Comments to the National Organic Standards Board

October 1, 2013

[Document Number AMS-NOP-13-0057; NOP-13-03]

National Organic Program — Sunset Process and Aquaculture

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. We wish to address two issues: the Sunset process, and aquaculture.

I. Sunset process On behalf of PCC Natural Markets’ 50,000 member households, we strongly oppose the National Organic Program’s (NOP) Notification of Sunset Process, published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2013 (78 FR 56811).

NOP’s announcement — without warning and without stakeholder input — of a new policy encouraging the indefinite use of synthetic and non-organic materials in organics is not acceptable. Until now, NOP policy has allowed only the temporary use of such substances for a specified period of time, with the intent of forcing users to search for organic alternatives.

The existing sunset provision has allowed the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to extend use of synthetic and non-organic materials with a two-thirds majority vote, provided the users of the substances made a convincing case. This system of vetting exceptional substances every five years allowed the organic industry flexibility while maintaining the integrity of the organic label. It has been successful in keeping the large majority of synthetics and non-organic substances out of organic products. It has worked to make organic standards strong and is aligned with consumer expectations.

The new policy, however, diminishes the incentive to develop organic, non-synthetic alternatives. Under the new rules just issued by NOP, a two-thirds majority vote by NOSB members would be needed to remove a substance from the approved National List, effectively a sharp reversal in the policy of limiting synthetics and non-organic substances.

Since the inception of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 2005, the responsibility for making the case for the extended use of a given material was shouldered by those wanting to continue its use beyond the period of five years. Now, the NOP has set the default to leaving materials on the National List, unless a concerted effort is made to amass evidence of the need for removal. Clearly, this sharp reversal in NOP policy will allow many more exempted substances to be allowed in organics indefinitely, not the intent of OFPA.

The NOP claim that this rule change "increases transparency" is blatantly misleading. It removes decision-making from the full 15-member board and puts it in the hands of a much smaller subcommittee. Until now, all decisions have been made in a public meeting, and all transcripts were posted for public view. The new NOP policy changes that. Now, decisions can be made in private, in the subcommittee meeting, with the public unaware of the discussion. This is not transparent. NOP’s decision is disappointing because it reduces transparency but even more so because of NOP's false claim that it increases transparency.

Organic consumers believe the integrity of organics depends on prohibiting and phasing out the large majority of synthetics and non-organics. This new policy will erode trust in the organic program and diminish the value of the seal.

What is most troubling about this recent action by NOP is it is rule-making from the “top-down” — rather than the fully democratic process provided by OFPA.

II. Organic aquaculture

We request that NOSB not add synthetics to 205.611, including tocopherols, chlorine materials, vitamins and minerals. PCC Natural Markets believes it is premature to review potential synthetic additives when a framework and regulations for certified organic aquaculture have not yet been established, or implemented.

The chlorine materials are worrisome if used in open-pen fish farms. The tocopherols raise great concerns if they will be used to stabilize the fats in wild fishmeal — because wild fishmeal should not be allowed at all in organic aquaculture. There are natural alternatives to tocopherols including organic rosemary oil, rosemary extract, lecithin, vitamin C, and natural sources of vitamin E such as wheat germ oil.

We also wish to urge NOSB to revise its previous recommendations for organic aquaculture and prohibit organic certification of carnivorous, migratory species. Please limit certification to closed, land-based systems with vegetarian diets.

PCC’s view is that it’s important for seafood bearing the organic label to be produced in ways that are compatible with organic principles —adhering to practices that “restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony ... and balance natural systems.” These principles require protecting biodiversity, minimizing environmental impacts, controlling inputs, and allowing “natural behaviors.” Floating feedlots for carnivorous species in our marine environment cannot meet these fundamental organic principles.

One requirement for organic livestock is that the feed must meet organic standards. The NOSB previously decided that since diets of free-swimming wild fish could not be controlled, wild fish could not be certified organic.

The board’s recent recommendation for farmed salmon, however, would allow up to 25 percent of the feed to be wild-caught fish. This violates the principle that organic animals must be raised on 100 percent organic feed.

The board's recommendation would encourage aquaculture to continue harvesting enormous volumes of wild fish for feed, a practice that’s both ecologically unsustainable and unhealthy for consumers. Feed pellets made of wild fish contain high concentrations of PCBs, dioxins and other contaminants, which are then passed on to consumers. These chemical contaminants further violate organic principles. There is no process we’re aware of that would eliminate these concerns. If we could clean fresh fish of contaminants, it would be done now.

Confining fish in cages prevents them from exercising their natural behaviors, violating another core organic principle. Fish that spend their lives in floating ocean feedlots suffer unhealthy conditions, just like cattle in CAFOs and chickens in battery cages. Floating feedlots violate the organic principle of protecting the natural environment by annually flushing millions of pounds of unfiltered fish waste directly into surrounding marine environments.

The board's current recommendations are too broad and should not include all species. They fail to meet the high standards consumers expect.

We strongly encourage you to prohibit certifying migratory, carnivorous fish. A better approach would be to consider for certification the closed, land-based systems that recirculate water, collect waste for fertilizer, can provide organic feed for vegetarian fish, and do not threaten wild stocks.

Sincerely,

PCC Natural Markets

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