What’s on the agenda for the NOSB meeting in Seattle?

by Trudy Bialic, Editor

This article was originally published in March 2011

Are you planning to attend the meetings of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) next month in Seattle? Do you have something you’d like the national organic standards to address, something the NOSB should hear?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic standards often are described as “consumer-driven.” Yet individuals representing themselves as consumers tend to be underrepresented at NOSB meetings. We can change that.

USDA’s National Organic Program Deputy Administrator, Miles McEvoy (previously head of Washington state’s organic program), began rotating the NOSB meetings around the country when he got the job, intentionally to make it easier for more people across the nation to participate.

The meetings represent a remarkable process — grassroots democracy in action — completely transparent. Anyone with a suggestion or complaint about organic standards can sign up to testify.

Poultry rules

On the agenda for April’s meeting are animal welfare issues for organic poultry.
The NOSB Livestock Committee will announce recommendations for stocking and density rates, handling and transit, and slaughter. The committee heard loud and clear last October in Madison, Wis., that many stakeholders are demanding organic standards that represent the highest animal welfare standards in the country.

Also expected is a recommendation on use of DL-methionine, a synthetic amino acid that some producers add to organic poultry feed. Methionine makes up for essential nutrients that unpenned, pastured hens naturally get from insects, grubs and worms.

Methionine was supposed to be prohibited by now, under the NOSB’s “sunset review” process. Under that process, a synthetic may be allowed for five years if there’s no adequate organic supply; the five-year window is meant to drive development of organic options.

Non-pasturing poultry producers, however, have succeeded in extending the allowance for methionine several times already. The question now is, what’s the recommendation going forward?

Sodium nitrate

Another sunset material on the agenda is sodium nitrate, a prohibited non-synthetic input that some California leafy green growers insist is necessary for competitive viability.

Trouble is, USDA wants “equivalency” between Canadian organic standards and our own – and Canadian growers don’t use sodium nitrate. It’s a divisive issue and the decision may affect leafy green prices.

Corn steep liquor

Yet another sunset material under review is corn steep liquor, a liquid byproduct of corn waste useful in organic composting. Does the process that changes its chemical structure make it a synthetic, or is it a natural input? Again, it’s a valuable input that translates into $$.

The level of knowledge acquired by board members is amazing, requiring long hours of reading and research — all volunteer. They care at this level of detail, arduously arguing the minute details, all with a commitment to upholding consumer trust in the organic label.


Aquaculture — also known as fish farming — is not on the agenda. However, PCC Natural Markets and the National Organic Coalition want to bring up aquaculture here in Seattle, where salmon farms off Bainbridge Island provide examples of what is not acceptable.

There are no rules for organic farmed fish yet, so USDA certification of farmed fish is not yet available. But the NOSB Livestock Committee has voted to approve development of a framework to certify farmed fish.

The April Sound Consumer cover story (Can farmed fish be organic?) will address aquaculture and the specific challenges that must be navigated to uphold organic principles in fish-farming.

Also in this issue

News bites, March 2011

Universal obesity?, Pesticide liability, True Source Honey, and more

Insights by Goldie: Diet is a national security issue

With March designated Nutrition Month by the American Dietetic Association, it’s a good cue to bring up the intertwined problems of how we as a nation are (or are not) addressing childhood hunger and its closely related counterpoints: overeating, under-nourishment and obesity.

Letters to the editor, March 2011

GE alfalfa, GE sugar beets; Special deli order; Pesticide drift; and more