At the April 26–29 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in Seattle, WA, committee members planned to consider various proposals that would have a major impact on how the National Organic Program is run. One proposal that could prove contentious is for the allowance of synthetic materials in organic products, without prior safety review by FDA or approval by USDA.

Current rules require any synthetic used in organic products, such as baking powder, to undergo NOSB review for appropriateness and safety. According to Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, this change would represent a step back for the integrity of the organic label, and is an attempt to retroactively allow the practice of adding unapproved synthetics to organics, which he says is already occurring. “There are a number of proposals that have generated tremendous pressure from corporate lobbyists who now have strong economic interests in organics,” Kastel says, adding that lobbyists at the meeting are also prepared to defend the use of synthetic fertilizer in organic farming.

Other proposals on the docket for the meeting included several concerning animal welfare. The issue at stake is the amount of space that the organic standard requires for the raising of livestock like chickens, hogs and cows. For chickens, the committee proposal would outlaw a certain type of confining enclosure, but would mandate a minimum space requirement (2 ft.2 for hens and 1 ft.2 for broilers) that opponents say is too restrictive. The proposal for cows would increase the required space to a degree that opponents say would threaten small farms. “If our recommendations are respected the organic regulations will serve as the gold standard in humane milk, meat and egg production,” Kastel says.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2011 (online 4/19/11)