Comments to various NOSB committees

May 2012

National Organic Standards Board
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Room 2646-So, Mail Stop 0268
Washington D.C. 20250-0268

Docket # AMS-NOP-12-0017

PCC Natural Markets wishes to add the following comments to those filed electronically on May 3. Our comments are to the following committees on the designated issues:

Ad Hoc Committee p. 2
Letter to Sec. Vilsack

Livestock Committee p. 2
Poultry aviaries and indoor space calculations
ammonia levels
outdoor space requirements

Handling Committee p. 4

Materials Committee p. 7
Extractants and Solvents

Policy Development Committee p. 10
Public comment
Conflict of interest

Ad Hoc committee

Thank you for communicating key concerns about the impact of GMOs on organic food production to Secretary Vilsack. We agree USDA’s actions on genetically engineered crops are insufficient.

We strongly agree that the developers and profiteers of GMO technology must at least “share the burden that organic farmers now assume in mitigating the gene flow” that causes damage where GMOS are not welcome.

Just as pesticide applicators are liable for damages caused from pesticide drift, so must the parties using GMO technology accept the risk and cost of damages caused to others by their choices.

We encourage NOSB to send the letter to the Secretary and to copy all members of the Organic Caucus in Congress.

Livestock Committee

Re: Poultry aviaries and indoor space calculations

PCC strongly advocates changing the way indoor space is calculated to make aviary systems possible. Seeing an aviary system first-hand reversed our earlier assumptions. We now are advocates of aviaries as more natural for hens and for how they enable cleaner, healthier living conditions. Changing the way indoor space is calculated is essential to making aviaries feasible.

Four of us from PCC Natural Markets toured an aviary operation at the Wilcox Family Farm operation in Roy, Wash. and all four of us were impressed by numerous and palpable benefits. We were surprised and want NOSB/NOP to understand how ardently we hope you pay attention to this comment.

The aviary hens were noticeably more calm and quieter than others in flat-floor operations that we’ve seen with an equal number of hens. The aviary hens displayed less aggressive behavior, which means less feather pecking.

We believe this is because of the benefits of the aviary systems. All species have a “pecking order” and providing chickens a choice of elevated perches gives them more choices to find their place.

Chickens want to be off the ground at night and aviaries allow for this while flat floor systems do not. With the additional multi-tiered perching in an Aviary, all hens can roost at night on perches. This allows the hens’ behavior to emulate birds in nature, where they roost at night on tree limbs and branches. In contrast, a traditional floor house does not have the necessary perch space and the hens are either on the floor or slats at night.

Aviary hens are more athletic. We saw hens jumping and flying to various perches at a choice of heights, not available in floor systems. Aviaries encourage muscular development in hens and provide a more natural environment, resembling wild conditions where birds move vertically to perch in trees.

This aviary had significantly more access to scratch areas than floor systems. But of critical importance to the health of hens, the aviary manure belt systems reduced ammonia levels to the lowest of any large-scale poultry operation that we have visited. The aviary actually smelled fairly fresh and naturally birdlike, compared to the ammonia levels in a certified organic dirt floor system we visited, where it was intolerable to be in the barn for more than a minute. The aviary ammonia levels also were far lower than levels in an elevated floor system we saw, where manure is raked out from below. The manure belts in the aviary allow manure to begin drying immediately and remove manure several times a week.

This system does not limit birds from going outside. Aviary systems do not determine whether, or how much, hens go out. When many doors are installed every few feet, on both sides and at the ends of a barn, the birds do go outdoors readily and easily.

For all these reasons, we urge you to allow for the additional floor space created by an aviary in the indoor space calculation. Failure to allow for the additional floor space created by aviaries would prohibit these very beneficial systems and be a disservice.

Poultry ammonia levels

Available science shows that allowing ammonia levels to as much as 25 ppm is too high and must be lower. Scientific analyses show hens experience physiological impacts at 20 ppm, so levels never should be allowed to reach even 20 (“Measuring and Auditing Broiler Welfare,” Claire Weeks and Andrew Butterworth, 2004).

Excessive ammonia exposure among chickens can “cause air sac lesions and keratoconjunctivitis, may increase susceptibility to certain diseases; affects foraging, preening, and resting behavior; may reduce food intake and cause weight loss; and may irritate mucous membranes.” (Kristensen and Wathes, 2000)

The recommendation that “Ammonia levels should be less than 10 ppm” is weak and would allow routine violations. Please change the language to “Ammonia levels must be less than 10 ppm.”

Poultry outdoor space requirements

Based on what we’ve seen first-hand in three certified organic chicken operations (layers and broilers), PCC strongly advocates increasing the 2 sq. ft. of outdoor space to at least 5 sq. ft. for layers, and doubling the recommended amount specified for broilers. The proposed standards are not adequate to allow for soil health and vegetation inherent to organic management.

Handling Committee

Re: Inositol

We see the petition before NOSB asks for inositol be added to the National List for use as an additive to infant formula. We oppose this petition.

The change already proposed in the organic rule — to allow any nutrient required by FDA in organic infant formula — would make it unnecessary to add synthetic inositol to the National List. We support the proposed rule change.

Since dairy already contains inositol, the petition has relevance only for non-dairy formulas, and the FDA requirement (above) already covers this. Inositol can be added to organic soy formula without petition or approval by the NOP.

We also do not see call or justification making inositol allowable in “made with organic” foods, as the Committee recommends. It is not considered an essential nutrient, there is no RDA established, and while some studies suggest possible health benefits from inositol, the TAP review indicates no need for this synthetic to be added to any food (except soy-based infant formula).

We remind NOSB that a survey last year of our 46,000 member households showed clearly that organic shoppers do not want added synthetic nutrients in organic foods.
We oppose adding inositol to the National List.

Re: Carrageenan

Just because something comes from a natural source does not mean it is wholesome, healthful or safe. Available research shows carrageenan is a known carcinogen in animal models and is linked to human gastrointestinal cancers, inflammatory bowel disease (especially ulcerative colitis), and other gastrointestinal diseases.

Extracted from red seaweed by using powerful alkali solvents, carrageenan is a common thickening agent, stabilizer and texturizer. The scientific community has recognized for a long time (decades) that degraded carrageenan is harmful to human health.

We called Dr. Joanne Tobacman, M.D., who teaches at the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine and has authored 18 published papers on carrageenan (see PubMed). Based on her extensive research over the years, she agrees that carrageenan should not be allowed in organic foods.

Dr. Tobacman notes the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1982 identified sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of degraded carrageenan in animals to regard it as a carcinogenic risk to humans. The same WHO Agency has said food-grade carrageenan should contain less than 5% degraded carrageenan.

We learned further, from research by the Cornucopia Institute, that the trade group for carrageenan manufacturers (Marinalg) has concluded it “could not reliably determine” the levels of degraded carrageenan in products, and that industry data from 2005 revealed that levels of degraded carrageenan contaminate all food-grade carrageenans.

Dr. Tobacman’s 2001 review of established data (Environmental Health Perspectives) demonstrated “that exposure to un-degraded as well as degraded [emphasis added] carrageenan is associated with the occurrence of intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms … Because of the acknowledged carcinogenic properties of degraded carrageenan in animal models and the cancer-promoting effects of un-degraded carrageenan in experimental models, the widespread use of carrageenan in the Western diet should be reconsidered.”

High-weight molecular carrageenans were given GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration in 1959, while low-weight carrageenans are considered dangerous. Dr. Tobacman, however, has demonstrated that digestive enzymes and bacterial action convert high-weight carrageenans to dangerous low-molecular weight carrageenans and poligeenans in the human gut.

Since carrageenan suppliers cannot meet the conditions established by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) — that use of “substances would not be harmful to human health” — our position is that carrageenan cannot meet organic principles stipulated by OFPA and, therefore, must be prohibited in organic foods.

It’s vital to note there are numerous alternatives to carrageenan as a thickener, stabilizer or texturizer for organic foods. They include (water-extracted) Arabic gum, guar gum, Locust bean gum, carob bean gum, and xanthan gum. Higher fat compositions also can create texture-enhancing properties. While one popular brand of soy milk uses carrageenan as a thickening agent, most other brands do not. Instead, they use barley flour, cellulose gel and soy lecithin, xanthan gum, rice syrup, or barley extract.

There is ample scientific evidence — and ample substitutes — to demonstrate that carrageenan should not be allowed on the National List for organic foods.

Re: Choline

PCC Natural Markets provided survey data in November 2011, indicating organic shoppers consider organic foods to be healthy inherently, without additives of any kind.

Such data has particular relevance to the petition wanting synthetic choline to be added to the National List.

The National List was instituted to allow ONLY for synthetics lacking an organic version or substitute. The exploding number of synthetics on the List jeopardizes the value of the organic label more than any other topic. When not absolutely essential, synthetics must be avoided.

The facts show synthetic choline does not meet the National List standard since, 1) there are numerous natural sources of choline from many foods, 2) organic lecithin already is approved and available as a rich substitute source of choline, 3) choline is not considered an essential nutrient, and 4) it’s entirely viable to make baby food without synthetic choline. If more choline is desired, manufacturers simply may add broccoli, tofu, navy beans, wheat, cooked spinach, corn, peas, peanut butter, eggs, fish, beef or chicken.

For these reasons, we oppose the petition to allow synthetic chemical choline.

Materials Committee

Re: Extractants and solvents

We greatly appreciate the committee’s discussion paper that points out the lack of consistency or uniformity in limitations on use of solvents.

Our experience with organic shoppers is that they expect and assume no volatile synthetic solvents are used in the production of any ingredients or substances allowed in foods that bear the USDA organic seal, or are labeled “made with organic ingredients.”

1. How should “volatile synthetic solvent” be defined? Should we make a distinction between different types?
We support the OFPA definition of “synthetic” (§.2103 [7.U.S.C. 6502] Definitions 21) and of “volatile synthetic solvent” in the discussion document: “a volatile synthetic solvent is a synthetic chemical with boiling point less than 287 degrees Celsius that can dissolve another substance.”

This definition automatically includes the range of volatile — and highly volatile — solvents, such as ethanol, dichloromethane, acetone, chloroform, hexane, benzene, isopropyl alcohol, and toluene. They all must be included in any discussion of solvents regarding organic food.

We also recognize that there are some specific prohibitions on solvents, e.g. §205.606 (k), that gums may be water-extracted only, and §205.605(a) nonsynthetics allowed: … flavors, nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems, or any artificial preservative. The prohibition against volatile synthetic solvents, however, must be clarified for consistency and leave no room for mistaken assumptions by consumers.

We notice NOSB recommended approval of the petition for DHA algal oil with annotation that it may not be hexane-extracted. We believe this annotation was too limited and narrow, allowing the possibility that a manufacturer may use another volatile synthetic solvent or extractant. We believe the annotation should reflect the absolute nature of the rule and prohibit use of any volatile synthetic solvent or extractant for any ingredient or substance.

The rule is absolute in prohibiting volatile synthetic solvents. Given the definitions, ethanol, dichloromethane, acetone, chloroform, hexane, benzene, isopropyl alcohol, and toluene are all prohibited.

Supercritical carbon dioxide, as a gas, may necessitate separate evaluation.

2. Is there a distinction between volatile solvents used for extraction vs. volatile solvents used for other purposes? Solvents are used for purposes other than extraction, such as purification of a substance via crystallization. Solvents are also common inert ingredients in formulated pesticide products.

The rule prohibits volatile synthetic solvents without qualification. It does not specify that solvents are prohibited only for certain purposes, such as extraction. We believe the prohibition is sound and support the rule as absolute, prohibiting all purposes in the production chain.

3. Should the process of extraction change the classification of an agricultural product to a nonagricultural material? When this happens to an agricultural material that’s currently organically grown, does this changed material then need to be petitioned?
The discussion of whether the process of extraction changes an agricultural product to a non-agricultural product is confusing. The only way we can make sense of this is that the process of extraction shouldn’t change the way a material is classified as agricultural or non-agricultural.

What matters to the consumer is whether the material is synthetic and that no volatile synthetic solvents are used.

We agree with the view discussed in the document that “[A]ny known level of a synthetic substance in the final material or in the environment, as a result of the substance’s manufacture, use and disposal would be a significant level… [and that] all synthetic inputs or residues must be examined to determine their associated health and environmental impacts.”

4. Since §205.270, Organic Handling Requirements, explicitly prohibits volatile organic solvents, should consumers expect that non-agricultural ingredients identified as “organic” be produced or extracted with the same restriction?

Yes, our constant interactions with tens of thousands of member-owner consumers in our business lead us to conclude without doubt that the prohibition should apply to the production of all ingredients.

The rule’s prohibition is absolute against use of volatile synthetic solvents, regardless of how or when they’re used in the chain of production.

Just as irradiation and genetic engineering are prohibited methods of production throughout the supply chain, the prohibition against volatile synthetic solvents must be applied just as consistently. Use of a volatile synthetic solvent in an ingredient that’s subsequently used in another product should disqualify the second product from being labeled organic.

In other words, use of a volatile synthetic solvent in an ingredient should mean the ingredient is not permitted in organic food. It would contravene the rule, and consumer interpretations, to allow ingredients made using volatile synthetic solvents anywhere in their history.

Organic consumers would not want the prohibition to cover only the purpose of extraction. They expect and assume volatile synthetic solvents are prohibited in production of any food, substance, or ingredient labeled “organic.”

We support NOSB clarifying application of the absolute prohibition, not just in handling but throughout the chain of production.

5. Should synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production under §205.601 be allowed or prohibited from using volatile synthetic solvents in their production or extraction? Should nonsynthetic substances used in organic crop production be allowed or prohibited from using volatile synthetic solvents in their production or extraction, regardless of chemical change or significant residues?

We believe any input for organic crop production that is produced with a volatile synthetic solvent should be considered a synthetic and must be reviewed by NOSB. The synthetic status ensures review.

6. Is guidance needed concerning whether or under what circumstances the use of an extractant/solvent causes chemical change in the extraction process?

Since organic standards are process-based, and since the rule is absolute in prohibiting volatile synthetic solvents, we do not see the necessity for further guidance. Any use of a volatile synthetic solvent in the production of a material makes it subject to classification as synthetic. Any chemical change caused as a result of extraction makes the material synthetic.

7. What is a significant residue of a synthetic solvent? Should the prohibition on the use of volatile synthetic solvents include the use in any ingredient in the history of the product?

The rule’s prohibition is absolute, making no level of volatile synthetic solvents acceptable. Any amount of residue is significant. The prohibition must be observed throughout the chain of production of all ingredients in organic foods, and ingredients listed as organic.

Policy Development Committee

Re: Public comment

The three-minute comment period is so short that it hardly warrants the expense and trouble of sending any key staff with adequate expertise across the country. This three-minute limitation also gives an advantage to the largest operators who often send multiple representatives that absorb several speaking slots.

The cost of travel and housing and meals is considerable for smaller-scale operations and non-profits. This may contribute to a more influential role before NOSB by larger operations and not reflect the full range of stakeholders’ opinions. For this reason, we ask that proxies be allowed.

We also would appreciate increasing the public comment period to 5 minutes for organizations with just one representative, while allowing 3 minutes for organizations with multiple speakers.

Re: Conflict of interest

The lack of transparency in the authorship of technical reviews (TRs) is contrary to the transparent history and process of developing organic standards. The anonymity of the TR authors raises questions about the potential role of vested interests.

Individuals and organizations or businesses that provide TRs for NOP and NOSB should be required to disclose not only their identities, but also should be required to declare in signed affidavits any potential conflicts of interest.

A second concern is the concentration of individuals on NOSB who represent the same company. When an appointment is announced for an individual to represent a certain sector (e.g. farming operation, consumer interest, handling, etc.) there is nothing in the rules holding them responsible for continuing to represent the sector they were appointed to represent.

We are not saying any particular individuals aren’t qualified. Yet having more than one person from the same company represented on NOSB gives an unintended weighted advantage to a company’s perspective in discussions, committee recommendations, and voting on critical matters.

Perhaps appointments should require continued employment in the designated sector they’re appointed to represent, much as elected representatives are required to continue residing in the districts that elect them as long as they remain in office.

It would mean a commitment to one’s employer for four years, but serving on NOSB is a commitment to public service and should be linked to the person’s employment at the time of appointment. If an individual no longer represents the designated company/sector, perhaps they should be required to step down and an alternate appointment installed. We don’t have the perfect solution to this issue but it is one that has raised concerns over the years as it has created the perception of too-concentrated interests.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these important issues,

Trudy Bialic
Director, Public Affairs

Related reading

Support for Sustainable Farms and Field Funding

PCC signed on to Carbon Washington and Audubon Washington’s letter to Secretary Vilsack advocating for Washington State’s Sustainable Farms and Fields to be funded as a USDA pilot project.

Carrageenan in organics, algae harvesting and hydroponics

Comments on carrageenan, marine algaes and hydroponics to the National Organic Standards Board for the fall 2016 meeting

No Genetic Engineering in Organics

PCC joined the Organic Farmers Association (OFA) in a letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue, expressing solidarity against any potential discussion of incorporating genetic engineering into organic production.