Washington Insider- Wednesday

National Organic Standards Board Challenged for Junk Science

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

US Chicken Processors Asked for Affidavits Confirming Price Data

U.S. chicken processors are being asked by the Georgia Department of Agriculture to meet new requirements for a price index as the agency makes changes amid concerns about the reliability of the benchmark.

The department is asking the companies and their representatives to submit affidavits and attestations declaring the price data they supply for the weekly so-called Georgia Dock index is accurate. The documents were due November 29, agency spokeswoman Julie McPeake said Monday. Companies that do not meet the new requirements will not be able to participate in the index.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture compiles prices for chicken products such as breasts, leg quarters and whole birds, plus the benchmark Georgia Dock index, which is widely used as the basis of prices paid by wholesalers and retailers.

Published on Wednesdays, the index is an average of offering prices for birds weighing 2.5 to 3 pounds as reported by producers. Each company’s contribution is weighted based on production capacity. USDA said earlier this month it discontinued the report as it worked with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to "ensure that poultry producers and retailers have access to the transparent and reliable data they need."

Georgia, the largest chicken-producing state in the U.S., is working on the new pricing formula with the University of Georgia, USDA and the Poultry Federation. McPeake said the state agency intends to release details in the near future.

US Dept. of Commerce Issues Determination on Mexico-US Sugar Trade Deal

There is some indication that not all the requirements are being met relative to the U.S.-Mexico sugar trade agreement and there may be instances of noncompliance, according to a notice posted by the US Department of Commerce (DOC).

The decision was previously delayed, with the most recent delay taking place November 23.

The announcement came after the DOC conducted a review requested by sugar companies of the U.S.-Mexico agreement reached in 2014.

The U.S. government needs more information, however, to finish the review of the deal, according to a memo by a DOC official, Paul Piquado, Reuters reported.

Given that the agency is looking for additional information, it's clear this is not the final chapter in this situation and it is one that ag interests beyond sugar will monitor in case any additional trade frictions mount between the two sides and spill into other commodity areas.

Washington Insider: National Organic Standards Board Challenged for Junk Science

In a fight you probably never heard about, USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NSOB) at its recent meeting in St. Louis delisted carrageenan, a food ingredient derived from natural seaweed. Susan Finn, director of United 4 Food Science, a coalition of scientists, academics, nutritionists, toxicologists and experts in agriculture and food production, writes in The Hill to protest. She argues that that the product has been “safely consumed worldwide for centuries and is considered by many to be nature’s perfect stabilizing ingredient,” reducing the need for costlier, synthetic additives.

Dr. Finn accuses the Board of junk science and says that too often these days the integrity of scientific studies that follow Good Laboratory Practices is being challenged—and that “this must stop.”

The NOSB, whose members are appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture makes recommendations on organic foods and products, voted to recommend that carrageenan be removed from the National List of Approved Substances for use in organic foods. However, the ultimate decision on carrageenan’s future now rests with the Agriculture Secretary, who has about a year to make a final ruling.

What has Dr. Finn so upset about is the appearance that the board has bowed to pressure from outside groups “who distort sound evidence and use scare tactics to create confusion and fear among consumers” in order to protect their own market share. These groups have manufactured a controversy that otherwise would not exist, she says.

So, she recommends that carrageenan should remain on the National List for several important reasons--the technological role it plays and the homogeneity it creates helps ensure that organic products uniformly deliver the nutrients listed on their labels, she opines. Without it, sediment can accumulate resulting in concentrations that do not deliver the nutrients listed on the product label.

And organic food manufacturers should have the option to use different additives, with carrageenan one of those.

Finally, she argues that carrageenan is safe and has been shown so by studies dating back nearly a half century. This was noted by the NOSB’s Handling Subcommittee in its preliminary report who found that “claims of widespread negative human health impacts from consumption of carrageenan in processed foods are unsupported.”

She argues that evidence from rigorous scientific inquiry must remain the dominant factor in the regulatory review and decision-making process and “junk science or the denigration of findings based on high-quality studies that follow gold standard Good Laboratory Practices” cannot be allowed to interfere with sound judgments regarding potential health risks.

Well, there are a lot of unsubstantiated claims of health risks circulating these days, in spite of strong efforts by the scientific community to de-bunk them — and the organic community has been involved in a number of such claims. Furthermore, this battle is not over, since USDA will need to evaluate the Board’s recommendation and present its own decision.

The accusation of reliance on “junk science” is serious, and should be taken seriously by the Board and by USDA. Certainly, this battle should be watched carefully by producers as it plays out, since the careful use of science is important to USDA’s reputation and to the labels and certificates it provides as well as to the credibility of the food industry, Washington Insider believes.

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