National Organic Standards Board Needs Reform


After thirty years of research, a recent Rodale Institute study concludes, “organic methods are improving the quality of our food, improving the health of our soils and water, and improving our nation’s rural areas.” But until there is action to end the corruption on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), organic food production will not reach its full potential.

There is no doubt that organic food production is a good thing.  According to the Department of Tropical Plants and Soil Sciences at the University of Hawaii, organic farming improves soil fertility over time by increasing soil microbial activity and biological processes. Soil health is a key contributor to the crop’s overall health. According to a University of Vermont study, organic soils have a greater resistance to erosion. Erosion promotes critical losses of water, nutrients, soil organic matter and soil biota, harming forests, rangeland and natural ecosystems. Organic farming practices also require significantly less energy and emit significantly less greenhouse gases (GHG) than conventional farming methods. A study done by the Rodale Institute in 2011 showed that organic farming uses 45% less energy and 40% less GHG than conventional farming. Energy and GHG are two main contributors to global warming. 

But, to achieve organic farming’s great potential, the NOSB needs to be reformed. The NOSB plays a crucial role in establishing and enforcing the standards for organic foods. However, the NOSB has been taken over by corporate CEOs with a larger concern for profit rather than organic farming. The result is that the decisions of the NOSB are in conflict with the organization’s original purpose. The Cornucopia Institute reported that “As of the last NOSB meeting, an employee of a $15 billion agribusiness, General Mills, held the scientist's slot. An employee of a $700+ million corporate agribusiness, Organic Valley, held one of the four farmer slots.” 

As a result of its conflicts of interest and concern for profit, the NOSB has changed organic food regulations and the new regulations allow foods contaminated with large amounts of synthetic chemicals to be classified as organic. For example, The NOSB has labeled as organic, a baby formula which contains ARA and DHA. DHA is a naturally occurring nutrient in breast milk. According to Cornucopia, Martek Biosciences Corporation, which has an employee on the NOSB, manufactures its DHA algal oil and ARA fungal oil and puts it in infant formula. 

The Cornucopia Institute states that Martek’s DHA is manufactured "by fermenting algal and fungal microorganisms in stainless steel tanks containing the microorganisms' 'feed,' which consists of ethanol and other ingredients that are, because of the widespread adoption of genetically engineered crops in the U.S, almost assuredly derived from genetically engineered corn. When used in infant formula, the oil from the algae and fungus is then extracted by mixing the microorganisms with hexane, a neurotoxic and highly explosive petroleum based solvent."

Martek was able to continue manufacturing its DHA and ARA oils and putting them in infant formula labeled “organic” due to a vote by the NOSB despite the fact that these ingredients have caused infants to experience extreme pain, diarrhea and vomiting. In some cases, the infants would turn blue and stop breathing, and others experienced weight loss. 

By allowing chemicals such as DHA and ARA in foods labeled organic, the NOSB is failing to fulfill its original purpose of ensuring that ingredients in foods labeled organic are legitimately organic. The NOSB, by law, is supposed to be comprised of 15 members including: 4 organic producers, 2 organic handlers, a retailer, 3 environmentalists, 3 public/consumer representatives, a scientist, and a certifying agent. However, these positions have been filled by employees of large, conventional, corporate food producers such as General Mills. The current members of the board need to be replaced by the type of people the law originally intended: people who will guarantee the authenticity of the labels on organic foods. Reform of the NOSB is essential to assure people they will actually be consuming something that is organic when it is labeled that way and to maintain the demand for organic foods. Only then will we be able to reap the environmental benefits of organic food production.