May 2022 Policy Update

May 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

The National Organic Standards Board held its spring meeting in April, and the Senate Agriculture Committee kicked off its Farm Bill process with its first field hearing.

National Organic Standards Board

The NOSB held their spring meeting online during the last week of April. Some of the big topics the board discussed included:

  • Potential ways to provide NOSB members with technical help and research assistance.
  • How to increase traceability in complicated organic supply chains (for bulk commodities like grain) to combat fraud.
  • Updating the list of types of genetic engineering that are prohibited in organic production.
  • Restrictions on the use of highly soluble forms of nitrogen.

The board voted unanimously to approve a recommendation that would limit the use of highly soluble forms of nitrogen fertilizer. The recommendation calls for the use of fertilizers with a carbon to nitrogen ration of less than 3:1 to be limited to 20 percent of the crop’s nitrogen needs. The Board also unanimously adopted a recommendation to update the list of types of genetic engineering that are prohibited in organic production.

The National Organic Coalition is hosting a briefing on the NOSB meeting on May 11 at 1:00 eastern. You can register for their webinar here.

You can read OFA’s comments to the NOSB here.

Organic Priorities in the Next Farm Bill

The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, and Congress is taking the first steps in the process of developing the new version of the bill. The House Agriculture Committee has been doing a series of hearings to examine how USDA programs are working. In early May, the Senate Agriculture Committee had its first Farm Bill hearing in Michigan, home to the Chair of the committee, Senator Stabenow. The lineup of witnesses included several organic farmers, who talked about the potential they see for growth in organic agriculture and how increased research on organic methods and other USDA programs like organic certification cost-share could help. Other witnesses talked about how USDA nutrition programs can help support farms that provide healthy food to underserved communities. And, in a reminder of what we are up against in the fight for strengthening the integrity of the organic standards, a large organic egg producer from Michigan was also a witness, highlighting what they claim are the advantages of keeping chickens confined indoors for biosecurity. (This is an argument we will hear a lot when the USDA publishes a proposed rule to update the animal welfare standards for organic, called the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule. The draft is currently being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.)

This summer, OFA will be working with our allies in the organic community to refine our Farm Bill proposals, on fixing organic certification cost-share, supporting organic research, tackling fraud in organic supply chains and other issues.

Assisting Northeast Organic Dairy Farmers Losing Horizon Contracts

In late April, Danone held their annual shareholders meeting in France. Danone North America owns Horizon Organic, which notified 89 farms in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and parts of New York that it will be dropping their contracts in early 2024. OFA and other regional organic farming groups worked with a shareholder advocacy firm called Trillium Asset Management, which asked Danone management questions about this situation at the annual meeting. Specifically, Trillium asked Danone about their lack of communication with the 89 farms and whether a promised increase in pay price for their milk during the last portion of their contracts had gone into effect yet. The company gave unsatisfactory answers at the annual meeting, so we will be working with Trillium to meet with Danone officials to continue to advocate for the impacted farms. We are also working with the regional farm groups to make sure that USDA’s investment into the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center as a response to this situation actually yields concrete assistance for the impacted farms.