August 23, 2007
Robert Pooler, Agricultural Marketing Specialist
National Organic Program
Room 4008-So., Ag. Stop 0268
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
RE: Docket Number AMS-TM-07-0062; TM 07-06IF: National Organic Program (NOP)-Amendments to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (Processing)
Dear Mr. Pooler,
Thank you very much for this opportunity to comment. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) strongly supports this interim final rule and urges USDA to make this interim rule final in the form it was proposed.
OTA recognizes that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) worked very hard to review and act on a number of petitions. NOSB accepted 38 agricultural ingredients to be added to Section 606 while rejecting a large number of other petitions. OTA applauds NOSB and the National Organic Program (NOP) for their roles in making this rulemaking work as smoothly as it has. OTA also appreciates and supports NOSB's process and recognizes that this rulemaking is not a determination of commercial availability of the petitioned materials, which is the sole province of the accredited certifying agent.
With the U.S. District Court order issued as a result of actions that challenged the National Organic Standards in June, 2005, and USDA's agreement, now all potential non-organic agricultural ingredients must be petitioned for use. If those petitions are successful and approved by NOSB and NOP, then the ingredients may be used only in the case that an organic version is demonstrably unavailable in the appropriate form, quality or quantity. This allows products with 95+% organic content to supply consumer demand as supplies of minor organic ingredients are created. This in turn drives demand for both major and minor organic ingredients. Listing these products is a safeguard against possible supply disruption, and allowing these non-organic minor ingredients when they are commercially unavailable will only develop the market, and therefore boost the demand, for their organic counterparts.
It is also important to note that all other provisions of the regulations pertaining to non-organic agricultural ingredients in organic products remain in place. For example, all non-organic agricultural ingredients used in products in the "made with" and "organic" label categories must come from farms that do not use sewage sludge or genetic engineered seeds, and irradiation is also prohibited for those non-organic agricultural ingredients as well.
As you know, previously, any non-organic agricultural ingredients meeting the criteria in the prior paragraph were being allowed in the remaining 5 percent of the ingredients in products labeled as "Organic" if an organic version were unavailable. (At least 95% of the ingredients in the products in this category must be organic ingredients, excluding water and salt, by weight.) The idea that the new rule would add a large number of previously disallowed ingredients into organic products is misleading and inaccurate. In order for the trade as a whole to grow smoothly, it is necessary for non-organic agricultural products to be able to be used if an organic version is not available.
OTA also notes that the issue in this rulemaking is not the percent of non-organic agricultural ingredients allowed in organic products, nor the process used to determine this. What is at issue is whether these particular products should be allowed to be considered for use if, and only if, they are proved to an accredited certifying agent to be not commercially available.
Furthermore, when this proposed rule takes effect, only those non-organic agricultural products that have been successfully petitioned to NOSB and published in the Federal Register will be allowed, and even then, only when the organic counterparts are proved to an accredited certifying agent to be unavailable as organically produced. The list proposed therefore represents a dramatic reduction in the potential allowance of non-organic agricultural products in that 5%.
The allowance for non-organic "minor ingredients" was what drove the boom in organic spices in the 1990s-companies would try out new products, and if they succeeded, organic farmers rushed to produce those items that were required to be used if they were available. Cinnamon is the usual example of an ingredient that was at one point unobtainable as organic, but thanks to the commercial availability clause, is now readily available organic spice.
This situation seems a reasonable concern for other items as well, especially given the history of cinnamon: if non-organic cinnamon had been prohibited, there would have been no product demand to spur its growth as organic. The same holds true for the other items proposed for the list: if they are disallowed, the market for the other organic product that would have gone into products using those materials will be dampened.
Color ingredients made from agricultural products such as beets or carrots are important to add as these are generally not yet available in an organic form. As these colors are used, so will there be an incentive to produce organic versions in comparable form, quality, and quantity.
The following items would be allowed to be used in organic production in the 5% of a product labeled "organic" if not available in the appropriate form, quality, or quantity as organically produced. Petitioned by concerned businesses and recommended by the NOSB after extensive review, and these should all continue to be listed in Section 606:
Inulin, oligofructose enriched
Orange shellac, unbleached
Pepper, chipotle chile
Rice starch, unmodified
Sweet potato starch
Turkish bay leaves
Whey protein concentrate
In addition, OTA supports the continued listing of the ingredients listed in Section 606 prior to this interim final rule, including gums, kelp, lecithin (unbleached), pectin, and cornstarch.
Please make the interim rule final in the form it was proposed. Thank you very much for your consideration.
Regulatory and Policy Manager