Material Sunset Process Announced by USDA will Break Regulatory Logjam

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) last week posted a plan to update the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) material “sunset review” process to address a broken system that has challenged the organic community for some time. We believe that this proposal will break some of the existing regulatory logjam and allow the NOSB to focus on larger issues that matter to organic consumers and producers.

Sunset review allows for periodic reassessment of the NOP National List, which provides for exceptions to the prohibited use of synthetic substances in organic production when specific criteria are met. Removal and addition of materials to the National List is a central part of organic standard setting. The updated process announced by USDA creates consistency between processes for adding materials by petition and removing them during the sunset review. We are confident that substances that are no longer necessary for, or appropriate to, organic systems will be removable through the clarified two/thirds voting requirement.

Overall, the changes will result in more regulatory certainty, thus allowing growers and processors time to plan and adapt to changes in standards.

Another benefit of the proposal, consistent with CCOF’s continued call for sound and sensible regulatory processes, will be streamlining of NOP workload. With some of the burden lifted, we encourage the NOP to focus on big picture issues that are central to organic integrity. These include prevention of GMO contamination, incorporation of meaningful animal welfare standards, origin of livestock, inspector qualifications, and enforcement of organic standards.

We also believe that with some small adjustments the new policy can maintain a high level of public engagement and transparency.

Specifically, as proposed, public comments on sunset review will only be impactful at the first of two meetings. This is usually before the NOSB's assessment or any third-party technical review is made available to the public. A summary for each material and any new technical report should be made available to the public prior to the first meeting. This will better ensure meaningful public input. We encourage USDA to incorporate this change, and applaud the agency for moving forward to improve the process.

On a final note, materials on the National List may have annotations that need adjustment to better reflect most appropriate use in an organic system. These annotation changes will be more challenging to make under the new process, but we are anticipating with a high level of confidence that they can and will be made when necessary.