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Turmoil Shakes National Organic Standards Board Meeting in Texas

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A large group of industry and public representatives at the meeting came to learn what the board would do with usage levels of the somewhat controversial synthetic amino acid methionine. Methionine is an essential amino acid for poultry, necessary for the health and well-being of birds. A synthetic version is added to poultry feed and the NOSB has been wrestling for years with how to phase it out in favor of natural alternatives.

Once again, the USDA's Sunset process changes surfaced. Several board members appeared reluctant to adopt changes recommended by the NOSB's Livestock Subcommittee to the amount of synthetic methionine allowed in feed, fearing that USDA's Sunset changes would make the eventual phase-out of the synthetic more difficult, if not impossible.

NOSB farmer-member Nick Maravell and NOSB environmentalist Francis Thicke (also a dairy farmer) received support from fellow board members to send the matter back to the subcommittee for additional review.

"Under the old Sunset rules that the NOSB had historically operated under, this measure likely would have passed with the board having confidence that they would have the power to revisit this issue in the future," Cornucopia's Fantle observed.

A similar fate befell numerous aquaculture materials being reviewed by the board. Discussion revolved around the lack of organic aquaculture standards, with a general sentiment that it was premature to approve materials for use in aquaculture without a full understanding of the system they would be used in. "How can we evaluate without standards?" asked consumer representative Calvin Walker.

The USDA had been criticized over the past few years for pushing synthetic and non-organic materials for use in aquaculture, presumably at the request of corporate agribusiness, when they have ignored recommendations from the NOSB on how to structure the industry to protect human health and the environment.

With the potential for dramatically different approaches between land-based pond systems and ocean net pens (which in conventional aquaculture have resulted in catastrophic environmental degradation), the board chose a cautious path and elected to table further review of all aquaculture materials until the USDA promulgates draft aquaculture standards.

During his organic status report given earlier in the meeting, the USDA's Miles McEvoy said that aquaculture standards had passed clearance and review by other federal officials and would be forthcoming. McEvoy also mentioned that long-promised regulations concerning origin of livestock had similarly been given clearance. Organic dairy farmers have long complained that this loophole was allowing organic "factory farms" to continue to bring in conventional replacement animals. The pending rule change is expected to prevent the practice.

McEvoy also reported a rule governing organic pet food production and labeling was given clearance for release as well and should also be out in the near future.

As one of its last agenda items, the NOSB selected its new leadership. Jean Richardson was elected board chair. John Foster, a handler representative and employee of WhiteWave/Earthbound Foods, was elected vice-chair. And Mac Stone, a certifier representative, was elected the board's secretary.

Amanda Love, a natural foods chef and nutrition therapist from Texas who sits on The Cornucopia Institute's Board of Directors and testified at the meeting, observed afterward, "The NOSB was structured by Congress to balance the power of organic farmers and consumers with powerful industry interests. That power dynamic has been seriously compromised by the USDA. It will be interesting to see if Secretary Vilsack responds to the almost universal public condemnation of their power grab as illustrated by the tumult at the meeting in San Antonio."

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Other agenda items discussed by the NOSB included:

  • An update on a genetic purity standard for seed
  • Added magnesium oxide to the National List as a synthetic for use in organic crop production
  • Adopted a resolution encouraging increased research into fire blight disease control practices
  • Approved the proposal to modify the policy on confidential business information

The Fall meeting of the NOSB is scheduled for October 28-30 in Louisville, Kentucky.

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I work for The Cornucopia Institute. We are a non-profit that works to protect sustainable/organic food and small-scale farming. We often write press releases surrounding what is happening in the industry and what our research discovers. You can (more...)
 
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