The American Organic Hop Grower Association (AOHGA) has reportedly persuaded a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) subcommittee to reverse a recommendation that aimed to keep hops on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, which governs the use of synthetic and non-synthetic materials in organic production and handling. In advance of an October 25-28, 2010, public meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, NOSB had requested feedback on a number of National List exemptions, including one that currently permits the use of non-organic hops in organic beer. Although the NOSB Handling Committee initially backed a continuation of this policy due to the limited availability of organic hops, AOHGA faulted NOSB for holding hops “to a higher standing than virtually any other agricultural product” by allegedly insisting that all 150 varietals become available in organic form before removal from the list.

AOHGA thus urged organic beer brewers and other supporters to petition the board, claiming in part that the National List exemption would continue to undercut the economic feasibility of producing organic hops “for a market that can be supplied by non-organic hops.” Noting recent increases in the quantity of commercially available organic hop varieties, the group also argued that “every type or style of beer can be made with the existing commercially available organic hop varieties.” As AOHGA Executive Director Meghann Quinn reiterated in a October 12, 2010, final comment, “Again, the quantities and varieties available will certainly increase once brewers source organic hops using forward contracts.”

In response to the petition, the NOSB Handling Committee has voted unanimously to reverse its previous ruling, proposing that the board remove organic hops from the National List by January 1, 2013. “This time interval formally recognizes the growth of organic hops’ availability and yet allows brewers two growing seasons to secure their organic hops through forward contracting, making adjustments to future product formulations and specifications, and preparing their customers and consumers for the product changes anticipated, if any,” states the committee’s discussion document.

The committee has also left room for brewers to petition NOSB to include individual hop cultivars on the National List, thereby continuing the exemption for those varietals felt “to be inadequately available in organic form.” In striking this compromise, the committee has expressed its intention to “facilitate the growth and development of the organic hop market without the potentially catastrophic effects that immediate removal of hops from [the National List] would cause.” Additional details about the upcoming NOSB meeting appear in Issue 365 of this Update. See, October 17, 2010.