Keep bisphenols, glyphosate, GE out of organic

October 7, 2014

Ms. Michelle Arsenault
National Organic Standards Board
USDA-AMS-NOP
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Room 2648-So, Ag Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250-0268
Docket: AMS-NOP-14-0063

Dear Ms. Arsenault:

Thank you for this opportunity to comment to the National Organic Standards Board on some important issues.

PCC Natural Markets is a consumer-owned grocery retailer with 10 stores in Seattle and adjacent cities with more than 52,000 active member households. Our commitment to organic agriculture is built into our mission statement and product offering. As a retail handler, we have certified our produce, meat/seafood, bulk food, deli cheese, and deli espresso departments to ensure our commitment to organics is maintained to the consumers’ shopping carts.

Our comments are to the Materials Committee on:

  • Research priorities
  • Prohibit BPA, BPS packaging
  • Research impact of glyphosate in compost
  • GMO contamination prevention
  • Update “Excluded Methods”

to the Handling Committee on:

  • Gellan gum

and on:

  • Changes to the Sunset Provision

Research Priorities

PCC Natural Markets supports many of the research priorities recommended by the Materials Subcommittee from 2012 to 2014. These include:

  • research on “seed purity” and integrity of breeding lines and foundation seed, and providing
    guidance on how to reduce unwanted traits in breeding lines
  • whole-farm systems research
  • pastured poultry, especially to determine best breeds for pasturing and flavor
  • evaluation of genetically modified vaccines
  • alternatives to antibiotics, e.g. plant-based medicines
  • risk reduction from off-target exposure to non-permitted materials

Prohibit BPA, BPS packaging

We applaud the Handling Subcommittee for planning to discuss a possible prohibition against bisphenol A (BPA) in packaging material for organic foods. We strongly support such a prohibition.

We urge the Handling Subcommittee furthermore to expand the prohibition to include Bisphenol S (BPS) and potentially other phenols from packaging, in light of evidence suggesting BPS bears similar risks as BPA.

Most organic and many conventional food shoppers that we come in contact with are aware of BPA in packaging for canned foods. We have fielded countless consumer concerns about canned and packaged foods over packaging materials. They consistently are perplexed that organic foods may be in contact with toxic packaging materials.

Our response is to provide a short list of vendors, including Eden Foods, Nature’s One, Amy’s Kitchen, Native Forest, Wild Planet, and Muir Glen, to support these brands no longer using BPA. We also advise customers they may wish to choose fresh organic ingredients instead of packaged or processed foods, and to cook from scratch to avoid BPA or BPS (or other materials) that easily can be absorbed through contact.

Considering that experts advise throwing register receipt tapes in the trash, not the recycling bin — to stop spreading BPA and BPS — organic consumers and we as a retailer believe potentially toxic packaging materials have no business being in contact with organic food. The principle that prohibits us from allowing organic and non-organic produce to touch each other is the same principle that should be applied to other contact substances.

Alternatives to phenol-based products are emerging. PCC Natural Markets switched recently to a new register receipt tape free of BPA and BPS and all other phenols. Made by the Appvion Company, the new receipt tape paper instead utilizes vitamin C as an image developer — safer for staff and shoppers, our food, and the environment. Demand has driven innovation and alternative technologies.

Research glyphosate in compost

PCC requests a high research priority be placed on the potential impacts of glyphosate from conventional or GE plant material in compost on organic cropping systems.

Glyphosate levels are testable. Considering the potential impacts from glyphosate, a known mineral chelator, this should warrant high priority.

Healthy organic systems require healthy soils, and OFPA mandates “continual improvement,” not continual degradation.

GMO Contamination Prevention

We’re very pleased that the Materials Committee requested that NOP develop a prevention strategy for excluded methods. We also were glad to see NOP’s response in the April 14, 2014 memo, asking NOSB to recommend Best Practices for prevention of unintended GMO presence.

We urge that NOSB’s recommended Best Practices for GMO avoidance begin at the seed purity level. Organic shoppers generally are aware the organic program does not require any testing, and they’re aware that GMO traits are turning up where they do not belong.

Consumers are demanding scientifically defensible verifications, with thresholds and limits that meet global standards. Testing is the strongest and most accurate tool that Accredited Certifying Agencies (ACAs) have in the toolbox.

Scientists affirm that verifying seed purity, organic and non-organic, is the single, most vital tool in controlling GMO contamination. While some seed suppliers, farmers and handlers seem to have limited private knowledge of seed purity and GMO contamination levels, no known data is available.

We urge the Materials Committee to recommend that NOP provide guidance to ACAs for sampling and testing. The residue-testing rule in existing organic regulations would allow for sampling and testing for GMOs. (OFPA, Section 2119(k): 5. PRODUCT RESIDUE TESTING – The Board shall advise the Secretary concerning the testing of organically produced agricultural products for residues caused by unavoidable residual environmental contamination.)

We believe that it is in the best interest of the organic sector to use all tools to prevent intentional or unintentional GMO presence in organic products.

On behalf of our 52,000 active member households, we thank the Materials Committee for its good work in support of organic agriculture.

Update “Excluded Methods”

NOSB and NOP must update the term, “excluded methods” (7 CFR 205.2, Terms Defined).
There are discrepancies between techniques excluded by the definition and the reality that some (such as mutagenesis) are allowed in organic foods today.

Every year, we hear concerns from customers who want to know if organic seedless watermelons are genetically engineered. Every year, we endeavor to explain mutagenesis vs. genetic engineering. See pccnaturalmarkets.com/sc/1409/editor.html.

We urge the NOSB and NOP to address and update the term “excluded methods.”

Changes to the Sunset Provision

NOSB members and the National Organic Program have received a copy of the letter circulated to the Congressional Organic Caucus, and we wish to acknowledge the courteous and professional exchanges with them about this concern.

We treasure the opportunity to register disagreement. The opportunity to disagree and resist respectfully is essential to a transparent and trustworthy process.

We argue that instead of 10 votes (the 2/3 Supermajority required for “Decisive Votes”), only six (6) votes now are needed to earn a place on the National List. Never before has there been such a low bar for allowing non-organic materials and prohibited substances in certified organic products.

Processors and handlers should remember the “Made With Organic Ingredients” label claim was designed as an option to the rigorous 95 percent threshold for “Certified Organic.” Companies wishing to use controversial materials not supported by a 2/3 majority can label the products “Made with Organic Ingredients.” This would be consistent with prevailing organic consumer expectations.

Under the new voting process imposed by USDA, antibiotics, however, still would be allowed in production of organic apples and pears, at least for several more years. The new voting process will produce dramatically different results.

Gellan gum

NOP regulations state clearly that materials should not be added to the National List if their primary use is to improve taste or texture:

See 205.600 Evaluation criteria for allowed and prohibited substances, methods, and ingredients.
The following criteria will be utilized in the evaluation of substances or ingredients for the organic production and handling sections of the National List:

(b) In addition to the criteria set forth in the Act, any synthetic substance used as a processing aid or adjuvant will be evaluated against the following criteria:

(4) The substance’s primary use is not as a preservative or to recreate or improve flavors, colors, textures, or nutritive value lost during processing, except where the replacement of nutrients is required by law.

Yet, there are Allowed and Prohibited Substances on the National List, such as carrageenan, that violate part (4). The primary use of carrageenan, for example, is to improve the texture of a product.

Consumer representatives, including PCC, tried to warn in testimony that approving such additives to organic foods would not be a wise choice. Now, some processors and handlers are removing it from their products voluntarily, but the controversial way it got approved for use in the first place has only backfired on the value of the organic seal. We as a retailer now prohibit carrageenan in new items based on feedback from consumers.

As a substitute for carrageenan, gellan gum’s primary purpose also is to improve the texture of a given processed product. Based on 205.600 above, it should not qualify for listing any more than carrageenan.

We ask the NOSB to consider part 205.600 when deliberating additions and deletions from the National List.

On behalf of our 52,000 member households in the greater Seattle area, we thank NOSB and the NOP for the opportunity to comment toward common goals.

Submitted respectfully,

Trudy Bialic
Director of Public Affairs

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