Category Archives: Farm Policy

Tyson meats to end antibiotic use by 2017: What it means

By Debbi Snook, The Plain Dealer, 4/29/15

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Antibiotic use in farm animals got a big push out of the poultry barn this week. Tyson Foods announced it intends to stop feeding human-grade antibiotics to its broiler chickens by 2017.

While antibiotic use once made chickens cheaper to raise by increasing their growth rate, it has also been suspected of creating antibiotic resistance in humans.

The Washington Post reports that antibiotic-resistant infections cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year, more deaths than cause by drug overdoses, cars or firearm assaults.” Antibiotic resistant infections are a global health concern,” said a statement from Donnie Smith, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods.

“We’re confident our meat and poultry products are safe, but want to do our part to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so these medicines can continue working when they’re needed to treat illness.”

Smith said the company’s antibiotic use is down 80 percent from a few years ago, following an industry wide trend. Perdue eliminated antibiotic use a year ago and, last month, McDonald’s has pledged to do the same within two years.

But Tyson is the country’s largest producer of chicken.

“This is huge,” critic Gail Hansen, told National Public Radio. Hansen is a member of Pew Charitable Trust’s Antibiotic Resistance Project, which is developing a certification project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for antibiotic-free chicken.Tyson also announced plans to study and possibly reduce antibiotic use in its cattle, hog and turkey farms.

Lauren Ketcham, communications chief for the Columbus-based Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, called the Tyson decision encouraging, but not a huge guarantee.

“Given that Tyson is only voluntarily targeting antibiotics used in human medicine — and even then some with exceptions — consumers wanting to avoid eating chicken treated with antibiotics should continue to look for the organic label as the gold standard,” she said in an email.

Medina County meat-animal farmer Jason Bindel said he also worries about the farm use of antibiotics that are not used in human medicine.

“Some animal drugs were not human tested so you have no idea of bad side effects,” he wrote by email. “Animal grade drugs are usually the same formula but sometimes may have additives that are not FDA approved for human use so could be harmful due to allergic reactions.

Ohio Business Owner: Fracking Stifling Local Food Movement

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service, 4/6/15
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PHOTO: Sustainable farmers rely on the integrity of the land, soil and water, and many say hydraulic fracturing is compromising the growing local food movement in Ohio. Photo credit: David Foster/Flickr.

PHOTO: Sustainable farmers rely on the integrity of the land, soil and water, and many say hydraulic fracturing is compromising the growing local food movement in Ohio. Photo credit: David Foster/Flickr.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sustainably produced foods are becoming more popular among consumers, but some Ohioans say the state’s fracking boom is stifling the growth of the local food movement.

According to the EPA, dozens of chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing, which some growers say puts air, water and soil at risk for contamination.

The Village Bakery and Café in Athens specializes in locally grown and organic foods, and owner Christine Hughes says some area farmers were unaware of the risks when they agreed to allow oil and gas companies onto their land.

“Landowners were told, ‘Oh no, we don’t use chemicals, it’s all safe,’ so I don’t blame those people for signing up,” says Hughes. “But it has put all these sustainable farms at risk, and the conventional farms as well. The sustainable farmers are more aware of the damage it will do to their reputation.”

According to Hughes, soil and watershed resilience are likely to worsen as drilling continues to expand. A recent study found nearly 11 percent of the more than 19,000 organic farms in the U.S. share a watershed with oil and gas activity, and 30 percent of organic farms will be in the vicinity of a fracking site or injection well in the next decade.

Hughes says many of her restaurant’s suppliers are based in Ohio’s fracking hotbed. The farm that sourced her flour was directly impacted by fracking after an old injection well was re-activated near the land.

“They started bringing in truckloads of radioactive frack waste from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio,” she says. “So they had to shut down their farm and ended up having to sell off their farm and move away and take jobs from their farm.”

Hughes says many other business owners in her community are concerned about the impacts of fracking, and it’s not the answer to the country’s economic, energy and climactic challenges.

“The horse was out of the gate long before the regulations or the science could be shown how dangerous it is,” says Hughes. “At this point a moratorium is really the only responsible thing that we could do.”

Hughes is a member of the Ohio chapter of the American Sustainable Business Council, which is among organizations calling for mandatory, enforceable national standards that will apply to both new and existing gas and oil development.

House bill proposes national standard on GMO food labeling

From AP and staff reports, Farm and Dairy, 3/26/15

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced in the House of Representatives March 25 would make the Food and Drug Administration the only agency permitted to label food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients.

The bill, known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, also includes a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to label “non-GMO” foods.

Introduced by U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, and G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, the bill calls for the FDA to set standards for GMO labeling.

Foods the department certifies as free of GMOs would have a special government label that companies could use to market their foods. User fees would pay for the program.

Pompeo said a government-certified label would allow companies that want to advertise their foods as GMO-free to do so, but it would not be mandatory for others. He said he hopes to see the bill passed this year.

Overrides state law

The voluntary labeling effort would create an industry standard and override any state laws that require the labeling.

Thus far, bills requiring GMO labeling have been introduced in more than 30 states. Vermont became the first state to require the labeling in 2014 — a law that is set to go into effect in 2016, but is facing a legal challenge from the food industry.

House Committee on Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway said the “growing patchwork” of mandatory state laws has created confusion and is driving up the cost of food.

“These state laws are not based on science and are both inconsistent and misleading,” Conaway said. “We have a federal regulatory process for the approval of biotechnology that is both scientifically sound and works.”

Response from across the food industry was largely supportive of the bill.

“It would improve clarity in foods carrying a GMO-free label by establishing uniform rules and a national certification program for foods that have been produced without bioengineering,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation.

Supporters say the bill could also reduce costs to both manufacturers and consumers.

At a February forum in Albany, New York, Rick Zimmerman, executive director of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, pointed to a 2014 Cornell University study that showed a $500 annual increase in food costs for a family of four if mandatory GMO labeling legislation were to be enacted.

“And for small manufacturers, the cost of complying with such a law may be too much for their businesses to sustain,” Zimmerman said.

Opposing view

Advocates for labeling genetically modified products, including Consumers Union, urged Congress to reject the bill, in particular a provision that would allow a “natural” label on genetically engineered food.

“Allowing the ‘natural’ label on genetically engineered food would legalize a deceptive practice,” Consumers Union said in a statement.

Andrew Kimbrell, of the advocacy group Center for Food Safety, called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act “a faulty and disingenuous attempt to assuage consumer concern.”

“The most effective way to provide consumers with the full universe of information about their food is through mandatory labeling, nothing less,” Kimbrell said.

A February poll by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association found that 87 percent of Ohio voters want genetically enhanced foods labeled and 61 percent disapprove of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Poll says Ohioans don’t want GMO foods, do want labels: And you?

By Debbi Snook, The Plain Dealer, 3/16/15

GMO label

More than half of Ohioans don’t like genetically engineered foods, and, even if they’re not taking a stand, 87 percent of them want those foods labeled as such.

Those are the results of a poll of more than 500 Ohio voters sponsored in February by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a Columbus-based advocacy group for organic foods. OEFFA also runs one of the state’s organic certification programs.

Genetically engineered or transgenic food crops are created by extracting genes from one organism and placing them in another in order to transfer desired attributes. The technique is used on most of the corn we eat today, among many other edible crops, and is a controversial topic among the public and scientists. There have been numerous calls for more research, especially on the possibility of passing along undeclared allergens.

“There can be no doubt that Ohio voters want the right to know what they eat and feed their families,” said Amalie Lipstreu, policy coordinator for OEFFA. “The results clearly show voters–regardless of political party–support GE labeling and disapprove of GE food.”

Sixty one percent of respondents did not approve of GE foods, a figure that increased to 70 percent among women. Eighty nine percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats, and 85 percent of Independents support labeling, according to the survey.

The announcement from OEFFA did not immediately include the full report, but one was provided on request. Click here to get the full results. OEFFA is offering an online graphic showing some of the key findings, at http://policy.oeffa.org/gepoll .

Amalie Lipstreu commentary: Lawmakers hostile to public’s plea for better labeling on food

 
It is time for members of Congress to represent the interests of their constituents.
 
Recently, leaders of the House Agriculture Committee issued antagonistic statements about food labels overwhelmingly supported by the public. Those statements flagrantly disregard American food buyers’ opinions. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and whether it contains genetically engineered ingredients. Instead, lawmakers are working to limit access to this information.

Country-of-origin labeling, or COOL, was included in the 2002 Farm Bill, but consistent implementation of COOL labels has been hampered by attacks from the American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers and other trade associations. Yet, most consumer and farm organizations believe imported food should be labeled. Polling shows that between 82 percent and 95 percent of consumers support country-of-origin labeling.

Despite court challenges and appeals to the World Trade Organization from Canada and Mexico, COOL has been upheld. The WTO requested that the U.S. provide clear requirements for labeling meat, which may be raised in one country, processed in another, and combined with meat from several different countries. A ruling is expected in May.

However, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, in a statement said, “COOL has been a failed experiment from the start.” Given widespread public support and the upcoming ruling, this indictment is premature and calls into question whether our public officials are truly working to represent the public interest.

Majorities in Congress appear to be forsaking public calls for labeling genetically engineered food, too. National polls consistently show that consumers overwhelmingly support such labeling. Recently, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association released results of a poll that found 87 percent of Ohio voters support labels for genetically engineered food.

The Ohio poll also found strong nonpartisan support: 89 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of independents say they have a right to information about what they eat and feed their families.

In his opening statement at the committee hearing on costs and impacts of labeling, Conaway indicated regulations would make it harder to feed the world. Independent review clearly shows that genetic-engineering technology has not lived up to the claim that it would feed the world; instead, investments in traditional crop or seed hybridization could lead to the same or greater ability to meet the demands of a growing population.

The public is told to relax, because we have a scientifically sound federal regulatory process. Yet, an independent analysis found that when the Food and Drug Administration requested additional information, industry did not comply half of the time and data errors were not identified. Moreover, the FDA did not generate its own safety assessments but rather merely summarized the company’s food-safety analysis for the public.

Biotechnology companies and their proponents characterize attempts to bring to light these inadequacies or to discuss the negative environmental and economic implications of genetic engineering as misinformed and unfounded.

How many times in our history has the America public been told that products or technologies are safe, only to find many years later that there was real harm? We have earned the right to be cautious, and we expect our elected officials to represent our interests.

Conaway’s neglect of public opinion about labeling food for country of origin and for genetic engineering is emblematic of why the public feels apathetic about the political process. Despite a clear mandate, politicians are serving the interests of businesses that will profit from the public being kept in the dark.

Labeling is complicated and does cost money, but the reality is that labels are changed on a regular basis. If the public wants more information about their food, our leaders should make sure industry gives them that information.

Amalie Lipstreu is policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Ohio Business Owner: Fracking Stifling Local Food Movement

Ohio Public News Service 4/6/15

By Mary Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sustainably produced foods are becoming more popular among consumers, but some Ohioans say the fracking boom is stifling the growth of the local food movement.

According to the EPA, dozens of chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing, which some growers say puts air, water and soil at risk for contamination. The Village Bakery and Café in Athens specializes in locally grown and organic foods, and owner Christine Hughes says some area farmers were unaware of the risks when they agreed to allow oil and gas companies onto their land.

“Landowners were told, ‘Oh no, we don’t use chemicals, it’s all safe,’ so I don’t blame those people for signing up,” says Hughes. “But it has put all these sustainable farms at risk, and the conventional farms as well. The sustainable farmers are more aware of the damage it will do to their reputation.”

According to Hughes, soil and watershed resilience are likely to worsen as drilling continues to expand. A recent study found nearly 11 percent of the more than 19,000 organic farms in the U.S. share a watershed with oil and gas activity, and 30 percent of organic farms will be in the vicinity of a fracking site or injection well in the next decade.

Hughes says many of her restaurant’s suppliers are based in Ohio’s fracking hotbed. The farm that sourced her flour was directly impacted by fracking after an old injection well was re-activated near the land.

“They started bringing in truckloads of radioactive frack waste from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio,” she says. “So they had to shut down their farm and ended up having to sell off their farm and move away and take jobs from their farm.”

Hughes says many other business owners in her community are concerned about the impacts of fracking, and it’s not the answer to the country’s economic, energy and climactic challenges.

“The horse was out of the gate long before the regulations or the science could be shown how dangerous it is,” says Hughes. “At this point a moratorium is really the only responsible thing that we could do.”

Hughes is a member of the Ohio chapter of the American Sustainable Business Council, which is among organizations calling for mandatory, enforceable national standards that will apply to both new and existing gas and oil development.

If it’s Safe for the Table, Put it on the Label?

By Mary Kuhlman, Ohio Public News Service, 3/17/15

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the scientific “jury” is still out on the safety of genetically engineered (GE) foods, a new poll indicates most Ohioans want to know when they are eating GE foods.

The survey from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association found 61 percent of those polled disapprove of GE foods. The majority of those polled, at 87 percent, also support GE labeling.

Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, says GE foods are also a non-partisan issue, with 89 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Independents in favor in GE labeling.

“The public is skeptical,” she says. “The public has earned the right to be cautious. If it’s safe for the table, put it on the label. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

Supporters of GE technology say it increases production, saves costs, and reduces the use of chemicals. But Lipstreu says genetic engineering has done little to improve crop yields, and the evidence is insufficient on health and environmental impacts. Its estimated more than 70 percent of foods sold in the U.S. contain GE ingredients.

According to Lipstreu, genetic engineering is also the concern of many farmers, who worry that pollen drift from GE crops can contaminate adjacent fields.

“There’s also concerns about patenting of seeds and ownership of nature,” she says. “A recent concern is about a lot of weeds that have evolved to be resistant to the herbicides that are used along with genetically engineered crops.”

Lipstreu says consumers have a basic right to know. She notes consumers have previously been mislead to believe things were safe that actually were not.

“Things like DDT, the use of asbestos, “she says. “Later on, we found out many of these things are very damaging to health and to the environment.”

Lipstreu says the poll findings support the need for GE labeling policies at the state and federal level. Over 60 countries require disclosure of GE ingredients on food labels.

Federal Produce Rules Still on Table

Farm and Dairy
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

Cleveland Plain Dealer
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

Cleveland Plain Dealer
10/20/2014
By Debbi Snook