Spring 2016 Comments to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)

On April 14th, NOFA-VT and Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) submitted our comments for the Spring 2016 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). You can read our comments below. Please click a topic below to read that portion of our comments. 

General Comments


Organic production systems must promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity, as recognized by the creators of OFPA and clearly stated in the Organic Rule. NOFA-VT and VOF believe the maintenance of organic matter in the soil, along with the diverse populations of organisms that are essential to soil ecosystems, is the foundation of organic farming.

In contrast to the ecologically complex systems envisioned by the creators of OFPA, hydroponic systems reduce crop production to a simplified feeding system of a nutrient solution and an inert growing medium. By purposefully eliminating the ecological complexity used in soil-based systems, hydroponic systems represent the antithesis of organic and go against the definition of “organic production” set out in the Organic Rule.

Certification of hydroponic production systems, as sanctioned by the NOP, fails to recognize the essential functions of complex soil ecosystems in organic production and the role of organic farmers as stewards of soil ecology. Furthermore, the current inconsistencies among certifiers in regard to certifying hydroponic systems diminish the value of the organic label and reflect poorly on the industry.

While we appreciate the efforts of USDA to further study this issue through the creation of the Hydroponics Task Force, we believe NOP should issue a moratorium on new certifications of hydroponic systems until a clear definition and guidelines for certification of soilless systems based on the 2010 NOSB recommendation have been provided.

In February of this year, our own Senator Patrick Leahy – author of the Organic Foods Production Act – issued a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack strongly advising the NOP to issue a moratorium on new certifications for hydroponic systems. We strongly support the Senator’s request and urge the NOSB to reconfirm the boards commitment to soil based production.

Biodegradable Biobased Mulch

NOFA-VT and VOF hear often from organic growers about their desire to use biodegradable mulch. We even hear from some growers that the reason they have decided not to certify their farm organic is because the regulations prohibit the use of this material despite their view that it is an environmentally friendlier alternative to plastic mulch.

The current NOP Policy Memo 15-1 currently requires that biodegradable mulches be 100% biobased despite the fact the NOP rule does not. The problem with this interpretation is that there are no mulches available at this time or in the near future that meet this 100% biobased requirement. NOFA-VT and VOF encourage the Crops Subcommitee to review the NOP’s Policy Memo 15-1, as requested by the NOP, and find a reasonable solution to this issue that encourages production of biodegradable mulch with increased biobased content while taking into consideration what is feasible for commercial production.

NOP Instruction 2027

The NOP recently provided clarification regarding procedures to be followed by certifying agents when conducting personnel performance evaluations. The clarification requires annual field evaluations for all organic inspectors used by the certifier. This new requirement adds a significant financial burden for small certifiers. These increased costs will then be passed on to certified producers resulting in higher organic certification charges. NOFA-VT and VOF feel that the intent of the instruction of providing meaningful evaluations of inspectors can be met if the NOP would consider a more reasonable approach and timeframe. For example, requiring an on-site evaluation every 3 years would be an achievable goal. We recommend that the NOSB take us this issue and find a solution that encourages meaningful evaluation while not creating an unrealistic burden on certifiers.

Materials Subcommittee

Excluded Methods Terminology

NOFA-VT and VOF appreciate the NOSB’s efforts to comprehensively examine the terminology and implications of Excluded Methods and to update the definitions established in 1995.  Substantial advancements in agricultural biotechnology have and will continue to impact organic producers and challenge certification agencies that work to ensure the highest standards of production.

We support the development of a comprehensive set of definitions of excluded methods terminology to be sure that the specific nature of new and evolving biotechnologies is fully captured, especially as it relates to organic production. In addition, we support NOC’s suggested revisions and clarifications of the terms Genetic Engineering (GE), Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), and Non-GMO.

  • Genetic Engineering (GE) – A set of techniques from molecular biology (such as recombinant DNA and RNA) by which the genetic material of plants, animals and microorganisms, cells and other biological units are altered and recombined. The hyphenation of microorganisms is removed for consistency.
  • Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) – A plant, animal or microorganism that is altered by genetic engineering as defined here.  This term will also apply to products and derivatives from genetically engineered sources. The suggested use of the term “transformed” indicates a dramatic change or metamorphosis.  Alteration acknowledges that the changes made via genetic modification may not necessarily be considered transformative and is inclusive of changes that meet that definition.
  • Biotechnology – (i) in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant DNA and direct injection of nucleic acid into organelles, or (ii) fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcomes natural, physiological, reproductive or recombination barriers, and that are not techniques used in conventional breeding and selection. We support this comprehensive definition based in the Cartagena Protocol and Codex Alimentarius.
  • Non-GMO – The term used to describe or label a product that was produced without any of the excluded methods defined here. The term is consistent with process-based standards of the NOP where preventive practices and procedures are in place to prevent GMO contamination while recognizing the possibility of inadvertent presence.  This definition provides additional clarity that any presence of foreign genetic material has occurred by accidental or involuntary means.

Seed Purity

NOFA-VT and VOF support NOSB’s efforts to continuously improve processes, transparency, and data collection around seed purity in order to prevent contamination from GE seed. We appreciate that the NOSB is taking a thoughtful and deliberate approach in addressing this issue. In addition, we support the NOSB’s proposal to require a seed purity declaration for non-organic seed, and hope that the Board’s recommendations will encourage producers to source more organic seed.

Crops Subcommittee

Sunset 2018 Reviews: Peracetic Acid

NOFA Vermont and Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) support the relisting of Peracetic Acid to the National List for all uses.  Peracetic acid is a very important compound for organic vegetable and fruit growers. It is the main ingredient, along with hydrogen peroxide (also known as hydrogen dioxide), in OMRI-approved post-harvest sanitizers such as Tsunami, SaniDate, and several others. These materials can be practical alternatives to chlorine for killing post-harvest disease organisms as well as potential human pathogens, the latter being increasingly important in light of new food safety requirements under FSMA. 

In addition, peracetic acid is a key ingredient in foliar disease control products, which are popular with growers for control of a variety of diseases. Some of these products are also used to treat tubers and other crops prior to planting to reduce plant pathogens. Peracetic acid products are an alternative to use of copper for managing late blight in some cases, which is helpful in avoiding over-use of copper.

NOFA Vermont and Vermont Organic Farmers support keeping peracetic acid on the National List for use as a sanitizer and disinfectant.

Livestock Subcommittee

    Proposal - Annotation Change for Lidocaine and Procaine Use in Livestock Production

    NOFA- VT and VOF strongly believe that the NOSB’s proposal to reduce the withholding times for the local anesthetics, lidocaine and procaine, will greatly improve animal care on organic farms. The current withholding period discourages the use of these important tools to ensure animal comfort. In addition, the current withholding periods are inconsistent with withholding recommendations for other materials, as they are significantly longer than what the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank or FARAD recommends. The NOSB recommendation to change the required withholding times to double the current FARAD requirements is reasonable, consistent with withholding recommendations for other livestock materials and will improve animal welfare on organic farms.

    Proposal to Amend Use of Parasiticides in Organic Livestock Production

    On dairy farms in Vermont, parasiticides are rarely if ever used on lactating animals because generally these adult animals can tolerate parasites better than youngstock. However, there are instances, for example if lungworm is present in a herd, where emergency treatment of lactating animals is needed. In situations like these it is extremely important that producers have synthetic parasiticides to provide needed care for their animals and that they are not unduly burdened with long milk withholding which could be expensive and unnecessary (not based on FARAD recommendations) and most importantly could discourage needed use.

    NOFA-VT and VOF strongly support the NOSB recommendation to:

    • continue to prohibit parasiticides in slaughter stock
    • change the milk withholding period after treatment with Fenbenzadole or Moxidectin from 90 days to 2 days for dairy cows, and 36 days for goats and sheep
    • retain the listing for Ivermectin as presently listed, with a 90-day withdrawal period
    • allow Moxidectin for both internal and external use
    • allow Fenbenzadole without written order of a veterinarian
    • and to create an allowance for the use of parasiticdes on fiber bearing animals.

    Vermont Organic Farmers LLC (VOF) is a USDA accredited certifier representing 589 certified organic farmers and processors. The organization has been certifying producers since 1985 and has been accredited by the USDA since 2002. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) is one of the oldest organic farming organizations in the country with over 1,200 members – farmers, gardeners and consumers working to promote an economically viable and ecologically sound food system. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the NOSB’s agenda items.