Blogs | September 2014

Brise Tencer's picture

NOSB Announces Fall Meeting—Agenda Includes Organic Research Priorities

Written Comments Accepted through October 7

A set of organic research priorities issued by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) demonstrates that many issues in organic production still have not been studied adequately to provide useful guidance to organic farmers, ranchers, and handlers.

The NOSB  is composed of representatives from the organic industry--including producers, processors, and consumers--and meets twice a year to advise the National Organic Program (NOP) on what should be added to and removed from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances as well as a range of organic production and processing issues.

In preparation for its fall meeting, the NOSB has released the meeting agenda along with supporting documents including the proposed list of research priorities. At the meeting, the NOSB will vote on whether or not to forward their suggested research topics to the NOP.

Maria Gaura's picture

Food Safety Rules Proposed Today by FDA Show Promise for Organic Farmers

Sept. 19, 2014 - Revised food safety rules proposed today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appear to hold some good news for organic growers and small farms, with significant alterations to earlier proposed rules of particular concern to organic farmers–including mandatory testing of irrigation water and the use of manure-based soil amendments.

The new rules implementing the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), if implemented, would also fine-tune regulation of mixed-type facilities that grow, pack, and/or process on the farm, and would grant exemptions from some regulations to the smallest farms.

“We’re very pleased that the FDA has given such thoughtful consideration to the feedback of the farming community and is addressing the needs and concerns of organic producers,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). “The safety of our food is a top priority for farmers, processors, and consumers.”

Organic Industry Mulls Response to FDA’s Revised Draft Food Safety Rules

The organic industry breathed a sigh of relief last week when the FDA released revised food safety rules that appear to take organic growers’ needs into consideration. But the devil is in the details, and the rule revisions posted on the FDA website run about 600 pages long.

While the summary information on the new draft rules appears promising, organic advocates and analysts have spent the past week digging through those devilish details, working to pin down the real-world effects the new rules could impose.

The good news for organic farmers is the agency’s unambiguous statement that proposed rules on the use of manure as fertilizer will be placed on hold indefinitely, and that farmers may continue to comply with requirements of the federal National Organic Program.

“The number one concern of many organic farmers was the conflict between the FDA’s proposed manure regulations and the NOP compost standards,” said Brise Tencer, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation. “The use of compost is a key tool in organic, and this revision has fixed that problem for the time being.”

But the revised rules on other controversial issues, such as proposed water testing protocols, are less clear.

USDA Targets Citrus Greening with Tree Removal, Replacement Funds

Florida organic citrus growers plagued by an epidemic of Citrus Greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), received a boost from the federal government last week with an expansion of the agency’s Tree Assistance Program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new funding to share the costs of removing diseased trees and replanting with healthy stock. The funding is currently available only in Florida, where the bacterial disease has spread to an estimated 99 percent of the state’s citrus groves. The tree-replacement funds will be available to all Florida farmers, including organic growers, who farm about 3,000 acres in the sunshine state.

The tree replacement aid comes on the heels of $31.5 million in USDA funding allocated this year for research and extension service projects combating HLB, which is inflicting serious damage in Florida and has established toeholds as far afield as Texas and California. Some of those federal funds are supporting research of interest to organic growers.

“Organic growers qualify (for the tree replacement funds) just the same as conventional growers,” said Ben McLean, vice-president of Uncle Matt’s Organics, the largest organic citrus grower in Florida. “And we’ve found the USDA has been really encouraging regarding research funding for organic disease control methods.”

Developing Nutritious and Delicious Organic Barley!

Celebrity chefs have not generally featured prominently in the organic research that OFRF supports. But Kevin Murphy, the principal researcher on one of our most recently funded projects, Developing Nutritious and Delicious Varieties for the Pacific Northwest, is changing that. And his approach could land the results of this research on the table of the First Family! In order to test the “delicious” part of his endeavors, Dr. Murphy has enlisted the support of Chef Bill Yosses, White House Executive Pastry Chef, as well as Chef Dan Barber, renowned executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurant in New York; and Chef Chad Robertson, co-owner of Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine in San Francisco.

Barley, which is an important grain crop, is used predominantly for animal feed and malting, but is also an important part of human diets. Barley provides a number of health and nutrition benefits, including beta-glucans, which have been shown to contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations. This led the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow barley to be labeled as a heart-healthy food that reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. However, most of the barley that is grown domestically for human food comes from hulled feed barley varieties. It is then dehulled during pearling, a process that removes the nutritionally rich bran, which contains tocols, phenols, mineral nutrients, and other beneficial compounds. These varieties also generally contain much lower beta-glucan contents. Developing nutritionally dense and hulless varieties will eliminate the need for the aggressive (and not inexpensive) process of dehulling/pearling, and will maximize the tremendous potential nutritional benefits of barley.