Today, representatives of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and March Against Monsanto San Antonio (MAMSA) staged a protest at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
The groups disrupted the meeting in order to protest the USDA National Organic Program’s (NOP) changes to the process for removing non-organic ingredients and materials from the NOP’s National List of substances allowed and prohibited in products certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The change, made without due process or input from the public, erodes organic standards and will result in the list of synthetic and non-organic ingredients and materials allowed in organic to grow increasingly, and irreversibly longer, the groups said.
“For more than a decade, the process for deciding what ingredients and materials are allowed in organic has been fairly democratic,” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director for the OCA. The OCA routinely attends NOSB meetings on behalf of the more than one million consumers it represents. “Under the new provision, it will be extremely difficult to get non-organic materials and ingredients removed from the list. Our protest today is intended to draw attention to the threat this new process poses to organic standards, the arbitrary manner in which the process was changed, and to demand that the change be reversed.”
Cynthia Kurkowski, an organizer representing MAMSA, said. “It’s important to keep organic standards strong. Organic farming is the best alternative to genetically modified industrial agriculture. This change impacts everyone who is now seeking alternatives to GMOs, not just the people who already consider themselves to be part of the organic community. Organic has to be a system people trust in order to get them to buy in.”
The Change to the Sunset Process
The NOSB was created by the Organic Foods Production Act to “assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in organic production” and to “provide recommendations to the [USDA] Secretary regarding implementation” of the act. Among its powers is deciding what is allowed on the National List of non-organic materials approved for use in organic.
In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), without any input from the public, changed the way the process for deciding which non-organic materials are allowed in certified organic. The move was supported by the Organic Trade Association. When the move was criticized, Melody Meyer who had recently been voted in as OTA board president, published an angry reply entitled, “Stop the lies and get behind your National Organic Program.”
Here’s what changed. Prior to last September’s announcement, each non-organic material on the list had to be reviewed every five years, using what’s called the “sunset process.” Under this process, five years after a non-organic material was added to the National List, it would be automatically removed, unless a two-thirds majority of the NOSB board voted to keep the material on the list.
The intent behind the process was to encourage the NOSB to remove non-organic ingredients and materials from organic after five years, and provide industry the motivation to replace them with organic alternatives.
But last September, the USDA reversed this process. Now, the materials will still be reviewed, but they will stay on the National List unless a two-thirds majority of the NOSB board votes to remove it. That’s not likely to happen, given that the 15-member board of the NOSB is stacked with industry reps who consistently vote with industry and against consumers.
When NOP Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy stood to address the NOSB, activists disrupted his address by delivering a petition signed by more than 75,000 organic consumers, asking the NOP to restore the sunset process. The activists held a banner that read, “Safeguard Organic Standards” while chanting, “Don’t Change Sunset.” The activists continued until they were removed from the room.
Non-Organic Materials Targeted for Removal
OCA’s Save Organic Standards campaign has targeted several non-organic materials for removal from the National List. These include:
Carrageenan, a thickener and emulsifier, with no nutritional value, that is harmful to human health. OCA’s petition to remove carrageenan from the National List has been signed by 15,050 organic consumers.
Methionine, a cheap synthetic feed additive that provides an essential amino acid needed by fast-growing chickens raised without access to pasture on a nutrition-poor diet of corn and soy. OCA’s petition demanding real outdoor access for organic chickens has been signed by 36,947 organic consumers.
Synthetic Nutrient Vitamins and Minerals, a group of synthetic ingredients illegally added to the National List en masse without individual approval. Synthetic nutrients can disrupt normal metabolic functions with devastating side effects. OCA’s petition to remove synthetic nutrient vitamins and mineral from the National List has been signed by 17,729 organic consumers.
Mutant Microorganisms, created in a lab using radiation or chemicals to produce mutations. Includes DSM’s DHA and ARA, which have been linked to severe gastrointestinal distress, prolonged periods of vomiting and painful bloating. OCA’s petition to ban mutagenesis from organic has been signed by 11,470 organic consumers.
Sausage Casings, from the intestines of non-organic animals likely raised on factory farms and fed slaughterhouse waste. This practice has given rise to a form of human mad-cow disease called CJD, often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease.
Because of the changes McEvoy has made to the sunset process, these problematic non-organic materials will likely be allowed to stay on the National List and in USDA certified organic food.