2016 Federal Budget Deal: Good and Bad News for Labeling
In mid-December, Congress finally passed a bill to fund the government through the end of September 2016.
The Good News: A harmful “rider” that would have prevented state labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food and made all GE labeling voluntary (code for no GE labeling) was NOT included in the bill. This is a tremendous victory for GE labeling advocates. A big Thank You! to everyone who attended a meeting with Senate staff, called, or e-mailed elected officials. Your advocacy made a difference.
Another “win” is approval of GE salmon has been delayed until the Food and Drug Administration provides labeling guidelines. This victory is a brief reprieve, and no doubt the Grocery Manufacturers of America and others are already planning how they can get the Senate to fast track legislation in January. Stay tuned as we provide updates in the weeks ahead.
The final budget bill also includes good news for sustainable agriculture by providing more funding for education and outreach on the new Food Safety Modernization Act, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, farm ownership and operating loans, and more. Find more details here.
The Bad News: The budget bill did include a rider to repeal Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat products. The repeal settles a six year dispute brought by Canada and Mexico to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO was ready to charge U.S. companies $1 billion in trade tariffs. Unfortunately, American farmers who raise and process meat in the U.S. will lose the local market advantage and consumers will be in the dark about the where the meat they purchase is from.
The end of 2015 also brought a new agreement committing most countries to fight climate change. The goal of the agreement is to limit global temperatures increases to below 2 degrees Celsius. It includes a provision to force countries to cut greenhouse gases emissions or provide money for developing nations to help deal with the negative effects of climate change.
New Climate Agreement Reached
The Paris accord is the first time that food security is recognized as a priority. This inclusion opens the door to thinking about mitigating the impact of climate on food systems and also thinking about how sustainable agriculture can help reduce those impacts going forward.
Tax Increases for Agricultural Land
Many farmers experienced exponential property tax increases in 2015.This is due to a formula used for setting tax rates on farmland called the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV), which is supposed to lower the valuation for farmland to help keep farmers on the land, protect our food security, and reduce the overall tax burden on rural communities.
While some tweaks to the CAUV formula have already been made, new legislation would go further to prevent the kind of increases that farmers have seen over the past year. The two bills introduced in the Ohio House and Senate would exclude non-agricultural factors from being used in the CAUV formula and remove disincentives for farmland preservation.
What Does a Dow-DuPont Merger Mean for Farmers?
If a proposed merger between Dow Chemical and DuPont goes through, it will create the world’s largest agricultural chemical company. For fans of sustainability, the idea of increased concentration and power in the seed and agricultural chemical industry is appalling. Farmers are concerned about this mega company’s ability to raise prices on seeds and weed killers, further eroding their profit margins.
According to Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president, farmer, and former North Dakota agriculture commissioner, “This proposed merger would be debilitating for competition in the marketplace. Farmers are going to end up paying higher prices for fewer choices.”
It remains to be seen if U.S. regulators will utilize antitrust authority to scuttle the deal.
Scorecard on Good Food Policy Available
Would you like to find out how your legislators voted on important food policy issues? Food Policy Action rated Congress on those votes and compiled the information in a searchable database.
Click on the picture to the right and simply enter your zip code to see how your legislators fare on issues such as clean water, country of origin and GE labeling, farm to school, and pollinator protection.
Top 10 Wins for 2015
Promoting sustainable agriculture and food policies is an ongoing battle. As one year passes and another begins, it’s a good time to take stock of the progress that is being made every day. Thanks to our partners and you—our members—OEFFA:
Partnered with the Safer Ohio Coalition to keep the Environmental Protection and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) law in place in Ohio and to protect the last vestige of federal fracking oversight.
Held off efforts to stop GE labeling in the 2016 budget bill.
Protected funding for sustainable agriculture and conservation programs.
Mapped the proximity of Ohio organic farms to fracking activity and worked with national partners to distribute that information.
Ensured that many organic, small-scale sustainable farmer concerns were represented in the Food Safety Modernization Act final rules.
Helped the public to comment on the proposed Rover and Nexus pipeline routes, as well as advocated on behalf of organic farmers.
Developed a beautiful graphic (above) and tools to show that organic farmers go way beyond just non-GMO.
Recruited Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan to the House Organic Caucus.
Represented OEFFA farmer interest and promoted organic integrity at the National Organic Standards Board meetings.
Recommended updates to the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology to help protect organic farmers from GE contamination.
This work is possible thanks to the significant input and involvement of our members and supporters. We are truly grateful to everyone that made a call, wrote to decision-makers, met with state or federal legislative staffers, and shared their input on sustainable food and agriculture policy. If you would like to be involved in any way, please contact us. We cannot accomplish this work without you!
Farm Program Deadlines
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) application submission deadline is January 20. EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that helps farmers protect the environment by providing technical and financial assistance. Learn more here.
The next enrollment for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) opened in December and ends February 26. Participants in CRP establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands. In return, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contact your local FSA service center to get started.
Another great program to help organic farmers meet their conservation goals is the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP helps farmers maintain and improve conservation systems and adopt additional conservation activities to address priority resources concerns. Farmers can earn CSP payments for conservation performance: the higher the performance, the higher the payment. You can sign up for this Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program at any time and the annual cut-off period will likely be February or March. Contact your local NRCS service center to apply.