Category Archives: OEFFA in the News

Opting out: Farm bill exempts more organic farmers from checkoffs

1/14/2015
By Brian Lisik

SALEM, Ohio — Circleville, Ohio-based dairy farmer Perry Clutts has been farming 100 percent certified organic since 2005.

Since transitioning from a conventional dairy operation, Clutts has not had to pay into the national dairy checkoff order, thanks to a 2002 farm bill provision exempting 100 percent organic operations from conventional checkoffs.

A proposed rule change announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dec. 15 would expand that exemption to include 95 percent organic farmers, handlers, marketers and importers — otherwise known as “primary organic” operations.

The USDA recently fast-tracked its efforts to expand the exemption, part of the 2014 farm bill. A 30-day public comment period on the proposed rule change ended Jan. 15.

There are 22 national research and promotion checkoff programs. Under these programs, producers of a particular agricultural product pay assessments to fund marketing campaigns and research initiatives that benefit their commodity.

The USDA estimates the organic exemption has freed up $13.6 million for the organic sector, which produces an estimated $35 billion in annual sales, according to the USDA.

Not far enough

Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of Organic Trade Organization, applauded the USDA’s efforts to implement the rule change so quickly.

“The 100 percent exemption solved some of the problems, but was drafted in such a way that it was restrictive,” Batcha said. “Communications from some of the commodity orders were bordering on disparaging to organic. They were not promoting organic a lot.”

The USDA’s proposed rule change, Batcha explained, would apply to split operations, those that farm both organically and conventionally. It would also address instances when non-organic agents are used in processing, such as sanitizing agents on a production line or milk processing line.

Carol Goland, executive director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said the USDA’s proposed rule change corrects the 2002 rule’s inequity in defining different types of organic operations.

“In a sense, what this farm bill does is better define the multiple foods and crops of organic as a single commodity,” Goland said, adding that OEFFA fully supports the proposed rule change.

Public comment

A number of conventional commodity organizations, including the United Soybean Board and the Almond Board of California, have requested the USDA extend its 30-day public comment period due to the complexity of the issue.

Organic checkoff option

The 2014 farm bill grants the USDA authority to not only expand the organic exemption in the 2002 farm bill, but to also explore options for an organic-specific checkoff order.

Maggie McNeil, director of media relations for the Organic Trade Association, said the organization has been working on the framework for such a checkoff for three years.

McNeil said they hope to have the application out within the next two months. If accepted by the USDA, it then has to go through a comment period, and a referendum — an actual vote of all organic stakeholders in the industry.

“A lot of people know the word organic, but don’t know really what it means,” said Clutts, who also sits on the board of the Organic Trade Organization. “It is based on a very specific criteria like no other food process anywhere. I think the collective pool could do something bigger (to promote organic agriculture).”

Gaining majority support for an organic checkoff order, however, could be challenging.
Goland said OEFFA recognizes the need for organic research and promotion and feels the organic sector should “be able to spend its money as it sees fit.”

“But I would not necessarily go so far as an organic checkoff,” she said.

Several comments on the USDA’s rule change proposal also cautioned against an organic checkoff.

“Please stop the start of a checkoff plan for organic products,” wrote Roger Pepperl, of Wenatchee, Washington-based organic fruit farm, Stemilt Growers. “Our organic world is too large and diverse to have an organization work on our behalf. We grow organic tree fruit and have nothing in common with organic cotton, organic beef, etc.”

Organic farmer Ted Weydert, of DeKalb, Illinois, added, “Contrary to popular belief, the Organic Trade Association only speaks for a very small number of actual organic farmers. This checkoff is not needed.”

Does Fracking Threaten Future of Ohio Organic Farms?

10/13/2014
Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO: Certified organic farmer Mick Luber of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz, Ohio, says he's concerned about what possible contamination from nearby fracking operations could mean for the future of his business. Photo credit: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Assn.

PHOTO: Certified organic farmer Mick Luber of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz, Ohio, says he’s concerned about what possible contamination from nearby fracking operations could mean for the future of his business. Photo credit: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Certified organic farming is a growing business in Ohio, but some farmers warn that the threat of contamination from hydraulic fracturing could dampen its future. Some of the chemicals used in fracking have been identified as naturally-occurring toxic substances, metals, and radioactive materials.

In eastern Ohio, Mick Luber is a certified organic grower and owner of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz. He says several well pads and a compressor station are located near his land. He is worried about contamination of soil, water, and air, and what it could mean for his organic certification.

“I’m in a quandary about the production on my farm being of good quality,” says Luber. “Do I lose my business? I’ve put 30 years into this soil to make this soil grow. You don’t just go someplace and oh, well it’s bad here, I’ll just go over the hill.”

If prohibited substances, including some fracking chemicals, are detected on a certified organic farm, the producer may have to wait at least three years before becoming eligible for recertification. Ohio is home to more than 700 certified organic operations and nearly 57,000 acres of certified organic land.

Luber says an air-quality monitor showed high levels of particulate matter on his farm. He says one time, he discovered water running white from springs coming out of a well pad near his land.

“The Ohio EPA had a 165-day investigation, supposedly, and said there was no problem,” says Luber. “But from my estimation, somehow they fractured the rock structure so that anything spilled on that well pad site will get into that water and flow down through the stream.”

Besides drilling sites, there are pipelines used to transport gas, and injection wells that store fracking waste throughout the state. In the event of an accident or spill, Luber says it’s impossible to know the full extent of the danger.

“What they’re doing is a bad idea,” he says. “Any cement you put in is going to crack sometime. So, all these wells are eventually going to leak. And if they have all these chemicals in these wells, they’re going come up and they’re going to affect the groundwater, and they’re going to affect people’s health.”

Supporters of hydraulic fracturing say it is an economic boon for the state, but opponents argue the risks outweigh the benefits.

Federal Produce Rules Still on Table

11/05/2014
By Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The public comment period continues for new federal rules designed to increase the safety of the nation’s produce, and to meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revised its rule proposal various times over the past couple years, and announced its most recent revision Sept. 19, with a public comment period that extends through mid-December.

What changes

The current rules reflect five basic changes farmers sought, including more flexible definitions for water quality and manure application; a new definition of which farms must meet the new rules; and more clarity over who is exempt.

Although the rules have been changed many times, farmers and the groups that represent them say they’re pleased FDA is listening.

“They (FDA) are taking a lot of feedback. They are trying to make sure that the rule meets the needs … but that it is also a workable rule,” said Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Boswell said the most recent revision addresses Farm Bureau’s concerns, but Farm Bureau continues to be involved with the process, and the final rule.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association said the FDA is “to be commended for listening to farmers and the public and for realizing that a second draft was necessary.”

Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA policy program coordinator, said the original regulations, issued in 2013, contained several requirements that would have jeopardized organic farmers, discouraged growth of local food systems, and negatively impacted the conservation of natural resources.

In response, OEFFA and other state and national groups mobilized more than 18,000 farmers, consumers, and food businesses to submit comments to FDA.

Farm definition

One of the biggest concerns among organic and non-organic growers, was the FDA definition of different sized farms and farm businesses. Previously, the rule required producers who sold more than $25,000 worth of “food” to comply, but it also counted non-produce crops such as corn and soybeans.

The current rule counts only the sale of “produce foods,” which gives farmers more flexibility as to which level of compliance they must meet.

“Basing farm size on sales of covered produce, rather than total sales, is incredibly important for diversified farming operations,” Lipstreu said.

Also, the definition of farm is revised, so that a farm no longer would need to register as a food facility, “merely because it packs or holds raw agricultural commodities grown on another farm under a different ownership.”

Manure application

Another major revision is the time period when farmers can apply manure, prior to harvesting a crop.

The FDA is removing the nine-month proposed minimum interval between application and harvest, while it reviews a more appropriate time interval.

Also, at the relief of organic farmers, “FDA does not intend to take exception to farmers complying with the USDA’s National Organic Program standards,” which call for a 120-day interval between the application of raw manure for crops in contact with the soil, and 90 days for crops not in contact with the soil.

Boswell said “time will tell” what the final rule will look like and how it will work, but at the same time, “FDA made a great step forward” by listening to producers.

Program costs

Once the rule is complete, the FDA will need to determine how it will implement the rule and how implementation will be funded.

The legislation would increase the burden on FDA’s inspection functions, the number of employees, and  the agency’s annual operating budget.

“Without additional funding, FDA will be challenged in implementing the legislation fully without compromising other key functions,” according to FDA.

Get the details:

About 48 million people (one in six Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Nov. 13, FDA will hold a public meeting to discuss the changes, at the Harvey W. Wiley Federal Building, in College Park, Maryland. The meeting will also be available online via live webcast.

Public meeting attendees are encouraged to register online to attend the meeting in person. Contact Courtney Treece, Planning Professionals, at 704-258-4983, or email her at ctreece@planningprofessionals.com. Seating is limited.

Where does your ground beef come from? A new ruling might erase that information from meat packages

10/23/2014
By Debbi Snook

Under a proposed rule, supermarkets will not have to label meats with where the animal was grown.

This story was amended to show that origin labels for ground beef labels would not be immediately affected by the proposed ruling, just whole muscle cuts of meat.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — That package of beef at the grocery store — is it from cattle grown here, in Mexico, Canada, Argentina?

We’ve had no trouble answering that question since 2009, when country-of-origin labeling became a law. Each package of steaks, ribs and other cuts of meat must tell where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Ground meats must show at least a country of origin. The print is usually small but it’s there, and many consumers find it important.

But a ruling Monday by the World Trade Organization could remove some of that information from labels. Acting on an appeal from Canada and Mexico, the WTO has determined that such labels are unfair to other countries and their right to free trade.

WTO said the labeling requirement forced meat packers to segregate and keep detailed records on imported livestock, giving them the incentive to favor U.S. livestock. It said the change would be a victory for ranchers who do business with Mexico and for meat packers, who said the labels imposed a paperwork burden.

Also, some in the beef industry say that keeping the labels would cause Mexico and Canada to raise tariffs on U.S. food sent to those countries.

Reaction to the proposed ruling was swift from consumer groups who want the rules to remain. One group said industries use global trade rules to get around laws they don’t like.

“Today’s decision flies in the face of the overwhelming numbers of U.S. consumers who want more information about the origin of their food,” Chris Waldrop, a policy director at the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federation of America, said in a press release.

Waldrop cited a 2013 poll by his group that found 90 percent or more of Americans favoring origin labeling for fresh meat.

In Ohio, Renee Hunt, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, an organic advocacy group, said WTO is on a race to the bottom on the issue.

“It comes at the expense of consumers and American livestock farmers,” she said in an email statement. “Consumers want to have the choice of where their meat comes from, but, instead, Big Ag’s interests are protected.”

Jim Tucker, president of the Ohio Meat Packers Association and owner of Marshallville Meats, a processor and distributor of Ohio-grown meats, said he understands the nightmare of paperwork involved in keeping track of meat origins. He doesn’t carry imported meat in part because of that requirement.

At the same time, he thinks labeling is important.

“I think it’s a benefit to everyone to know where this stuff is coming from,” he said by phone from his Wayne County business.

WTO’s ruling has not yet been finalized, and there are at least two views of what might happen next.

Elizabeth Harsh, president of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, an organization of beef ranchers in the state, thinks origin labeling is on its way out.

“While COOL might have looked good on the surface, it’s been kind of a failed experiment,” she said by phone. “We kind of need Congress to fix it.”

If not, an economic battle with Canada and Mexico could ensue, she said, affecting the profitability of ranchers and possibly other food producers here.

“Unfortunately, this is the third time the WTO ruled against labeling, and it just brings us one stop closer to retaliation.”

Harsh echoed the statement made by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Bob McCan, of Victoria, Texas that origin labeling is a short-sighted effort “that will soon cost not only the beef industry, but the entire U.S. economy, with no corresponding benefit to consumers or producers.”

There is no fix to the rules, he added.

While the consumer federation says the public overwhelmingly wants to know where their meat comes from, Harsh pointed to a 2012 University of Kansas study that showed labeling did not change consumer purchasing habits, and that most shoppers interviewed in person for the study said they don’t look for origin labels on fresh beef and pork products.

Chase Adams, a spokesman for the cattlemen in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that surveys have shown consumer interest in the labeling, “but who’s going to say they want less information?”

The consumer federation said the U.S. can still appeal the ruling against labels before it becomes final. If the U.S. loses the appeal, the WTO could determine the extent of any trade sanctions the U.S. would have to bear.

“Basic information about the origin of our food should not be considered a barrier to trade,” said the federation’s Waldrop. “CFA strongly urges the Obama administration to appeal the WTO decision and continue to fight for U.S. consumers’ right to know the origin of their food.”

Five things to know about the new weedkiller, Enlist Duo, approved for Ohio crops

10/20/2014
By Debbi Snook

Food Safety Rules: Does One Size Fit All Ohio Farmers?

12/02/2014
By Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO: The FDA is taking comments on its redraft of key provisions in the Food Safety Modernization Act, but some small Ohio farmers say the revisions could hurt smaller producers. Photo credit: Kakisky/Morguefile.

PHOTO: The FDA is taking comments on its redraft of key provisions in the Food Safety Modernization Act, but some small Ohio farmers say the revisions could hurt smaller producers. Photo credit: Kakisky/Morguefile.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With changes made to key provisions of the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), concerns are mounting the newly redrafted food safety rules could place an unfair burden on small, organic, and family farms in Ohio.

Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, says while there are improvements in the rules they are not proportional, and could subject smaller producers to regulations designed for industrial operations.

“Everyone does have a role to play in ensuring food is safe,” she says. “But if the rules don’t work for family farmers they’re not going to make our food safe. It’s really important the rules aren’t ‘one size fits all.'”

The new rules are expected to apply to about 80 percent of the nation’s food supply. The cost for compliance is estimated at more than $12,000 for small farms, and $30,000 thousand for large farms.

The proposed rules define activities occurring on a farm as being in one physical location. Lipstreu says smaller farmers who have multiple parcels, or are aggregating for community-supported agriculture programs, could be labeled as larger facilities and forced to comply with costly regulations.

“The way the rules are written, if they’ve aggregated produce for distribution in a different location than where it was grown they may be subject to regulations designed for large-scale food processing businesses,” she says.

The proposed changes are based on thousands of comments sent to the FDA. While Lipstreu says it’s encouraging to be heard, she says the final regulations must protect conservation and sustainability.

“Conservation and food safety are not mutually exclusive,” says Lipstreu. “We want to make sure the rules explicitly encourage key conservation practices, like maintaining wildlife habitat or stream buffers along waterways.”

According to the FDA, changes make the original proposals more flexible, practical and targeted.

Risks of oil and gas pipelines weighed in local forum

11/25/2014
By Samantha Nelson
About-50-people-attended-dep

Photo Credits: Dennis E. Powell.
Photo Caption: A crowd gathers to discuss oil and gas pipelines in Ohio.

 An informational forum last Thursday evening in Athens aired concerns and information about proposals to install 70,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines throughout Ohio. Ohio University’s Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics (IAPE) joined with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) to present the event in OU’s Porter Hall*.

Topics included the adverse effects these pipelines may have on the environment, potential health risks and dangers for residents who live close to these lines; and legal advice on how to deal with oil and gas companies.

For many area residents, especially those involved in a strong local sustainable food economy, the possible increase of oil and gas pipelines in the area is a major concern. Many of these people attended the forum.

Alyssa Bernstein, director of the IAPE, moderated the three speakers who presented a collection of data, information and advice during the forum. Bernstein gave attendees of the forum an overview of the issues regarding oil and gas pipelines before the speakers’ presentations.

While advocates of building more transmission lines for oil and gas maintain the development will provide many new jobs, hasten national energy independence, and improve national security, Bernstein said pipeline critics raise concerns about the negative effects on climate change, the transitory boom and bust nature of fossil-fuel extraction, and the potential for ruining local water supplies and risking explosions near drilling operations.

Ted Auch, program coordinator of the FracTracker Alliance, began the presentations. The FracTracker Alliance is an organization that gathers data on drilling activity in each state and constructs maps in order to provide a visual representation on each state’s activity.

During his presentation, Auch displayed several of these maps along with information on potential environmental effects that oil and gas pipelines could have in Ohio, specifically Athens.

“If we’re going to talk about pipelines in Ohio, we’re going to talk about pipelines in Athens,” Auch said.

In his presentation, Auch said that the U.S. Energy Information Administration had not updated its website with specific numbers of mileage and lengths of these pipelines since 2011. Auch said that he, along with researchers at Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio, had collected and determined more accurate and recent numbers to present at the forum.

“The numbers are out of date the minute we say them,” Auch said, emphasizing the importance of updated information on oil and gas pipelines.

According to Auch, 195,989 miles of oil and gas pipelines are operating nationally, with a 49 percent increase proposed.

Auch discussed environmental damages, including damage to landscapes and ecosystems that oil and gas pipelines could cause.

The next speaker was Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council. Johnson discussed the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s (OEPA) proposal to eliminate state review of oil and gas pipelines and surface coalmines that pose a hazard to the state’s waterways. This means that these pipelines and surface mines would be approved under nationwide permits without a state water quality review. This ruling would also eliminate the requirement of public notice and comment on these projects.

Johnson concluded that the OEPA is “basically abandoning the field” with this proposal, which would result in serious irreversible water quality impacts statewide.

The final speaker was Michael Hollingsworth, an attorney for Shostak & Hollingsworth in Athens. Hollingsworth began by explaining the siting and safety jurisdictions of different project types, such as production lines and natural gas distribution, and what government agencies** would handle them.

Hollingsworth exlained the problems with pipelines that are incorrectly marked and lack maps and easily understandable location references.

“My experience with pipelines is that you often don’t know whose pipeline it is, and if you do, it could be marked wrong,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth also discussed the Ohio Constitution’s Chapter 163, which states that a company organized to transport natural gas materials through tubing, pipes or conduits may enter private land to examine it for possible pipeline use, and then appropriate as much land as necessary. He said that many people believe that it’s unconstitutional for the companies to take this land, but it’s only unconstitutional when the state doesn’t provide options for appealing these appropriations, which would amount to denial of due-process rights.

Hollingsworth finished his presentation with advice for landowners and their rights with respect to approved pipelines. According to Hollingsworth, it depends on the landowner’s willingness to negotiate with the company. A landowner must consider a pipeline’s location and width, its burial, its emergency shut-off procedures, reasonable and advance notice of inspection times from the company, compensation for the landowner, and the removal of the pipeline when it’s abandoned.

Concerned local residents who could not make it to Thursday’s forum will have another opportunity to learn more about Ohio’s proposed oil and gas pipelines. Ohio University’s IAPE plans to hold a follow-up session to Thursday’s forum at a later date.***

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected at three locations. *The meeting was not held at the Athens Community Center, as originally reported. ** The word “companies” should have been “government agencies.” ***And no approximate date has been set for a follow-up meeting.

Genetically Modified Crops Continue to be Controversial

All Sides with Ann Fisher
1/14/15

Ohio farmers have now joined a nationwide lawsuit against a Swiss agriculture company for selling genetically modified corn before it was approved by China, a major corn importer. Ann explores the larger issue of genetically engineered crops, the concerns over health and environmental risks, and the role they play in feeding the world with guests:

  • Ellen Deason, professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
  • Doug Gurian-Sherman, Director of Sustainable Agriculture at the Center for Food Safety, and Featured Keynote Speaker at OEFFA’s 36th Annual Conference on Sunday, February 15
  • Douglas Southgate, professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics at The Ohio State University

Listen to the hour long conversation here.

Our Ohio Special: GMOs Parts 1-2

Our Ohio
12/13/14-12/20/14

In 1994, a tomato was the first FDA approved, genetically modified food. Today GMOs are big business. About 90 percent of all cotton, corn, and soybean crops are genetically modified. So, what are the purported benefits and concerns of GMOs? Host Dave Russell is joined by OEFFA’s Amalie Lipstreu, two farmers, and a representative from Monsanto for this engaging discussion.

Watch Part 1:

Watch Part 2:

Ohioans Can Rub Elbows with Sustainable Farming Experts

Ohio Public News Service
12/17/14
COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s a chance to rub elbows with sustainable farmers, growers and experts in Ohio. Registration is open for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 36th annual conference, to be held in February.

This year’s theme is “Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil,” said Lauren Ketcham, communications manager for OEFFA. How people care for the soil, she said, is connected to the quality of their food and water, how future generations are fed and who will be raising that food.

“Soil health is at the very core of sustainable agriculture,” Ketcham said, “but by building the connections between eaters and farmers, we’re also renewing the heart of our community-based food systems.”

More than 1,200 people from Ohio and beyond are expected to attend the event, including experienced growers, backyard gardeners and local food enthusiasts. The conference will be held Friday through Sunday, Feb. 13-15, in Granville.

The event features close to 100 workshops on a range of topics – from sustainable farming and gardening, to cooking and business management. Ketcham said the presenters include farmers sharing their practical wisdom, as well as researchers, business and community leaders.

“We really bring the best and brightest from Ohio and around the country,” she said, “and try to offer a nice balance between academic and research perspectives and tried-and-true field techniques direct from the mouths of farmers.”

With word of mouth, Ketcham said, the conference has grown each year. Many people leave feeling inspired and energized to start a new season or project, she said, “whether that’s because they’ve attended a workshop that’s really enlightened them on something, or they’ve made a personal connection with a presenter or fellow attendee that’s built a bridge for them and their business.”

Ketcham said they also will have children’s activities, a teen conference and musical entertainment, so families are encouraged to attend.

More information is online at oeffa.org.