Policy Issues

Current Policy Issues

 

It is our aim to keep you advised of current policy issues that affect organic agriculture, and let you know how you can make your voice heard on the issue.  We hope that you will take the time to submit public comments, contact your state and local congresspersons, and let others know about issues that are important to you.  Public engagement on policy issues does make a difference.  We've seen it happen on many occasions, going back to 1997 when massive public outcry forced the USDA to go back to the drawing board on the first propoed rule for organic production.

If you're aware of issues on the national, state, or regional level which aren't listed here and should be, please email us.

16 Sep 2017    NOSB Fall Meeting October 31-November 2

NOSB Fall Meeting Oct. 31-Nov 2 The National Organic Standards Board will hold its fall meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, October 31 - November 2.  The board intends to discuss organic imports, review sunsetting of accepted inputs for organic operations and new petitions, a proposal to eliminate the incentive to convert native ecosystems to organic crop production, and, for the third time, the question as to whether hydroponic/aquaponic operations should be allowed to be certified organic.  The complete agenda is online at https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Tentative2017OctNOSBAgenda.pdf.

MOFFA Chair John Biernbaum was a member of the NOSB Hydroponic Task Force and has reported in our newsletter on several occasions about the status of this question.  He is planning to attend the fall NOSB meeting and to participate in a rally planned to protect the organic tradition and methods from the hydroponic producers and other efforts to reduce the meaning of organic agriculture.  

The "Keep the Soil in Organic" movement is pulling together many of the voices of organic farming in one more effort to help the USDA remember or see just what organic farming is supposed to be about.  To many, the significance goes beyond the narrow issue of whether this type of production can be considered "organic" to the broader question of whether the federal definition of "organic" will be watered down to a simple list of materials allowed in "organic" production, abandoning the intent of the initial legislation to define a holistic approach which encompasses a sustainable, regenerative approach to the production of our food.  The Rodale Institute's answer to this trend of "watering down" is to propose a new certification, "Regenerative Organic Certified".  It may be that this will untimately be the only alternative for those who believe in true organic agriculture, but the potential pitfalls in this course are many.     

For those who would prefer to make the effort to return the national organic standard to its roots, there are opportunities for public comment in several formats.  First, written public comment is being accepted now through midnight on October 11 at regulations.gov.  Additionally, there will be two comment webinars, on October 24 and 26.  Members of the public may register for a three-minute time slot to present comments at https://www.ams.usda.gov/event/oct-2017-national-organic-standards-board-nosb-meeting-registration-webinar; the deadline for registering for this opportunity is midnight on October 11th or when the maximum number of slots has been reached, whichever comes first.  And finally, there will be opportunities to address the board in person at the meeting for those who make the trip to Jacksonville.  Registration for this opportunity is at   https://www.ams.usda.gov/event/oct-2017-national-organic-standards-board-nosb-meeting-registration-in-person

 
20 Jul 2017    NOSB Teleconference on Hydroponics

NOSB Teleconference on Hydroponics The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet via conference on August 14, 2017 from 1:00pm - 3:00pm Eastern to discuss hydroponics in organic food production.  The NOSB will not be voting on a recommendation during this web conference.  A transcript will be available approximately two weeks after the event.

Access the web conference at: https://cc.readytalk.com/r/3itgag2r7btt&eom.  The public is invited to listen to the NOSB discuss the development of a proposal on hydroponics.  Please be sure your speakers are on and the volume is turned up. The audio for the web conference should come through your computer speakers. You will not need to install any extra plug-ins/software. Test your computer before the meeting. If you cannot hear and your volume is on, please try a different web browser.  If you encounter technical difficulty, please contact ReadyTalk at https://support.readytalk.com/SP/?src=ccemail.

 
18 Jul 2017    Understanding the Farm Bill

Understanding the Farm Bill The Farm Bill is a many-faceted and complex piece of legislation, one which has a huge impact on the food system in this country, and especially on the future of sustainable agriculture.  The Farm Bill must be renewed every five years, and 2018 is one of those years.  We saw with the previous cycle (which was supposed to have been passed in 2013 but was not) how great an impact certain provisions of the bill – those without permanent "baseline" funding – can have on family-scale organic and sustainable operations directly, as well as research and advocacy efforts.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has published under the title "The Numbers Behind the Farm Bill" which analyze the budget assumptions that will underlie the 2018 Farm Bill: 

NSAC also provides an overview of the Farm Bill at What is the Farm Bill?

 
2 Jun 2017    Further Postponement of Organic Poultry and Livestock Rule

Further Postponement of Organic Poultry and Livestock RuleIn January 2017 the USDA NOP announced a new Organic Poultry and Livestock rule, clarifying the intent of the Organic Foods Production Act with respect to the treatment of livestock and poultry on organic farms. 

This rule comes at the end of more than fifteen years of recommendations from NOSB concerning the treatment of livestock, and particularly what constitutes meaningful outdoor access for poultry.  A summary of the history of this issue is part of the proposed rule and may be seen at https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2016-08023/p-61.  The final rule, adopted on January 19, 2017 and now in postponement, is the first rule to provide a clear statement of what is meant by "organic  poultry and livestock"

https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2016-08023/p-61
https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2016-08023/p-61
https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2016-08023/p-61

The rule was scheduled to take effect on March 19th, but the effective date was postponed until May 19th, in what we were told is a fairly common practice when a new admniistration takes over in Washington.  However, before the May 19th date was reached, the rule was again postponed, until November 14th.  There is reason now to think that the rule may be cancelled altogether. 

The USDA is accepting public comment through ** Friday, June 9th **.  The public is asked to weigh in on which course of action the USDA should take with regard to the rule:

  1. Let the rule become effective. This means that the rule would become effective on November 14, 2017. 
  2. Suspend the rule indefinitely. During the suspension, USDA could consider whether to implement, modify or withdraw the final rule. 
  3. Delay the effective date of the rule further, beyond the effective date of November 14, 2017.
  4. Withdraw the rule so that USDA would not pursue implementation of the rule.

Please go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=AMS-NOP-17-0031 and click on "Comment Now" to let the USDA know your opinion on this issue.

 
11 May 2017    Rollback of EPA Regulations

Rollback of EPA Regulations—On February 24, Trump signed Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” This has been widely understood to mean the elimination of hard-won regulations addressing toxic pollution and fuel emission standards, and programs that improve and protect the gains we have made toward clean water and clean air.  The EPA is responsible for national-level regulation of pesticides, and while its record under the previous administration wasn't ideal, we believe it would be disastrous for the program to be weakened or eliminated. 

The EPA has requested input from the public on the question of regulatory reform.  The deadline to provide comment is midnight, on Monday, May 15th.  The EPA has provided more information about the  issue at https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/regulatory-reform, and you can submit your comment at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190

The EPA has also helpfully provided a list of suggestions for increasing the impact of your comment; regulations.gov has a similar list.

 
18 Apr 2017    Spring NOSB Meeting

Spring NOSB Meeting—The Spring 2017 NOSB meeting will be held in Denver April 19-21.  The major issue before the NOSB this spring is whether hydroponic and aquaponic systems should be able to be certified organic (see "Keep the Soil in Organic" below), and the question has been in contention for the past eight years.  The issue was before the NOSB last fall, too, and they failed to act.  The Cornucopia Institute will be live-tweeting the meeting and posting to its website in realtime.  That link is not yet active, but is available at Cornucopia's NOSB page.  That page also has links to Cornucopia's public comment on the issues before the board, and an analysis of public comments on the hydroponics issue. 

 
14 Apr 2017    Second Farm Bill Hearing

Second Farm Bill Hearing—U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) today announced the Committee will hold its second Farm Bill field hearing of the 115th Congress in Frankenmuth on Saturday, May 6 to begin work on the 2018 Farm Bill.  All stakeholders and the general public are invited to submit testimony or comments in writing for the official Committee record.  The deadline for submitting comment for this hearing is May 12, 2017.  Comments may be submitted at www.agriculture.senate.gov/farm-bill-input.  The hearing will be webcast live on ag.senate.gov.

 
14 Apr 2017    Congressional Recess

Congressional Recess—The U.S. Congress is on recess again, and many of our legislators will be holding town hall meetings and/or will be available to speak to constituents at their local offices.  If you have the opportunity to attend a Town Hall, we encourage you to do so.  The Center for Food Safety has put together a useful guide for preparing for and making your voice heard at townhall meetings: www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/townhall-toolkit_16785.pdf.  An excellent site for learning about your elected officials is www.govtrack.us/congress/members/MI.  In addition to contact information for all of Michigan's representation in Washington, the site offers a useful map of congressional districts and substantial information and voting record for each of the Senators and Representatives.

 
13 Apr 2017    The Organic Check-Off

The Organic Check-Off—The public comment period on this issue ends at midnight on April 19.  The “check-off” program would use funds collected from producers and handlers of organic products for promotion and research—it’s the program that brought us the “Got Milk?” and “Incredible Edible Egg” campaigns.  Again, the vast majority of organic farmers are opposed to this additional “tax”, feeling that promoting organic sales now will not increase organic acreage in the US but may well increase demand for lower priced organic imports.  The check-off has been strongly promoted by the Organic Trade Association, representing corporate interests, and the public comments are already full of their form letter.  There is more information on the check-off at noorganiccheckoff.com and www.cornucopia.org/2017/01/organic-checkoff-proposed-usda-dismay-farmers/.  You can view the proposed rule and submit your comment at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=AMS-SC-16-0112-2265.  MOFFA's comment is here.

 
13 Apr 2017    Keep the Soil in Organic

Keep the Soil in Organic—The public comment period has ended on the question of whether hydroponic operations should be able to be certified organic.  The issue will (we hope) be decided at the Spring NOSB meeting in Denver on April 19-21.  For those who would like more information, MOFFA's Chair Dr. John Biernbaum, who served on the hydroponics task force, reported on his experience in our September and December newsletters.