In March, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Organic Program (NOP) released a policy memorandum elucidating the status of nanotechnology for use in the production and handling of organic products under USDA organic regulations. The NOP, advised by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), regulates all organics in the United States. The NOSB believes that synthetically engineered nanomaterials should not be used in the production and handling of organic products—suggesting that the NOP clearly define and prohibit use of deliberately engineered nanotechnologies.
Although the NOSB has recommended that the NOP create a definitive list of prohibited nanomaterials, the NOP continues to use the definition and labeling stipulations provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Accordingly, the FDA does not require labeling of nanomaterials.
The NOP does not believe that nanotechnology is “intrinsically benign or harmful.” In fact, the NOP has yet to fully condemn the use of nanotechnology in the handling and production of organic products. The memorandum delineates the circumstances that would allow the use of engineered nanomaterials, given it has been “1) petitioned for use; 2) reviewed and recommended by the NOSB; and 3) added to the National List through notice and comment rulemaking.” The National List will identify those synthetically engineered nanomaterials permitted for use in organic products under USDA organic regulation.
This USDA/NOP memorandum comes with much backlash from the Center for Food Safety (CFS). The CFS believes that the NOP’s decision to invite nanotechnologies into the realm of organics undermines the core values of the U.S. organics community. Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at CFS, exclaims, “Fundamentally, nanomaterials are synthetic, can be toxic, and are not found in nature in their manufactured form. They do not belong in organic, plain and simple.” By allowing food companies to petition for approval of nanomaterials in the production and handling of organic products, the NOP has the authority to certify a product composed of “approved” engineered nanomaterial as USDA organic.