated that paper is not listed as a pot and needs to be. A petition needs to go through the process for this to be allowed so any synthetics can be reviewed.
4:54PM CT: Richard Mathews of Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance supports adding use of glycolic acid as a prevention for mastitis. Very happy to see that NOP is conducting inspections. Non-compliance is out there. USDA needs to follow up with enforcement actions through the court if necessary. Anything less will bring more bad press.
4:48PM CT: Ed Maltby of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance says the NOSB should disregard anything the Senate has recently said about the NOSB. You do great work. We’re now being told that animal welfare is not part of organic. The USDA’s Inspector General report of 2013 stated the origin of livestock is an issue of domestic fraud. He knows it’s more of a soundbite to look at America first and only look at import fraud, but U.S. farmers are being harmed by an uneven playing field.
NOSB member Swaffar: No comment on glycolic acid – teat dip?
Maltby says: We didn’t comment because there were different views from our members.
NOSB member Oakley: What were your thoughts on the comments we received from some NE dairy farmers that are concerned about the native ecosystems document.
Maltby replied: We don’t need more grazing land right now. There’s plenty of land available for dairy milk to meet the current demand.
4:39PM CT: Jo Ann Baumgartner of Wild Farm Alliance urges the NOSB to fix a loophole that is undermining the integrity of the label. The incentive to convert native ecosystems to organic production needs to end now. USGS maps, NatureServe, and other electronic maps help explain where there are native ecosystems. Specific concerns that have been raised can be addressed in guidance. We need to keep this issue moving forward. [See Cornucopia’s comments on this issue for more.]
4:27PM CT: Jay Feldman, the executive director of Beyond Pesticides, testifies that the organic label is damaged when the NOSB doesn’t have full authority over its agenda and its recommendations are ignored. It’s critical, he says, that we have deadlines for topics like excluded methods, seed purity, contaminated inputs, and inert ingredients. For this reason, sulfur use as a molluscicide should be prohibited because it contains 99% inert ingredient. The inert ingredients can be much more harmful and active than the “active” ingredient.
NOSB farmer member Emily Oakley: The Technical Review for polyoxin D is relying on the petitioner’s information for impact on soil.
Jay Feldman responds: You don’t have complete information on the product formulation to accept this material.
NOSB member Dan Seitz (consumer representative): There may be other substances used for that which are more harmful.
Feldman asks: How do you make that analysis if the ingredients haven’t been fully disclosed?
4:18PM CT: Public testimony resumes after a lunch break. Margaret Scoles of the International Organic Inspectors Association: Recommends inspectors are divided into three levels based on experience, background, and expertise. Need minimum hours of continuing education and training. IOIA and ACA are in close communication. Licensing or ISO-accreditation (privatization with accreditation) would add cost and minimal value. However, not all certifiers require training for inspectors, so there is a value in licensing. Ensuring pasture compliance needs extra training for inspectors.
3:07PM CT: Kiki Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance: Testing for GMOs in seed should be required on conventional and organic seed used in organics. Data should be gathered from seed suppliers on baseline contamination levels of the seed they sell.
3:03PM CT: Lynn Coody of the Organic Produce Wholesalers Coalition says there is a continued need for ethylene for fruit ripening. Imports of perishables have very different needs than grain. For produce, the boxes are open so they can be contaminated through water/air. Co-mingling can occur in warehouses, so produce needs to have special attention – we do need to certify the entire supply chain. She says excluding some handlers for requirements of organic certification is not advised. Certification brings expertise and training to the warehouse. Produce can arrive with very little information that leads documents to the actual product. Produce stickering is occurring at uncertified warehousing. Retailers are running their own distribution facilities but are not being certified.
2:42PM CT: Deborah Klein testifies for Ecolab: Alternative chemistries for sanitizers are on the National List, but we need SDBS (Sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate) for a fruit and vegetable wash for restaurants. Chlorine is difficult to manage and customers don’t know how to use it or don’t manage it well. SDBS and a combination of sanitizers can be more effective.
2:37PM CT: Terry Shistar, speaking for Beyond Pesticides: The NOSB authority is being diminished by the NOP when they control their agenda and when the NOP doesn’t follow recommendations made by the NOSB. We have concerns on sulfur dust for the health of the applicator.
NOSB member Oakley: Thank you for submitting comments on everything on the National List.
2:33PM CT: Lee Frankel, speaking for the Coalition for Sustainable Organics [a hydroponics lobby group]: Allow us to select the most appropriate growing conditions for specific sites and needs. I thank the NOSB and NOP staff for their support of organic production. Hydroponic production has always been allowed. I’d be happy to help the NOSB on container standards if you want to further pursue them.
NOSB farmer member Emily Oakley asks: Are there concerns from your members on the sustainability of the use of wild-caught fish for fertilizer?
Frankel: I haven’t polled our members, but, in general, people are looking to be sustainable outside of their production.
[Cornucopia has presented evidence to the NOSB in the past that wild-caught fish are being used for fish fertilizer. Cornucopia also questions the sustainability of the use of conventional hydrolyzed soybeans for fertilizer by hydroponic growers.]
2:24PM CT: NOSB Chair Chapman questions certifier Oregon Tilth: Certified handlers and transaction documents were still implemented in the Washington Post fraud. Why are those your priorities to address import fraud?
Zak Wiegand of Oregon Tilth: Electronic systems are better than paper systems for fraud. Oregon Tilth has rejected imports due to missing paperwork. Not all certifiers are capable of following up on the paperwork required. If the paperwork isn’t there, the import product sits, waiting on us to follow up – sometimes for weeks. There is incentive for them to work around us and find another way to import their product.
Oregon Tilth’s Ryan Costello: Vaccines use genetic modification methods, and livestock farmers rely on these, so I would use caution in prohibiting any vaccine additives.
2:10PM CT: Theo Crisantes of Wholesum Harvest testifies: We use liquid fish for fertility. We have concerns with the acidity level of the fish emulsion. We use sulfurous acid to treat high pH in water. Potassium chlorite is a great source of potassium for us.
On imports: Please keep in mind that fruits and vegetables have a very different supply chain than grains.
[Wholesum Harvest is one the of giant hydroponic operators producing hydroponic produce]
NOSB member Oakley: Are you concerned about over-harvesting of fish for fertilizer use?
Crisantes: The company that we use uses only fish byproduct.
NOSB member Tom Chapman (Clif Bar, processor member): Do you think all handlers of organic produce should be certified?
Crisantes: Keep in mind we have to rush product to market – it is more perishable.
2:02PM CT: Three marketers for CP Kelco testify in support of the use of the hydrocolloids: gellan gum, xanthan gum, gum arabic, tragacanth gum, guar gum, locust bean gum. They have different uses as gelling agents, thickeners for use for gluten-free products, fat replacements, suspension of solids, and vegan replacements for gelatin. Each of these hydrocolloids has unique attributes. For example, alginates are cold soluble and heat stable but have difficulty with acids. They note a desire to exceed dairy milk’s calcium in plant-based beverages because they are competing with dairy milk’s calcium levels.
1:47PM CT: Jenny Cruse, representing the Accredited Certifiers Association, presented results from a survey of organic growers on marketplace transparency. Survey results indicate that organic growers would like to present acreage for organic crops in the organic Integrity database [Cornucopia agrees with the farmer response]. Conversations with the EU are critical because they have made strides on transparency that we haven’t.
Beth Rota of Quality Certification Services told that NOSB: We don’t have a transparent picture of the entire supply chain – just the last user. The certification of the entire supply chain will put a burden on certifiers. Of course the NOP has to go through a rulemaking process, and then it would take time to transition on the certifier end to ramp up and comply. In relation to reducing the incentive to convert native ecosystems document, we worry about the inability of certifiers to enforce this because the web-based tools might not be sufficient, and we can’t get to the sites before we are inspecting.
1:36PM CT: Richard Wallick provides public testimony, showing FOIA documents that raise concerns that the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is bypassing organic regulations with the approval of substances.
1:30PM CT: Zea Sonnabend, former NOSB member scientist seat now representing CCOF, testifies: Genetic integrity of seed is important to CCOF members. The NOSB has requested a seed purity task force to implement testing guidelines for two years now. The guidance on excluded methods passed by the NOSB must be implemented by the NOP.
NOSB farmer member Emily Oakley, notes that polyoxin Z (as a fungicide) was petitioned for use during Zea’s time on the NOSB, but we are looking at it now.
Says Sonnabend, we can’t grow basil because of downy mildew, and this seems like a safe fungicide.
NOSB member Harriet Behar says the organic program has statutory authority ultimately to decide which excluded methods are excluded. We’re trying to open that communication.
Sonnabend mentions that they were careful to make their recommendation on excluded methods in line with international definitions like codex.
1:19PM CT: Phil LaRocca (organic farmer and wine vintner) testifies: Pesticide, herbicide, GMO drift. I have seen a grower put out of business because of GMO drift. There was a whitepaper that this board reviewed in the past addressing a superfund to help farmers for drift. For my grapes and apples I’ve been using a mined elemental sulfur. I have used sulfur dust in the past, but I felt bad for the applicator. Powdery mildew is always becoming resistant to new fungicides, but sulfur always works. [NOTE: Mr. LaRocco is the board chair of CCOF.]
NOSB member Asa Bradman (environmentalist/conservationist): Should we be discouraging the use of dust in favor of wettable sulfur? LaRocca says if your ground is wet, it is easier to get a duster through when you can’t get in with a big rig for the wettable form. There are times when some growers might need dust.
NOSB member Harriet Behar (environmentalist/conservationist): If you get drifted, you don’t lose your certification in MN according to the MN supreme court. The NOP could come up with consistent implementation of what happens after drift.
Paul Lewis of NOP’s Standards Division tells Harriet that they have looked at this in the past but, because of other priorities, haven’t finished it.
1:14PM CT: Testimony from the public begins with Kelly Damewood, representing the certifier CCOF. Speaking to the native ecosystems proposal, she says at the end of the day, a 10-year waiting period to convert native lands into organic could become an incentive to convert this land to conventional production. We aren’t opposed to the proposal, but we welcome the opportunity to explore incentive-based proposals for conversion of already farmed land into organic, such as a transitional label.
12:34PM CT: NOSB member Dan Seitz: As a consumer representative on the board, a big part of the success of organic is consumer choice and transparency. The organic seal filled an important niche for choices on values. The organic seal is the gold standard. We are seeing new certifications in the marketplace: humanely raised, grass-fed, soil-based, regenerative, non-GMO. Is there a place in the NOSB for these new certifications and extra labels for transparency?
Ibach responds: There’s value in statutory labeling and labeling driven by the marketplace. Natural and sustainable hasn’t been defined yet. I don’t know if consumer definition matches the marketers’ definition.
NOSB member Scott Rice (certifier representative): Happy to hear that the focus on fair and consistent standards should be a priority of the NOP. We hear about inconsistent interpretation of the pasture rule, and the OLPP was going to address some of these concerns. We’re happy to hear about unannounced inspections on organic dairies by the NOP.
Ibach: There’s 150 ways to buy eggs. What I worry about is whether or not the labels have value.
12:14PM CT: NOSB member Dave Mortensen (scientist seat): We hear from farmers regularly that there are severe losses by domestic organic grain producers from import fraud – anywhere from 15,000-120,000 and more. We want you to know that the NOSB stands ready to help solve this problem.
Ibach: We have to compete on a level playing field. This is an opportunity for U.S. grain producers to enter the organic market. Tucker adds that the imports panel tomorrow will be very helpful for this.
[Cornucopia notes that fraudulent organic grain imports are directly related to the rapid rise of domestic organic factory farms that demand and prefer large amounts of cheap organic grain. U.S. organic grain farmers could have had the opportunity to meet those demands for authentic organic grains.]
12:01PM CT: NOSB member Emily Oakley (farmer seat) asks USDA’s Ibach: How do we balance needs of our stakeholders with the priorities of the administration?”
Ibach answers “with communication” to the NOP so that we can align both priorities.
NOSB member Ashley Swaffar asks Ibach: The OLPP [Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices proposed rule recently rejected by the USDA] was in line with the NOSB standards and regulatory processes that we have always followed. Why did we work on this for many years if it exceeds our statutory authority?
Ibach: There are a couple of lawsuits over this right now so that I can’t talk about it in detail. Ibach then avoids the question by talking about other programs.
11:50AM CT: The NOP’s Jennifer Tucker addresses the NOSB meeting. She says the NOP has focused on stronger organic control systems, and certifiers are tracing supply chains in more depth. NOP is relying on certifiers to implement stronger control systems and detect fraud. She adds that the NOP is working on more directives to certifiers to increase testing/inspection for shipments from Eastern Europe. USDA is also reviewing a memorandum of agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for broader access to trade data.
11:27AM CT: Greg Ibach, Under Secretary U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs speaks at NOSB mtg:
We have a duty to represent “picky” consumers and provide low cost food. Innovations are leading to new practices in organic. We are looking for efficiency in our business processes.
Greg Ibach (center of image) addresses the NOSB
We take import fraud very seriously, says Ibach. He fails to mention problems with domestic fraud, such as failure to meet pasture requirements or origin of livestock. He notes that there was a 7% growth in U.S. organic farms this year and 11% growth in organic farms internationally. This rapid growth has caused challenges in enforcement which he says they are addressing.
Ibach gives the USDA credit for blocking three bulk shipments, including $14.5 million of “organic” corn. Extols USDA efforts, and attributes 35% decline in imports of organic corn and 15% decline in organic soybean imports over past year to USDA enforcement activities. He states focus now is on coordinated efforts with other agencies, implementing a risk-based approach to dedicate resources where most needed to identify fraud, and to institutionalize unannounced inspections. [Cornucopia and OFARM have been leading critics of import fraud and calling on the USDA to address this issue for years.]
11:00AM CT: USDA announces 2 appointments to vacancies on 15 member NOSB. Dr. James Greenwood, an organic CA avocado grower and a member of the faculty of the School of Public Health at UCLA, will fill the vacant environmental seat. Greenwood has a master’s in public health and a doctorate in microbiology. Eric Schwartz, the CEO of California based United Vegetable Growers Cooperative, will fill the vacant processor seat. Schwartz has 35 years of experience in fresh and frozen foods operations.
CORNUCOPIA COMMENTARY: The surprise announcement today, by USDA leadership, that they have filled the two empty seats on the board is unprecedented and perhaps prompted by the news release we issued Monday with a threat of legal action.
Never before has a meeting started without an attempt by the Secretary of Agriculture to fill vacancies, including scheduled vacancies, before the beginning of a meeting.
Either this was a rushed process, in order to make this announcement today as a form of damage control, or the process has been in the works and they did not make the simple effort to assure that these two board members were present and able to listen to public testimony and engage in the deliberative process.
Cornucopia staff will look forward to meeting and collaborating with these two members going forward.
10:46AM CT: Official opening of the National Organic Standards Board Meetings by Ruihong Guo, acting deputy administrator of the Agriculture Marketing Service National Organic Program. She introduces the NOP staff and NOSB chairman, Tom Chapman, ingredient sourcer from Clif Bar. “We have a full agenda with some weighty subjects ahead.” Chapman announces that two NOSB seats are currently empty: the environmentalist seat was not filled by the NOP after Francis Thicke finished his 5-year term and the processor seat is also currently empty. The 13 NOSB members introduce themselves.