Archive for the ‘OEFFA in the News’ Category
Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
Public News Service – OH
May 15, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio – As Congress works this week on a new Farm Bill, Ohio farmers say policy changes are needed to support practices that improve public health, spur the rural economy and enhance natural resources.
Programs they say are critical to the success of sustainable farming could be cut, including the National Organic Certification Cost-Share program, which is used by about 40 percent of organic farmers in Ohio.
Abbe Turner of Lucky Penny Creamery in Kent said these programs help businesses such as hers grow.
“When funding is allocated to small food- and farm-based entrepreneurs that are farming in a way that is sustainable, it’s good for everyone,” she said. “You get healthy, nutritious products to market, you get healthy food systems, and economic development in areas where there might not have otherwise been.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reintroduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act as part of this year’s Farm Bill. It includes money and reforms for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share and Farmers Market Promotion programs, both of which have not been funded since October.
The House Agriculture Committee is to debate funding for these programs today. On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill, fully funding both programs.
Farm Bill programs can boost business for the small guys, said Turner, who used the Value-Added Producer Grant to develop a dessert sauce made with goat’s milk and take it to a food show in Washington, D.C.. She said her product will be launched this fall.
“Just the exposure we got at the national show – we have a teeny little manufacturing plant in Kent, Ohio, and getting national exposure regarding what wonderful products can come out Ohio,” she said. “Without the VAPG we never would have been able to do the science or the marketing. It’s an exciting thing.”
Congress hasn’t passed a Farm Bill since 2008. Many Ohio farmers that rely on Farm Bill programs that have been without funding since fall are waiting eagerly to find out which programs and reforms will be included in the final bill.
Monday, May 6th, 2013
Columbus Business First
By Dan Eaton
Ohio’s organic farms and farmers’ markets may be in line for some renewed financial support. Sen. Sherrod Brown re-introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act as part of the farm bill.
The act would pump funds back into two programs that have been dormant since October, while creating some new resources for those in the local foods movement. The bill was first introduced in 2011.
“Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers is common sense,” Brown said in a press release. “By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio’s agricultural producers while improving health, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy.”
Ohio had 260 farmers’ markets in 2011, according to information from the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association, a nonprofit promoting sustainable and healthful food and farming.
The bill would put $20 million into the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, which hasn’t been funded since October. It provides grants to community-supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets to increase exposure through new marketing ideas and business plans. Six Ohio markets received funding in 2012 for a variety of uses including adding electronic benefit transfer system capabilities for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. According to the Food & Farm Association, the Toledo Farmers’ Market, for example, added 1,000 customers and increased total sales by 20 percent by adding EBT.
The bill also would restart funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, which also has not been funded since October. It reimburses organic producers and handlers for 75 percent of certification fees. In 2011, 251 Ohioans used it, about 40 percent of the state’s organic growers.
The bill also proposes investments in research, training and information collection including a national program within the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative for local and regional farm and food systems research and for conventional plant and animal breeding research. It also would create an insurance product through the Risk Management Agency to ensure organic farms can get adequate coverage.
Monday, May 6th, 2013
The Columbus Dispatch
By Mary Vanac
The Humane Society of the United States, perhaps best known for its work on behalf of household pets, is expanding its livestock-welfare work in Ohio.
The group has launched an Ohio council to connect small, natural and sustainable livestock farmers with consumers who are concerned about livestock.
Initially, the five farmers who make up the Ohio Agriculture Council of the HSUS aim to inform Ohio’s Humane Society membership about how farm animals should be raised.
Council members Warren Taylor, owner of Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy; William Miller, an organic farmer in southwestern Ohio; Mardy Townsend, a grass-fed beef farmer in Windsor; and Joe Logan, partner in Logan Brothers LLC, also want to remind industrial farmers that their animals are more than commodities, said Bruce Rickert, owner of Fox Hollow Farm in Knox County and a council member.
“We have (Humane Society) education to do, and we have farmer education to do about the way livestock are treated,” Rickert said. “We’re trying to build a bridge between those two communities.”
Livestock welfare is a highly charged issue in Ohio. In 2009, the Humane Society proposed an animal-care ballot issue that would have banned common practices that confine pigs, chickens, veal calves and other animals in tight spaces.
Instead, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and others proposed a constitutional amendment that created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which issued its first set of rules in 2011.
The board’s comprehensive farm-animal rules put Ohio in the forefront of the nation. Even the Humane Society was satisfied.
But in the eyes of Taylor, the amendment threatened the livelihoods of small, sustainable or organic farmers.
“It galvanized a lot of us in the livestock industry,” said Taylor, who is concerned that the livestock-care board could give large-scale producers the upper hand in marketing their products.
“I don’t see our members looking to do anything to limit (big livestock producers) with regard to their practices, but rather making sure there is a level playing field,” he said.
Karen Minton, Ohio director of the Humane Society, said her organization wants the council “to digest laws, regulations and policies for how they affect farmers who are good stewards of the land and the environment so they can compete in the marketplace with traditional agricultural practices.”The Humane Society also is behind a few other agriculture councils in states such as Nebraska and Colorado.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which is not related to the new council, also serves small, sustainable food and farming interests.
“It’s important that these farmers be a part of the conversation,” said Renee Hunt, the group’s educational program director. “Our food system would look a lot different if people voted with their food dollars to match their ideals.”
The Ohio Farm Bureau, however, sees the council as another effort by the Humane Society to influence Ohio livestock care.
“Farm Bureau’s largest concern is that HSUS has chosen to ignore Ohio’s leadership in protecting the well-being of farm animals” through the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, the bureau said.
“Through (the board), all Ohioans have the ability to influence the rules that define acceptable farm-animal care,” the Farm Bureau said. “HSUS is positioning its judgment as being superior to that of Ohio citizens.”
Rickert, a longtime sheep farmer who has diversified into natural and sustainable beef, pork, chickens and eggs, sees the council mostly as an educational tool.
“We have a lot of education to do,” he said.
Monday, May 6th, 2013
Farm and Dairy
By Chris Kick
WOOSTER, Ohio — One by one, produce growers and industry representatives approached a panel of Food and Drug Administration staff Tuesday afternoon with questions about new rules coming their way.
About a third of the FDA’s public listening session, held at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, was devoted to question and answer, following opening comments by FDA staff and Ohio’s Agriculture Director David Daniels.
The new rule will meet the requirements of the broad-sweeping Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law Jan. 4, 2011. It will make many of the current Good Agricultural Practices used on produce farms into enforceable standards.
Questions included guidelines for applying manure, who is exempt from the rule, what will it cost, when will it take effect and how will it be enforced.
Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at FDA, said the rule “is for the first time setting enforceable standards for practices on farms that can affect the safety of produce.”
Many of the practices are already being followed, several producers said, but the rule will make the standards a requirement.
Taylor and others who spoke said the focus is on setting standards that work for producers, as well as consumers.
“The first principal in all of this is that we have to confirm and rely upon the primary role that you, the people that produce food, play,” he said. “This is the frontline of food safety.”
Samir Assar, director of food safety staff at FDA, said there will be a strong focus on educating growers how to comply, including the formation of a technical assistance network on produce safety.
FDA has produced multiple public summaries of the legislation, which growers said will be useful as they review what all is included. The policy broadly covers standards for all aspects of unprocessed fruits and vegetables sold off a farm. It covers such specifics as agricultural water, biological soil amendments of animal origin, health and hygiene, animals in the growing area and equipment, tools and buildings.
Several Amish growers attended the listening session, one who said producers should be educated at the simplest level possible. He reminded FDA that many of the Amish growers have only an eighth-grade education.
“I always was able to accomplish more in the form of education than in the form of regulation,” said Raymond Yoder, of Yoder’s Produce Supply in Fredericksburg.
Who it covers
The proposed rule does not treat all producers the same. Farmers who grow produce for use on their own farm would be exempt, as well as those who grow and sell less than $25,000 in food annually from their farm.
Taylor said the exemption was heavily debated, but officials ultimately decided it would not be economically feasible to enforce the standard on the very smallest of producers.
Producers who sell up to $250,000 of food products a year would be considered a “Very Small Business.” These farms would have four years after the rule’s effective date to comply; for some of the water requirements, they would have six years.
Producers whose sales range from $250,000-$500,000 would be considered a “Small Business.” These farms would have three years after the effective date to comply; for some of the water requirements, they would have five years.
Multiple farmers asked about the rule’s standard for raw manure application, which requires a nine-month minimum waiting period before harvest, if the manure is applied in a way that it comes into contact with the produce plants.
The National Organic Program sets the standard at just 120 days — a much shorter period. But FDA officials said they did not have sufficient science that the 120-day period was enough time.
However, farmers were told they could apply manure whenever they wanted and till it into the ground, or avoid contact with produce plants, essentially with a zero-day wait.
Animals for work
Several farmers asked about using horses and other animals in the growing area.
Joy Johanson, another FDA panelist, said the main thing is that the worker “minimize direct contact with covered produce while they’re working with the animal.”
Stark County produce grower Alex Dragovich specifically asked, “You are in no way going to eliminate us from the use of horses, correct?
Assar assured him, “We are not putting forth requirements that would forbid the use of animals.”
What will it cost?
The exact cost is not yet known, but would depend in part on what practices the farm already is following. If a produce safety plan already is in place, and the equipment and facility are in good repair, the burden of meeting the new rule would be lessened.
Two or three organic farmers said they thought the rules might be cost-prohibitive, and they testified that the new rules might put them out of business.
“If the FDA does not address the cost concerns of the proposed rule, many farmers may risk … going out of business,” said MacKenzie Bailey, a spokesperson for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
But Yoder, who has worked cooperatively with FDA throughout the process and invited them to his farm, said most of what they want farmers to do is common sense — something they can afford.
“If they (farmers) tried to use common sense, it won’t put them out of business,” he said.
You can comment on the rule electronically at the Federal Register website. You can fax your comments to the FDA at 301-827-6870, or by mail at Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.
Friday, April 12th, 2013
By Mary Vanac
The Columbus Dispatch
April 12, 2013
Advocates of sustainable farming and regional food systems are applauding the Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act, a federal bill they say has the potential to expand markets for farmers and get more healthy food in the hands of consumers.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine, introduced the twin bills in the Senate and House early this week, hoping their provisions will make it into a five-year farm bill later this year.
The lawmakers originally introduced their act in 2011. However, Congress failed to agree on a new farm bill last year, extending the previous bill instead.
“Sen. Brown’s bill will boost income and market opportunities for Ohio farmers, secure funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, and invest in the local agriculture economy,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, in a written statement.
The act has 33 co-sponsors — all Democrats — including Sen. Jon Tester from Montana, the Senate’s sole working farmer. More than 280 organizations have endorsed the bill, including Local Matters, Ohio Environmental Council, Slow Food Columbus and OEFFA.
“Local and regional agriculture is a major driver in the farm economy, yet producers face significant infrastructure, marketing and information barriers,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in a statement.
“The bill addresses those barriers and makes smart investments that expand economic opportunities for farmers, increase jobs, and improve healthy food access in rural and urban America,” Hoefner said.
The act offers something for each of the seven titles in the farm bill, including proposals addressing crop insurance, farm credit, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, horticulture, and livestock, the sustainable-agriculture coalition said.
It would create an insurance program for diversified and organic farmers who grow crops that are not covered by traditional crop insurance. It also would enable schools to purchase local food, and food-stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets more easily, Local Matters said.
In addition, the act invests in sustainable agriculture programs, such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program, that were stranded without funding when the 2008 farm bill was extended, the sustainable agriculture coalition said.
“For an investment of just over $100 million a year, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act can help a growing sector of the food system flourish,” Hoefner said. That figure compares with $40 million for local food systems in the 2008 farm bill, he said.
Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Farm and Dairy
February 19, 2013
By Chris Kick
GRANVILLE, Ohio — More than 1,100 people filled the Granville Middle School Feb. 16-17 to hear about the latest climate in organics and local foods production.
Climate was a literal part of the discussion, as multiple speakers spoke about the ways that cover crops and crop rotation can help reduce global climate change. They gathered for the 34th annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference — a statewide event.
Jim Hoorman, OSU assistant professor and extension educator, gave a compelling talk about all the different ways climate change could affect agriculture at all levels.
On the plus side, he sees a longer growing season. But it will likely come with increased precipitation events, more insects, heat and heat damage.
A longer growing season means farmers can plant and harvest later. But a better solution, he explained, is to plant and harvest as they’re doing now, while adding more cover crops during the off-season.
Cover crops are a proven way to keep soil and nutrients in place, loosen soil and reduce compaction, and they also are known to absorb and sequester a substantial amount of greenhouse gases — one of the causes of climate change.“We have a tremendous ability to help moderate some of these climate events,” he said.
Hoorman said rain events are going to be more intense. Instead of 1-inch rains, he said to expect 2- to 3-inch rains.He also predicted a continuous shrinking of the planting window, which means farmers will have fewer suitable days to get in and out of fields. He expects advanced tractor technology will help get things done quicker, including robotically operated tractors.
Hoorman said organic agriculture and cover crops has shown a “tremendous decrease in the amount of fertilizer and herbicides needed,” and predicted the nation will become “more and more organic as time goes on.”
In the afternoon, keynote speaker and Organic Valley CEO George Siemon discussed the success of CROPP — one of the nation’s largest organic farming cooperatives — which he helped to found in 1988.He also talked about the challenges he still sees in the food industry.
“The world needs changed very badly,” he said. “If you don’t acknowledge something, you can never fix it. We’ve got lots of problems in the food world and we need to address them.”
Siemon said he and his partners started the parent company — Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools — to provide some market security for organic producers.
“We really felt that if we were going to have organic food, we needed to have a fair price for farmers,” he said, so they could “know” what they were getting paid, and avoid the ups and downs of the market.
He said he’s concerned that genetically modified organisms — GMOs — have gone too far and pose a threat to organic interests.
Siemon also challenged what he called were “measured attacks” on the organic industry, including the claim that conventional farming feeds the world.
According to Siemon, more people are fed by peasants and gardeners than modern, conventional agriculture.
“The peasants of the world and the gardeners of the world feed us,” he said.
He also questioned whether conventional food can really be considered safe, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration approve chemicals based on risk level — not safety.
“It’s not ‘safe,’” he said. “They never will use the word ‘safe.’”
Siemon said he’s seeing more and more land go into large agribusiness use, which he also criticized.“They’re (industrial farmers) pushing people off the land in bringing in 12-row corn planters,” he said.
From a health perspective, Siemon reminded the audience of the rising rate of obesity and life-threatening diseases — and the potential for good eating to lead to good health.
In a separate talk, Jay and Annie Warmke talked about the health and life benefits they experience from sustainable living, at their Blue Rock Station — a sustainable living center that encourages participants to experience a month of living without energy and money.
Participants cook their own meals in wood ovens, learn to reuse, repurpose and recycle as much as possible.The Warmkes also store up food during good times, so they can be prepared during difficult times.“It’s just amazing what a sense of security it gives you,” Annie Warmke said.
(Read about the service and stewardship award recipients.)
Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Buckeye Farm News
February 19, 2013
By Seth Teter
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s recent annual conference highlighted dozens of innovative ways to grow food and bring products to market. Many of these efforts emphasized the value of increased coordination among both farmers and consumers.
I talked with a few of this year’s presenters and attendees.
Here’s what they had to say:
Organic Valley CEO George Siemon described how farmers have found success working together through the producer-owned cooperative.
“The dream of every family farm is to have it to go to the next generation. And so we know who we want to be, we want to serve the next generation of family farms. And that’s the beauty of a cooperative, is that it does represent or serve the community.”
Hear more from Siemon about Organic Valley’s approach.
Bob Cohen of the Cooperative Development Center at Kent State University shared his thoughts on the feasibility of the cooperative model in today’s business climate.
“Particularly small and medium scale farmers often can’t compete in the marketplace on their own and so they’re finding that by banding together they’re able to negotiate a better price and sometimes create the mechanisms and infrastructure that enable them to be competitive and more profitable.”
Hear more Cohen.
Another example of farmers cultivating unique business models came from Marissa Kruthaup of Kruthaup Family Farm. The farm has a Community Supported Agriculture program where each year customers buy a share of the farm’s products.
“People who are especially concerned about how their food is being grown, they can come to the farm and see where it’s grown and see how it’s grown and interact with us.”
Hear Kruthaup explain how the program works.
No matter the model, Richard Stewart of Carriage House Farm showed how farmers are always pursuing new opportunities. In addition to growing a wide variety of crops, Stewart is working to convert a former gravel mine into productive farmland.
Hear more about Stewart’s unique farm and his progress on this project.
Thursday, April 4th, 2013
February 21, 2013
By Paul Andrews
An interview with OEFFA Communications Coordinator, Lauren Ketcham. Click here to listen.
Thursday, April 4th, 2013
The Huffington Post
February 26, 2013
By Stefanie Penn Spear
While attending Ohio’s largest food and farming conference last weekend, I had the opportunity to sit down with Organic Valley CEO George Siemon. Siemon was the featured keynote speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association‘s (OEFFA) 34th annual conference in Granville, Ohio.
I’m inspired by Siemon’s ability to engage in food advocacy and policy while at the helm of this highly successful business. Organic Valley is an exemplary nearly billion dollar company that shows prioritizing human health and the environment is not only smart business, but vital to creating a sustainable planet for future generations.
SS: How did you get involved in farming and what did you do prior to the formation of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP) in 1988?
GS: I was your classic back-to-the-lander. I moved to the country and lived close to the land. I got pulled into being a farmer and really enjoyed the traditional wisdom of the older farmers. Then I discovered organic farming. I wasn’t raised on a farm, so I was very excited for something new. I milked cows for about 10 years, but then got increasingly frustrated by the marketing system. It wasn’t rewarding, it wasn’t reasonable and commodity prices didn’t make any sense, so the economic part of it wasn’t satisfying.
At the same time, the 1985 Farm Bill was the last hurrah of what you call a populous farm movement. There was the unloading of manure on the steps of the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the different American radical ag groups, and there was a group in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Farm Unity. After the 1985 Farm Bill had very disappointing results, they felt that they would not get the kind of help they needed from the government. They needed to find ways to help themselves, and the Wisconsin Farm Unity had the idea of starting value-added co-ops which was very pioneering at that time. It just so happened that one of the board members was in our region and he wanted to start an organic produce co-op, vegetable co-op. So, it was really a political activist group that had the idea to start a co-op that would help do what the government was unwilling to do, which was trying to provide farmers with a viable market.
It was a do-gooder concept that started taking root. We started our co-op in 1988. We had tremendous community support from the beggining.
SS: You were a big part of designing the original organic standards. What can you share on how and why they were formed?
GS: Organics is a unique industry in that they actually want more regulations. There were starting to be state laws on the definition of organic and they were conflicting and it was getting to be a mess, so in 1989 we started the process of a national bill. We passed an organic labeling law in 1990 and right away we noticed that organics was a fairly neutral political issue and crosses many stakeholder groups. It was a unique law in that it has the only congressional empowered advisory group in the whole United States government called the National Organic Standards Board. That took a while to get going. Between 1990 and 2002 there was a long period of time to get the standard up and out. It was very challenging to have a program that covered all the commodities.
We have the strictest standard in the world and we should be proud of that.
SS: Local vs. organic, what do you think?
GS: First off, organics is part of the movement of people reconnecting to their food and that’s the good news. Seeing how it affects their lives and so naturally local is part of that same reconnecting to your food. I could never comprehend the local vs. organic because it would seem that if you’re reconnecting with your food and concerned about your food and your local community that you would be concerned about farming organically in your local community and not polluting your watershed. To me it’s a way over played conversation.
There are farmers that farm organically that don’t get certified. That’s a different story. They are still organic, they just can’t use the USDA seal. So to me supporting local chemical farmers vs. an organic farmer, I’m pretty sure that if you look for a local organic farmer you’d find one. You should always support your local people because that’s your local community.
Local is a value that needs to be built on top of organics, not a value instead of organics. It should be organics plus other values because organics only go so far on its value model. It tells you how food is produced. It doesn’t tell you that it was produced locally. It doesn’t tell you if it was produced on a small farm or a big farm, or all the things that you as a consumer may choose to think is important. It’s a consumer choice issue.
SS: What are your hopes for the next five years?
GS: My hope is always about educating the consumer. I’m all for everything we do in Congress and politics but its been a little disillusioning to say the least. Educating consumers and getting them to make choices is to me still our biggest hope going forward. Unfortunately, the economy, the recession or whatever you want to call it, just drove us to this numbing conversation about jobs, jobs, jobs and it has really set us back. I am very excited about the web and how it educates people. I’m very excited about educating young mothers, which is really what drives our business. You can really see a very positive movement out there that keeps going despite all the challenges.
SS: What about the connection between human health and the environment?
GS: Part of my talk today is to at least acknowledge that we have some very serious health issues and we are not connecting it to food enough or the environment, and they are obviously connected. Health has got to take on a preventative basis. We have to start preventing health [problems] versus coming up with these health crisises and part of that is through food. We are not addressing food related health issues near enough.
SS: What are your thoughts on genetically engineered (GE) food?
GS: GE foods have never been regulated. There’s a lack of regulation and there’s a grip of control by the GE community in D.C. that’s pushing bills through. They tried to get a bill passed recently to make it faster yet to get these products through. They are basically being railroaded through. There’s a lot of investment money on the line that hasn’t come to bear yet, so there’s a lot of pressure to get these products out there.
I don’t have much confidence in the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] doing good due process. First thing they should have real regulation and they don’t. Second, we should at least label it. Number one, organic farms need to know they are buying input that is not GE. Number two consumers should know as well.
We started the labeling effort and it has been a very good educational tool. We’ve gone from ground zero to a very impressive position. We are going to have a hard time ever getting through in D.C. But the state label initiatives started up. I don’t think that California was necessarily the best state to start with, but we had a good fight in California and we did really well. The truth is now that one of these states is going to pass a law and it’s going to be disruptive. We’ve actually made big strides, very big strides. I’m very pleased. It looks like Washington state will pass and that will rock the boat because no food processor, me or otherwise, supports state by state laws, because it’s a nightmare for packaging. So we’ve actually gone from no hope to a pretty amazing position in just two years. It’s really exciting seeing us reverse the trend.
SS: So you’re close to becoming a billion dollar company. Where do you see Organic Valley in 10 years?
GS: What’s nice about working for a family farm cooperative is you’ll know where you’ll be in 50 years, which hopefully will be an honest marketing vehicle for their children’s children. It’s kind of neat to know who you want to be in 50 years. Not many businesses can actually say that, but we can. As far as in 10 years, we’ve always been very thrifty and modest but we have to now face the reality that we might have a 19 percent growth rate this year, and that if we were to grow 10 percent starting in 2014, by 2020 we’ll be a $2 billion company. So we’re having to put a different set of glasses on now and look at our reality which has been a fantastic success.
Thanks to Siemon for his hard work and dedication in the sustainable agriculture industry and to OEFFA for their long-standing mission 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.
Thursday, April 4th, 2013
The Columbus Dispatch
March 31, 2013
By Mary Vanac
Food and small-farming activists are decrying an addition to the stopgap spending deal that was signed last week by President Barack Obama to keep the federal government operating.
The measure, which had been added to the House version of the continuing resolution, pre-empts federal courts from blocking farmers from planting, harvesting and selling genetically modified crops while their approval status is reviewed.
Monsanto, one of the global companies that produces genetically modified seeds, said in an emailed statement that the point of the addition appears to be “to strike a careful balance allowing farmers to continue to plant and cultivate their crops subject to appropriate environmental safeguards, while USDA conducts any necessary further environmental reviews.”
But activists are derisively calling the rider the “Monsanto Protection Provision” because they believe it gives companies that make genetically modified seeds the ability to keep selling their products in spite of questions about the effects on human health and the environment.
The addition goes back to August 2010, when a federal judge blocked the use of Monsanto’s genetically modified sugar beets after finding the U.S. Department of Agriculture “had not adequately assessed the environmental consequences before approving them for commercial cultivation,” according to The New York Times.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association “is extremely disappointed that the continuing resolution passed including the dangerous biotech rider,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy coordinator for the group.
“This unprecedented and egregious effort guts the necessary review process put in place for public safety and leaves consumers unprotected from potential health consequences by introducing untested crops into our food system,” Bailey said in an emailed statement.
“It also leaves organic and GMO-free farmers vulnerable to contamination from understudied and under-regulated genetically engineered crops.”GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” The term applies to seeds that produce genetically different crops, such as those that are immune to a common weed-killer or certain diseases.
Biotechnology company Monsanto says the genetic modifications improve crop quality and yields. GMO opponents say the crops have not been thoroughly tested to rule out health and environmental dangers.
Genetically modified crops also pose problems for organic farmers. Pollen from modified crops can contaminate organic crops, making them unsalable.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments by Monsanto, which claims an Indiana farmer who used second-generation soybean seeds infringed on the company’s patent on first-generation seeds.
Until now, federal courts could halt the production of genetically modified crops until they were properly approved by the Department of Agriculture.
The recent legislative measure requires Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to issue temporary permits to farmers so they can continue to produce genetically modified crops “even when a court of law has found they were approved illegally,” according to Food & Water Watch, a food-policy watchdog.
Vilsack questions the enforceability of the measure.
“Secretary Vilsack has asked the Office of General Council to review this provision, as it appears to pre-empt judicial review of a deregulatory action, which may make the provision unenforceable,” a USDA spokesman said in an email on Thursday.
The measure surfaced last summer during congressional debate about a new farm bill. It drew support from the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council and others.
However, Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, slammed what he called “corporate giveaways,” including the biotechnology rider, in the recent government-funding bill.
Tester, the Senate’s only working farmer, said the rider was slipped into the bill with no debate amid urgency to pass a law to keep the government working.
He introduced amendments to remove the measure and restore a rider that would have helped poultry farmers in their dealings with a handful of large meatpacking companies. However, the amendments weren’t considered.
The activist outcry comes as the national debate about mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is heating up.
A California proposition to require the identification of genetically engineered ingredients on food labels was defeated by voters last fall. However, labeling campaigns are gearing up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington, according to Food & Water Watch.
Early this month, the natural and organic grocery company Whole Foods Market committed to labeling GMOs in the food it sells by 2018. A few days later, Hain Celestial Group, maker of organic foods and teas, confirmed its support of increased transparency in the labeling of genetically modified organisms.
“People have the right to know what is in their food,” Whole Foods founder and co-CEO John Mackey told a gathering of customers at his company’s Pasadena, Calif., store, according to Zester Daily, an online news site for food, wine and travel enthusiasts.