The beginning of the Spring 2014 National Organics Standards Board Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, was marked by protests, an arrest and tumultuous parliamentary maneuvers.
The meeting was opened by its new co-chair, Miles McEvoy of the USDA, who claims the right to co-chair the NOSB meeting as one of the new changes implemented by the USDA.
This "power grab" was challenged almost immediately by meeting attendees from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Several OCA members moved to the front of the podium and began to chant "Don't change Sunset." The NOSB's Sunset Program was designed to allow non-natural ingredients to be phased out of organic agriculture as safe alternatives are introduced; however, the USDA controversially changed the program's rules so that non-organic ingredients can only be phased out with a majority vote, completely turning the program upside-down.
The OCA's protest led to political director Alexis Baden-Meyer's arrest, which you can see in the video above.
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) clearly mandates that the NOSB "shall select a Chairperson for the Board," so the USDA has no authority to appoint McEvoy as a co-chair of the board. NOSB member Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, called for a point of order, a parliamentary move made when procedure rules appear to have been broken, to challenge McEvoy's co-chair position.
The meeting was temporarily suspended as USDA staff discussed the situation and McEvoy made some calls on his cell phone. He then approached Feldman and told him that he would cancel the entire meeting unless Feldman retracted his parliamentary move. Not wanting to waste the thousands of hours in preparation and tens of thousands of dollars spent on the meeting in private and taxpayer funds, Feldman withdrew his objection when the meeting resumed.
Just days before the meeting, two of the primary authors of the OFPA, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon, urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to reverse the changes made to the Sunset process, saying the move was made "in conflict with both the letter and intent of the statute."