Maine Congresswoman Leads Charge for Organic
Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) is an organic farmer. She knows first-hand the benefits and incredible potential of organic production systems.
Recently she wrote an article for Civil Eats on the importance of protecting the integrity of organics. This letter is a response to recent investigative reports in the Washington Post that reveal a need to tighten the process of oversight in the organic food chain.
In addition to standing up for organic integrity, this Congresswoman is leading the charge for more funding for organic research. The flagship program for agricultural research is the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Funding for organic research makes up just 1/10 of one percent of this program's total budget. Access to organic research is not only critical for organic farmers to be successful, it also helps conventional farmers.
Contact your member of Congress today and ask them to support the Organic Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 2436). The bill will reauthorize the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and increase funding from $20 million to $50 million each year.
New GE Foods Coming to a Store Near Year You
The number of genetically engineered (GE) foods is growing fast. Whether it is non-browning apples, faster growing salmon, or cotton and soybean varieties engineered to withstand the application of multiple pesticides, new techniques and limited regulation means we will continue to see more GE products on store shelves. But how will we know what we are eating?
Congress passed the Bio-Engineered Foods Disclosure law last year and has until 2018 to develop the final rules and label. Industry representatives are arguing for the use of QR codes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that there will not be time to do an advanced notice and get feedback through broad public comment, but they will get feedback from "industry and interested stakeholders."
OEFFA believes in transparency and a simple statement that says if a product has been produced with genetically engineered ingredients. Recently the Grocery Manufacturers of America listed many companies that have already started using the QR codes. What do you think USDA will decide to use as a label?
New GE Techniques are Safer...Right?
Gene editing is a new form of genetic engineering that is faster, more targeted, and does not require the insertion of foreign DNA. Many argue its safer and without any side effects. While the new technique offers many possibilities for curing disease and perhaps correcting genetic defects, this article finds it can cause hundreds of unintended mutations. Learn more about the lack of regulation and oversight for this much heralded new biotechnology here.
Tests in the European Union recently revealed an illegal GE bacteria found in animal feed supplements. Independent Science News has that story here. OEFFA will work to ensure that there is sufficient oversight over GE technologies and that organic and other non-GE farmers are protected from contamination. Please support us in this work.
Do You Want to Bee a Better Farmer?
Bee Better Certified is a new certification program focused on integrating flower-rich habitat on farms in order to provide food and nesting sites for native bees, honeybees, and other pollinators. It also helps farmers reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides that are known to cause harm to bees.
Find the standards and more information here, along with links to get started.
New Local Grower Support Program
Chipotle is making an ongoing commitment to small farmers by creating the Chipotle Local Grower Support Initiative. They are pledging $10 million to help farmers meet their food safety standards and make those foods available throughout their restaurants. Through this initiative they will:
Provide education and training and help offset the cost of enhanced testing and food safety practices for the smaller farmers they are already working with;
Provide grants or premiums to help cover the cost of enhanced food safety practices; and
Develop partnerships with new growers using greenhouses and other technologies that meet their food safety standards.
Farmers Advocating for Organic (FAFO) is a program started by Organic Valley that funds research, education, and advocacy and can help:
Farmers transition to organic;
Educate consumers about the benefits of organic; and
Provide information, resources, and tools to organic farmers.
Grants of $5,000-$50,000 are available. The next deadline is September 15; a letter of interest is required in advance. Find more information here.
Free SNAP EBT Equipment Available
The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) has money available for free electronic benefit transfer (EBT) processing equipment. The program is administered by FMC and funded by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. This program has provided the equipment necessary to accept the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to more than 1,000 farmers' markets and direct market farmers.
A new round of funding is available. Farmers' markets and farmers can apply online here now through November 17, but grants are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so apply early.
Opportunities to Shape Policy
Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee office elections will be coming up this fall. Committee members are involved in making important decisions about existing FSA commodity or conservation programs and to make recommendations on new or emerging issues like the potential USDA reorganization. These members are an important check to make sure that FSA decisions support and incorporate the needs of socially disadvantaged (SDA) farmers and ranchers (including minority, tribal, and women producers). The nomination period for committee members runs from June 15 through August 1. You can pick up your nomination form at your local USDA Service Center.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a federal advisory body to the National Organic Program, is accepting applications to fill the environmental and natural resources conservation seat on the board. It is an unpaid, five year term of service. Members attend committee meetings, participate in bi-monthly subcommittee conference calls, review materials or recommend changes to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, and advise the Secretary on other aspects of USDA organic regulations. More information and application materials can be found here.
Fracking Impacts Grow
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency increased a proposed penalty on Energy Transfer, the company building the more than $4 billion Rover pipeline. The costs of their environmental damage were raised from $430,000 to $914,000. They were also ordered to monitor ground water around a spill site in Stark County and near a quarry where it has been dumping mud used during horizontal directional drilling beneath the Tuscarawas River about 60 miles south of Cleveland.
Diesel fuel was also discovered in drilling mud the company had been using. Two substantial spills in Stark and Richland County have drawn the attention of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who increased its level of concern about long-term environmental impacts of the project, especially to sensitive wetlands.
A new study released in June examines the massive pollution and climate change impacts that will result from this one pipeline project. Oil Change International found that the ET Rover pipeline will cause as much greenhouse gas pollution as 42 coal-fired power plants.
OEFFA is Working for You
During the month of June OEFFA has been very busy sharing principles of sustainable agriculture and local food systems with our elected officials.
OEFFA joined forces witht he National Organic Coalition in Washington, D.C. where we met with the office of Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, Representatives Bob Gibbs, Marcia Fudge, David Joyce, Tim Ryan and with Senator Patrick Leahy. OEFFA advocated for increased funding for organic research (see our note on H.R. 2436 above), as well as full funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in the 2018 budget. We also asked that Congress allow the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP, aka organic animal welfare) rule go into effect and that the USDA work to implement enhanced procedures to track organic imports and ensure that imported products fully comply with U.S. organic standards.
An often unseen part of advancing sustainable agriculture policy is commenting on rules. OEFFA submitted written comments to USDA directly asking that the OLPP rule go into effect. Another proposed rule that was open for comment this month dealt with new rules for the regulation of biotechnology in agriculture. While the rule would regulate products based on one new criteria, it is yet another example of a one step forward two steps back approach that would leave whole classes of GE products unregulated. We asked the USDA to re-propose the rule with significant improvements.
The Trump administration recently proposed removing Rural Development status as a cabinet position. This will have very real effects on program administration in rural communities. OEFFA submitted formal comments asking the USDA not to eliminate the USDA Rural Development mission area and undersecretary position.
OEFFA will continue to advance our shared priorities for sustainable food and farming systems in the days ahead. We always value your input. Please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and support our work.