The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has announced an October 25-28, 2010, public meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, to review proposed recommendations for the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, which governs the use of synthetic and non-synthetic materials in organic production and handling. NOSB will accept written comments and requests for oral presentations until October 12, 2010.  

The agenda covers petitioned material and sunset review recommendations for a number of substances, as well as proposed guidance on nanotechnology, “Made With” organic claims and changes to the NOSB policy and procedure manual. In particular, the meeting will address the NOSB Materials Committee’s recommendations for prohibiting engineered nanomaterials in organic production, processing and packaging. According to the committee, concerns about nanotechnology include “the ability of the regulatory agency, the National Organic Program (NOP), to fully control two of the major sources of contamination in final organic food products: food contact surfaces and primary packaging.” The committee has thus asked NOP to (i) accept its definition of engineered nanomaterials; (ii) “disallow the engineered nanomaterials form of substances currently on the [National List]”; (iii) accept engineered nanomaterials as synthetic substances; (iv) acknowledge that engineered nanomaterials “may have unique properties that distinguish them from all listings of these substances in a bulk form”; (v) “determine whether enforcement of restrictions in primary packaging and food contact surfaces is possible, practical, and legal”; and (vi) schedule a symposium to further discuss these issues. See Federal Register, September 20, 2010.  

Meanwhile, the American Organic Hop Grower Association (AOHGA) has already issued a statement decrying NOSB’s denial of its petition to remove hops from the National List, which currently permits the use of non-organic hops in organic beer. According to AOHGA, NOSB’s recommendation concluded that organic hops were not available “in the form, quantity, or quality to currently justify removal from [the List]. To do so would negatively impact the organic brewing industry.”  

AOHGA has since disputed this finding and urged its supporters to submit comments to NOSB in advance of the public meetings, “where the final decision will likely be made.” The association has specifically faulted NOSB for holding hops “to a higher standard than virtually any other agricultural product,” including other beer ingredients like barley, by allegedly insisting that all 150 varietals become available in organic form before removal from the list. AOGHA has thus questioned the transparency of the petitioning process, claiming “the possibility that there were private comments made” in addition to the three on public record: “two in favor of changing the rules, and one by a brewer who has since been working with growers to ensure his supply of organic hops.” See AOHGA Press Release, September 2010.