Organic Standards in Danger—Unless You Make Your Voice HeardMarch 5, 2013
It’s like they’re saying, “Ssh! If we keep quiet enough, nobody will complain!” Let’s not let them get away with it. Action Alert!
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will hold its spring board meeting in April. As you probably know, NOSB is the governing board created by Congress that reviews all synthetic and non-organic materials proposed by Big Farma before they can be used in organic farming or food production.
For thirty days before each meeting, the public is supposed to be invited to scrutinize and comment on the topics that will come up at the NOSB meetings—a wide range of issues that significantly affect organic standards—and the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) is supposed to announce it. This time, however, the NOP failed to send out any public announcement about the thirty-day comment period, not even in their own e-newsletter, before the comment period began. The Cornucopia Institute discovered information about the April meeting, buried deep in the NOP website, after the comment period had already begun. Two days after the Cornucopia article appeared, NOP made the public announcement through their Organic Insider newsletter, costing stakeholders valuable time. Had this information been buried by mistake or on purpose? We don’t know.
Thank goodness Cornucopia discovered it, because public comment is vital to keep the NOSB accountable in the face of an increasingly cozy relationship between NOSB and Big Farma, and a serious dilution of organic standards. For example, the list of synthetic ingredients that are allowed in Certified Organic products is growing. As we reported previously, in 2002, the NOSB allowed only 72 chemicals. Since then, over 250 more chemicals have been added.
The majority of organic brands are owned by the biggest food manufacturers, and some them have seats on the NOSB. In 2011, a General Mills executive was on the board, and this year an exec from Driscoll’s, which markets both conventional and organic berries, held a seat on the board that was supposed to be filled by a farmer. After public outcry she resigned—but rejoined the NOSB in a different capacity.
Issues discussed in the NOSB meeting ahead could seriously undermine organic standards—unless you and other grassroots activists are willing to voice your strong objections:
- How to control GMO contamination of organic seeds? Seed purity is especially important to prevent “creeping contamination.” Not only should there be stricter protocols to ensure pure organic seeds, there should be systematic testing of organic seeds for GMO contamination as part of the certification process. And biotechnology companies should be held accountable for any GMO contamination of organic seeds—even if it was unintentional. Under current organic rules, there are no strict practices ensuring that organic seeds are not contaminated with GMO. GMOs are considered an excluded “method” that should be prevented by best practices, but the actual organic product itself is not tested for GMOs. Testing usually occurs when there is “reason to believe” that organic food is contaminated with GMOs.
- How to deal with GMOs in vaccines? Under current organic regulations, animal vaccines using GMOs are not allowed, unless specifically approved by the NOP. However, the NOP hasn’t identified which vaccines contain GMOs in the first place, resulting in GMO vaccine use and weak enforcement. The NOSB will discuss how to identify GMO vaccines; we believe it should it be defined as any technology that creates a targeted change or mutation in the genome; it certainly shouldn’t be something that is evaluated on a case-by case basis, another option that is being considered. We strongly oppose any GMO vaccines in organic livestock.
- Should “confidential business information” (CBI) be allowed in a petitioner’s request for a synthetic chemical to be added to the organic “allowed” list? Currently, CBI is not disclosed in the technical evaluation report of a chemical, and it’s not available to the NOSB, much less to the public. But such CBI could include important information regarding environmental and health effects of a chemical. We strongly support prohibiting CBI in petitions to ensure transparency in the process—especially if the CBI pertains to serious environmental and adverse health effects. This may also have the positive effect of deterring companies that have something to hide.
- Should a fruit antibiotic that adds to the “superbug” problem be allowed for two more years? The NOSB is considering whether to extend the withdrawal date for the antibiotic oxytetracycline, which is used in apple and pear production to prevent fire blight. It’s sprayed on trees, which exposes bacteria in the orchard and especially the soil to the antibiotic, and directly contributes to the “superbug” issue we’ve told you about—the creation of drug-resistant bacteria. There was a lot of public push-back against placing this on the allowed list in the first place. The board wants to extend the withdrawal date to 2016 and add a phase-out plan, even though organic standards require that practices and inputs must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality. We do not support extending sunset date of oxytetracycline.
- Should sugar beet fiber be allowed in organic food to increase overall fiber content? Most sugar beets are GE, so we oppose such a proposal, and would insist that the final product be tested for GMO. We’re also concerned that the process for adding sugar beet fiber to organic food doesn’t follow organic processes.
At the last NOSB meeting, ANH-USA strongly opposed allowing dangerous synthetic chemicals in organic food, including organic baby formula. And the board rejected most of these chemicals.
It’s important that we all participate in this process to uphold organic standards and prevent corporate interests from destroying truly organic food. Organic certification is often the only thing consumers can use to distinguish between healthy, sustainable food and industrial farmed foods, most of which contain GMOs.
Action Alert! Send your comments to the NOSB and tell them your stance on each of the agenda items above. Please send them your message today!