Twenty organic farm and consumer groups have filed a legal petition with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in order to protect the authority and permanence of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The petitioners object to recent changes to the NOSB charter, renewed on May 8, 2014, that undermine the mandatory and continuing duties of the NOSB as established by Congress under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990.
The NOSB was created by Congress with independent authorities operating outside the discretion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In renewing the charter under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), USDA mistakenly re-categorized the NOSB as a time-limited Advisory Board subject to USDA’s discretion and a narrowing of responsibilities. This re-categorization hinders the NOSB’s role to safeguard the integrity of the organic food label.
Aimee Simpson, policy director and staff attorney for Beyond Pesticides, explains, “These changes to the NOSB Charter are significant and directly controvert the specific mandates of OFPA and Congress that NOSB is a permanent, non-discretionary committee that must fulfill a long list of statutorily mandated duties integral to the organic program.”
Jim Gerritsen, a long-time organic farmer in Maine and President of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, said, “NOSB integrity and fulfillment of its unique legal responsibility to represent the interests of the organic community is critical to maintaining consumer confidence in organic food and to the success of organic farming.”
In response to one of several recent moves by USDA to reclassify the NOSB’s role as a purely advisory and discretionary committee, petitioners urge USDA to reverse what they consider missteps. The petition finds that to comply with organic law, USDA must immediately revise the most recent NOSB Charter to accurately reflect the mandatory, non-discretionary duties and ongoing status of the NOSB as described in OFPA.
The groups signing the petition include: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, The Cornucopia Institute, Food & Water Watch, Equal Exchange, La Montanita Co-op (New Mexico), Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Northwest Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Interstate Council, Connecticut NOFA, NOFA/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc., NOFA New Hampshire, NOFA New Jersey, NOFA-New York, Inc., NOFA Vermont, Organic Consumers Association, Organically Grown Company, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and PCC Natural Markets.