April 29, 2014, kicked off the first day of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in San Antonio, TX. The USDA has advanced with its illegal take-over of the NOSB. The NOSB was established by Congress as a citizen oversight board of USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). This relationship is spelled out in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990.
Today, April 30, 2014, OSGATA Treasurer Isaura Andaluz presented oral comments, on behalf of OSGATA, under protest of the abridgement of the statutory rights and responsibilities of the NOSB.
Read on for OSGATA’s full comments submitted to the NOSB.
National Organic Standards Board
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Room 2648-So, Ag Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250-0268
RE: NOSB Materials/ GMO ad hoc Subcommittee Report – Seed Purity from GMOs
* February 25, 2014
My name is Isaura Andaluz. I am the treasurer of OSGATA, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, a national farmer-run membership organization representing certified organic farmers, seed growers and seed companies.
I am offering these comments under protest. OSGATA, as an organization which exists to protect and steward the interests of the organic community, cannot condone in good conscious the abridgement of the statutory rights and responsibilities of the NOSB. The NOSB was established by Congress as an independent citizen oversight board, under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 [for reference see OFPA Section 2119]. The OFPA represents the negotiated framework by which the organic community entered into partnership with the USDA in accepting regulation of the organic industry.
OSGATA’s role in helping steward the functioning of the organic industry requires us to insist that the letter and spirit of the enabling legislation be respected. This is essential if the National Organic Program (NOP) is to maintain the participation of certified organic farmers and businesses. And, most importantly, to maintain the trust and confidence of the organic consumer. It is for these reasons that these comments are offered to the NOSB under protest.
The following comments are in response to the NOSB GMO ad hoc Subcommittee’s report regarding “Seed Purity from GMOs.”
To start, we thank the NOSB for having the courage to recognize that GE movement outside of the areas that they are grown is a source of pollution, and that GE presence is a contaminant to organic seed.
Organic begins with seed. Organic seed free of GE contaminants is critical to ensure that the organic community has the quality seed to meet the diverse needs of local organic agriculture. OSGATA’s policy on Genetic Engineering, approved by our membership, states that contamination of organic seed by GE seed constitutes irreparable harm to the organic seed industry by undermining the integrity of organic seed: any detectable level is unacceptable. This policy represents a strong foundation on which to produce the organic goods sought by consumers.
Organic farming requires resilient crop varieties, grown from robust seeds suited to the low-input, ecologically diverse systems situated within the microclimates in which these farms exist. These seeds are the reservoirs needed for the continued survival of agriculture, as every local population has unique genetic traits.
Farmers are the stewards to these seeds. We are also ecologists, applying science on the ground every single day. As such, we must acknowledge that increasing rates of GE contamination pose serious threat to our carefully curated genetics. Stock seed and breeding lines even face extinction if contaminated; this possibility is exacerbated if the seed line is in small quantities (which is often the case in localized breeding lineages). This externalized cost to contamination is huge and irreplaceable.
The presence of GE traits in seed has other severe consequences for farmers. One such consequence, that the NOSB report addresses as a barrier to the implementation of a seed purity standard, is the associated costs shouldered by organic farmers as a result of maintaining seed purity.
OSGATA views seed testing to identify GE contamination as necessary to maintaining organic seed integrity, but it is not fair that organic farmers assume the costs. Required seed testing and seed purity protocols applied to organic seed must also be applied to conventional seed, as it is also used by organic farmers. If testing of conventional seed utilized within the organic sector is not required, or is less stringent, then contamination of organic will remain imminent. Organic growers need to have full access to all existing crop varieties, whether seed is available as certified organic or as conventional, and seed purity needs to be maintained in both sectors.
Organic farmers, however, should not bear the economic burden associated with contamination, including testing, nor should they assume costs associated with crop loss from GE contamination and buffer withdrawals on their side of the fence. The biotechnology patent holders must bear all costs associated with their polluting technology.
OSGATA disagrees with the NOSB’s conclusion that holding patent holders financially accountable for the costs of contamination, or contamination avoidance, is outside the scope of the NOP and USDA. The USDA’s statutory responsibility is to work on behalf of the welfare of all farmers within the U.S. This includes organic farmers. USDA must task APHIS with fairness and justice to organic farmers. USDA and APHIS must require that the associated costs of contamination, i.e. genetic testing and preventative measures for avoidance, be borne by biotech patent holders.
Any loss must be paid by the polluter. What is the price of insurance for air? Sunlight? These factors represent the real cost of insurance for seed. USDA has confirmed that insurance is not for anything man-made. Additionally, any compensation method proposed could easily be circumvented, as demonstrated by Monsanto’s recent purchase of a company that sells crop insurance. The recent AC21 recommendation would enable the polluter to offer insurance to the farmers they contaminate.
In moving forward with implementing a seed purity standard, it is imperative that the NOSB continues to work with stakeholders within the organic seed community to establish appropriate testing protocols that are not a burden to the organic industry. Please see OSGATA’s peer reviewed manual, Protecting Organic Seed Integrity: The Organic Farmer’s Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing, for additional research on testing protocols, contamination avoidance methods and technologies, rejection levels for adventitious presence, and evidence of contamination currently being found in the field. Protecting Organic Seed Integrity also addresses any crop that can readily cross-pollinate with a currently deregulated and commercially grown GE crop (i.e. Swiss chard). The handbook is available online at: www.osgata.org/organic-seed-integrity/. Hard copies have been submitted today as part of the public record.
In closing, OSGATA would like to thank the NOSB for their continued attention to organic seed issues. We believe there is an urgent need to proactively develop procedures to prevent GE contamination. The integrity of the entire organic marketplace and the confidence of the organic consumer is reliant upon the protection of organic seed.
Thank you for your time.