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What is the Organic Foods Production Act

In the late 1980s, there was a plethora of state and private organic labeling programs. The conflicting labels and standards of these programs caused a great deal of consumer confusion.  As a result, many organic farmers and handlers recognized the need for establishing one common federal standard to ensure consistency, build consumer trust, and allow the organic sector to flourish. 

In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), which required that the USDA create uniform standards for organic production and processing. After 10 years of public debate the organic regulations were finalized and then went into effect in 2002. Under OFPA and the organic regulations, organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that does not rely on or permit toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or irradiation. OFPA also establishes a rigorous, third-party organic inspection and certification process to verify that organic farms and processors are following the organic standards.

Prior to the development of the National Organic Program at the USDA, organic sales totaled just $6 billion. Today, organic sales have exploded to nearly $50 billion and 82% of U.S. households buy organic food. In the United States, there are more than 26,000 organic family farms and businesses.

What is the National Organic Standards Board?

The founders of the organic movement, with strong participation from grassroots stakeholders, had the foresight to build fundamental protections into the organic law right from the start. The Organic Foods Production Act established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a citizen stakeholder board with 15 members. This board has statutory authority over what types of fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs could be used in organic production.  Before a material can be added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, it must gain approval from a 2/3 majority of NOSB members. The NOSB operates in the public arena, ensures transparency, and insulates organic from political pressures exerted by special interest groups.

The NOSB meets twice a year and invites public stakeholders to provide oral comments during the meeting, at pre-meeting webinars, as well as in writing in advance of the meeting. NOSB members read hundreds of written public comments and listen to hours of testimony. They deliberate on all of this public input and then advise the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on a wide variety of topics related to organic standards, including National List materials. In reality, there is no place in our food system that is more transparent than in organic production, and the role of the NOSB is central to that transparency.  Learn more about the NOSB.

NOC’s Works with the NOSB to Ensure Organic Integrity

Not everyone is able to follow the many important debates on organic materials and organic standards that affect the integrity of the USDA organic seal, but NOC will be there, as we have been since 2002. 

The National Organic Coalition is actively engaged in providing input to the NOSB and supporting the work of the board. NOC staff and member organizations submit oral and written comments for each meeting on a wide range of topics under consideration by the board.

In addition, NOC has held our “Pre-NOSB” meeting continuously since 1997, typically in the same location and one day in advance of the National Organic Standards Board meeting. The Pre-NOSB meeting serves as a public forum for diverse stakeholders to discuss some of the most urgent and challenging issues impacting the organic community.