Fall 2022 OFA Oral Comments to NOSB

October 18, 2022
Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director

RE: General Comments to the NOSB via Webinar Testimony

Thank you, NOSB members, for the opportunity to speak before you today.  My name is Kate Mendenhall, I am the Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association.  OFA represents a strong national voice for domestic certified organic farmers.

Today I will be addressing Compliance, Accreditation, & Certification topics.

Proposal: NOSB Technical Support:  We have spoken to this point before and support research assistants for NOSB members.  We have concerns about these assistants being USDA employees for both the potential conflict of interest and the pervasive lack of organic knowledge within the USDA.  The board functions well currently, and research assistants should not interfere but support individual members’ research needs as directed by the board member.  We also urge the NOP to consider expanding the approved reimbursable expenses to help farmers on the board cover costs they incur to participate in the meetings, such as the cost of hired help for their farm while performing board duties.

Fraud Prevention:  OFA appreciates the Board’s work on deterring fraud, it continually ranks as a high priority for farmers.  We support the subcommittee’s proposal requiring acreage reporting and their recommendations to the NOP regarding small-diversified growers. The reporting should account for succession planting where total acres/crop may exceed total farm acres.  Organic paperwork is already burdensome for farmers, so streamlining this requirement and making sure it aligns with farms using paper records is important.

Traceability requirements must consider the different marketing structures of various commodities; tracing sales data for commodity corn is very different from tracing sales data for highly perishable wholesale market vegetables with many buyers.

In addition to oversight of certifiers, NOP must provide clear guidance when there is a discrepancy or questions on how organic standards should be interpreted.  Any guidance should be transparent and distributed to all accredited certifiers. Regarding standardized forms, we encourage a pilot project focusing on areas of high fraud risk like grains to identify how it affects certifiers, inspectors, and farmers.  We support exploring common forms for consistency and encourage collaboration with certifiers to identify the best existing models for replication and trial as well as assess what forms farmers currently use.  Common forms do have a positive ability to create more consistency among certifiers and expand the opportunity for translation.

Finally, I’d like to support more board and NOP attention to racial equity within the organic community and efforts to actively address barriers to organic certification and success.  While organic certification is understandably rigid as a regulatory system and at times that is incredibly important, at times prioritizing our humanity and our commitment to the principles of care and fairness is equally if not more important.  Understanding our cultural differences, barriers to entering agriculture, and additional societal weight that people of color unfairly carry is important to expand who gets and stays certified organic.  As forms are created and systems refined, ensuring a racial equity lens is applied must be a top priority.


October 20, 2022
Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

RE: General Comments to the NOSB via Webinar Testimony

Thank you, NOSB members, for the opportunity to speak before you today.  My name is Lily Hawkins, I am the Policy Director of the Organic Farmers Association.  OFA was created to be a strong national voice and advocate for domestic certified organic farmers.  

Today I will be addressing the issues of climate-smart agriculture and contamination.

OFA members agree with the NOSB that certified organic production should be automatically considered “climate-smart” and therefore eligible for any and all funding opportunities and support through relevant USDA programs. 

Organic agriculture has tremendous potential to address climate change while making sure that family farms flourish. But to meet its full potential, we need the USDA to take several steps to protect the integrity of the USDA-certified organic label. This is needed to maintain the standing of the organic label with consumers, ensure a level playing field for organic farmers, and make sure that organic methods provide the maximum benefit in addressing the climate crisis. 

There are several critical areas of NOP rulemaking and enforcement necessary to ensure that organic agriculture is truly climate-smart: 

First, the NOP must finalize the long-overdue Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Rule as quickly as possible to strengthen standards that ensure outdoor access and prioritize pasture-based systems. 

The NOP must also prioritize enforcement of the existing pasture standard to guarantee that organic animals are raised in climate-friendly pasture-based systems.

Second, the NOP must ensure that Organic Farming is Soil-Based. The NOP’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic, as well as inconsistent interpretation of the NOP’s guidance for how container operations transition to organic, could undermine consumer confidence in the organic label overall and reduce the potential for organic agriculture to sequester carbon. For organic agriculture to maximize its potential as climate-friendly agriculture, soil must be recognized as the cornerstone of organic production. 


Another area where NOP can support farmers in their efforts to ensure organic integrity is in providing support and guidance to farmers dealing with contamination from outside sources. 

This comes in the form of genetic contamination from GMOs, and pesticide drift like what’s being caused by Dicamba, which can travel great distances. And more recently – legacy contamination from per-and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) or “forever” chemicals is coming to light. This PFAS contamination comes from municipal and industrial sludge applications that took place decades ago, but is only recently being tested for. The problem isn’t limited to organic producers, but organic farmers have bravely led the way in pulling products once contamination has been discovered.

Farmers need help from state and federal agencies to cope with contamination, including assistance with soil and water testing, technical assistance for determining whether farm operations can safely continue, and compensation for lost production and lost farm value due to contamination. 

NOP can help by advocating on this issue at higher levels of the USDA, APHIS, RMA, and the EPA. and by providing certifiers with specific guidance on what to do when organic operations experience drift/contamination.  We encourage this guidance to be developed with farmer input.

Farmers’ investment in organic needs to be protected from these sources of contamination.