Public policy updates

by Trudy Bialic

This article was originally published in November 2018

There are several significant policy updates to report.

National Organic Standards

PCC’s comments for the fall agenda of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) are posted on our website here.

Topics addressed in organic crop production include the use of plastic sheeting for weed suppression and sustainability of liquid fish products.

For processed foods, we opposed allowing “flavors” as a category in food or supplements. We challenged the allowance for two fermented bacterial thickeners, xanthan gum and gellan gum, but do not oppose non-fermented non-synthetic guar, Arabic, carob and locust bean gums.

We asked the NOSB to prohibit magnesium stearate, a binding agent, from organic food and allow it only in dietary supplements labeled “Made With Organic [ingredients].”

We said the preservative, sulfur dioxide, should be allowed only at low levels in wines labeled “Made With Organic Grapes” that are not certified organic. We believe sunsetting (allowing approval to lapse) de-oiled lecithin would benefit organic producers. We asked NOSB to gather information needed to recommend safer, available packaging materials without toxins, such as bisphenols. We also asked NOSB to take up concerns about contamination from energy infrastructure, such as hydraulic fracking, and provide guidance.

PCC traditionally comments twice a year on materials being considered by NOSB.

Farm Bill

At press time, Congress had not approved a new Farm Bill, allowing many programs that support organic farmers to lapse without funding.

Beginning October 1, the national Organic Certification Cost-Share Program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative were forced to stop awarding research grants and to stop signing contracts to subsidize the cost of organic certification. Other programs that sunsetted or are badly affected include:

  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development
  • Conservation Reserve Program — Transition Incentives
  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion
  • Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives
  • Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers
  • Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance
  • Conservation Stewardship
  • Conservation Reserve
  • Agricultural Conservation Easements

As a member of the National Organic Coalition (NOC), PCC joined in pushing for permanent funding for organic programs. We continue to be engaged through NOC’s representative in Washington, D.C.

GE labeling

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration for failing to meet the deadline set by Congress to label genetically engineered (GE) food.

The 2016 labeling law required rules to be done by July 29, 2018, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) missed the deadline. CFS is suing to ensure timely completion of the rules and judicial oversight by USDA.

The rules will determine whether all GE foods will be labeled, or just some, and clarify what PCC can — or can’t — do to label GE foods in our stores.

Trudy Bialic is PCC’s director of public affairs and quality standards.

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