Good Guidance Practices Document A Substantial And Welcome Addition
to the National Organic Program:
Comments of the Organic Trade Association on
Docket No. TM-03-03: Development, Issuance, and Use of Guidance Documents
Associate Policy Director
April 4, 2005
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) thanks the National Organic Program (NOP) for preparing this good guidance practices (GGP) document. The process described should lead not only to a more stable regulatory environment but also to a better and broader understanding of the Program and therefore encourage the growth of the organic industry.
OTA further believes that these documents will be of vital importance in addressing matters brought to the attention of administrative law judges, and encourages NOP to consider broad as well as specific issues as these arise through the National Organic Standards Board and public comment processes.
The statement of the scope of the proposed GGPs is good, outlining many specific areas to be covered but allowing for additional areas of guidance. OTA assumes such areas would include the definition of terms, scope of applicability, and other matters within the NOP Final Rule. If this is not the case, OTA would appreciate clarification on this topic.
OTA appreciates the need to distinguish between major and minor policy guidance, and believes that the proposal to use both Level 1 and Level 2 documents will be a useful way to address these issues. In cases in which NOP may be unsure of the classification of a guidance document level, OTA urges NOP to request the opinion of the Association and the National Organic Standards Board or its Executive Committee, and additionally, if deemed necessary, a direct sampling of affected industry members.
OTA understands that NOP reserves the right to post Level 1 guidance documents without public input in certain cases requiring immediate action, and trusts that NOP will not resort to such an action without good cause, and that it will clearly explain its reasons for so doing.
OTA does not believe that introducing a less burdensome policy is sufficient reason for issuing a Level 1 guidance document without public input. Such cases could easily be perceived by the public, including consumers of organically produced products, as a softening of the Programís commitment to uphold the integrity of organic systems.
OTA requests that when NOP issues a Level 2 guidance document, that the document contain a statement explaining why it is considered to be a Level 2 document. OTA further requests that all guidance documents include a reference to the sections of the Final Rule to which they apply.
OTA appreciates NOPís willingness to consider both topic and draft submissions for guidance documents. If NOP is in a position of having to manage its workload by prioritizing a number of submissions, OTA encourages NOP to request the opinion of the Association and of the National Organic Standards Board or its Executive Committee in deciding those priorities. OTA hopes that NOP will be willing to make available any current proposals suggested for guidance documents, for example, as a category of documents maintained on the Programís web site.
OTA also appreciates NOPís willingness to seek advice regarding guidance issues before drafting a proposed document. OTA stands willing to participate in such forums and to help NOP identify industry members who we believe would prove useful in addressing such issues. Of course, OTA also stands willing to draft a preliminary statement for the industry regarding the scope of various issues, options for addressing them, arguments pro and con, and recommended language.
OTA notes that NOP recognizes the need for staff training regarding GGP documents and urges NOP to consider accredited certifier agent training, such as an annual conference, as an additional training program. If NOP chooses to do this, OTA would like to request observer status at any such meeting as a representative of the industry as a whole. OTA believes that a forum in which problems were posed to certifiers would be useful both in gauging the degree of complexity of the problems and in generating options for their solutions.