Please take a minute to review three important policy comment opportunities related to organic seed systems in the US. From the organic standards to antitrust concerns in the seed industry, we need you to share your experiences, perspectives, and expertise on these topics! The USDA is asking for input — please lend your voice. Questions? Contact us today.
NOP rulemaking priorities
The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) is accepting public comments on its current rulemaking priorities as they relate to updating the organic standards and other policy recommendations made by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). OSA is disappointed that recommendations related to organic seed and plant breeding are currently not a priority for the NOP. Specifically, our comments will encourage the NOP to make the NOSB’s recommendations to strengthen the organic seed regulation (a 2018 recommendation) and organic seed guidance (a 2019 recommendation) a top priority. We will also encourage the NOSB to prioritize a number of NOSB recommendations related to excluded methods. Submit your comments on the NOP’s current rulemaking priorities by March 30, 2022, at this link.
Read OSA’s oral comments to the NOP on these priorities, delivered on March 21, 2022 (scroll down).
NOSB public comments on excluded methods
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is inviting public comments on a proposal related to excluded methods. Specifically, the NOSB suggests that the NOP’s 2013 policy memo that clarifies that that cell fusion, when conducted within taxonomic families, is not an excluded method. In 2020, many organic stakeholders expressed support for this policy memo. The NOSB does not plan to recommend the phasing out of cell fusion or protoplast fusion, when in alignment with this policy memo, at this time. Submit your comments on this NOSB recommendation by April 1, 2022, at this link. The NOSB will discuss this proposal at their next public meeting on April 26 – 28. Learn more about this meeting here.
USDA comment period on seed industry competition and IPR
On March 11, the USDA launched a public inquiry into grower concerns regarding seeds and other agricultural inputs. In particular, the USDA is seeking information related to competition concerns in the seed trade as they relate to intellectual property rights (IPR). This inquiry stems from the July 9, 2021, Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. OSA will be putting together comments to support the USDA’s examination of these concerns and strongly encourage others in the seed community to do so as well. You can read the notice of this inquiry here and OSA’s response to the Executive Order here. Please contact us if you have information to share in response to this USDA inquiry. Comments can be submitted through May 16, 2022, at this link.
OSA’s oral comments to the NOP regarding their rulemaking priorities (March 21, 2022)
Last week Organic Seed Alliance was proud to release our third update to our State of Organic Seed project. Our first data set related to organic seed sourcing was published in 2011 and our second in 2016. With our newest report, we now have 15 years of organic seed data to inform our understanding of organic seed sourcing trends and needs.
Unfortunately, our newest findings show no meaningful improvement in organic producers using more organic seed. We know that certified organic producers are required to source organic seed when commercially available, but our data shows that most organic growers still plant conventional seed for at least part – if not all – of their operations.
Specifically, we found that organic seed usage in field crops, forage crops, and cover crops remains stagnant. The only bright spot we documented is vegetable producers who grow fewer than 50 acres. These smaller acreage producers report using more organic seed, but much like we saw five years ago, the largest vegetable producers still use relatively little organic seed, and this has a big impact on overall acres planted to organic seed.
We also saw an increase in organic producers reporting a processor/buyer requirement as a factor in not sourcing organic seed. More than 30% of organic farmers responding to our survey identified this as a challenge in sourcing organic seed and some certifiers also report that these buyer requirements are serving as a barrier to more organic seed sourcing.
We appreciate that the NOP completed a training on organic seed sourcing last year and that this training is now available in the Organic Integrity Learning Center. However, we don’t believe these steps are sufficient for ensuring continuous improvement in organic seed sourcing, and we respectfully disagree with the NOP’s decision not to prioritize the NOSB’s recommendation to update the seeds and planting stock regulation.
The most recent data in our State of Organic Seed report that I just cited underscores urgency in encouraging more organic seed sourcing from a regulatory perspective. Our data makes clear that continuous improvement is not happening without regulatory changes and stronger, more consistent enforcement of the organic seed and planting stock regulation. In fact, our data shows that fewer organic producers report their certifiers encouraging they take extra measures to source more organic seed. In 2011, 60% of organic farmers responding to our national survey reported that certifiers requested that they take extra measures to source more organic seed. Our 2022 report found that only 35% of organic farmers now say that their certifiers encouraged them to take extra measures, such as going beyond three seed catalogues or conducting variety trials.
Our most recent findings also show that nearly 70% of accredited certifying agencies support “stronger regulations that aim to strengthen enforcement of the organic seed requirement.”
We believe the organic seed sector is at a critical juncture. On one hand we see interest among organic seed companies and organic farmers to produce more organic seed, but their investments are stalled by the lack of confidence that organic producers will increase their sourcing of organic seed. We are also seeing some major organic plant breeding and seed programs reducing investments in commercial organic seed production on account of their market experiences, which have involved witnessing not only a lack of improvement in organic seed sourcing, but in some cases a decrease in organic seed sourcing, especially for larger scale operations.
If we are to ensure strong integrity of the organic label, this integrity must begin with ensuring that a fundamental input – seed – is certified organic. We at Organic Seed Alliance are concerned about the trends published in our most recent State of Organic Seed report and strongly encourage the NOP to make the NOSB’s recommendations regarding the seeds and planting stock regulation a top priority.
As I said at the beginning of my comments, organic seed availability has increased since the NOP was established 20 years ago. It is time for policy to follow suit to ensure that organic farmers plant more organic seed and are held accountable in a measurable and reasonable way. We find the NOSB’s 2018 recommendation to be reasonable and fair and a good first step in ensuring that the foundation of our organic seed supply begins with organic seed.