May Policy Update: Coronavirus, NOSB & Action on Organic Integrity Rulemaking

By, Patty Lovera, Policy Director

The big news in DC, just like everywhere, continues to be the coronavirus pandemic, the impact on the food supply chain and how the government should respond. But there are other things happening in the world of organic policy, including the National Organic Standards Board spring meeting and continuing to push the USDA National Organic Program to finish rules we need to maintain the integrity of the organic label.

Pandemic Response

Congress passed the CARES Act in late March, which provides money that farms can access from two parts of the federal government, the USDA and the Small Business Administration. In late April, Congress passed another bill to provide more funding to the Small Business Administration programs because the original funding was spent very quickly due to high demand. You can see more details about the SBA programs here, but the most important update since last month is that farms can now apply to both the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

The USDA is still developing the rules for one of its programs, direct payments to producers for losses caused by the pandemic, and we don’t yet have any specific details for how farms can apply. Those rules are expected to be released very soon. A basic description of the payment program can be found here.

The USDA has released the details for its new program to buy farm commodities for distribution to food banks. The deadline for the first round of contracts was May 8th, but you can check out the USDA’s website for the deadline for the next round of contracts.

At some point, Congress will consider other spending bills in response to the pandemic. It still isn’t clear if the next package will be more specific on how departments like the USDA spend money or will just be a repeat of the broad strokes provided in the CARES Act. OFA has been sharing specific requests for organic funding with members of Congress to make the case for programs that will work better for organic farms.

National Organic Standards Board Meeting

At the end of April, the USDA’s organic advisory committee, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), held its spring meeting online. The previous week, more than 20 organic farmers and representatives from farm organizations gave public comments to the board through a webinar.  You can read testimony for OFA’s Director and Policy Director on our website.

You can keep an eye on the USDA’s website for the NOSB to see the transcript and records from the meeting when they are posted.

One of the hot topics at the meeting was the ongoing discussion about paper pots. The board considered a discussion document about whether paper pots can be used by organic farms. They did not vote on the issue, and the Crops subcommittee will continue working on their recommendation about which types of paper pots (based on paper source and adhesives) will be allowed. The director of the National Organic Program made a point to say during the meeting that the NOP has instructed organic certifiers that paper pots will continue to be allowed while the board continues is work on this issue.

Take Action for Organic Integrity!

Even though the coronavirus is going to continue to dominate lawmaker’s attention for a while, we also need to make sure that the rules and enforcement we need to ensure the integrity of the organic label aren’t forgotten. The USDA is past its deadline for a new proposed rule to prevent fraud in organic supply chains (the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule required by the 2018 Farm Bill) and the deadline for finishing up the Origin of Livestock rule (about transitioning livestock into organic) is coming up fast.

Click here to TAKE ACTION!