Perdue to be USDA Secretary
George Ervin "Sonny" Perdue III, President Trump’s pick for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, is expected to sail through the nomination process. Perdue (no relation to Perdue chicken) worked as a veterinarian before becoming a small business owner and Governor of Georgia. Learn more about Perdue, including his connections to Big Ag.
The USDA oversees more than 100,000 employees and an annual budget of $155 billion. It provides support to farmers; assists with food safety, immigrant, and environmental initiatives; and administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (the lion’s share of the Farm Bill budget).
GE Crops Dealt Fatal Blow in Europe
Major agribusinesses looking to expand the use of their genetically engineered (GE) crops in the European Union (EU) were dealt a major setback when a number of EU countries voted against the cultivation of three types of corn seed, according to a report by Simon Marks from POLITICO. The vote makes it highly unlikely that the EU will finally adopt GE crops. Italy, Portugal, and Lithuania added their names with 16 other countries in voting against authorizing two GE strains of corn.
Glyphosate Safety Standards Fail to Protect Public, Environment
An essay published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health details the concerns of two experts who found that glyphosate safety findings are based on out-of-date science and are not able to address all of the potential health hazards associated with exposure to these chemicals.
Glyphosate is the most widely used weed-killer in the nation; global estimates suggest that in 2014 enough glyphosate was used to spray more than 1 pound on every 2.47 acres of arable land across the entire planet. Glyphosate is used to kill off weeds before crops are planted, to control weed growth afterwards, and to speed up the natural drying of seeds before harvest. Residues have been found in soybeans, wheat, barley, and many other crops and foods, say the researchers.
"It is incongruous that safety assessments of the most widely used herbicide on the planet rely largely on fewer than 300 unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies while excluding the vast modern literature on glyphosate effects," say the experts. "And despite the rapid increase in use, there is no systematic monitoring system for tracking levels in human tissue, and few studies have looked at potential harms to human health.”
Oregon Farmers Could Sue GE Patent-Holders
Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would let farmers sue Monsanto, Scotts Miracle-Gro, and other companies that hold patents on GE seeds if crops grown from those seeds contaminate traditional or organic crops.
According to this article in the Statesman Journal, House Bill 2739 would allow farmers to ask for three times the actual economic damages as a result of GE contamination. It also would allow individuals to sue the corporations if GE organisms are found on land owned or occupied by a public body, such as a park, in the area where they live.
Roundup Safety Findings Suspect
According to this groundbreaking article by New York Times reporter Danny Hakim, recently unsealed documents reveal that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics. They also show that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had worked to suppress a review of glyphosate, Roundup’s main ingredient. The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the EPA over its own safety assessment.
In one unsealed email, a Monsanto executive told company officials they could ghostwrite research on glyphosate by hiring academics to put their names on papers that were actually written by Monsanto. “We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit and sign their names so to speak.”
Pesticides are a Global Human Rights Concern
Two United Nations experts are calling for a comprehensive new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides in farming, and move towards sustainable agricultural practices. They say, “Excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security.” They point to research showing that pesticides are responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. Nearly all fatalities occurred in developing countries where health, safety, and environmental regulations are weaker.
Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders, and sterility. Farmers and agricultural workers, rural and indigenous communities, pregnant women, and children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure and require special protections.
FDA to Simplify FSMA Water Standard
In March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its plans to revisit the water standard and find ways to simplify the microbial quality and testing requirements for agricultural water set forth in the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). They heard from producers that some of the standards—including those for numerical criteria for pre-harvest water quality—may be too complex to understand, translate, and implement. While the FDA did not provide any details on how they will undertake the process of simplifying these standards, it a positive step to improving a very complex and costly process. OEFFA will continue to engage on this issue and provide updates as they are available.
Don't Let Congress and Big Ag Chicken Out of the New Animal Welfare Rules!
Farmers and the public have worked hard to create a strong organic label with integrity. New organic livestock and poultry rules—set to go into effect May 20—represent more than a decade of work to close a loophole in the standards that has allowed some poultry producers to deny meaningful outdoor access through the use of porches, and to strengthen livestock practices in other ways to provide a baseline for how animals are treated. Implementing these new standards will strengthen trust in the organic label and create a level playing field for farmers.
Despite the importance of these rules, they have many enemies, including some members of Congress, commodity groups, and large operations who want to continue business as usual.
If you want to see a strong organic program, call your members of Congress and tell them you support the new organic livestock and poultry welfare rules. You can find your members of Congress here. Ask to speak with their Legislative Assistant who handles agriculture, let them know that you are a constituent, and tell them you are calling to ask for their support for the new organic animal welfare rules. OEFFA has talking points you can use. After making the call, send a quick email to the Legislative Assistant you spoke with, thanking them for the call, and reiterating your support for the new rules. Then send a copy of the email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Farmers should minimize the disturbance of soil from excessive tillage.
- Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides disrupt healthy soil function and soil forming processes.
- To boost fertility, turbocharge soil biology, and conserve topsoil, farmers should utilize cover crops, compost, and a diverse rotational crop strategy.
- Ruminants should be carefully managed to promote overall pasture and soil health.
Despite the clarity of these principles, in this excellent article on regenerative agriculture, David Bronner shares his concerns on how we may be shortchanging the regenerative movement’s ability to elevate the organic movement to its true regenerative potential, versus catering to lower bar low-chemical-input no-till agriculture with cover crops.
According to Bronner, “The latter is hugely important and commendable, but insofar as any amount of synthetic fertilizer and pesticide is used, another term such as “sustainable no-till” is a better descriptor. As soon as we go away from organic as the floor, we go down the rabbit hole of having to decide which chemical inputs can be used in what amounts and when. We should reserve “regenerative” as the gold standard and incentive for true holistic no-chemical-input “regenerative organic” agriculture. If we don’t, then there’s no incentive to improve toward the holistic regenerative goal. And “regenerative organic” can then take a more holistic approach that addresses the wellbeing of farmworkers as well as farm animal welfare.”
Oregon Tilth, Oregon State Publish Organic Transition Report
Farmers looking to transition to organic certification want personalized, high-contact support such as mentorships and one-on-one technical help, according to a joint report released by Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.
The report, entitled, “Breaking New Ground: Farmer Perspectives on Organic Transition,” highlights key recommendations for organizations and agencies that can provide support in crop research, infrastructure, and market development, as well as shaping public policies for transition to organic production.
The report is based on responses from more than 600 farmers who participated in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative between 2010 and 2015.
Improving the Safety Net for Farmers
In the 1930s, we converted more than five million acres of grassland to agriculture at a time of high heat and drought leading to the devastating “Dust Bowl.”
In recent years, the region has once again faced high temperatures and a lack of rainfall. According to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), these environmental conditions combined with current crop insurance policies could put farmers and communities at risk of another disaster.
According to the EWG, through "the Actual Production History Yield Exclusion lets farmers pretend bad years didn’t happen. As many as 15 bad years can be thrown out when calculating the farmer’s average yield, resulting in artificially inflated insurance payouts, year after year. What’s more, the distortion is worst in the very same Southern Plains counties that were hardest hit by the Dust Bowl and are now suffering from severe drought."
In this report, they argue that the savings obtained by ending policies like the APH yield exclusion, could be redirected toward diversification and conservation measures to help them successfully adapt to climate change.