OFA Testimony to NOSB: Spring 2020

April 2, 2020

Ms. Michelle Arsenault Advisory Committee Specialist
National Organic Standards Board
USDA-AMS-NOP, 1400 Independence Ave. SW Room 2642-S, Mail Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250-0268

Re: Docket # AMS-NOP-19-0095

Dear National Organic Standards Board Members,

The Organic Farmers Association is led and controlled by domestic certified organic farmers and only certified organic farmers determine our policies using a grassroots process. We believe organic farmers were instrumental in creating our successful organic market and must be leaders in directing its future.

OFA supports the work of the National Organic Standards Board and we know that you play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity in the USDA organic label. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments to the Board and the National Organic Program on general issues impacting organic farmers, as well as several specific items on the agenda for your April meeting.

Issues Impacting Organic Farmers

We support NOSB recommendations moving forward to rulemaking or guidance in a timely manner, and we urge the National Organic Program to continue to prioritize two rulemaking efforts that are critical to the integrity of the organic label – the proposed rule on Strengthening Organic Enforcement and the final rule on the Origin of Livestock.

Specifically, as the NOP develops the rule on Origin of Livestock, we would like to offer the following OFA policy position on what should be in that rule:

  • A producer as defined by the USDA NOP may transition bovine dairy animals into organic production only
  • A producer is eligible for this transition only if they convert an entire established non- organic dairy operation to organic production at the same geographic location within a defined 12-month period. Once that transition has started, other non-organically certified animals cannot be added to the
  • This transition must occur over a continuous 12-month period prior to production of milk or milk products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as
  • A producer must not transition any new bovine dairy animals into organic production after the end of the 12-month transition
  • A producer is not eligible for the exemption if it has been used by a Responsible Connected person who has 20% or more ownership share in their legal
  • The certifying entity will file an organic system plan prior to the start of transition and the transition process is overseen by the certifier as part of their
  • Transitioned animals must not be sold, labeled, or represented as organic slaughter stock or organic bovine dairy
  • If organic management of the dairy animal, starting at the last third of gestation or at any other time it has been organic, is interrupted, the animal cannot be returned to organic
  • Split bovine conventional and organic milking herds at the same location should be prohibited.
  • Once the regulation is finalized all entities should be required to immediately meet the requirements of the Final

We also urge the NOP to continue to focus on compliance with the pasture rule, with an emphasis on higher risk operations including those on the margins of the 30 percent dry matter intake rule and dairies with 1,000 or more milking and dry cows.

OFA continues to be concerned about the consequences for the integrity of the organic label as a result of the USDA and NOSB moving forward to allow for organic hydroponics without clarity on how this type of production complies with the Organic Foods Production Act. We are also troubled by inconsistent interpretation of NOP guidance on the practices that can be used in container and greenhouse operations. We call on the NOP to issue an immediate moratorium on any new hydroponic operations and return this issue to the NOSB work agenda as a top priority. OFA believes the NOP should implement the 2010 NOSB recommendation to not allow certified organic hydroponics, but we recognize there is an immediate urgency to put a moratorium on new hydroponic and hydroponic container operations so that we can have more conversation and consensus within the organic community.

Issues on the Meeting Agenda

Crops Subcommittee: Proposal – Paper (Plant pots and other crop production aids) – petitioned

Farmers elevated the issue of paper pots as something the Board needed to address, especially for small operations that depend on this product. Therefore, we appreciate the Board’s efforts to address this need and clarify the status of paper on the national list. OFA supports this proposal.

Crops Subcommittee: Discussion Document – Biodegradable biobased mulch annotation change

 In the discussion document, the Board requests feedback from the organic community on several questions relating to the environmental characteristics of these products and their compatibility with organic standards. We appreciate that this material has been a source of discussion for the Board for a long time and that there are proponents of this product in organic production. But we will note that as part of our policy development process this year, a proposal was submitted to support the consideration of biodegradable biobased mulch by the Board, and this proposal was not adopted. This is not a priority issue for the organic farmer community, and we would encourage you to focus on the organic issues that are most important and necessary to organic farmers, the backbone of the label.

Materials Subcommittee: Discussion Document – NOSB Research Priorities 2020

OFA supports the efforts of the Board to highlight specific topics for research that will advance organic production. Specifically, we would like to emphasize the need for research into the following topics on the 2020 list:


  1. Evaluation of methionine in the context of a system approach in organic poultry production.
  1. Organic livestock breeding for animals adapted to outdoor life and living vegetation.

Both of these research priorities would help to support organic livestock production that meets high standards for animal welfare and reduces the reliance on confinement methods that do not meet consumer expectations for organic.


  1. Elucidate practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that contribute to farming systems resilience in the face of climate change.

OFA members are concerned about climate change and have been documenting the impacts of a changing climate on their farms for decades. Recent severe weather events have offered a more forceful reminder that the climate is changing. The role of organic methods in addressing climate change and better tools for organic farmers to adapt to changing conditions should be top priorities for research.

Coexistence with GE and Organic Crops

  1. Testing for fraud by developing and implementing new technologies and practices.

Making sure that the NOP can develop and enforce strong regulations that are capable of detecting and preventing fraud in organic supply chains is a top priority for OFA. Fraud in organic supply chains not only impacts farmers who follow the rules but are undercut by those who do not, but it also puts the reputation of the entire organic label at risk. Research into new testing methods that can provide better tools for detection and enforcement should be a top priority.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.


Kate Mendenhall



October 23, 2019

RE: General Oral Testimony to the NOSB

Thank you, members of the National Organic Standards Board for the opportunity to speak before you today. My name is Kate Mendenhall, I am the director of the Organic Farmers Association and I am also an Iowa organic farmer. OFA is led and controlled by domestic certified organic farmers and only certified organic farmers determine our policies using a grassroots process. We believe organic farmers were instrumental in creating our successful organic market and must be leaders in directing its future.

Organic Farmers Association greatly supports the work of the NOSB and finds your role crucial to maintain integrity in the USDA organic label. We also support NOSB recommendations moving forward to rulemaking or guidance in a timely manner.

We appreciate the NOSB’s 2018 resolution to move Origin of Livestock standards quickly to a final rule, and the USDA’s recent decision to not issue a second rule. We are concerned that the number of comments coming in might delay the process and we ask that the USDA work to move to an immediate implementation of a Final Rule. We are also hearing from farmers they still see a lack of oversight on pasture rule compliance. We appreciate the increased dairy oversight effort and we need to see more.

Last month we sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture in response to Undersecretary Ibach’s July statement expressing interest in a dialogue about gene-editing in organic. 78 organic organizations joined OFA to clearly communicate our unified opposition. We thank Dr. Tucker for confirming that gene editing has always been prohibited in organic agriculture. The organic community is NOT interested in a dialogue about gene editing. We do encourage robust dialogue about the numerous critical issues organic farmers are facing—protecting farmers from genetic and pesticide contamination, protecting farmers from import fraud, etc.

Organic Farmers Association continues to oppose the certification of hydroponic operations, a position passed by 90% of our certified organic farmer members nationwide and in each of our six geographic regions. We are concerned about the consequences to the integrity of the organic label as a result of the USDA and NOSB moving forward to allow for organic hydroponics without clarity on how it complies with OFPA and standards for this type of production system. At the spring NOSB meeting there was much conversation regarding whether container farms needed to comply with the same three-year transition as soil-based farms. Organic Farmers Association was pleased to receive NOP clarification for certifiers on transition time for container systems after the application of a prohibited substance; however, it left some ambiguity about how greenhouse production fits in. Is a three-year transition needed for a container system inside a greenhouse after application of a prohibited substance? It is important that the organic standards are clear and equitable across growing systems so that certifiers are implementing and enforcing the standards uniformly—if ambiguity is present, the NOP must provide clarity.