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Public Makes Voice Heard at National Organic Standards Meeting

Public Makes Voice Heard at National Organic Standards Meeting

Beyond Pesticides

Continuing a long tradition of public participation in setting organic standards, more than 1,000 people submitted comments leading up to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Savannah, Ga. between Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. To view a webcast of the 4-day meeting, click here. The comments were in response to specific agenda items which the NOSB was convening to consider, including many important materials review decisions. At the meeting, NOSB members frequently cited both individual comments and the collective weight of public opinion as decisive factors in determining how they voted. Beyond Pesticides thanks everyone who used our Keeping Organic Strong webpage as a resource for developing their comments and encourages the public to continue making your voices heard in the development of organic standards.

The NOSB was established under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) which authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to operate an organic certification program. Appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the 15-member NOSB is responsible for making recommendations on whether a substance should be allowed or prohibited in organic production or handling, assisting in the development of standards for substances used in organic production, and advising the secretary on other aspects of implementing OFPA. No substance can be added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances that governs material use on certified production and handling operations without a supportive recommendation from the NOSB. Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman received a five-year appointment to the NOSB beginning January 2010 as an environmentalist—one of seven constituencies represented on the board.

Here is a brief summary of some of the NOSB’s major votes on Crop and Handling materials taken in Savannah:

Propane (odorized)

This material was petitioned for use in exploding underground devises used to kill burrowing pests, including ground squirrels. The Crops Committee voted against this allowance in advance of the meeting and the full board affirmed that decision in Savannah. Those opposed to the petition stated that there is a full range of alternative materials to odorized propane and that methods already allowed in organic systems that can effectively control rodents, including habitat modification, traps, introduction of predators (such as dogs), rodenticide baits and many others, without the adverse impacts on biodiversity and with greater efficacy. These alternatives, in a more effective and less costly manner, achieve with management what propane would achieve with off-farm synthetic inputs.

Sulfur dioxide

Under existing organic standards, sulfur dioxide can only be added to wine labeled ‘made with organic grapes,’ provided that the total concentration of sulfite does not exceed 100 parts per million (ppm). Only wines to which no sulfites, which function as a preservative, have been added can be labeled ‘organic’ and display the USDA organic seal. Arguing that this restriction holds back growth in the marketplace for organically produced wines, a number of wineries petitioned with a request that the annotation be amended to allow sulfur dioxide use and resultant concentrations of sulfites not exceeding 100 ppm in wines labeled as ‘organic’ and displaying the USDA organic seal.Those opposing the petition commented that the addition of sulfites to wine has not been proven to be essential and argued against adding sulfites, which are a recognized allergen, to ‘organic’ wine. The NOSB rejected the petition, thereby retaining the distinction between wines that are ‘organic’ and 'made with organic grapes.’

Copper sulfate

In advance of the Savannah meeting, the Crop Committee recommended placing additional protections on the use of copper sulfate in rice production. The committee cited concerns that routine application rates of this material results in residual copper levels that threaten aquatic organisms including amphibians both in the rice fields and downstream after the irrigation water is released. When the committee proposed a preference for a well-established cultural practice—drill seeding of rice—in lieu of chronic dependence of synthetic copper sulfate, some rice producers questioned the practicality of such a solution. In the final vote in Savannah, copper sulfate in organic rice production was retained on the national list without the preference for drill seeding when conditions allowed.

Ammonium nonanoate

This material was petitioned for use in spray applications to control weeds prior to planting food crops, at the base of grape vines and fruit trees and on the soil surface between crop rows or at the edges of plastic film mulch. Citing concerns about compatibility with organic practices and toxicity to aquatic invertebrates and the availability of several alternatives that do not require using a synthetic substance, the Crops Committee had rejected this petition and the NOSB concurred with that position.

Chlorine

The Handling Committee had proposed a recommendation to bring the use of chlorine in handling into compliance with the existing guidance policy established by the National Organic Program. This guidance will permit use of chlorine up to maximum labeled rates for sanitation of equipment and labeled uses in direct contact with products like fruits or vegetables, as long as there is a potable water rinse with no higher than drinking water levels after use. Additionally, it restricts chlorine in water used as an ingredient must to the level permitted in drinking water. Beyond Pesticides argued that this recommendation did not adequately address the significant human health and environmental risks known to result from chlorine’s manufacture and release into the environment. Furthermore, adoption of this recommendation means that there will be no differentiation between the allowance for chlorine use in organic and nonorganic products. Despite Jay Feldman’s dissenting vote, the NOSB approved the Handling Committee’s recommendation.

For more information, click here.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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