Non-profit small farm and organic consumer advocacy group Cornucopia Institute has launched a petition to President Obama asking that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) be restored to its former management structure, allowing the board to once again set its own agenda and management.
Earlier this year, National Organic Program Administration at the USDA changed the management and composition of the National Organic Standards Board. The spring meeting of the NOSB was contentious and included the arrest of a long-time environmental lawyer and DC lobbyist.
With the administrative changes in early spring, the USDA now controls the board’s agenda and has in effect limited NOSB authority.
Why is this a problem?
When the National Organic Standards Program was created, the board was designed to give all parties a voice, with the board to be composed of independent farmers and producers, environmentalists, retailers and industry partners. The board’s primary role was to review organic standards and make recommendations/rulings about exemptions to what is and is not allowed in organic food production. One of the most controversial rules was their “Sunset” policy, requiring that every exemption be reviewed after a period of time. During the controversial spring meeting, this policy was reversed.
The effect of that reversal means that synthetic substances currently allowed in organic food production under an exemption clause are not now required to be reviewed again in the future—in other words, the standards have been weakened by the removal of the review process.
Add to that the tighter USDA control over NOSB board role and composition under the historically-industry friendly USDA, and the organic review process loses the element of independent review and raises concerns about the transparency of its operations--something very important in a government system widely known to be heavily influenced by industry lobbyists whose interests may be counter to those of organic food consumers.
The USDA organic program has worked well to date and has resulted in a certification process that, while not perfect, does stand for a level of quality and integrity recognized and supported by consumers,as evidenced by the consistent increase in organic food sales. Sales have increased so much that grocery giant Whole Foods, known for its organic selection, now faces substantial competition from other retailers--all because of consumer confidence in the quality and health of certified organic food. The NOSB board has, to date, acted as a de facto guardian of those standards.
The Cornucopia Institute wants to see that level of integrity to continue and states their concerns explicitly in their petition.
A link to the Cornucopia Institute petition is here: