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Has the National Organic Program Already Been Destroyed? What Can We Do?

Do you believe that when you buy Certified Organic that it’s free of synthetics or chemicals that are harmful? It’s not always.
You still have to do your homework.

But if the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and corporate agribusiness are allowed to continue their take over of the National Organic Program (NOP) and continue to weaken organic standards even further, we may not be able to obtain quality food unless we grow it ourselves or know the organic farmer and/or food producer. The word ‘organic’ (and/or the official seal) would soon be meaningless.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) – What is it?

When law-makers passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), Congress established the National Organic Standards Board. (NOSB). Unlike other advisory boards, this one was given authority by the law. It was officially ordered that the Secretary of Agriculture (United States Department of Agriculture Secretary) was to seek the advice and counsel of the Board on policies important to the organic community.

4 organic farmers, 3 consumers, 2 organic food processors, 1 retailers, 3 environmentalists, a scientist and an organic certification representative were to make up the 15 member board. This, it was thought, would prevent USDA and big agribusiness interests from taking over the organic sector.

As it turns out, the law was abused. And the board, whose seats were clearly intended for independent voices, has been stacked with big agribusiness representatives.

Dangerous Stuff in Organic Baby Food?

When the highly processed DHA and ARA oils from genetically mutated algae and soil fungus was approved for use in organics (in a baby formula no less!!) it triggered a detailed report (by the organic watchdog, Cornucopia Institute) of corporate influence in the USDA’s National Organic Program.

If you want a lot more information in an easy to read document, The Organic Watergate – White Paper is a pdf online at
http://www.cornucopia.org/USDA/OrganicWatergateWhitePaper.pdf.

USDA Erodes the Authority of the Board (NOSB)

The fall 2013 meeting of the NOSB was cancelled due to government shutdown. This must have been the right opportunity for the USDA to further erode the authority of the Board.  USDA took it on themselves to make changes to procedures previously established by law. They published these changes in the National Register (a daily journal for the US government) in Sept of 2013 and then again in the USDA’s Organic Insider in March of 2014.

These changes took away the ability of the Board (NOSB) to develop its work plan and agenda.  The USDA also indicated the Policy and Procedures Manual was no longer in force.

Synthetic and Non-organic Materials Allowed in Organic Food and Agriculture

The most immediately serious result was the change in the Sunset Process. The Sunset Process is the approval process for synthetic and non-organic material allowed for use in organic food and agriculture on an list known as the National List. The changes the USDA made are in conflict with Policy and Procedures Manual (the reason they declared it no longer in force I would think).  The changes were implemented without consultation with the NOSB, the organic stakeholders, or the public.

Government Takeover – Spring 2014 Meeting

At the April 2014 meeting, Deputy Administrator McEvoy (USDA employee who directs the staff of the National Organic Program) claimed the right to co-chair the meeting. This action encroached on the independence and authority of the NOSB and limited discussion on the serious changes that had been made.

Understandably there was protest, although peaceful. In spite of that McEvoy called the police and had the political director of the Organic Consumer Associations arrested and removed from the room. (Surely there could have been a better way to handle the situation than to have the police handcuff and remove this small, well-dressed, non-agressive lady from the room.)

Strong Arm Threat by USDA employee when a Board Member Exercised His Right to Call for a Point of Order

What really got me was the strong-arm threat by McEvoy to shut down this meeting that many had come all the way across the country to attend and spent 6 months preparing for. Here’s what happened:

When the meeting resumed after the arrest of the OCA’s political director, Jay Feldman (a member of the NOSB <the Board>) called for a point of order to contest the co-chairing of the meeting by USDA’s McEvoy.

According to Robert’s Rules of order he was entirely within his rights to do so.  Robert’s Rules are the recognized guide to running meetings and conferences effectively and fairly. Here’s what the rules say:

  • Any member who notices a breach of the rules has a right to call immediate attention to the fact and insist that the rules be enforced by raising a point of order.
  • If you notice a breach of the rules, especially if that breach impinges on your rights or the rights of other members, you rise — quickly, mind you, even if you interrupt a speaker, or you’ll be too late — and say, “Point of order, Madam President!” or “Madam President, I rise to a point of order!”

McEvoy is reported to have approached Feldman during the break and reportedly told him that he would cancel the entire meeting unless Feldman retracted his parliamentary move. When the meeting resumed, Feldman reluctantly withdrew his objection.  (I understand he was probably thinking of all those who had come to the meeting, but it still made me sad that he withdrew his objection.)

Making Your Voice Heard at the October meeting – Deadline October 7, 2014 11:59 Eastern Time

I think it important we let our voices be heard by the NOSB (the Board), USDA Secretary Vilsack, and our representatives on various issues, especially those major issues that will be discussed at the fall 2014 NOSB meeting in October.  (http://www.beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/?p=14120)

The closing date for comments is October 7, 2014 at 11:59 Eastern Time.

To Make More of an Impact

When you write your comment, keep in mind that form letters are generally considered all one letter even if they have lots of folks submitting them. A well thought out unique comment will carry more weight.

Beyond Pesticides (organic watchdog group) recommends that we start our comments with a personal statements such as:

  • I am a mother of two young children. I buy organic because I want the best food for them….
  • I am a school teacher and I teach my students about the value of organic products….
  • Organic products are crucial to me because of my chemical sensitivities….

This will set your comment apart as being individual.

My Comments to the Board, Secretary Vilsack, Our Congressmen, and Our Representative

I plan to submit something like the following:

I have been an organic grower for 36 years. For more than a decade I sold to market as well as supplying food for my family. My husband and I depend on organic food to give us the best chance at health and long life.

  • It is upsetting to say the least, that the approval of synthetic materials in organic material will be further weakened by the new Sunset Process that was adopted on September 17, 2013 even though it was/is in direct violation of the Organic Foods Production Act. The Act required public debate, discussion and a vote of the NOSB on whether to re-list allowed synthetic material in organic production and processing on a five year cycle. My husband and I urge that the original sunset process be reinstated. Then, if that process can be approved upon, we urge that it be done with public transparency and input and according to law.
  • We also urge the board to keep organics free of any synthetics and create incentives for continuous improvement in processes so that the synthetics can be removed totally . If synthetics are used, we urge that it will be public record, so we will be able to avoid those products containing them.
  • The situation with “runaway” gmo crops is alarming and saddening. It is devastating when it touches an organic grower.
    Every effort should be made to protect organic crops, soil and water from not only residues of pesticides, but from genetically engineered organisms that can ruin an organic farm.  (It is shameful that this has even happened.)
  • Please get so called “inert ingredients”, that manufacturers by law don’t have to tell the public about, out of organic production. It is well documented that many times these inert ingredients are often as toxic as the active ingredients.
  • Products that are genetically modified (genetic engineering/gmos) do not belong in organic. We urge the Board to complete the task of defining the scope of “excluded methods” (the term for genetic engineering). Since the United States Department of Agriculture is known to be a promoter of genetic engineering they should not have the responsibility of defining the scope of “excluded methods”.

How to Comment

To comment to the NOSB (the Board) go to the web address below and click the blue “comment now” button at the top right.

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=AMS-NOP-14-0063-0001

To find your congressmen and house representative to to this web address (http://www.opencongress.org/people/zipcodelookup) and type in your zip code.  It will give you the information you need.

To reach the USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, email him at tom.vilsack@usda.gov

Final Thoughts

Please make every effort to submit a comment and let the Board and Secretary Vilsack know what you think.  Then ask your congressmen and your representative for support on this.

My French teacher in high school, use to say, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” It came to mind as I wrote my comments. I hope it hasn’t come to that, but with the way things are going, it’s possible.  Take this opportunity while we still have it.

_________

Suggested Reading:

The following is an excellent information piece that is easy to read.  Even if you only read the first 10 pages you will learn a lot.

Other sources used for this article:

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_30988.cfm

http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/05/turmoil-shakes-national-organics-standards-board-meeting-texas/

http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/nosb-voting-scorecard-released-lobbyistsinfluence-peddlers-eroding-organic-standards/

http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/usda-takes-over-organic-program-eroding-organic-standards-to-benefit-big-food/

http://www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/action/fall2014-action.php

http://www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/index.php

http://www.cornucopia.org/replacing-mother-infant-formula-report/a>

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/09/16/2013-22388/national-organic-program-sunset-process

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2007/01/18/E7-596/national-organic-program-submission-of-petitions-of-substances-for-inclusion-on-or-removal-from-the

http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs127/1103777415326/archive/1116689318038.html

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5105103

_______

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5 comments to Has the National Organic Program Already Been Destroyed? What Can We Do?

  • Thanks for this great information, Theresa. I knew “organic” no longer meant what I was hoping it did, but I didn’t know it was this far out there! Will read through it and send a comment.

    Guess this is all the more reason to grow and cook your own!!

  • Theresa

    Yes, definitely more reason to grow our own, Betty!

    By the way – it was so late when I got this post up that I didn’t activate all the links. I’ve gone back and activated all except the last four “sources” which are to government sites. (If you want to get to one of those, just cut and paste into your browser.)

    If you are coming back to this page, your computer may have stored the “old” page. So if the links don’t work for you, refresh the page and then you’ll see the current updates and the links will work.

    Theresa

  • Steve

    Theresa,
    We should all know by now that unless we grow it ourselves, there is absolutely NO guarantee of what is in or on the food we eat!

    Even here in rural France with all the wonderful markets we have, on an almost daily basis, there is danger. Many of the sellers buy their products wholesale, from god knows where. There are however several registered local growers / sellers, and you can ask the questions needed, and get to know these guys. Even better the little old girl on the end of the market with her table of a few veg etc is the best bet as she will happily tell you how she grows her families food, the surplus of which she is selling.

    But with all that said only we can truly say just how we have grown our own produce.

  • Theresa

    Of course, you are absolutely correct Steve. We “should” all know by now that unless we grow our own, there is absolutely NO guarantee of what is in or on the food we eat!
    Unfortunately, many are totally deceived by the USDA organic label and think it means “definitely safe and ok”. For those of us who have been around a while – we know better.

    At this point in time, if one is unable to grow their own, then foods that carry the USDA organic label are (in most cases) their best bet. BUT as you have brought out, it is NOT a guarantee. It’s always good to do your homework.

    The bottom line is that each of us is ultimately responsible for finding out what is good and what is not. If we can grow our own, it gives us a much better shot a good health.

    Thanks for commenting on this post Steve. I felt this post was an important one and your comment added an excellent point.
    Theresa

  • Farming Bear

    Bravo. I wrote to VilSACK – o – garden clay and the NOSB. But I’d get better results writing to a buried “stank fish” than writing to my congressmen. I have received enough letters o’ smug that I’ve had to make a choice to put the care of my olfactory senses at a higher level of integrity. Better than anything, I will pray.

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