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Turmoil Shakes National Organics Standards Board Meeting in Texas

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Board Decision Making Colored by Restrictions to Authority and Governance Imposed by USDA  

CORNUCOPIA, WI - Protests, an arrest and parliamentary maneuvers marked the beginning of the semi-annual meeting of the USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). After the initial turmoil subsided its members wrestled with the implications of widely criticized changes to its authority and procedures that have been imposed by USDA leadership without the customary public discussion or review.

Meeting for the first time since the governance and process changes were unilaterally announced last year, the NOSB's San Antonio, Texas meeting saw the board defer many of its agenda items to its Fall 2014 meeting and an outright challenge to USDA authority on the part of some NOSB board members.

The National Organic Standards Board was established by Congress as part of the landmark Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). The 15-member board is composed of organic farmers, consumers, organic food processors/retailers, environmentalists, a scientist and an organic certification representative. Congress gave the board the authority to review and approve materials used in organic agriculture and food, as well as mandating the USDA Secretary seek their advice and counsel on policies important to the organic community.

"The NOSB is a prime example of the desire to build partnership and collaboration, as established by OFPA," explains Will Fantle, codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog. "It was supposed to be a buffer to prevent total control of the organic sector by the USDA and big agribusiness interests."