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Final Rule: Tetracycline, Formic Acid, Attapulgite

The National Organic Program published a final rule today that addresses the use of three substances in organic agriculture with specific limitations that would support production and processing of organic products.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2012 – The National Organic Program published a final rule today that addresses the use of three substances in organic agriculture with specific limitations that would support production and processing of organic products.
 
Effective August 3, the allowance for the use of tetracycline in organic apple and pear production will be extended until Oct. 21, 2014, providing two years for the development of alternatives for fire blight control. Additionally, producers will have the option of using formic acid as a means of controlling varroa and tracheal mites in organic honey bee operations, while processors will have the option of using attapulgite, a nonsynthetic processing aid, for purification of plant and animal oils.
 
Tetracycline has been allowed in organic crop production since 2002 solely to control fire blight, a bacterial disease affecting large populations of apples and pears. Given the high susceptibility of the crops to the disease, and in light of tetracycline’s proven effectiveness to treat it, the National Organic Standards Board recommended that the substance continue to be allowed for a period. However, the expiration date should encourage the development of options for biological controls and also help cultivate fire blight-resistant apple and pear varieties.
 
While organic principles require the use of biological, physical or mechanical methods or natural controls to prevent or control crop pests, weeds, and diseases, the organic regulations permit use of carefully evaluated inputs when natural methods are insufficient to address critical issues of production.
 
Formic acid was petitioned to be allowed as a pesticide to suppress varroa mites in honeybees. Varroa mite infestations can quickly destroy a hive and spread easily to nearby hives. Consistent with the NOSB recommendation issued at its October 2010, meeting, the final rule published today allows the use of formic acid in organic livestock production to control these mites within honeybee hives.
 
Finally, attapulgite was petitioned as a nonsynthetic processing aid to purify vegetable and animal oils. Attapulgite is the product of naturally occurring attapulgus clay that is mined and subsequently dried and pulverized into a fine powder. It removes impurities to improve the appearance, flavor and stability of plant and animal oils. Considering that attapulgite may be a preferable alternative to bentonite clay, which is currently on the National List, the NOSB recommended allowing attapulgite as a processing aid in handling plant and animal oils. Consistent with the Board’s recommendation, the final rule allows the use of attapulgite as a processing aid in the handling of plant and animal oils only.
 
The final rule amends the listings on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List), a subpart of the USDA’s organic standards that identifies synthetic substances that may be used in organic production and nonsynthetic (natural) substances that may not. These changes reflect recommendations by the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the Secretary of Agriculture about the National List and whose recommendations are necessary for the National Organic Program to implement any changes to this section of the organic regulations.
 
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and National Organic Program regulations specifically prohibit the use of any synthetic substance in organic production and handling unless the substance is on the National List. Allowance of these substances is based on the Board’s technical review to ensure their compatibility with sustainable agriculture, minimal adverse impact on the environment and to human health, and essentialness to organic production with consideration of alternative, biologically-based substances.
 
For further information about the rule, please contact Melissa Bailey, Ph.D., Director, Standards Division, Telephone: (202) 720-3252; Fax: (202) 205-7808. The rule is also available at www.regulations.gov (search term “AMS-NOP-11-0058”).
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