OOS 46-8
Mobilizing science in formulating organic policies

Thursday, August 14, 2014: 4:00 PM
308, Sacramento Convention Center
Kathleen Delate, Iowa State University
Catherine Greene, Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC
Stefano Canali, CRA-RPS, Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Rome, Italy

In 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was passed, establishing uniform standards for organic agriculture, thereby facilitating commerce in organic food and processing with compliance ensured under the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Services-National Organic Program (NOP). OFPA was implemented via 7 CFR Section 205 and emphasizes agroecological principles, elimination of synthetic inputs, recycling of nutrients and use of local resources. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) advises the NOP in the development and enforcement of organic standards, and consists of 15 members including four scientists with environmental, resource conservation, toxicology, ecology and/or biochemical backgrounds. Finalization of the organic law and production and processing rules offers examples of the impact of science on organic policies, as scientists, producers and consumers provided valuable testimony and insights to the USDA on a range of topics including eliminating irradiation, sewage sludge, and genetically modified organisms from the originally proposed organic standards in 1998, when 325,603 public comments were received. Sociological researchers deem this process as occurring in a discursive field, where an iterative procedure was followed, based on both scientists’ and practitioners’ values and interpretations of organic agricultural science/farming positioned alongside government agents’ interest in streamlining the rules into a workable form.


Organic production rules are aimed at protecting ecological and human health, and in contrast with conventional agriculture where, for example, synthetic pesticides with known health effects are used, organic inputs are vetted for safety and environmental impact. Examples of on-going discussions at the NOSB level requiring scientific input include the use of highly mobile, naturally-mined sodium nitrate as an organic fertilizer and the use of antibiotics for fire blight control in pome fruits. In addition to organic rules, scientific bodies have mobilized organic-related policies, such as altering crop insurance policies to support organic producers. Of interest to U.S. scientists is the comparison to E.U. countries and the recent acknowledgement by E.U. leaders that agroecological innovation is needed to sustain European agriculture, and that narrowing the gap between research and organic farming practices will be financially supported through Rural Development Programs. Under the E.U. framework, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture’s Organic Farming Office, created in 1991, has established a permanent panel of 30 organic research scientists in six disciplines (cropping systems, food processing, plant protection, soil fertility management, animal production and aquaculture) to help connect policy and regulations to science.