Tell Congress: Don't Weaken Organic Standards!

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Every five years, Congress is tasked with reauthorizing the Farm Bill, a key piece of legislation that determines how $90 billion/year will be spent.

This is one of those years.

Unfortunately, both the House and Senate versions of a proposed 2018 Farm Bill include changes to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that would make it much easier for industry to use synthetic chemicals in organic food and farming.

URGENT ACTION NEEDED! Tell Congress: Keep organics strong! 

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) became law as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. OFPA created the NOSB, an independent standards-setting body, and gave it the express statutory authority to determine which synthetic chemicals are allowed in organic food and farming.

Now Congress appears poised to weaken the NOSB’s authority.

The proposed House Farm Bill would do this in two ways:

1. The NOSB would be required to “convene a task force to consult with” the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when considering whether to allow a pesticide or any other non-organic substance approved by those agencies in organic. This is clearly an attempt to put pressure on the NOSB to allow pesticides and synthetic chemicals in organic.

2. The Agriculture Secretary would be given the power to force the NOSB to “expedite” its consideration of synthetic chemicals “related to food safety.” (Sounds like somebody’s got a new disinfectant they want to use in organic. Currently, chlorine is allowed for washing organic foods like baby carrots, eggs and chicken. This is controversial and has led to consumer preference for "air chilled".)

The Senate version of the Farm Bill makes one change to the NOSB—but it’s an important one. Under the proposed Senate bill, two-thirds of the 15-member NOSB would have to vote in favor of removing a synthetic material from organic in order to get the material out of organic.

On the surface that might sound reasonable. But here’s the deal. Historically, the NOSB would approve a synthetic chemical for use in organic solely on a temporary, five-year basis, until an organic alternative became available. After the five-year period was up, the synthetic ingredient would automatically drop off the list of allowed substances. The only way it could stay in organic, was if two-thirds of the NOSB members voted to keep it there.

The change being proposed in the Senate Farm Bill—which allows a synthetic material to stay on the list indefinitely unless voted off—was actually already enacted through a policy change, during an NOSB meeting in 2013. That controversial decision, opposed at the time by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sen Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), principal authors of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, triggered protests and a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

The lawsuit was dismissed in May of 2018. However, the court provided the plaintiffs, which include Organic Consumers Association, a roadmap for a future legal challenge. Here’s what that looks like: We need to wait for the five-year approval period for a synthetic material to expire. If the material isn’t re-approved by a two-thirds vote, and isn’t dropped from the National List, we could mount a legal challenge to get the material removed.

That’s exactly what proponents of the proposed change to the Senate Farm Bill don’t want to see happen. So they’re using the Farm Bill to legislate the change, in a move aimed at preventing the courts from overturning the 2013 NOSB policy change.

URGENT ACTION NEEDED! Tell Congress: Keep organics strong! 

 

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