NOC Members Speak out against attacks on the National Organic Standards Board

On July 13, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing focused on organic agriculture and specialty crops. During this hearing, Chairman Roberts declared in his opening statement that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and organic regulations were plagued by “uncertainty and dysfunction”.  "These problems create an unreliable regulatory environment and prevent farmers that choose organics from utilizing advancements in technology and operating their businesses in an efficient and effective manner," Roberts stated.

In strong opposition to these assertions, NOC affirmed the critical role of the NOSB in our written testimony to the Senate Agriculture Committee. The NOSB ensures an open and transparent process for setting and revising organic standards and provides all stakeholders with access and input into the USDA process. NOC takes seriously the need to further educate Members of Congress and organic stakeholders about the critical importance of the NOSB to counter these misguided statements about the NOSB and organic regulations.

NOC members Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Northeast Organic Farming Association of NY, Northeast Organic Farming Association of VT, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA also submitted testimony affirming the role of the NOSB. Collectively, our comments also emphasize the need for providing the NOP and other core organic programs with adequate resources in upcoming appropriations and Farm Bill debates. Here are a few of the key points NOC member organizations made in their written testimony:

The NOSB process is open and fair and everyone has every chance to make their case…special interests cannot unduly sway the outcomes because of this carefully constructed balance of public and private interests. At the heart of this, is the overarching requirement to protect the core integrity of the organic claim, without which hundreds of thousands of farmers and millions of consumers will be harmed. Michael Sligh, RAFI-USA

Any attempt to change the function or membership of the board to skew it towards larger operations or particular stakeholders will threaten the integrity of the organic label. If any reforms are necessary, it would be to ensure that the Board has the full resources necessary to conduct the scientific analyses required for the job, and that the National Organic Program has the resources necessary to assist the Board in their processes.  Wenonah Hauter, Food and Water Watch

Because of the diverse membership of the NOSB including producers, handlers, retailers, certifiers, consumers, environmentalists, and scientists and the requirement for 2/3rd majority to pass important measures, no one section of the organic sector can dominate over others. This balance among interests makes it possible for the voices of even small scale farmers who represent the great majority of organic farmers to be heard….Organic standards all over the world encourage the practice of continual improvement to make organic agriculture more sustainable and resilient and to reduce the damage to the environment caused by food production.  By providing a say in the NOP for organic farmers of all scales together with consumers, scientists and environmentalists, the NOSB plays an essential role in the continual improvement of organic agriculture in this country. Elizabeth Henderson, Northeast Organic Farming Association of NY

The NOSB processes for written and oral testimony consistently allow for substantial, high quality, and diverse input from the organic community in order to continually improve the organic standards….Displeasure with the board’s discussions around whether hydroponics should qualify for organic certification is not a reflection of a failure on the part of the NOSB, but of their diligence in addressing a topic of critical importance to the meaning and the future of organic. Maddie Monty, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont and Vermont Organic Farmers

The transparent nature of the NOSB process should not be confused with dysfunction. This is a deliberate, open and very public process, necessary to protect the integrity of organic. Eroding the organic standards will ultimately render organic certification meaningless. Amalie Lipstreu, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

The drafters of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) knew that organic producers, public interest representatives, environmental protection advocates, and organic consumers must be actively involved in driving the organic process. Congressman Peter DeFazio, one of the primary drafters of OFPA, testified during a USDA hearing that, “Public input was a major factor contributing to the success of the organic industry…A national organic label was meant to be developed as a public/private partnership with minimal influence by the Secretary. It is not much of a partnership if the Secretary can undo all of the input of citizens.” Cameron Harsh, Center for Food Safety

Lea Kone