Harriet Behar’s Opening Remarks at NOSB Meeting

Harriet Behar, chair of the NOSB and member of both OFA Governing Council and Policy Committee starts off the Spring NOSB

meeting in Seattle, WA with impressive opening remarks calling for action and organic integrity to defend organic on behalf of organic

farmers. Read her full opening remarks below:

The NOSB work is done by a dedicated group of board members and I 

would like to let them introduce themselves

 now.  Please state your name, where you are from, and what seat you hold on the board, starting with…..

This is my first public meeting as chair of the National Organic Standards Board and I want to say what an honor it is to

 work with such a fine group of dedicated board members who truly work to represent their constituencies concerns and well as the overall health and vitality of organic agriculture and marketplace as we debate and decide materials, guidance and regulations for submission to the National Organic Program.  I especially thank the subcommittee chairs who put in extra time to make sure that everything goes smoothly and gets done on time.  I have spent many years as a member of the public, watching these meetings and I can say that being on the inside has greatly increased my understanding of the process, both opportunities and challenges.

There is much positive to congratulate ourselves as organic advocates.  The organic market is growing, organic consumers have access to food and fiber that is healthier for them and represents so many answers to the environmental challenges we face both regionally and globally.  More farmers are continually improving their farming systems by applying fundamental and advanced organic farming practices, providing a healthy lifestyle and environment for themselves, their livestock and their local communities.   In my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than working with and within the natural systems that have evolved so beautifully and elegantly on this precious earth.  This is not an unachievable dream, I see it all the time on many excellent organic farms and my life is enriched both by continually improving my farm’s organic system and biodiversity each year.

But there are dark clouds obscuring some of this sunshine. Known cases of fraud and subsequent sale of nonorganic grains as organic into our markets, has highlighted the need to deal with the loopholes and grey areas in our regs and enforcement in an immediate and forceful way.   This fraud has been discovered originating both from domestic and foreign markets.

There is unfortunately a long list of areas where enforcement and additional rulemaking is sorely needed —pasture for ruminants, origin of livestock, outdoor access for poultry and other livestock, questionable uses of various materials, approval of hydroponic operations that do meet the same standard as soil-based operations, lack of consistently by the many certifiers, and the organic certification system needs more oversight and accountability.  Fear that a client might legally challenge a certifier decision, has kept both the certifiers and the NOP to not regulate to the clear wording and intent in many of these areas, instead allowing clients to massage the regulatory language to fit their own operation.  This does not hold everyone to the same high standard, and is one of the contributors to our current problematic situation.

The NOP has limited their work and the work of the NOSB.  Various issues have been taken off the work agenda or the NOP has decided to not work on implementation of NOSB recommendations.  Examples of areas that the public has noted in their recent comments include inerts, animal welfare, hydroponic both in water and in containers, BPA in packaging, peer review of the NOP accreditation system, apiculture, pet food and more.  These items were all mentioned many times by various commenters at this meeting, including the former deputy administrator of the NOP, as areas of great frustration.  The public has stated the NOP needs to develop better systems to address these important areas in a more timely way.  We are a young program, in the bigger scheme of things, and when we find a grey area or a loophole in the reg, we should be allowed fix it as soon as possible before it becomes the norm, since this reg is still in its infancy and these problems were bound to come up addressed.  Our community is tenacious and I do not doubt that these issues will continue to be part of the conversation until they are resolved.

 I can see that the hard working NOP staff is working towards solving these problems and I commend deputy administrator Jennifer Tucker for her willingness to engage openly and transparently with the community.  However, we are playing catch up to tighten up oversight and enforcement numerous areas of organic production, which is causing hardship in many sectors of organic.  We need to become more proactive to catch problems before they become the norm.  This is the responsibility of both the organic community and the program.

It is obvious we have passion and drive to keep pushing for consistency in the implementation of the high organic standards that we all work so hard to develop and provide the guidance to the National Organic Program.  We are a very unusual agricultural sector, we want to be regulated, we want those regulations to be followed and we want them to be strict, yet practical. 

I have visited literally thousands of organic farms, and many hundreds of organic processors.  Organic production is not just a something they do, it comes from their hearts and has deep meaning in their lives.  That organic certificate is something they are proud of, since it represents their intense commitment and the good work they are doing.   Organic consumers count on us to make sure the food they are getting is what they expect it to be, organic.  The NOSB and NOP have a responsibility to live up to their trust in our work.

We, the organic community, the organic marketplace, organic advocates, the NOSB and the National Organic Program cannot let down consumers and the vast majority of owner/operators on the farm and processors who are doing it right and are now competing with others who cut corners or commit organic fraud.   We understand there are problems, but I encourage all commenters and board members keep in mind that we are here to find solutions. I believe that if we are willing, we should be able to find a way to improve our rules and enforcement in a timely way that honor the hard work and desires of the organic community. The entire organic community and marketplace depends on the integrity of the organic label, and without integrity we are nothing.

Lastly, I sit in the environmental seat on the board, and I continuously find myself in awe of the beauty and diversity of life on our planet.  I have enough creatures that each of you should be able to choose one – marine life, farm animals, a variety of finger puppets,  wind up baby chicks and a few especially cute frogs, choose which ever one calls to you.

Thank you.