The OrganicEye leadership team, Mark Kastel, Jay Feldman, and Dr. Terry Shistar, all testified on day one of USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (virtual) meeting on April 21, 2020. The biannual meeting was originally scheduled to take place just outside of Washington, DC during the last week of the month.
Testimony by both Mr. Kastel and Mr. Feldman included an appeal to NOSB members encouraging them to ignore the guidance from the National Organic Program and political appointees at USDA stripping them of the power that Congress vested in the Board to oversee the creation and enforcement of organic regulations.
Dr. Shistar, the preeminent public-interest expert on synthetic and non-organic materials used in organics, concentrated on critiquing some of the compounds the NOSB will be reviewing and included a primer on disinfectants, distinguishing between those that are toxic and safer alternatives in fighting the current pandemic.
Corporate lobbyists, in the form of experts, consultants, and veterinarians, some of whom testified without disclosing the identity of their clients, promoted the use of synthetic pharmaceuticals for livestock, pots for seedlings, and plastic mulches that theoretically biodegrade (but lack scientific research determining whether they leave synthetic and possibly toxic chemicals in the soil that could be taken up by plants).
In a disturbing and ongoing trend, representatives from accredited third-party organic certifiers, who should be acting as impartial arbiters, offered testimony lobbying on behalf of their “clients” for the inclusion of specific synthetic materials. We feel this constitutes an improper conflict of interest that should be eliminated by USDA.
Certifiers collect money directly from the organic processors and farmers who are using materials petitioned before the NOSB. And some certifiers subsequently accept thousands of dollars-worth of advertising from companies selling those agricultural inputs to farmers after the materials have gained approval.
The testimony presented by OrganicEye/Beyond Pesticides at the April 2020 NOSB meeting is provided below.
Good afternoon, members of the NOSB. I am Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, and a former member of the NOSB.
Welcome, to new members. It is Beyond Pesticides’ sincere hope that you will embrace the history and spirit of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in ensuring that the rich diversity of the organic community and industry is an integral part of the deliberations of this board.
We hear the word “integrity” when we talk about the role of the NOSB. Integrity goes to the value of the organic seal in the marketplace and the long-term growth of the organic market.
The NOSB has a special responsibility in safeguarding the integrity of the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances—ensuring that elements of the law have been fully evaluated, with the assistance of an adequate TR. Short-term market growth should not be achieved at the expense of long-term trust in the organic sector.
Allowed synthetic substances must (1) not cause adverse effects to health and the environment from production, use through disposal; (2) must be compatible with an organic system, which is defined by law, and (3) must be essential: we do not add synthetics—even those meeting other criteria—unless we determine the need in organic production.
And, Sunset means that a substance does not stay on the National List unless current information shows that it meets the criteria in OFPA.
This is admittedly a very high bar. OFPA’s requirements go beyond those of other agencies like EPA or FDA.
The law maintains a default assumption against synthetics in organic production and processing. We formed the NOSB to be the steward of this process– for example, certain substances and practices, are essential, not to organic production, but to industrial agriculture. Under the law, we need more pasturing of animals, we will preserve the marine environment and virgin forests, we will stop the use of chlorine-based substances, we will eliminate inerts that are among the most hazardous materials used in organic production. We will ensure rigorous inspections/certification without conflict of interest.
If we do not adhere to these principles in law, we will erode the trust of consumers who pay a premium, and we will have lost the opportunity to grow the only market that offers an opportunity to sustain life by stemming the climate crisis, protecting farmworkers, and halting biodiversity decline.
For Beyond Pesticides—and our constituency of consumers, farmers, scientists, medical practitioners, municipalities, landscapers, and school districts— the NOSB is not a panel of vested interests that are seated to protect a piece of the pie, but one charged with growing the integrity of the label so that organic becomes mainstream agriculture.
You may sit in one of the most important seats for our future. But, What do we do, when USDA holds us back –if there a critical issue that you can’t get on the NOSB workplan? Or, you want to provide advice to the Secretary of Agriculture. Please assert the authority that Congress gave to this board, for without the board asserting its authority, organic will remain a niche market, and we will suffer the apocalyptic environmental and health catastrophes that the scientific community predicts.
The good news is that we have a solution –organic. We just need to pursue it with all our collective strength.
Thank you for your service on the board.
My name is Terry Shistar, and I am on the Board of Directors of Beyond Pesticides. I am willing to field questions on any of our comments. I may need to get back to you with the answer.
This meeting has a notable lack of voting issues. While it concerns us that the NOSB may not be moving forward on some important issues, it also gives the board an opportunity to look at some broader issues that may receive inadequate attention in the rush to complete voting. Some of these issues have been raised repeatedly by public comment. Some have been on and off of the NOSB work agenda. Some have even been the subject of repeated recommendations that have not been implemented by NOP. These include “inert” ingredients in pesticides, marine materials, contaminated inputs, sanitizers and disinfectants, and products of fermentation.
Today, I would like to focus on the need to look collectively at options for sanitizing and disinfecting. Some sanitizers and disinfectants are on the National List. Others have been petitioned for listing. They do not all appear on the National List as required by OFPA, itemized by specific use or application. Even when the use is specified, it is not possible to determine from the National List whether there are adequate sanitizers and disinfectants to meet the requirements of organic production. For this reason, we and others have requested a comprehensive review of these materials.
Disinfection is a topic on the minds of many people as we protect ourselves from COVID-19. We are reviewing disinfectants used for coronavirus because of a concern that some disinfectants affect the respiratory and immune systems and therefore may increase the risk of COVID-19 to users. We believe that our experience may be helpful when it comes to reviewing sanitizers and disinfectants used in organic production.
The first step of such a review is identification of the needs for sanitizers and disinfectants. We were looking at the need to remove the coronavirus.
The second step is identification of available materials. EPA’s List N contains products approved for removal of coronavirus.
You can find the full presentation here.
My name is Mark Kastel and I am the director of OrganicEye – the investigative arm, and a project of, Beyond Pesticides.
Here’s a little reality check and orientation for new members:
The success of the organic movement was not only based on food brands. It was based on “the story behind the label.”
That story has been greatly degraded through fraud and corruption. We are on the cusp – and this pandemic might greatly accelerate the shift. After the smoke clears, we could have organic food and farming – without farms!
As organic farmers we launched the commercialization of the label, in part, as an economic justice vehicle for family-scale farmers.
The story that consumers support includes economic justice for the people who produce our food, as well as environmental stewardship, and, obviously, safety and nutritional superiority.
The shift to industrial ag, something we were trying to get away from in the first place, is almost complete.
The majority of organic dairy is now coming from livestock factories, managing as many as 20,000 cows, milking them three and even four times a day and creating the illusion of grazing – good enough for the certifiers and the USDA – with stocking levels as high as 15 cows per acre. (Past research shows honest to goodness organic farms average about one cow per acre.)
The law requires access to the “outdoors” for all organic livestock. But the majority of organic eggs come from factories managing as many as a million birds with zero outdoor access.
And don’t get ready to applaud the new animal welfare rule. It requires just 2 feet outdoors and 1.2 feet indoors. These are also factory conditions. Europe requires 43 square feet per bird to qualify for organics. With buildings today that have 2-5 square feet outdoors, we only see 3-10% of the birds ever going outside.
It’s a joke! It’s a bad joke on consumers who are paying a premium thinking they are supporting respectful treatment of livestock.
And how about imports? Are any of the eggs, meat, or dairy products truly organic if what the animals are eating is laundered conventional feed?
After years of stonewalling and cheerleading under the previous director of the NOP, telling us how bulletproof the certification system was in oversight of imported feed and ingredients, the NOP recently announced that 75% of all certified operations in the Black Sea region (many former Soviet bloc countries with endemic levels of commercial fraud) have lost their USDA organic certification either through revocation, suspension or, get this: surrender. Other fines and enforcement? None.
We’ve been squawking about China and these other countries for years. And now the NOP is playing a game of whack-a-mole. Exports from Turkey go down and they pop up somewhere else, like Belarus. Instant organic availability.
With more authority from Congress, it might get better. But the USDA, corporate agribusiness, and their lobbyists at the OTA never quit their cheerleading until we all received an indelible black eye after damning coverage of import fraud by the Washington Post.
When Congress charged the USDA with oversight of the organic industry, protecting consumers and ethical farmers and businesspeople against fraud, they ordered that the Secretary “shall” consult with the NOSB in implementing the act.
Instead, when certifiers have questions on enforcing the law, and I wish I was making this up, the NOP tells them to confer with other certifiers and decide on their own.
It’s time for the NOSB to assert their authority in oversight of how the law and regulations are carried out. Otherwise, we all, large and small, farmers and businesspeople, and the most important stakeholders, the eaters, stand to lose what we have all created together.
For a comprehensive look at OrganicEye/Beyond Pesticides’ full written comments on materials and practices being considered by the NOSB, at their April 2020 meeting.