Against the OTA Sneak Attack on Organic Standards in Congress

National Organic Standards Board Chair Jim Riddle Speaks Out Against the OTA Sneak Attack on Organic Standards in Congress


James A. Riddle and Joyce E. Ford
31762 Wiscoy Ridge Road, Winona, Minnesota, USA, 55987-9514 Ph/Fax: 507-454-8310
E-mail: jriddle@hbci.com

To members of the organic community and the House-Senate Conference Committee,

I have farmed organically since 1980 and been an organic inspector since 1986. In 1991, I was elected founding chair of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA). I helped develop standardized organic certification and inspection templates and training materials that are used worldwide today. Since 1991, I have served on Minnesota’s organic advisory board, where we originated the organic certification cost share program and helped institute organic transition incentives. In 1997, I took the lead in writing detailed comments responding to USDA’s disastrous first Proposed Rule. I have been a member of the Organic Trade Association for over 10 years. I co-authored OTA’s American Organic Standards in 1999, and compiled OTA’s comments on the second Proposed Rule. I have served on the National Organic Standards Board since 2001, developing the NOSB’s principles of organic production and handling, compatibility criteria, standardized Board procedures, and numerous recommendations to maintain, clarify, and strengthen our organic standards. My roots in the organic community run deep.

The comments I offer here reflect my own opinions, and not those of the NOSB, USDA, OTA, or IOIA.

I am very concerned that proposals submitted to Congress by some OTA members and major food manufacturers to amend the Organic Foods Production Act in response to the Court’s ruling in Harvey v. Johanns would weaken existing standards and undermine the authority of the NOSB.

OTA claims that their proposed OFPA changes are mere “clarifications” that restore the status quo. A close analysis reveals that the changes are substantive and do not restore the status quo. Below is an analysis of the status quo, OTA’s proposed changes, and my positions on amendments to OFPA related to these issues. The topics are grouped in three areas: synthetic substances allowed in the processing of organic products; commercial availability of organic agricultural ingredients; and dairy herd conversion.

Synthetic Substances

Status Quo – The regulation allows the use of synthetic substances “used in or on” processed organic foods only after the substances have been recommended by the NOSB and placed on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. 38 synthetic substances are currently allowed in the processing of organic foods. The regulation contains specific criteria for the evaluation of synthetic substances used in processing, but the Court ordered removal of the criteria, since synthetic substances will no longer be allowed for the processing of “organic” food under the Court’s ruling. Non-compliant products can continue to enter the stream of commerce until June 9, 2007.

OTA Proposal – OTA has introduced language that would allow the use of synthetic “ingredients” in the processing of organic food. OTA’s language calls for deletion of an OFPA section containing the word “substances” and places the synthetic allowance after the word “ingredients.” If OTA’s language is adopted, synthetic substances such as processing aids and food contact substances would be allowed with no restrictions and no review by the NOSB. In addition, OTA has not called for placement of the vacated evaluation criteria in the statute.

My Position – If OFPA is to be amended to allow the continued use of a limited number of synthetic substances, the statute must require review of all substances used in or on processed organic products. Language that only requires the review of “ingredients” must be rejected. The vacated evaluation criteria currently in the regulation must be retained and transferred to OFPA, comparable to the evaluation criteria in OFPA used by the NOSB to assess crop and livestock materials. As with crops and livestock, specific categories of allowed synthetic processing substances need to be established, either in OFPA or through notice and comment rulemaking.

Commercial Availability

Status Quo – Under the present system, if an agricultural ingredient is not available in an organic form, an accredited certifying agent can allow a processing operation to use a non-organic form, if the processor can demonstrate that an organic form is not commercially available. The Court ordered that only those agricultural ingredients that have been reviewed and recommended by the NOSB and appear on the National List may be considered for commercial availability determinations. While accredited certifying agents have been directed by USDA to discontinue commercial availability determinations of ingredients not on the National List, non-compliant products can continue to enter the stream of commerce until June 9, 2007.

OTA Proposal – OTA has proposed allowing USDA to make expedited determinations of commercial unavailability of organic agricultural products and ingredients due to natural disasters and crop shortages for placement on the National List for up to twelve months, with no review by the NOSB.

My Position – There is no need for this amendment. OTA’s proposal would undermine the authority of the NOSB over the National List and transfer that authority to the USDA. Under OFPA (6518(n)), the NOSB already has the authority to establish procedures for the petitioning of substances to be placed on the National List. The NOSB, working with USDA, should be allowed to establish expedited procedures and evaluation criteria for the timely review of agricultural ingredients not available from organic sources. The current authority of the NOSB over the placement of substances on the National List must be retained.

Dairy Herd Conversion

Status Quo – Presently, dairy herds can be converted to organic production either by feeding and managing cows organically for one year prior to the production of organic milk, or by converting entire herds by managing them organically for one year and feeding at least 80 % certified organic or third year transitional feed for 9 months, followed by 3 months of feeding 100% certified organic feed prior to the production of organic milk. Once converted, farms that use the 80/20 provision are required to feed and manage all replacement animals organically from the last third of gestation.

As a result of the Harvey ruling, dairy farms have until June 4, 2006, to begin conversion of their operations to organic using the 80/20 provision. Non-compliant dairy products can continue to enter the stream of commerce until June 9, 2007.

OTA Proposal – OFPA would be changed to allow the feeding of organic and/or farm-grown, third-year transitional feed for one year prior to production of organic milk. The milk could be sold as organic as soon as the land qualifies for organic certification. After conversion to organic, replacement animals could routinely be fed conventional feed that may contain slaughter byproducts, and they could be treated with prohibited substances, including antibiotics and hormones, up to one year prior to the production of organic milk, during which they would need to be fed and managed organically.

My Position – OPFA should be amended to allow the feeding of farm-grown, third-year transitional feed, so that milk could be sold as organic when the land qualifies for organic certification. In addition, the statute should require that all farm-raised and purchased replacement animals be fed and managed organically from the last third of gestation once a farm has converted to organic production, regardless of how the farm converted.

In Summary

It is important to keep things in perspective as we consider amending OFPA. Every other organic standard in the world, including IFOAM, the EU, Codex, and JAS, allows the limited use of approved synthetic substances. Synthetic substances were allowed in the USDA’s First, Second, and Final Rules. The NOSB has established a rigorous review process with well-established criteria for the review of petitioned substances. Changes to the statute must reinforce and strengthen – not weaken – the current system.

I have remained open-minded regarding regulatory vs legislative remedies to the issues raised by Harvey v. Johanns. I have come to the conclusion that changes that strengthen OFPA are in order. I have attempted to engage in discussions with OTA to change their proposal to maintain the authority of the NOSB and to reflect the concerns expressed by an overwhelming number (+320,000 calls and letters submitted to Congress) of organic farmers, consumers, and environmental groups. OTA has not been willing to negotiate in good faith to change their proposal.

I am calling on the House-Senate Conference Committee to reject OTA’s proposal and to either retain the “study rider” adopted by the Senate or to include no language on the topic in the Agriculture Appropriations bill now before the Committee.

If OFPA is to be amended, it should be done following an inclusive and transparent process that unites, rather than divides, the organic community.


Jim Riddle

Informant: Gomez


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Oktober 2005

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