USDA Unveils Final Labeling Guidelines for Genetically Engineered Foods
In late December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final GE food labeling rules needed to implement the National Bioengineered Foods Disclosure Law. Unfortunately, customers will not see the term “genetically engineered” (GE) or “genetically modified” (GMO) on labels. Instead, USDA opted for the term, “bioengineered,” which is unfamiliar to most consumers.
Additionally, they will allow companies the choice of digital QR codes, text messages, the symbol pictured here, an electronic or digital link, or actual words on the label. It remains to be seen how many food manufacturers will choose transparent, clear text that indicates if food is produced with genetic engineering.
The law will not apply to foods such as meat, milk, and eggs derived from animals fed GE forage or grain or those considered a “highly refined product” like sugar or oil derived from biotech crops.
Ohio Reverses Course on Water Quality
Early in the new administration of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a new approach to watersheds in distress has emerged. Director Dorothy Pelanda assumed the helm of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) last week. Within days, ODA had changed the status of the proposed watersheds in distress rules in the Register of Ohio to “To Be Refiled.”
The Register of Ohio, which is where state agencies post rules and proposed rules, defines a proposed rule with a “To Be Refiled” status as one “that has been temporarily removed from JCARR consideration by the rule-filing agency.” Until the ODA acts, the proposed rule will remain in this status and off the agenda of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR). ODA may revise the proposal, refile as-is, take no action, or withdraw the proposal. JCARR had been scheduled to consider the controversial proposal at its January 22 meeting.
The former Kasich administration sought to expand the number of watersheds designated as “in distress,” which would impose additional regulations and restrictions on farmers who apply manure and nutrients to the land. Further, the proposal would have required impacted farmers to submit a nutrient management plan to ODA, and ODA would have to audit at least 5 percent of those plans. ODA’s Soil and Water Conversation Division held a hearing on November 21, and a number of stakeholders attended to provide comments. Currently, the Grand Lake St. Mary’s Watershed is the only watershed in Ohio subject to the additional requirements.
Of note, Republican representatives Bob Gibbs (OH), Frank Lucas (OK), Mike Rogers (AL) and Steve King (IA) will no longer serve on the House Agriculture Committee. There are new members on these committees in both chambers.
Use the links above to find out if you have a member on the committee and if so, reach out, get to know them, and share your thoughts about sustainable agricultures early and often.
Government Shutdown Impacts Agriculture
The Food Tank recently reported on some of the effects being felt by farmers and the food system as a result of the government shutdown. Impacts included a decline in Food and Drug Administration inspections, incomplete USDA meat plant inspections, Farm Service Agency (FSA) closures, changes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and food banks struggling to meet expanded need.
The shutdown created uncertainty for many important programs that operate on grant funding from USDA departments. As many FSA offices closed, farmers in need of loans and other programs were not able to get help, including farmers dealing with the fallout of the China trade war.
According to Food and Energy Reporting Network, USDA won’t be releasing reports on crop supply and demand in 2019, a major hurdle for farmers planning this season’s plantings.
Immigration Legislation Could Protect Farmworkers from Deportation
California Democrats Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Zoe Lofgren have introduced legislation to shield farmworkers from deportation and put them on a path toward earned legal status andeventual citizenship.
The Agricultural Worker Program Act would allow farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years to earn “blue card” status that allows them to continue to legally work in the Unites States.
Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three years or five years—depending on hours worked in agriculture—would be eligible for lawful permanent green card residence.
What is the Green New Deal?
At the height of the Great Depression Franklin Delano Roosevelt pledged a new deal for the American people after which an amazing breadth of programs were put in place that pulled the country out of economic catastrophe. FDR’s example demonstrates that bold initiatives can work.
Many are drawing a clear line with another, potentially more catastrophic, peril: climate change. Yale Climate Connections highlights six things to know about the much talked about “Green New Deal” platform.
Dig Deeper into the New 2018 Farm Bill
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has several detailed blog posts on highlights and lowlights from the new farm bill, cover specific issue areas:
On January 21, a large gas pipeline explosion injured two people and damaged several homes in Noble County, Ohio. One person was transported to a local hospital for treatment of burns.
Flames shot up as much as 200 feet and could be seen 15 miles away.
This is the second explosion in the county in the past year, and the latest in a proliferation of pipeline accidents, drawing further attention to safety concerns and the impacts on residents and farmers.
Photo: Columbus Dispatch
New York Farmers Stand for Renewable Energy
Four New York residents were arrested for using a tractor to block a cargo shipment destined for the Cricket Valley Energy Center construction site, a massive 1100-megawatt gas-fired power plant under construction in Wingdale, New York.
Opponents of the plant say if construction is completed and the plant can begin operating, it will become one of the largest sources of air pollution in the Northeast. New York banned fracking in 2014 because of health risks associated with drilling, but Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued to approve gas infrastructure like the Cricket Valley plant which poses many of the same risks.
“Our farms need clean air and water just like our schoolchildren down the road from the gas plant,” said Ben Schwartz, an area farmer, who was arrested.