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April 2021 News & Policy Updates for the Organic Industry

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”  ~Chief Seattle

President’s Message

The National Organic Standards Board meeting is coming soon, with its oral comment period full to bursting. For over five years, Wolf & Associates has advocated for professional support for the National Organic Standards Board, and we’re pleased to see it on the agenda. Some areas where such professional specialists would expedite the Board’s work include:

  • Organizing, collating, and reporting on the content of oral and written public comments.
  • Drafting the NOSB’s proposed regulatory language and recommendations, so they are ready for implementation.

A refresher on the purpose of the Sunset process would also be appropriate. The goal is not to whittle down the lists, but to ensure farmers have access to the widest possible set of materials that meet the evaluation criteria. Reviews should focus on new information about materials, and not act as a popularity contest for what materials are in vogue now. Materials that are not being widely used now may be needed again in the future, and organic farmers deserve a robust toolbox to do their jobs effectively. Nor should the review process rely on public comment for technical information necessary for a sound decision—that information is better presented in a technical report, which could be facilitated by additional professional support for the Board.
 
Furthermore, these are US rules based on US criteria. The National Organic Program is one of the most transparent organic standards-setting systems in the world, and whether or not materials are used elsewhere is not part of the evaluation criteria, nor is it a balanced approach. In the 20 years since the United States has developed equivalence agreements internationally, there are very few materials that lead to exceptions in those agreements.
 
I’m on the waiting list to give oral comment to the NOSB and will deliver these comments if given the opportunity. Oral and written comments are a poor substitute for a robust dialogue within the organic community and with the NOSB but it is all the public process allows.  I encourage you to participate, so together we can keep improving our processes even as we seek to improve the soil we all depend on.

Bill Wolf
President 
Wolf & Associates

Regulatory Updates

UNITED STATES

NOSB Spring meeting will be April 20, 22, 28-30 online
The National Organic Standards Board Spring 2021 meeting will be held live online via Zoom from noon to 5 p.m. Eastern time April 20, 22 for public comment and April 28-30 for board discussion and votes. The meetings are free and open to the public, and registration is not required. More.
 
Court decision upholds organic certification for hydroponic operations
A March 19 ruling by US District Court in San Francisco upholds organic certification for hydroponic and container operations. The Center for Food Safety had petitioned for rules that would prohibit organic hydroponic production, and the USDA had denied that petition. The March 19 ruling supported USDA’s denial of the rulemaking petition, on the grounds that hydroponic systems are not explicitly prohibited. More.
 
NOP requests that NOSB review classification of seaweed-derived calcium
Because there are inconsistencies in how organic certification agencies have treated Lithothamnion, also known as “calcified seaweed,” “seaweed-derived calcium,” “maerl,” and “calcified maerl,” the National Organic Program has requested that the National Organic Standards Board review its classification. NOP previously told one certifier that the coralline marine red algae is a nonagricultural product and cannot be certified organic. However, there are operations in the Organic Integrity Database certified to handle Lithothamnion, and two certifiers have certified it under the wild crop portion of the regulations. More.
 
Comment on proposed changes to the National List
Proposed changes to the National List based on October 2019 recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board have been posted for public comment until May 21. The proposed rule would:

  • Allow fatty alcohols as plant growth regulators for sucker control in organic tobacco production.
  • Allow potassium hypochlorite as a pre-harvest sanitizer.
  • Remove the redundant listing for dairy cultures. These would continue to be allowed as ingredients in organic handling under the separate listing for microorganisms.

Comment on the Federal Register website on Docket number AMS-NOP-19-0102 NOP-19-05
 
US organic turkey sold in Japan must be certified by July 25
Starting July 25, 2021, Japan’s organic standards for livestock products will encompass turkey products. Once the regulation goes into effect, all turkey products sold as “organic” will require appropriate certification. Per the terms of the U.S.-Japan organic equivalency arrangement, U.S. turkey products will retain access to the Japanese organic market provided they are certified under the USDA National Organic Program and exported to Japan under the arrangement. More.
 
Nominate a leader for the National Organic Standards Board
USDA seeks nominations for four open seats on the National Organic Standards Board. Each member serves a five-year term and represents specific sectors of the organic community. Openings for positions beginning January 2022 include:

  • An organic farmer or an employee of such individual.
  • An expert in environmental protection and resource conservation.
  • A representative of the public interest or consumer interest groups.
  • An expert in the field of toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry.

Nominations are due June 1. Details.

EUROPE

EU’s action plan for organic agriculture to boost demand and foster additional production
The European Union’s (EU’s) Action Plan for organic agriculture will take a three-pronged approach to boost acreage of organic farms to 25 percent of the regions farmland by 2030. The plan seeks to boost overall demand for European organic foods, encourage production, and further improve organic agriculture’s sustainability. Some of the action steps include:

  • Promoting the EU logo: as of October 2020, on average 56 percent of EU consumers recognize the EU organic logo, with variations between member states.
  • Allocating 27 percent (€49 million) of the overall share of agricultural promotion budget to organic products for 2021
  • Increasing promotion of organic within the EU and internationally, while raising awareness of export opportunities via trade and equivalency agreements.
  • Using procurement plans to increase organic food in school, government, and workplace food service offerings, perhaps through setting mandatory minimums for sustainable food in public institutions.
  • Strengthening fraud prevention and traceability efforts in order to boost consumer confidence in organic products. 
  • Developing a database of all EU organic operators is set for 2021, along with work on digital product passports
  • Increasing incentives for production, including training, technical assistance, and using Common Agricultural Policy, such as eco-schemes and rural development initiatives
  • Increasing organic aquaculture.
  • Generating market data and reports to assist producers, along with research into trading practices to limit unfair practices; and encouraging small holders to use group certification.
  • Fostering small-scale and local production and encouraging regional cooperation to reduce food miles and offer opportunity in areas away from tourist tracks.
  • Improving understanding of livestock nutrition alternatives, especially algae, that could avoid genetically modified microorganisms in organic animal vitamins and feed.
  • Enhancing biodiversity through conserving seeds and other genetic materials, avoiding contentious materials, such as copper and plastics, and increasing yields of organic farms through research and farm advisory services.

Increasing research and innovation, with 30 percent of the research and innovation budget for agriculture, forestry and rural areas dedicated to topics of interest to the organic sector.

News & Notices

Most Americans live in places with climate change prevention targets
A new paper from researchers at the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and the University of California, Berkeley found that over half of Americans (53 percent) are covered by a city or state with a target for net zero emissions. In addition, 30 percent of US companies by annual sales have committed to net zero emissions. The researchers believe these findings indicate a strong basis for support of robust national policies for net zero emissions.
 
Comment on climate-smart agriculture strategy
The Biden administration is seeking stakeholder input in developing its climate-smart agriculture strategy. The request for comment poses strategic questions to address four key areas:

  • Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry
  • Biofuels, Wood and Other Bioproducts, and Renewable Energy
  • Addressing Catastrophic Wildfire, and
  • Environmental Justice and Disadvantaged Communities.

The questions ask how USDA could encourage voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture, ways to leverage current policies and programs, ideas for new strategies, what data, tools and research are needed, ways to support emerging markets for carbon and greenhouse gases, and more. Comment on docket number USDA-2021-0003 in the Federal Register by April 29.
 
USDA offers more pandemic relief for producers
The USDA has devoted $6 billion toward new relief programs as part of the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers will be among the groups targeted for the next round of pandemic assistance to the agriculture sector.  Existing programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will fall within the new initiative and, where statutory authority allows, will be refined to better address the needs of producers. On April 5, USDA reopened sign-up for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days.
 
NRCS is accepting conservation grant applications until May 28
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has $75 million for projects in its Regional Conservation Partnership Program Alternative Funding Arrangement. Farmer cooperatives and producer groups, among others, are eligible to apply for grants ranging from $250,000 to $10 million for projects that address specific natural resource objectives in a State or multistate area, or address one or more primary resource concerns within an NRCS-designated critical conservation area (CCA). Climate-smart agriculture projects will receive priority. More.
 
Biological evaluations of two insecticides show potential harm to threatened species
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) biological evaluations of the insecticides of carbaryl and methomyl—used in a variety of food and feed crops—has found that these insecticides are “likely to adversely affect” a number of threatened and endangered species and their designated critical habitats. EPA will engage in formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) to further study these potential impacts and possibly propose mitigation measures for vulnerable species.
 
This biological evaluation followed EPA’s March 2020 Revised Method for National Level Listed Species Biological Evaluations of Conventional Pesticides. In order to make its “likely to adversely affect” determination, EPA evaluated whether an individual of a listed species is “reasonably expected” to be exposed to the pesticide at a sufficient level that it will have an effect, and whether that effect will be adverse.  The Services will use this information to determine if the pesticides jeopardize the existence of any of the listed species and whether there is adverse modification to their critical habitats. If jeopardy or adverse modification is determined, the Services, with input from EPA and the registrants, will propose protection measures to reduce potential harm to listed species or their critical habitat. 
 
New EPA measures will address ecological risks of four herbicides
The EPA is moving to address ecological risks of four herbicides used to control broadleaf weeds, woody brush and aquatic plants in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings. Under an interim decision, new mitigation measures would address spray drift risks for dithiopyr. Interim decisions for clopyralid and triclopyr would not only address spray drift, but would also tackle potential residues in compost by prohibiting off-site composting of treated plant matter and manure from grazing animals until residues have declined. Additional notifications, training, and label changes will also be required for clopyralid. The fourth herbicide, picloram, has a proposed interim decision for the fourth herbicide, picloram, would require similar mitigation measures. More.
 
EPA website covers climate change
EPA has relaunched its climate change website.  Along with reports and climate data, the site has information on reducing emissions, addressing impacts, and links to an array of climate resources for businesses, individuals, and children.
 
OTA recognizes Kelly Strzelecki for outstanding service
The Organic Trade Association honored Kelly Strzelecki, Senior Trade Advisor for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), with its 2021 Organic Public Servant Award in recognition of her efforts to promote public-private partnership through trade. Strzelecki has 34 years of federal service, 32 of these with FAS working to support U.S. food and agricultural exports.  In particular, she has spent much of her FAS career furthering U.S. organic exports.  She was instrumental in communicating with overseas trading partners once the U.S. National Organic Program was established in 2000 and has been a critical member of the FAS organic equivalency negotiating team. She retired at the end of March. Congratulations, Kelly!
 
Climate Collaborative seeks Executive Director
The Climate Collaborative, a nonprofit working within the natural products industry to promote sound policy and actions to reverse climate change, seeks an experienced, energetic, positive leader with a strong background in corporate climate issues. The current Executive Director, Erin Callahan, will be leaving that post at the end of April. More.

GMO News

Mexican official comments on eliminating imported GMO corn
Reuters reports that Mexico’s deputy agriculture minister, Victor Suarez, said that the country’s recent ban on imports of genetically modified corn would include all food that will eventually reach human consumption. The comment from the key architect of the country’s December 31 declaration prohibits importing genetically modified corn, bans glyphosate and potentially extends the ban to livestock feed. More.
 
Germany’s cabinet would ban glyphosate in 2024
If new legislation approved by Germany’s cabinet passes the upper and lower houses (Bundestag and Bundesrat), then farmers will have to stop using glyphosate by 2024. The draft legislation would also ban selective use of herbicides and insecticides that could harm bees. More.