Category Archives: OEFFA Testimony, Comments, and Sign On Letters

OEFFA Comments to the National Organic Standards Board

October 26, 2016

National Organic Standards Board  
USDA – AMS
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
RE: AMS-NOP-16-0049

National Organic Standards Board members:

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a grassroots coalition of over 4,000 farmers, gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, and others who since 1979 have worked to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, safeguards the environment, and provides safe, local food to consumers.  OEFFA employs education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic foods, helping farmers and consumers connect to build a sustainable food system.  OEFFA’s Certification program has been in operation since 1981.  OEFFA certifies over 1,100 organic producers and food processors, ensuring that these operations meet the high standards established for organic products.

We thank you for your service to the organic community, and we respectfully offer the following comments.

COMPLIANCE, ACCREDITATION, AND CERTIFICATION SUBCOMMITTEE

Discussion document: Personnel Performance Evaluations of Inspectors (NOP 2027)

We thank the Compliance, Accreditation, and Certification Subcommittee for considering the topic of Inspector Field Evaluations, for the information it summarized, and the questions it posed.  While we view inspector field evaluations as important to consistency and integrity in the inspection portion of organic certification, we see this requirement as overly prescriptive and inefficient.  In short, we disagree with the “every inspector, every year” requirement.

In response to NOSB’s questions on this topic, we offer the following feedback:

For certifiers: To date, what have you observed about the benefits, costs and logistics of meeting this requirement?

OEFFA was initially excited about this idea, but has discovered that our understanding of the inspectors’ work has changed very little as a result of the “every inspector, every year” field evaluation requirement.  While we view inspector field evaluations as important to consistency and integrity in the inspection portion of organic certification, we have other ways of collecting information about inspectors from certified operators and staff feedback.  There are some returns on the investment in field evaluations to be sure, but the marginal benefit is greatly reduced after the highest priority inspectors in a risk-based approach are evaluated.

OEFFA currently works with about 40 contract inspectors, in addition to staff inspectors, to cover an 18 state region.  We estimate that it will cost $20,000 to conduct a field evaluation for every inspector this year.  Ultimately, this high cost must be passed on to certified operators through increased certification fees.

The logistics of meeting this requirement are burdensome beyond our expectations. Scheduling between the three parties of inspector, evaluator, and certified operation is several times more complex than scheduling between two parties.  Additionally, since travel is essential for one or more of the individuals involved, field evaluation inspections must be scheduled further in advance than is usually necessary, which does not fit well with the nature of life and work on the farm.

  1. For certifiers: If given an option to present alternative evaluation plans to the every inspector, every year, what would these look like? If a risk-based approach, how do you define risk?

Risk can be defined using multiple criteria, including:

  • the number of inspections conducted by the inspector each year;
  • the experience level of the inspector in the scope being inspected;
  • the feedback regarding the inspector provided by certified operators;
  • the feedback regarding the inspection report provided by certification staff; and
  • performance during prior field evaluations.

Before the NOP began issuing noncompliances for failing to conduct field evaluations of every inspector, every year, OEFFA created a risk-based approach to conducting field evaluations using such criteria as is listed above.   We prefer that the NOSB or NOP not dictate an overly prescriptive formula for determining which inspectors must be evaluated in a given year.  Instead, we request that we, as a certifier, understanding the general expectation, report on it as part of our annual update, and that it be addressed by the NOP during regular audits to make sure our inspector field evaluation approach is adequate.

  1. For certifiers and inspectors: What has been your experience sharing evaluation forms and processes? What have been the challenges associated with this sharing?

The sharing of evaluations has functioned adequately in order to meet the requirement. The sharing of evaluations between certifiers or among certifiers and IOIA should continue to be an option in meeting the requirement.

Rather than every certifier submitting an alternative proposal to this requirement, OEFFA recommends a model for field evaluations which is not overly prescriptive, risk-based, and which will allow assessment of all inspectors over a period of several years.  We believe such a model will accomplish the goal of accuracy and integrity in the inspection process, while maintaining a “sound and sensible” approach to field evaluations.

Conversion of Native Lands                                                

While we support the continued growth of the organic industry and expansion of organic acreage, we feel that it should not be at the cost of converting native ecosystems that have no cropping history. The NOSB has a track-record of working successfully to tackle difficult subjects related to organic production, and we have faith that the NOSB is equipped to find a viable solution in partnership with the organic community.

OEFFA looks forward to a discussion document on the important subject of eliminating the incentive to convert native ecosystems to organic production.  We strongly encourage the Certification, Accreditation, and Compliance subcommittee to prioritize this topic, so that this discussion document will be presented to the public for comments in advance of the spring 2017 NOSB meeting.

MATERIALS SUBCOMMITTEE

Proposal: Fall 2016 Research Priorities

Crops

Organic no-till

We agree with the NOSB statements that “Organic no-till preserves and builds soil organic matter, conserves soil moisture, reduces soil erosion, and requires less fuel and labor than standard organic row crop farming.”

We support research focusing on the benefits of organic no-till.  This has been viewed by many as the gold standard for sustainable production.  While we support this research, we also understand that continued focus and research on the multifunctional benefits of organic soil building and management systems must also be maintained.  Research examining tillage and soil carbon sequestration has raised questions about the value of no-till for carbon sequestration, calling for more in-depth research and analysis[1] [2]. While there are other benefits to no-till and reduced tillage systems, additional research should focus not just on this practice, but as the NOSB has stated, with consideration of the whole farm system.

Fate of genetically engineered plant material in compost

We support the NOSB advocating for additional research on the fate of genetically engineered plant material in compost.  This is an issue that been cited as a weakness in the organic standards.  The NOSB cannot make informed recommendations without research indicating the ultimate breakdown of GE plant material in compost.

Integrity of breeding lines and ways to mitigate small amounts of genetic presence

There are many questions about the viability of public germplasm collections. Understanding inadvertent presence of GMO’s in those collections is critical.  Maintaining pure breeding lines is a foundation for a strong organic agriculture system and should be prioritized.

Prevention of GMO contamination: Evaluation of effectiveness

We support a better understanding of how prevention strategies are working to maintain the integrity of organic crop production systems.  Advocating best practices for both organic and conventional farmers is important for organic farmers who are required to take preventative measures, and for conventional farmers that chose to be good stewards and good neighbors.  In those instances where organic producers cannot rely on the best practices of good neighbors, policy research is needed to develop a mechanism that will not just provide conventional growers incentives to take their own prevention measures,  but will also focus on policy research that includes mandatory compensation mechanisms paid by patent holders to farmers that experience contamination.

Livestock

Holistic, Systems-based measures for reducing and eliminating the use of synthetic methionine in poultry diets

Recently, in reviewing ingredient lists for livestock minerals, we noticed an increased use of metal methionine hydroxy analogue chelates, or, in common language, synthetic methionine stuck to copper, manganese, or zinc.  We have allowed the use of such chelates under §205.603(d)(2), “Trace minerals, used for enrichment or fortification when FDA approved,” because these substances are AAFCO approved as sources of these minerals. Typically, however, synthetic methionine use would be regulated under §205.603(d)(1), which specifically addresses DL-Methionine.  This work-around underscores the urgent need for natural methionine sources within an holistic, systems-based approach to poultry production.

Substantial research has already been conducted investigating isolated strategies for raising chickens organically and humanely without synthetic amino acid supplementation. Please see the summary presented in comments by our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety.  In researching systems approaches to eliminating the need for DL-Methionine in organic poultry feeds, studies should assess multiple strategies that investigate the impacts of natural methionine feed sources, breed, and high-welfare management strategies simultaneously.  If we don’t spend time investigating natural methionine sources in a systems-based approach, creative ways of including synthetic methionine in poultry diets will likely proliferate.

Proposal: Excluded Methods Terminology

We commend the NOSB and ad hoc group members for their efforts in developing the draft Excluded Methods definitions. We strongly support adoption of the Excluded Methods terminology and the incorporation of a Classical/Traditional plant breeding definition to provide clarity and a strong basis for decision-making.  We also support the inclusion of multiple definitions to ensure that the guidance is as comprehensive as possible.

The Principles and Criteria section provides a strong foundation consistent with the process-based system of organic agriculture. This section clearly explains how techniques are to be evaluated in determining whether they should be permitted for use in organic agriculture.  We agree with this section as proposed.

We also support the Terminology Chart which shows which techniques, defined in Appendix A, are excluded from or allowed in organic production, and the criteria that were used to make that determination.  Additionally, we concur with the comments submitted by the Center for Food Safety this fall,  that specify four additional terms in the Discussion Document’s Terminology Chart — transposons, cisgenesis, intragenesis and agro-infiltration — should be considered excluded methods.

We urge the NOSB to add these terms to the proposal’s Terminology Chart before approving the proposal.

In sum, we strongly urge the adoption of this proposal, with the inclusion of the four technologies cited above.  We hope it will serve as guidance while supporting a long-term proposal to move through the regulatory process with the new administration.

Discussion Document: Excluded Methods Terminology

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the discussion document which addresses areas for additional work around Excluded Methods. We will comment specifically on:

  1. Additional criteria for evaluating technologies which need to be considered
  1. How to detect those technologies that are excluded but may not provide detectable genetically engineered DNA when tested

We put forth the following suggestions for dealing with these difficult questions:

Additional Criteria

We support the NOSB including the research institute of organic agriculture from Switzerland’s recommendation on Excluded methods stating that:  A variety must be usable for further crop improvement and seed propagation. This means that the breeders’ exemption and the farmers’ right are legally granted and patenting is refrained from, and that the crossing ability is not restricted by technical means.

Detection and testing

The NOP should begin gathering data on the presence of GMO materials in seeds and crops. We ask that the NOSB recommend a national pilot study with proper sampling methodology. ACA members could conduct a percentage of their required sampling for GE presence and voluntarily report anonymous data to the NOP.  An analysis and report of those findings could help the NOSB in future discussions about the presence of excluded methods and any threshold establishment.

New methods of biotechnology, for which testing methods are costly or non-existent, present particular difficulties. Given the current testing limitations, we recommend:

  1. An affidavit system for ACAs to use for varieties identified as being derived from these new excluded methods. This is a system with which ACAs, producers, and seed dealers are familiar. While it has limitations, it is, at present, the most suitable alternative.
  1. A national reporting system for genetically manipulated crop and animal material. If statutory authority is required for the establishment of such a system, we urge you to request that support from the Secretary. As GE technology rapidly evolves and outpaces the U.S. regulatory structure, measures must be put in place to allow for protection of the organic industry.

In summary, OEFFA supports the following suggestions for additional criteria, detection, and testing:

  • Ensure crop varieties are usable for further crop improvement and propagation;
  • Consider a national pilot study for GE presence in seeds;
  • Of the options presented, the affidavit system for ACAs to use for varieties derived from excluded methods should be explored further; and
  • Consider a national reporting system for genetically manipulated crop and animal material.

Report to the USDA Secretary on progress to prevent GMO incursion into organic

We appreciate the ongoing work of the NOSB on GE contamination and we support the action of the NOSB to update the Secretary of Agriculture regarding its progress in preventing GMO incursion into organic production. We are thankful that those efforts start with seed by securing research funding and data collection for testing of organic and non-GMO seed, as well as emphasizing the need for more data.  Now the data needs must broaden beyond avenues of contamination to include the comprehensive costs of contamination prevention and product rejection, as well as an assessment of the barriers to reporting farm contamination.

While USDA and AC21 continue to focus on coexistence, organic, non-GE, and even GE farmers have experienced the failure of this strategy as is evidenced by the recent and unauthorized use of Dicamba. Now is the time to expedite the issue of holding GE technology developers responsible for trespass.  The NOSB has a significant window of opportunity to emphasize the importance of USDA leadership in this area.

The body of work that has been completed by the NOSB materials/GMO subcommittee on GE contamination issues is substantial.  We believe that the proposed letter is a fair representation of NOSB activities. We request your leadership in developing mandatory policies around shared responsibility.  OEFFA views it as important that the cost of avoiding GMO contamination of organic farms and products be borne by those who profit most from the use of GMOs-the patent holders for GMO seeds.  We ask NOSB to prioritize the development of policies around shared responsibility in your report to the Secretary. Prevention and contamination costs should be borne by GE patent holders.

CROPS SUBCOMMITTEE

Calcium Chloride

Calcium Chloride is a 2018 sunset review material listed at §205.602(c) with the annotation “brine process is natural and prohibited for use except as a foliar spray to treat a physiological disorder associated with calcium uptake.”

In addition to the twenty registered OMRI products and the ten WSDA products noted in the NOSB materials, OEFFA has seven products on our Approved Products List containing calcium chloride.

While we support the re-listing of this material, and appreciate the spirit of the listing, we find the annotation difficult to understand and explain to producers.  The example we use with producers is often blossom end rot on tomatoes.  In a situation where a tomato crop shows early signs of or first fruits with blossom end rot, the foliar application of calcium can help prevent the development of blossom end rot on developing fruit.  We would allow the use of calcium chloride in this circumstance.[3]

We request the continued listing of calcium chloride, clarification about the interpretation of the calcium chloride annotation, and that NOSB consider re-wording the annotation for better clarity and broader understanding by producers. 

Discussion document: Strengthen and clarify the requirements for use of organic seed (NOP 5029)

We support many of the points in the Organic Seed Alliance’s comments.  In particular, we support the concept of continuous improvement with regard to organic seed sourcing and use, however, we have identified some additional issues regarding organic seed for further discussion.

  • Uncertified seed dealers- Seed dealers that are not breaking packages, because they are not required to be certified organic, are held one step away from accountability with regard to completing and documenting seed searches on behalf of the producer. While producers often request and are willing to pay for organic seed, they are often shipped untreated, non-GMO varieties.  Frequently, seed searches, if performed by the dealer, are not documented, and producers are issued noncompliances, despite their intention and willingness to pay for and use organic seed.  In this way, we may be penalizing the wrong actor, as we have no formal method of feedback for an uncertified seed dealer.
  • Regional variations in organic seed availability- The Organic Seed Alliance has worked hard to collect and summarize data regarding organic seed use and availability. It has noted that the largest farms use less organic seed (by percentage of seed used) than smaller farms.  As previously mentioned, many organic producers are willing to purchase organic seed, but such seed is much easier to obtain in some regions than others.  Quantity of seed may also impact this equation, as smaller volumes of organic seeds may be easier to obtain, or less costly to ship, than larger volumes.  Organic producers in regions where organic is not prominent already face significant challenges.  They may need to maintain more buffers, clean equipment more frequently, and cannot benefit in the same way as high-density organic regional producers can in terms of group orders, work sharing, and mentorship. In moving forward with stronger requirements for organic seed, we want to be sure not to further disadvantage farmers who are acting, in some cases, as regional organic pioneers.
  • Seed search documentation- Related to the two, aforementioned topics is the idea of requiring organic producers to document a search for five, rather than three sources of organic seed per crop before purchasing an untreated, non-GMO variety. OEFFA is not convinced that this additional burden, placed on the producer, will affect the desired outcome of increased use of organic seed.  In our minds, different tools, rather than bigger versions of the same tools are needed to meet the organic seed requirement.  We support the concept of continuous improvement, and we support an industry-wide effort to move toward more organic seed use, balancing that effort among requirements for producers, handlers, variety developers, seed producers, and seed dealers.

OEFFA supports many of the Organic Seed Alliance’s recommendations, and asks that these additional considerations foster further dialogue on the topic so that undue burdens are not placed on organic producers.

Proposal: Aluminum Sulfate

OEFFA supports the Crop Subcommittee’s preliminary vote NOT to add aluminum sulfate to the National List at §205.601.

LIVESTOCK SUBCOMMITTEE

Proposals: Aluminum Sulfate, Sodium bisulfate, Acid-activated bentonite

OEFFA supports the Livestock Subcommittee’s preliminary vote NOT to add the three proposed materials, aluminum sulfate, sodium bisulfate, and acid-activated bentonite to the National List at §205.603.  We do not view these synthetic substances as compatible with a system of organic production.

OTHER ISSUES

Agriculture Impact Mitigation Plans to Address Fracking and Related Activities        

For some time now, producers have faced oil and gas industry activities on organic farms.  These activities range from seismic testing (the releasing of charges under the earth to determine if oil or gas is present for removal), to traditional gas and oil wells, to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of hard to access fossil fuels, and pipelines for transportation of these the fossil fuels.  We also know that the water used in hydraulic fracturing (produced water) is, in some cases, being applied as irrigation water on certified organic land.  We recognize this as a tough and complicated issue, which is precisely why we are soliciting your help to address it.

The issue of oil and gas extraction on or in close proximity to organic farms is complex and multifaceted and as such, would require effort over a long-term. We ask the NOSB to begin work on this topic.  While farmers and certifiers are being told this topic is outside of NOSB jurisdiction, organic farmers are regularly being impacted by these activities. The farmers look to organic educators and certifiers for guidance or for standards to support them, and educators and certifiers are left similarly under-equipped to address these issues, often working in isolation with little guidance.  The lack of discussion of this topic is not preventing its impacts on organic farms.  OEFFA and other certification agencies are already dealing with these issues in the absence of guidance, so your leadership on this topic cannot come soon enough.  There must be consistency under the National Organic Program in both the US and abroad regarding the impacts of oil and gas infrastructure construction (wells, pads, and pipelines), fracking water, and related impacts on organic land.

One tool currently in use to address the aforementioned activities on organic farms is an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan.  Such a plan was developed and employed in the well-known decision in favor of Gardens of Eagen in Minnesota, which defeated a Koch Industries pipeline that threatened to traverse the organic farm via eminent domain.  The farmer, author, and policy advocate Atina Diffley has shared and spoken about the plan widely. OEFFA has edited this Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan to incorporate livestock concerns, specifically those related to dairy operations.

Please review the attached Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan and consider its ability to be tailored to the contextual situation of the farm, its surroundings, its organic system plan, and the day-to-day needs of the operation.  Imagine how it might be used to protect organic farms from the impacts of oil and gas industry exploration, extraction, transport, and waste disposal.

In the absence of sufficient federal regulatory oversight, the organic industry has of necessity taken it upon itself to attempt to shield organic farmers from the negative impacts of energy extraction.  For example, OEFFA, working directly with farmers impacted by the oil and gas industry, has advocated for the use of the agricultural impact mitigation plan to protect them with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and companies involved in pipeline projects in Ohio. FERC has adopted language explicitly stating that the company should “…file with the Secretary, for review and written approval of the Director of OEP, an impact avoidance, minimization, or mitigation plan for the organic farm….”, additionally the company “…should include documentation that the plan was developed in consultation with the landowner.”, “…coordinate with the landowner to develop site-specific mitigation measures…” as well as “mitigate and compensate for potential impacts on these lands.”

We urge the NOSB add the topic of Agriculture Impact Mitigation Plans with respect to oil and gas Industry activities on organic farms to its Compliance, Accreditation, and Certification Subcommittee and Crop Subcommittee work plan, as applicable.  We ask you to consider the utility of Agriculture Impact Mitigation Plans in conjunction with the certification process to help protect organic producers’ operations, make clear to oil and gas industry representatives the requirements of organic systems and organic certification, and to provide guidance to producers and certifiers in thinking through and mitigating impacts of these activities on organic farms.

Additionally, we request that the NOSB share a draft Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan with both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA,) including a recommendation that organic farmers and oil and gas companies utilize such a plan, tailored to site-specific and operational needs, prior to engaging in oil and gas activities on organic farms.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

On behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and OEFFA Certification,

Carol Goland, Ph.D.
Executive Director

[1] Tillage and soil carbon sequestration-What do we really know? Baker,J., Ochser,T., Venterea, R. Griffis, T., Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 118 (2007) 1-5.

[2] PLOS One: Soil Water Holding Capacity Mitigates Downside Risk and Volatility in US Rainfed Maize: Time to Invest in Soil Organic Matter?  A. Williams, M. Hunter, M. Kammerer, D. Kane, N. Jordan, D. Mortensen, R. Smith, S. Snapp and A. Davis., August 25th, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.137/journal.pone.0160974

[3] http://www.caes.uga.edu/extension/thomas/anr/documents/Blossom_End_Rot_H-98-036.pdf

Flawed Genetic Engineering Labeling Bill Passes in the Senate

Statement by Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator

For Immediate Release: July 8, 2016

Contact:
Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, amalie@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, lauren@oeffa.org

The U.S. Senate passed S.764 last evening. The bill included a provision to address the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food. The statement below is from OEFFA’s Policy Program Coordinator, Amalie Lipstreu.

We are disappointed that this bill, negotiated behind closed doors with a handful of special interests, was fast tracked on the Senate agenda with not a single hearing, despite the repeated finding that 9 out of 10 U.S. consumers want clear labeling of food containing genetically engineered ingredients. What has been hailed as a great “compromise” is a gift to biotech and food manufacturing companies, who will have three options for disclosure, one of which is a digital code that will require shoppers to stand in grocery store aisles with their smartphones, scan their purchases, and visit a website, before they have the information they need to make purchases. The bill contains no enforcement provisions and many—perhaps most—GE ingredients will be exempt from any labeling requirement. Passage of this bill means that U.S. citizens will be prevented from having the same rights as those in 64 other nations: the right to know if they are consuming food containing GE ingredients.

The USDA and the FDA issued what appear to be conflicting analyses of the bill. Questions remain as to what GE products will be labeled and how the labeling requirements will co-exist with other federally mandated labeling requirements. Despite these outstanding issues, the Senate passed the measure by a 63:30 margin.

Now is the time for President Obama to act on his campaign statements that the public has a right to know if their food is genetically engineered and veto the bill if it comes to his desk.  We have time to develop a national standard in the light of day and with the input of concerned citizens, scientists, and sustainable agriculture and food interests that relies on a clear label that simply states that the food includes GE ingredients.

New Bill Promotes Biotechnology, Disregards Public Interest

Statement by Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator
.
For Immediate Release: March 1, 2016

Contact:
Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, amalie@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022, lauren@oeffa.org

Columbus, OH—In response to legislation introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), which would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to promote biotechnology and prevent the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Policy Program Coordinator Amalie Lipstreu released the following statement:

“The legislation introduced by Senator Roberts and passed by the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee today ignores the growing demand from the majority of U.S. citizens to have clear and honest food labeling. Everyone deserves the very basic right of knowing what ingredients are in their food and how that food was produced; that information should not be withheld from the public. Food derived from genetic engineering should be required to be labeled. Enshrining voluntary labeling in this legislation is reiteration of decades of failed policy.

This legislation would call for the USDA to promote the benefits of agricultural biotechnology. It is not the role of the USDA to advance one form of agriculture above another. Organic agriculture offers benefits to the environment, public health, and local food economies and yet it cannot be advanced above other forms of agriculture by USDA. This bill would create an uneven playing field during a time when public demand for organic and sustainably grown food is at an all-time high. Senators have an opportunity to listen to their constituents and provide them with the food information and choices they want. We hope they soundly reject the Roberts bill and join with the 64 other countries of the world that require mandatory labeling of GE food.”

  
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The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) has been working to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, meets the growing consumer demand for local food, creates economic opportunities for our rural communities, and safeguards the environment since 1979. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.

OEFFA Comments: National Organic Standards Board Spring 2015 Meeting

April 7, 2015

National Organic Standards Board
USDA – AMS
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
RE: AMS–NOP–15–0002

National Organic Standards Board members:

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a grassroots coalition of nearly 3,400 farmers, gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, and others who since 1979 have worked to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, safeguards the environment, and provides safe, local food to consumers.  OEFFA employs education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic foods, helping farmers and consumers connect to build a sustainable food system.  OEFFA’s Certification program has been in operation since 1981.  OEFFA certifies 838 organic producers and food processors, ensuring that these operations meet the high standards established for organic products.  Of these operations, 300 are dairies, 175 are mixed vegetable operations, and 72 raise poultry.

While there are many issues being discussed at this spring’s NOSB meeting, OEFFA’s comments focus on three materials of particular interest: Copper, Methionine, and Zinc Sulfate.  We gathered input from our certified producers through surveys and conference calls.  We were heartened by the response and interest from our clients and their desire to participate in this unique democratic process.  We at OEFFA are thankful for the process that so many have worked to create and maintain, and respectfully offer the following comments.

Copper
OEFFA strongly supports the continued listing of fixed coppers and copper sulfate on the National List for organic crop production.

OEFFA producers utilize many cultural practices to support plant health and prevent diseases, including pruning, wider spacing between plants, crop rotation, variety selection, nutrient management, and mulches.  They also employ products containing hydrogen peroxide, as well as several other remedies including milk, oils, and microbial inputs to manage diseases.  While these practices and products are helpful, they are insufficient to manage disease problems such as phytopthera in tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and cucurbits.

OEFFA producers work to make sure that copper does not accumulate in the soil by using specially designed sprayers and spraying techniques, as well crop rotations and soil testing.  Some report success in managing disease by alternating between hydrogen peroxide and copper applications, further reducing the use of copper.

Copper is a controversial input in organic production and, due to the negative effects it can have on soil, aquatic ecosystems, and farmworker health, its use is included in critiques of organic production systems.  For these reasons, we want to encourage further research into other viable disease management tools for use in organic production.  However, copper remains a necessary tool in growing organic produce.  Our producers maintain that copper is an essential part of their disease management programs and there is currently no comparable substitute available.

Methionine
OEFFA supports the Livestock Committee proposal to change the listing of DL-methionine on the National List.

OEFFA producers are primarily raising birds in poultry barns with access to soil and pasture.  No major health issues have been observed at the current methionine ration, though some producers noticed minor pecking issues with some flocks.  Despite this fact, nutritionists working with our clients are recommending additional methionine beyond the amount currently allowed in the rule.  As a result, producers are adding more soybean meal to organic rations, which can lead to wet litter, reduced indoor air quality, and ultimately decreased flock health.

OEFFA producers choose soybean meal over other nonsynthetic forms of methionine such as earthworms and soldier flies for various reasons.  Some are concerned that they will be unable to procure a consistent supply, or that inputs may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms or cause diseases.  Other nonsynthetic protein sources are prohibited by NOP rules.

OEFFA producers indicate they could continue to produce organic poultry using the current methionine restriction, but they would prefer to calculate and record methionine use per ton of feed as an average over the life of the flock, per the NOSB Livestock Subcommittee’s recommendation.  As proposed, OEFFA producers think this modified ration would allow them to increase protein earlier in the birds’ lives leading up to peak production, without the negative effects, and then taper it off as the flock requires less.  Producers also feel confident that they could keep records demonstrating compliance with the “average over the life” ration.  As a certifier, OEFFA is concerned about how the verification of such records would play out on the ground.  Such a change would require clear guidelines and ACA cooperation to ensure consistency across the industry.

OEFFA eagerly anticipates improved poultry standards as part of the forthcoming proposed rule on animal welfare and hopes that the link between synthetic methionine demand and access to pasture is considered in these changes.  We emphasize the need for continued research for viable natural methionine alternatives and we are committed, as is stated in the Livestock Committee recommendation, to see a phase out of synthetic methionine in organic rations over time.  While these alternatives are being developed and field-tested, we hope to see the Livestock Subcommittee’s proposal adopted to support the health and productivity of organic poultry operations.

Zinc Sulfate
OEFFA supports the addition of Zinc Sulfate to the National List.

OEFFA clients are already utilizing several cultural practices to support hoof and foot health in their organic management systems, including rotational grazing, maintaining dry housing and laneways, confining animals in very wet conditions, and conducting hoof trimming as needed.  Despite these practices, foot and hoof issues such as foot rot, heel warts, and hairy warts arise from time to time.  OEFFA producers are generally seeing these issues in one to three animals at a time, not in the entire herd.  More issues seem to arise in those herds engaged in comparatively less grazing, while still meeting the organic grazing requirements.

Currently, OEFFA producers are using varied remedies to treat foot issues, including copper sulfate, hydrogen peroxide, and various home remedies including sulfur and garlic powder, a sugar/molasses paste, and dietary supplements including salt.  Producers find the pastes difficult to administer because of the need to isolate the afflicted animal (a stressful process for the animal), clean the foot, apply the paste, and wrap the foot.  There are also concerns that wrapping the affected foot could hold in moisture and potentially foster additional foot problems.

Because foot issues generally occur in only a few animals, OEFFA producers indicated both a need and a strong preference to use zinc sulfate directly on the affected hooves rather than as a footbath.  An individual, spray-on treatment can be applied in an efficient, stress-free manner in the milking parlor without the need to wrap the affected hoof.  We recognize that use as a topical application is not specifically requested in the petition, but topical use provides the needed benefits to farmers and affected animals.  As an additional environmental benefit, the individual topical application does not require the disposal of footbath wastewater.

Should a footbath be allowed, our clients noted that the footbath wastewater would be mixed with manure and applied to fields.  Although the zinc sulfate would compose a relatively small portion of the manure applied, it should be disposed of in a manner that minimizes accumulation of zinc in the soil, which could be monitored through soil testing.

In keeping with OFPA, we recognize the responsibility that comes with requesting this synthetic material be added to the National List.  We hope that, as the process dictates, research for effective alternatives will continue.

Idea Regarding NOSB Material Review Process
This is the first time OEFFA has participated in the NOSB comment process.  We are struck by the sheer volume of materials for review and the tremendous amount of work undertaken on behalf of the organic industry.  As we experience this process for the first time, and in the spirit of continuous improvement, we offer the following question: Would it be possible to stagger the sunset materials review work over multiple meetings?  In other words, perhaps rather than having one meeting in which all sunset 2017 materials are discussed, consider dividing the 2017 sunset materials in such a way that they can be discussed over the course of several meetings, timed in such a way to permit the vote at the appropriate (sunset date) time.  This might improve the quality of the dialogue we have with producers, and the quality of information received, while not overwhelming everyone from NOSB members to producers in the process.

In closing, we would like to sincerely thank the Board for your service and for considering our comments.   We appreciate the good work you do to maintain integrity and transparency in the organic industry.

Sincerely,
Carol Goland, Ph.D.
Executive Director

USDA Approves More GE Crops, Chemical Treadmill Continues

Statement by Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Program Coordinator

September 19, 2014
.
Contact:
Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 208, amalie@oeffa.org
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org
  .
“This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a decision to fully deregulate Dow Chemical’s Enlist corn and soybeans. These seeds are genetically engineered (GE) to withstand the Enlist Duo herbicide, which is a blend of 2,4-D and glyphosate,  not yet been approved by the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA).

In the same way that the overuse of antibiotics has created antibiotic-resistant super germs, the pervasive use of Roundup Ready crops and Roundup has created superweeds resistant to glyphosate, including pigweed, horseweed, and giant ragweed. According to Dow, resistant weeds have more than doubled since 2009 and infest approximately 70 million acres of U.S. farmland.

Now, Dow claims these new crops are the solution to this weed resistance. But they are simply the beginning of a new superweed problem, setting the stage for still more superweeds resistant to both glyphosate and 2,4-D. We must stop this dangerous chemical treadmill.

This decision flies in the face of the vast majority of consumers who have serious concerns about GE crops. And with good reason. GE crops encourage the use of ever more toxic herbicides on our farmland and threaten our environment, public health, and the future of agriculture.

Although Dow has assured farmers that this version of 2,4-D is less volatile, growers are at risk from the chemical drifting into their fields. If contaminated, organic farmers’ certifications would be jeopardized, and 2,4-D is highly toxic to fruits and vegetables.

Despite promises that GE crops would help feed a hungry world, any yield gains attributable to biotechnology have been modest at best. And while we’re seeing little benefit in the short-term, we’re damaging our soil, water, and air and jeopardizing the future of U.S. food production.

There is an alternative. Organic and sustainable farming safeguards water quality, builds soil organic matter and nutrients, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, eliminates antibiotic use, protects biodiversity, supports small and mid-scale family farms, and reduces exposure to pesticides—all without GE crops and herbicides.

Our future depends squarely on our good stewardship of the natural resources on which we all depend. Rather than treating the symptoms of a broken agricultural system, sustainable farming offers a long-term solution for nourishing our farming communities, feeding our families, and protecting our environment.

The EPA should act to protect the environment and public health by denying registration of the Enlist Duo herbicide.”

Nutrient Management Bill Improvements Needed

Senate Committee on Agriculture
Senate Building
1 Capitol Square
Columbus, OH 43215

November 19, 2013

Chairman Cliff Hite and Senator Bob Peterson:

I write to you today on behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) regarding the proposed legislation on nutrient management (Senate Bill 150).

OEFFA was founded in 1979 and has more than 3,000 farmers, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers, and other members who share a desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, meets the growing consumer demand for local food, creates economic opportunities for our rural communities, and safeguards the environment. OEFFA also operates one of the country’s oldest USDA accredited organic certification agencies and currently certifies 816 operations.

In recent years there has been growing public pressure to address the pervasiveness of algae blooms in Ohio’s waterways caused by farming. We appreciate Senators Hite’s and Peterson’s efforts to initiate conversations in order to address nutrient management deficiencies. Although registering and tracking the use of commercial fertilizers is a necessary step in taking control of problems surrounding nutrient pollution, we recognize that this alone will not resolve them. Specifically, there are two issues with the proposed legislation:

1. Certified organic farms should have the option to provide a valid certificate to the Ohio Department of Agriculture in lieu of the fertilizer applicator license.

The proposed legislation is aimed at identifying and resolving nutrient pollution causing algae blooms in Ohio lakes and other waterways. Certified organic growers applying fertilizer to their land may be subject to licensing requirements under Senate Bill 150. Due to the USDA National Organic Program’s (NOP) rigorous standards (NOP §205.200), which require farmers to maintain or improve the farm’s natural resources, regulating organic growers is misdirected and an inefficient use of state resources.

Certified organic farmers are required to complete Organic System Plans (OSP) and annually undergo onsite inspections and submit records for review. Every OSP must demonstrate that a farmer has taken steps to meet soil fertility and crop nutrient management standards that maintain or improve the condition of soil, minimize soil erosion, and prevent to contamination of water (NOP §205.203(a)(c)(d)). Organic System Plans include detailed information regarding the date and rates of application commercial soil amendments, compost, and manure, thereby superseding the reporting requirements in SB 150. Further, organic producers must demonstrate how contamination to soil or water was prevented (NOP §205.203(c)(1)). Other requirements under the organic standards include maintaining or improving soil integrity by implementing crop rotation, and utilizing cover crops (NOP§205.205).

Finally, if organic farmers incorporate commercial fertilizers in their operations, they must use substances approved for organic production (NOP§205.105, NOP§205.601(j)). Organic fertilizers usually contain many different nutrients that are in significantly lower concentrations than chemical fertilizers and release more slowly into the environment. Even if a farmer utilizes a synthetic fertilizer allowed under organic standards, it is in combination with other conservation practices required under the standards to mitigate any adverse impacts on water quality.

2. Fertilizer applicator licensing should be expanded to include manure.

Agriculture is the number one cause of contamination of our waterways. Nutrient runoff from over application of manure is a known pollutant, and to reduce such pollution in a
meaningful way, additional standards for manure application must be put in place.

A 2010 Columbus Dispatch article entitled “Manure, Pesticides Take Ohio, Waterways” ran shortly after the peak of toxic algae blooms at Grand Lake St. Marys in Mercer County, reporting that the number of cows, hogs, and chickens on farms in the county has more than doubled in 20 years. Altogether these operations, in this one county, produce more than 1.6 million tons on manure each year.

As written, SB 150 will not effectively solve the nutrient runoff issue because it is not regulating manure, the other contributor to the problem. For instance, loopholes in current regulations omit smaller manure distributors and applicators from registering with the state.

3. Without substantiated and regulated methods for reducing nutrient runoff, SB 150 will fail to effectively tackle algal blooms in Ohio.

Although creating fertilizer application registrations is a good first step, it will not result in meaningful reductions of nutrient runoff. Other solutions currently exist to help mitigate nutrient pollution, including strong conservation practices and soil testing as a basis for nutrient management. Ohio legislators should look to these strategies and require or incentivize reductions in nutrient pollution from farming.

Thank you for your consideration of these important issues.

Sincerely,
MacKenzie Bailey
Policy Program Coordinator
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
41 Croswell Road
Columbus, OH 43214
Phone: (614) 421-2022 Ext. 208
Email: mackenzie@oeffa.org

278 Groups Support Conservation Compliance and National Sodsaver

October 29, 2013

Dear Farm Bill Conferee,

As the House and Senate begins conferencing the final 2013 Farm Bill, the undersigned groups, representing millions of members across the country, urge you protect grasslands, wetlands, healthy soil and clean water by supporting a national sodsaver provision and re-coupling basic soil and water conservation measures to premium subsidies for crop insurance. Both of these provisions, included in the Senate bill, ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to incentivize risky or environmentally destructive practices. Conservation compliance and sodsaver are among the top farm bill priorities for our groups, and both will be determining factors as we consider our support for a final bill.

For decades, in exchange for a publicly funded safety net, farmers have committed to adopt land management practices that successfully reduced soil erosion and protected wetlands. By shifting subsidies away from direct payments and towards a strong crop insurance safety net, this new farm bill creates a loophole in the longstanding requirements that those who receive subsidies take minimal steps to protect the public good. Without these key protections, billions of taxpayer dollars spent on crop insurance over coming years will subsidize soil erosion that will choke our waterways, increase the cost of water treatment and dredging, and reduce the long term productivity of farmland. It will also allow for the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding, loss of wildlife habitat and decreased water quality. To keep these protections in place, it is critical that the final farm bill re-couple conservation compliance with crop insurance premium subsidies and does not weaken existing wetland conservation provisions.

Native grasslands across the country are disappearing at an alarming rate, threatening grassland-dependent wildlife species as well as the ranching and hunting industries dependent on those lands. From 2011 to 2012 alone, nearly 400,000 non-cropland acres were “broken out” for crop production. These acres are being lost across the entire country. In fact, over this period, more than 65 percent of these losses occurred outside of the Prairie Pothole Region states. A nationwide sodsaver provision will reduce taxpayer-funded incentives to destroy these critical grassland resources. Most of the land that is being converted from native ecosystems to cropland is marginal, highly erodible, or prone to flooding. Bringing this marginally productive land into crop production provides little benefit to taxpayers, increases long-term costs due to erosion and nutrient loss, and ultimately leads to reduced water quality, less capacity to reduce flooding and the loss of valuable wildlife habitat. Sodsaver does not prohibit farmers from breaking out new land; it ensures that if they do, they do so at their own risk by partially reducing the cost to taxpayers. It is critical that sodsaver apply to the entire country. A regional approach, such as included in the House bill, is not adequate to protect our nation’s remaining native grasslands.

We thank you for your efforts to complete the 2013 Farm Bill, and we strongly urge you to support soil, water, and wildlife habitat conservation in the final bill by including a national sodsaver provision, re-linking basic conservation measures to eligibility for crop insurance premium subsidies, and opposing efforts to weaken existing wetland protections. Doing so will save money and ensure long term farm productivity by protecting our nation’s vital natural resources.
Signed,

National Groups:

American Bird Conservancy
American Farmland Trust
Amphibian Survival Alliance
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Bridging The Gap
Caribou Ecological
Center for Rural Affairs
Chicago Botanic Garden
Clean Water Action
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Defenders of Wildlife
Delta Waterfowl
Ducks Unlimited
Ecological Society of America
Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Working Group
Farm Bill Primer
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
National Association of Clean Water Agencies
National Audubon Society
National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
National Bobwhite Technical Committee
National Center for Appropriate Technology
National Parks Conservation Association
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Nature Abounds
North American Falconers’ Association
Pesticide Action Network
Pheasants Forever
Pollinator Partnership
Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation
Quail Forever
SAVE THE FROGS!
Soil and Water Conservation Society
The Conservation Fund
The Izaak Walton League of America
The Nature Conservancy
The Tortoise Reserve
The Wildlife Society
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Watchable Wildlife, Inc.
Water Environment Federation
Wildlife Management Institute
World Wildlife Fund
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Regional Groups:

Alliance for the Great Lakes
Appalachian Conservation Biology
Central Flyway Council
Chapped Rapids Audubon Society
Delmarva Ornithological Society
Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest
Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
Friends of the Upper Delaware River
Great Lakes Environmental Law Center
Gulf Restoration Network
Lake Champlain Committee
Midwest Environmental Advocates
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service
Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative
Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG)
Northern Great Plains Working Group
Northern Prairies Land Trust
Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
Northwest Watershed Institute
Ohio River Foundation
Ozark Regional Land Trust
Quail & Upland Game Alliance
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory
The Wetlands Initiative
The Wildlife Society-Central Mountains and Plains Section
Total Resource Management
Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

State and Local Groups:

Arizona Wildlife Federation
Northern Arizona Audubon Society
Wild At Heart
Arkansas Public Policy Panel
Arkansas Wildlife Federation
Enviroscapes Ecological Consulting
Audubon California
California Climate and Agriculture Network
Endangered Habitats League
Roots of Change
Slow Food California
Wild Farm Alliance
Audubon Society of Greater Denver
Colorado Wildlife Federation
Grand Valley Audubon Society
Izaak Walton League of America, Pike’s Peak Chapter
Southern Plains Land Trust
Audubon Connecticut
Florida Wildlife Federation
Izaak Walton League of America, Cypress Chapter
Izaak Walton League of America, Florida
South Florida Audubon Society
South Florida Wildlands
St. Johns River Alliance
Georgia Wildlife Federation
Oconee Rivers Audubon Society
Friends of Camas NWR
Henrys Fork Chapter Idaho Master Naturalists
Intermountain Aquatics Inc.
Pend Oreille Chapter of the Idaho Master Naturalists
Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc.
Committee on the Middle Fork Vermilion River
Garden Advisors
Illinois Ornithological Society
Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation
Prairie Rivers Network
The Nature Institute
Geist Fall Creek Watershed Alliance
Hoosier Environmental Council
Indiana Assoc. of Soil and Water Conservation Districts
Indiana Chapter of The Wildlife Society
Indiana Park & Recreation Association
Indiana Wildlife Federation
Save the Dunes
Sycamore Land Trust, Incorporated
Tippecanoe Audubon Society
Citizens for a Healthy Iowa
Des Moines Water Works
Driftless Chapter of Trout Unlimited (Decorah)
Iowa Bowhunters Association
Iowa Chapter of the American Fisheries Society
Iowa Environmental Council
Iowa Farmers Union
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
Iowa Wildlife Federation
Izaak Walton League of America, Maquoketa Valley Chapter
North Bear Chapter of Trout Unlimited (Des Moines)
Quad City Audubon Society
Spring Creeks Chapter of Trout Unlimited (Iowa City)
Trout Unlimited, Iowa Council
Wagner Conservation Coalition
Audubon of Kansas
Kansas Rural Center
Kansas Wildlife Federation
Frankfort Audubon Society
Kentucky Conservation Committee
Kentucky Waterways Alliance
The Wildlife Society, Kentucky Chapter
America’s WETLAND Foundation
Atchafalaya Basinkeeper
Friends of Maine’s Seabird Islands
Mt. Agamenticus to the Sea Conservation Initiative
Western Foothills Land Trust
Fox Haven Farm and Learning Center
Gunpowder RIVERKEEPER
Izaak Walton League of America- Maryland Mid-shore Chapter
Izaak Walton League of America, Free State Chapter
Maryland Ornithological Society
Broad Brook Coalition
Massachusetts Audubon Society
Dwight Lydell Chapter, IWLA
Garden Project
Huron River Watershed Council
Lafayette Greens
Michigan Farmers Union
Michigan United Conservation Clubs
Michigan Wildlife Conservancy & Michigan Wildlife Habitat Foundation
Michigan Young Farmer Coalition
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
Brainerd Lakes Area Audubon Society
Cannon River Watershed Partnership
Central Minnesota Audubon Society
Friends of the Mississippi River
Izaak Walton League of America, Cass County Chapter
Izaak Walton League of America, Jaques Chapter
Land Stewardship Project
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union
Pioneer Heritage Conservation Trust
W. J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America
Mississippi River Trust
Mississippi Wildlife Federation
Wildlife Mississippi
Conservation Federation of Missouri
EcoWorks Unlimited
Missouri Coalition for the Environment
Missouri Coalition for the Environment
Missouri Farmers Union
Missouri Parks Association
Missouri Prairie Foundation
Missouri Stream Team
Missouri Stream Team 3762
Ozark (Missouri) Council Trout Unlimited
Social Services/Rural Life, CCCNM
Montana Audubon
Montana Wildlife Federation
Audubon Society of Omaha
Izaak Walton League of America- Grand Island Chapter
Nebraska Chapter of the Wildlife Society
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society INC-NSAS
Nebraska Wildlife Federation
Western Nebraska Resources Council
Bear-Paw Regional Greenways
New Jersey Wildlife Society
Church Women United of New York State
Buffalo Audubon Society
Eastern Long Island Audubon Society
Save The River, the Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper
Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester Justice & Peace & Global Environment Committees
The Wetland Trust
Land Trust for the Little Tennessee
North Carolina Trout Unlimited Council
North Carolina Wildlife Federation
Resource Institute, Inc.
Browns Ranch
Izaak Walton League of America, Buckeye All-State Chapter
Izaak Walton League of America, Headwaters Chapter
Izaak Walton League of America, Wayne County Chapter
Izaak Walton League of America, Western Reserve Chapter
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Ohio Environmental Council
Ohio Farmers Union
Ohio Spider Society
Ohio Wetlands Association
Shaker Lakes Garden Club
Silvertip Productions, Ltd
Izaak Walton League – Oregon Division
Izaak Walton League – Silverton Chapter
Izaak Walton League of America, Mary’s Peak Chapter
Kalmiopsis Audubon Society
Lane County Audubon Society
Oregon Tilth
Salem Audubon Society
Ecological Associates
Lake Erie Region Conservancy
Lehigh Valley Audubon Society
PennFuture
Pennsylvania Chapter of The Wildlife Society
Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs
East Greenwich Municipal Land Trust
Coastal Conservation League
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History
South Carolina Wildlife Federation
Black Hills Sportsmen Club
Delta Waterfowl, the Sioux Falls, SD Chapter
High Plains Wildlife Association
Huron(SD) Puddle Jumpers Chapter of Delta Waterfowl
Izaak Walton League of America, Rapid City Chapter
Living River Group- Sierra Club
Northern South Dakota Chapter of Pheasants Forever
South Dakota Agriculture Conservation Coalition
South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club
South Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society
South Dakota Farmers Union
South Dakota Grassland Coalition
South Dakota Wildlife Federation
Tennessee Clean Water Network
Tennessee Ornithological Society
Audubon Dallas
Houston Audubon Society
Texas Conservation Alliance
Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park
Fredericksburg-Rappahannock Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America
Shenandoah Valley Network
U.S. Trail Riders
Virginia Association for Biological Farming
Virginia Conservation Network
Virginia Food Works
North Cascades Audubon Society
Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network
Izaak Walton League of America, Mountaineer Chapter
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, Inc.
Wisconsin Society for Ornithology
Wisconsin Soil and Water Conservation Society
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
Wyoming Chapter of the Wildlife Society
Wyoming Outdoor Council

Letter to Congress In Support of Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

October 10, 2013

Dear U.S. House and Senate Committee Leaders:

The agricultural sector of our economy continues to be vibrant and strong. In recent years, there has been an uptick in individuals and families interested in building careers in farming or ranching. Despite significant hurdles such as limited access to affordable land, high start-up costs, and lack of training, there are hard-working and talented people who want to start their own farm or ranch businesses.

With the appropriate policies in a 2013 Farm Bill, you can support successful new farmer start-ups and also mitigate some of the major obstacles new producers confront. By supporting new farmer opportunities with public policy we can strengthen the economic base and vitality of many of our rural and urban communities. As you begin conference negotiations on a new farm bill, we urge you to build upon the best provisions in existing bills to adopt the strongest possible measures for new and aspiring farmers. These include:

Supporting New Farmer Training Through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP)

1. Sustain needed funding at no less than $20 million per year. Funding for this program has been absent since 2012 and without future investments we risk losing the focus and base of organizations and institutions assisting tens of thousands of beginning farmers across the country.

2. Refrain from creating a “state grants” subsection within the BFRDP focused solely on farm safety. While farm safety is an important training effort, it should be integrated into the existing purposes for which grants can be offered to groups, rather than prioritized in a block-grant that would divert funding away from the thirteen other critical program purposes.

3. Ensure a set-aside of 25 percent of yearly funds is available for socially disadvantaged producers, limited resource producers and military veterans. This set-aside has been a critical component of the program since its inception and is important in ensuring diverse and broad populations have access to this program.

Expanding Access to Farmland, Credit and Conservation Assistance

1. Provide $50 million for the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program which allows new producers and retiring landowner to collaborate to make more farm and ranch land available.

2. Prioritize conservation easements at agricultural use value for beginning farmers through the Agricultural Land Easement Program in order to increase the availability of affordable land, especially in areas facing growing development pressure.

3. Authorize a microloan program, including intermediary lending, in order to expand credit options and simplify the Farm Service Agency loan application process for new farmers.

4. Increase the advance payment option within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which would make it easier and financially viable for a new farmer to adopt conservation practices on their operations.

Additionally, we encourage provisions that ensure outreach to our nation’s military veterans interested in starting farming as well as robust funding for outreach and assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

This farm bill process has already dragged on for far too long. Every day Congress fails to proceed forward with a bill is a day we miss the opportunity to make better investments in the next generation of American farmers and ranchers – this delay has both short-term on long-term consequences for our communities. We urge you to move deliberately and swiftly in finalizing a farm bill that incorporates these beginning farmer measures.

Sincerely,

Agribusiness Incubator Program
Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association
Alden Economic Development Committee
Alternative Energy Resources Organization
Angelic Organics Learning Center
Beau Chemin Preservation Farm
Beginning Farmers LLC
Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association
California Certified Organic Farmers
California FarmLink
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Catholic Charities of Louisville, Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program
Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas Center for Rural Affairs
Chicago Botanic Garden
Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Community CROPS
Community Food & Agriculture Coalition
Community Food and Justice Coalition
Cultivate Kansas City
Cultivating Community
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
Dakota Rural Action
Delta Land & Community
Earth Learning
Ecological Farming Association
Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm
Family Farm Defenders
Farley Center Farm Incubator Farm
Fresh Rhode Island
Farmer Veteran Coalition
Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc
FARRMS
Fay-Penn Economic Development Council
Finger Lakes – Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training
Food & Water Watch
Food Democracy Now!
Food Field
Food Works
Georgia Organics
GoFarm Hawaii
Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming
Hawthorne Valley Farm
Hmong National Development, Inc.
Hope Farms/Bethany Christian Services
Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Independent Living Services of Northern California
Institute for Washington’s Future
Intertribal Agriculture Council
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Iowa Farmers Union
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Just Food KAKOO OIWI
Kansas Rural Center
Kauai Community College Kerr Center Inc.
Land For Good
Land Stewardship Project
Leeward Community College
Liberty Prairie Foundation
Local Food Hub
Lowcountry
Local First Lutheran Social Services/New Lands Farm
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Maine Rural Partners
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
Michigan Farmers Union
Michigan Food and Farming Systems
Michigan Land Use Institute
Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance
Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service
Minnesota Citizens Organized Acting Together
Minnesota Farmers Union
Minnesota Food Association
National Catholic Rural Life Conference
National Farmers Organization
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
National Women In Agriculture Association
National Young Farmers Coalition
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society INC-NSAS
New England Farmers Union
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
New Farmers Network
New York Bee Wellness
North Country Sustainability Center
Northeast Organic Farming Association, Interstate Council
Northeast Organic Farming Association, New Hampshire
Northeast Organic Farming Association, New York
Northeast Organic Farming Association, Rhode Island
Northeast Organic Farming Association, Vermont
Northeast Pasture Consortium
Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG)
Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
Northwest Farm Bill Action Group
Northwest Michigan Council of Governments
Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Oklahoma Farm and Food Alliance
Okmulgee County Farmers and Ranchers
Onslow County Farmers Market, Inc
Oregon Tilth
Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success
PMJ Capital Corporation
Practical Farmers of Iowa
Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery
Pushing the Envelope Farm
Rogue Farm Corps
Root ‘N Roost Farm
Rural Advancement Foundation International School Food FOCUS National
Seattle Tilth
Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee
Slow Food California
Slow Food Nebraska
Slow Food USA
Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership Inc.
Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Stoneyfield Farm
Sustainable Farming Association
SustainFloyd
Texas Mexico Border Coalition CBO
The Brice Institute
The Land Connection
Tilth Producers of Washington
Truly Living Well
United Farmers USA
Vermont Land Trust
Virginia Association for Biological Farming
Viva Farms
Walk Farm, Incorporated
Washington Young Farmers Coalition
Wisconsin Farmers Union Women, Food and Agriculture Network
World Farmers Inc
Wren’s Nest Farm

BLM Fracking Rule Letter to Sen. Sherrod Brown

August 19, 2013

The Honorable Sherrod Brown
United States Senate
713 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3503

Dear Senator Brown,

The undersigned organizations are concerned with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) draft rule related to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on federal and tribal lands[1], and we urge you to consider our concerns and share them with the BLM and Obama Administration.  We ask you to advocate for:

  • The prohibition of fracking in critical/sensitive areas, including National Forests, land contiguous to National Parks, and source water areas, among others
  • Banning the use of open waste pits
  • The full disclosure of chemical inputs and thorough pre-drilling water testing
  • And banning the use of diesel and other toxic chemicals

The rule provides much needed guidelines for drilling activities on federal and tribal land that the BLM has jurisdiction over, and the current draft rule is actually in its second iteration, as the first version elicited approximately 175,000 comments to the BLM.  Despite that most of these comments were likely critical of the rule’s deficiencies, the BLM, instead of correcting these deficiencies based on received comments, yielded to industry pressure and weakened the rule in its second version

The BLM holds more than 700 million acres of subsurface mineral rights across the United States, and while much of the land attached to these rights is in the western US, there are parcels of land that would be affected in the east and, specifically, Ohio.  In Ohio, the most notable impacts will occur in the Wayne National Forest, Ohio’s only National Forest.  But the BLM also holds mineral rights within non-federal lands, and it appears to intend to lease these lands for fracking as well; it is currently pursuing leasing in Blue Rock State Forest.

The rule is supposed to be a comprehensive attempt at providing proper regulation to ensure a greater level of protection from fracking that occurs on federal and tribal lands, and update the existing regulations, which are recognized as inadequate.  However, the current version of the rule falls short of achieving even minimal protection for a variety of reasons. It is also important to recognize that although significantly updating existing regulations will provide more protections against the harms of drilling, these regulations cannot eliminate the environmental and public health risks that fracking poses.

Perhaps the most concerning deficiency with the rule is that it fails to address or recognize that certain areas, such as Wayne National Forest, might be too sensitive or critical for fracking activities.  Inherent in the practice of fracking is land industrialization, inevitable air pollution, eventual water pollution, and an enormous increase in traffic and water use.  For lands that have been designated or set aside because of their ecological value, or because they contain a drinking water source, there must be some mechanism to make them “off limits” to fracking activity.  In fact, the importance of a provision to protect certain unique and sensitive areas was outlined as a recommendation by President Obama’s shale gas advisory subcommittee in its August, 2011 90-Day Report.[2]

The rule is devoid of many basic best-management practices and requirements.  Perhaps the most glaring of these is the failure to prohibit the use of fracking waste pits.  These pits are highly problematic for a number of reasons, including that animals can easily access them, the risk of failure/contamination relative to other containment methods (e.g. closed-loop systems), and the lack of requirements related to liner integrity.  The BLM even recognized these and other risks related to open pits in a 2012 Instructional Memorandum advising BLM employees to attempt to have drillers utilize closed-loop systems.[3]

The draft rule also does an inadequate job in regards to chemical disclosure.  The chemical disclosure requirement in the rule relies on FracFocus, which has been shown to be a flawed method of disclosure.[4]  In the current version of the rule, drilling companies do not need to provide the chemical constituents of their drilling fluid until after a well is fracked, they have the ability to shield themselves from disclosure based on trade secret provisions, and they do not even need to provide the exact inputs for each well, but rather merely provide the inputs for a representative well.  This is unacceptable and poses considerable risk to the environment and human health.  Instead, every chemical that is injected into each individual well should be disclosed before fracking occurs, trade secrets provisions should be completely eliminated, and thorough baseline water testing should be conducted prior to drilling.  The use of diesel fluid, as well as other toxic chemicals that have been proven to be dangerous, should also be prohibited.

The BLM rule also fails to address well construction guidelines and setbacks for specific areas such as houses, schools, and campgrounds.  Studies indicate that all well casings will fail at some point, and a significant number fail in the beginning of their lives.[5]  Thus it is essential that stringent well construction rules are adopted within this rule, recognizing that even thoughtfully designed well construction rules cannot prevent the failure of well casings over time.  Responsible siting of wells is also important.  Sufficient set backs should be adopted to protect homes, schools, campgrounds and recreational areas, water sources, and other sensitive locations.

Finally, air pollution regulations should be incorporated into the rule, as fracking sites are responsible for a substantial volume of concerning air contaminants, including methane, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds.  These emissions pose a grave risk to human health as well as the health of our climate.  The current BLM rule does not address these concerns, and should be altered to prevent the practice of flaring and require “green completions.”

Thank you for considering our recommendations to limit damage from fracking on public lands.  Although our recommendations will not mitigate all the risks associated with fracking, they provide much more meaningful protections than the current version of the BLM’s fracking rule.  Again, we urge you to contact the BLM directly, as well as the Obama Administration, and share our, and your, concerns about these rules.

Sincerely,

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Sierra Club Ohio Chapter

*A full list of organizations that signed on is available through the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter.


[1] Bureau of Land Management, US Department of the Interior, “Oil and Gas: Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Tribal Lands,” 43 CFR 3160; available from http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Communications_Directorate/public_affairs/hydraulicfracturing.Par.91723.File.tmp/HydFrac_SupProposal.pdf.

[2] U.S. Department of Energy, Shale Gas Production Subcommittee, Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, “The SEAB Gas Production Subcommittee Ninety-Day Report,” August 11, 2011.

[3] U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, “Instruction Memorandum No. 2013-033,” December 13, 2012, available from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/regulations/Instruction_Memos_and_Bulletins/national_instruction/2013/IM_2013-033.html.

[4] Kate Konschink, Margaret Holden, and Alexa Shasteen, “Legal Fractures in Chemical Disclosure Laws,” Environmental Law Program Policy Initiative, Harvard Law School, April 23, 2013, available from, http://www.eenews.net/assets/2013/04/23/document_ew_01.pdf.

[5] Anthony Ingraffea, “Fluid Migration Mechanisms Due to Faulty Well Design and/or Construction: An Overview and Recent Experiences in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Play,” Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, October, 2012, available from http://www.damascuscitizensforsustainability.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/PSECementFailureCausesRateAnalysisIngraffea.pdf.