In just over a month, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will convene in Jacksonville, Florida, October 31st- November 2nd. These meetings are held in different far-flung agricultural areas for a reason – so organic stakeholders can participate. The meetings are sometimes witnessed with emotion, passion and even poetry. There are also hours of laborious grindings filled with technical terms and regulatory jargon, interspersed with Roberts Rules of Order. Why put yourself through hours of dogmatic drudgery and sometimes controversy? Because the organic regulations are a mutable set of protocols that can change with a vote of this board.
If you don’t show up, the products you eat or sell or the way you farm could be in jeopardy.
Who Should Attend?
If you are reading this now and you are an organic farmer, processor, manufacturer, certifier, retailer or consumer, you are an important stakeholder in the process (did I miss anyone?). The way you farm, process and manufacturer, the inputs you can use, the products available for you to sell or eat are all on the table for discussion. The very essence of industry growth and innovation is born or dies at these meetings. No one is spared the march of change that occurs here – especially if you don’t weigh in.
The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances is a component of the organic standards and list the exceptions to this basic rule. Every 2 to 5 years, materials allowed in organic production come under great scrutiny and review; this is called Sunset Review. The NOSB reviews and votes on which substances can be allowed based on the need for the substance and its impacts on human health and the environment.
For instance, baking soda resides on the list and leavens the board's review as much as raising organic pancakes. Celery powder is another material that cures organic bacon as well as salts the minds of the NOSB during Sunset. No baking soda, no organic pancakes; no celery powder, no organic bacon – there goes my breakfast! You get the idea!
The NOSB also gives recommendations on basic changes in the organic regulations. The way the swine are treated or the way the buckwheat and blueberries are grown can all come under discussion here.
What’s on the Agenda for the Next Meeting?
The final agenda and other related meeting materials will be available sometime next week. But the major topics expected for this meeting will be the 2019 Sunset Material review and vote. Also up for discussion is the allowance of hydroponics in organic production, strengthening the requirements for organic seed, the use of biodegradable bio-based mulch, defining emergency treatment for organic livestock production, the conversion of native ecosystems, organic inspector qualifications and organic research priorities. If all of that isn’t enough, the National Organic Program has asked the NOSB to provide recommendations on improving the oversight and control procedures that are used by the Agricultural Marketing Service, certifiers, and operations to verify organic claims for imported organic products.
The NOSB is in the process of reviewing several of the fertilizers, pest control products, livestock treatments, processing aids, and ingredients currently allowed for use by certified organic operations. It will VOTE on whether these production and handling inputs will continue to be allowed in organic at the fall meeting. It’s critical that the NOSB hears from all certified farmers and handlers on whether these inputs are essential and/or necessary for organic production, or whether there are other effective natural or organic alternatives available.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) wants everyone to help them form comments for the entire industry. They have provided a platform or survey system for collecting feedback from certified farms and processors. You need not be an OTA member to chime in.
How to Participate in the NOSB Meeting?
There are three ways you can be part of the discussion. You can scribe them into a letter and submit your feedback on the proposals at Regulations.gov. The deadline to submit written comments is October 11, 2017.
You can show up face to face and look the NOSB members in the eye and tell them your story. Register online to provide oral public comments at the meeting. You will only have three minutes so keep it concise!
If you can’t make the trek to Florida and want the board to hear the power of your message, you can present them during a pre-meeting webinar on October 24th. Register to provide comments during the webinar to secure your spot on the phone.
The registration for oral comments in person or on the webinar will close on October 11th or earlier if the number of commenters reaches a critical maximum, so don’t delay – register now.
Everything you need to know about this meeting can be found on the NOP website, including hotel information for the Omni Jacksonville.
Safeguard the future of organic pancakes and bacon for years to come and be sure to eat a hearty organic breakfast before the meeting. This stuff isn’t suitable for the hungry!