The fall meeting of the National Organic Standards Board is coming up. As usual, we need your help to prevent some bad decisions being made at the behest of industry. Action Alert!
The semi-annual meeting of the NOSB will take place October 26–29 in Vermont. Because NOSB makes decisions that, in large part, determine the future of organic foods, ANH-USA has been engaged with the Board for some time.
After reviewing the agenda, we noted two items of concern.
The NOSB continues to avoid directly addressing the issue of keeping genetically engineered vaccines away from organic livestock. As noted in the materials for the Fall 2015 meeting, it seems the stated rationale for NOSB’s inaction is the difficulty in distinguishing GMO from non-GMO vaccines, and how to define a GMO vaccine. In our coverage of last year’s Fall NOSB meeting, participants identified a need for methods to distinguish between GMO vaccine and non-GMO vaccines—but they did not take any concrete action.
Under current regulation, GMO vaccines are not allowed in organic production unless specifically approved by NOP. The core of the difficulty in keeping GMO vaccines out of organic food, however, seems to be vague definitions contained in NOSB regulations. “Excluded methods” are prohibited in organic production, but the definitions and terms contained in “excluded methods” do not align with the language used by vaccine manufacturers. These inconsistencies make it difficult for organic certifiers and farmers to know which vaccines should not be used in organic production—meaning that it is likely that GMO vaccines are currently being used on organic livestock.
This has been an issue for some time. In 2012 the NOSB recommended that the National Organics Program—the part of the USDA responsible for administering and enforcing organic regulations—identify all vaccines registered to the USDA as either GMO or non-GMO, and make this information available to farmers and certifiers. The USDA, however, has not gone forward with this recommendation, arguing that the creation of such lists would imply that there is something wrong with GMO vaccines.
This is just another unfortunate example of our government refusing to abide by its own laws. The NOSB has the power to end the use of GMO vaccines in organic livestock by creating a list of vaccines that are permissible and those that are not permissible. It is past time to do so.
One of the primary functions of the NOSB is to create lists of materials and substances that are allowed or not allowed in organic production. One issue over the last few years has been exemptions for “inerts”—synthetic chemicals in pesticides that are considered to be “inactive,” even though, as groups like the Center for Food Safety have shown, many so-called “inerts” are actually toxic and active. Considering that some pesticides are composed almost entirely of “inerts,” it is especially important for these chemicals to be reviewed by NOSB in a timely manner and disallowed in organic production.
Despite this urgent need, the NOSB has been dragging its feet for years when it comes to reviewing and ruling on the lists of “inert” chemicals—some of which are known endocrine disruptors. Following a change in how the EPA classifies “inerts,” the NOSB recommended the creation of a task force at its April 2010 meeting to work with the EPA to reevaluate and update its own list of “inerts.” Then, at its October 2010 meeting, the NOSB renewed its exemptions for “inerts” that were considered to pose minimal risk until October 2017. In May 2012, NOSB recommended the same expiration date for “inerts” with an “unknown toxicity” level.
This may sound good, but the problem is that recent changes have completely undermined how and when non-organic substance are removed from organic production—also known as “sunset” provisions. Previously, any exemptions from organic standards were set to expire, or “sunset,” on a specific date—unless they were reinstated by a “decisive” two-thirds majority vote of the NOSB. Now it’s just the reverse: a synthetic material can be permitted to remain in an organic food indefinitely unless a two-thirds majority votes to remove it from the exempted list. So, if NOSB does not vote to allow “inerts” to be removed, they could stay in organic production indefinitely.
Consumers often pay a high premium to purchase organic products to promote health and avoid the toxic pesticides and other contaminants that have come to characterize our industrial agricultural system. These consumers deserve an organic label that delivers on these promises and prevents companies from taking shortcuts.
Action Alert! Send a message to the NOSB and the USDA, urging them to take concrete steps toward removing GMO vaccines and dangerous “inerts” from organic production, where they do not belong. Please send your message immediately.