May 10, 2006
To: Secretary Michael Johanns
Dear Sec. Johanns:
The undersigned former and current National Organic Standards Board members, acting as private citizens, would like to respectfully express our concerns regarding the current rulemaking process.
1) Based on feedback from the organic community, including organic dairy producers, we request that the public comment period, pursuant to docket number TM-06-06-PR, be extended for a minimum of 30 additional days. Although the Department had a year to respond to court-mandated rulemaking, posting the current proposed rule with an unprecedented 15-day comment period at the height of the spring planting season is onerous to citizens wanting to participate in the process. The timing of the short comment period has impeded industry and public interest groups, including farm organizations, from corresponding with their members to inform them of the public comment period, brief them, and solicit their involvement.
2) All Things Organic, the Organic Trade Association-sponsored trade show and conference, falls within the public comment period. With additional meetings and transportation on each side of the event, many industry professionals, including certifiers and State organic program officials, will be on the road for as many as 7 to 8 days, making it difficult for them to submit comments.
3) The proposed rule did not include an email address for members of the public to submit comments. Not posting an e-mail address further minimizes the ability of stakeholders to respond in a timely manner. We ask that the extension to the comment period include an official email address to be used by commenters.
We understand that the proposed rule changes are issued in response to a court order, and that the Department may have to approach the court for additional time to accommodate citizen input. We ask that this being taken into account.
As evidenced by the strong turnout and testimony of various stakeholders on pasture and the origin of livestock at last month's Pasture Symposium and NOSB meeting in Pennsylvania, there is a heightened level of public interest in these issues, and the stakeholders deserve to be heard on the record.
The NOSB has, by unanimous vote, on two separate occasions recommended to the Department that once a dairy operation has been certified as organic, all replacement animals, including those born on and brought onto the operation, must be managed organically from the last third of gestation. This issue needs to be resolved in the rulemaking process.
On October 20, 2002, the NOSB unanimously recommended that the regulation be interpreted to require that all dairy replacement animals be managed organically from the last third of gestation. This recommendation was supported by comments submitted by the Organic Trade Association, certifying agents, dairy farmers, and other members of the public.
After being told by NOP staff that rule change would be needed to correct the "two-track' certification system for dairy operations, on May 14, 2003, the NOSB unanimously voted in favor of a recommended rule change that would require organic management of replacement dairy animals for all certified organic dairy farms.
This is the way the process is supposed to work. The NOSB receives input from the public, posts draft recommendations, carefully weighs public input, and this diverse body, chosen by current and past Secretaries of Agriculture as representatives of the organic community, makes informed and transparent final recommendations to the Department.
It's unfortunate that the NOSB's recommendations described above were not included in the current proposed rule, and that the proposal appears to continue a dual certification system for dairy operations.
We respectfully ask that you extend the public comment period, and that you propose rulemaking language that will establish a "consistent standard," which is one of the stated purposes of the Organic Foods Production Act.
CC: Dale Moore