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8 G OVERNMENT A FFAIRS Regulatory Update Material Review in 2012 By Gwendolyn Wyard, OTA’s Associate Director for Organic Standards & Industry Outreach recognizing OMRI or other material review programs, including the new California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Assembly Bill (AB) 856 Program. Although OTA is confident that the review of materials for use in organic production and handling is currently quite rigorous as a part of the certification process, there is need for improvement and harmonization to facilitate trade and assure continued confidence and growth of the industry. The need for formal recognition of Material Review Organizations (MROs) is best exemplified through the events of the AB 856. In late 2009, California passed AB 856 establishing oversight over organic input materials sold in the state in response to several companies allegedly selling fraudulent organic inputs to organic producers. Current interpretation of AB 856, signed into law Jan. 1, 2010, assumes that the law does not allow CDFA to recognize material reviews by reviewers outside of CDFA, although a majority of the AB 856 Organic Input Material Subcommittee, which is providing recommendations on the AB 856 policy, recommends some form of recognition of material reviews by other material review organizations. CDFA plans to review input materials in accordance with its interpretation of CA law that requires in-house reviews if this service is seen as one that a CA agency is able to provide. One of the primary concerns expressed by CDFA with respect to recognizing outside material reviews is that, without uniformity at the federal level, it would be giving away its authority to an unknown process. Until an accreditation or some other system of formal recognition is developed, CDFA may choose to not accept materials decisions made by accredited certification agencies (ACAs), OMRI and other MROs. In addition to the need for better federal oversight of MROs, the organic sector continues to be challenged by the lack of formally established and specific criteria and protocols for use in making material approval determinations. The development of criteria for making fundamental determinations, such as whether a material is synthetic or not, has been underway since the implementation of the rule, but never finalized. MROs currently base their decisions on definitions contained within the regulations and/or criteria recommended by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). In most cases, the decisions are fairly straightforward, such as the case with materials like bone meal or manure. However, in today’s rapidly expanding market, many complex processed materials exist and contain a multitude of ingredients utilizing complicated processing techniques. Accordingly, NOSB and MROs must be able to rely on one formally established set of criteria for making any material determination. In response to the urgency for increased oversight and material review consistency, NOP will focus on related rulemaking and guidance in 2012 to assure continued confidence and growth of the sector. At its fall 2011 meeting, NOSB passed a recommendation that MROs become accredited under NOP. If accepted by NOP, ACAs and MROs—including CDFA—would be required to become accredited. In addition, CDFA would be required to accept reviews outside of its agency, thus avoiding duplicative and potentially conflicting and inconsistent decisions. With the first and overriding recommendation on accreditation complete, NOSB is now working on a recommendation that will address the specific criteria and protocols that should be used when making material classification or approval determinations. NOP also entered into a contract A s 2012 unfolds, it is appropriate to ask what challenges and important issues the organic sector will face in the coming months. As a growing yet relatively young industry, there’s no shortage of answers. Reflecting on the events of 2011, I believe material review will be one issue that will receive notable attention during 2012. The organic sector is facing a serious challenge regarding the review of materials allowed in organic production and handling. The current state of materials review can be compared to the state of organic certification before the implementation of the National Organic Program (NOP), when certifiers did not recognize one another’s certificates and made conflicting decisions. Current inspection requirements extend from seed to final product. Nonorganic materials required in organic production (farming) and handling (processing) have historically been reviewed by desk audit only. NOP oversight and USDA agent inspection are not required for these non-organic inputs with the notable exception of liquid fertilizers, as per NOP Guidance on Approval of Liquid Fertilizers for Use in Organic Production (PDF) issued Sept. 14, 2009. In addition, materials decisions are currently made without uniform criteria and procedures or equivalency recognition. In the 1990s, the industry attempted to harmonize materials decisions with the creation of the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). However, there is no formal mechanism in place for accrediting or THE ORGANIC REPORT • WINTER 2012

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