Taking steps in a new direction, the National Organic Standards Board had its most amicable meeting yet with the National Organic Program staff, according to those who attended the meeting Oct. 12-14 in Washington, D.C.
Joe Smillie, senior vice president of Quality Assurance International, said the cooperative nature of the meeting was unusual. "The atmosphere at NOSB meetings has been very contentious, ugly actually," he said. Despite one early disruption, "The biggest thing (at this meeting) was the collegial atmosphere." Jim Riddle, who was elected chairman of the NOSB at the meeting, agreed that the most important thing that came out of the meeting was the new level of communication between the NOSB and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's NOP staff.
The board listened to six hours of public comment, much of it related to regulation of aquaculture and pet food.
The board will develop task forces to determine whether organic standards should be written for aquaculture, wild-caught seafood or pet food, and will write drafts of regulations if necessary. Riddle said a Federal Register notice would be published seeking nominees for these task forces.
Smillie said it could be a while before any new regulations are put in place.
"It's going to take time," he said. "There are going to be bumps in the road."
Retailers who wonder what kind of seafood to carry and what kind of aquaculture to support should search out their own positions, Smillie said, because they cannot expect any clear position from the USDA in the near future.
The board also ironed out detailed responses to four NOP directives that had been rescinded after meeting with public outcry when they were originally put in place in April. Because many people were confused about the status of the rescinded directives, the board met in committees to work out responses, developing four different policy statements, according to Riddle. The new statements differ largely from the original directives, he said.
Brise Tencer, of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, said meetings of the NOSB are important because the rules they establish can help retailers respond to questions about what organic means.
Smillie agreed. "All of the positions taken and moves taken strengthen the integrity of the organic label. That's important for retailers," he said.