Category Archives: Farm Policy

Advice offered on effective advocacy

COLUMBUS, OH

When trying to influence a legislator or a federal or state agency, one heart-felt personal letter is likely to be more effective than the signature of 1,000 persons on a form letter.

That advice was given by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) policy program coordinator Amalie Lipstreu during a webinar titled “Advocacy: What, Why, and How.” She commented that although “advocacy is getting louder, it is also less effective.”

“You don’t have to go to Washington, DC or your state capitol to be effective,” Lipstreu said. She noted that merely signing an online petition is easy to do but this is seldom likely to make a difference.

Take advantage of organized lobby days, develop relationships with legislators, research a topic properly and demonstrate one’s scale or interest in an existing problem, Lipstreu suggested. Organize or attend rallies because they tend to attract media attention.

An often overlooked avenue of advocacy is providing input when federal agencies have a formal comment period on the development of regulations. She said legislation could be needed to deal with violators or actions which are causing harm.

Letter writing hints

When writing that letter or making a phone call to a legislator, be sure to research any existing stance of the legislator on the topic, try to make some connection with what the legislator views as a priority, and be very specific on the policy or pending legislation, Lipstreu said. In some cases, as few as 10 calls can make a difference on legislation.

In addition, take advantage of any opportunity to meet the legislator in one’s home district, Lipstreu stressed. When making the contact, point out that “you are a constituent” of the legislator, “identify any organization memberships that you have” and “tell your story” on why the legislator should act in a certain way, she stated.

Writing letters to the editor can also be effective, Lipstreu said. She noted that the OEFFA’s website has a page with guidelines on how to write such a letter.

Importance of advocacy

As farmers, gardeners, and educators — the groups who make up most of the membership of the OEFFA — it is important both from a historical perspective and on pending current relevant issues to engage in advocacy for one’s beliefs, Lipstreu emphasized.

Lipstreu cited the effectiveness of advocacy in creating the national organic production certification program 35 years ago. She said advocacy also includes trying to get large institutions to make corrections in existing practices or policies and that advocacy does not necessarily result in conflict or confrontation.

Advocacy also applies to arranging community meetings or forums that lead to setting goals and setting strategies on ways to approach problems. She also suggested that advocacy should not take the form of a partisan political stance.

Topics for advocacy

In Ohio and other states, some of the current topics suited for advocacy are frac sand mining, the labeling of foods for genetically modified organisms, crop insurance, and local food policy councils, Lipstreu said. She noted that Ohio already has more such councils than any other state — due in part to advocacy by OEFFA members.

“More general topics that are appropriate for advocacy include the economy, the environment, biotechnology, and the effect of legislation on local communities”, Lipstreu said. She can be contacted at Amalie@oeffa.org.

What’s in a Label? You May Not Know with DARK Act

Ohio Public News Service

By Mary Kuhlman, 9/16/15

Opponents say the DARK Act could undermine businesses such as Snowville Creamery in Ohio that sell non-GMO products. Courtesy of Snowville Creamery
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COLUMBUS, Ohio – With preservatives, flavorings and other unpronounceable ingredients, making sense of food labels is difficult enough. Opponents say the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act could create even more confusion. They refer to it as the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK Act.

The legislation would allow foods made with genetically modified organisms to be labeled as natural and allow some GMO foods to be labeled as non-GMO.

Warren Taylor, who produces non-GMO milk at Snowville Creamery in central Ohio, said the act would take away people’s right to know what they’re eating.

“The cheapest commodity jug milk at a grocery store can be now labeled non-GMO milk,” he said. “Every egg sold in America can be labeled non-GMO eggs, regardless of the fact that those animals are all being fed GMO feed.”

The bill also would ban states from regulating food labeling, which supporters say would stop a patchwork of conflicting laws. While it would set up a voluntary national labeling system, Taylor argued that most companies that actually use GMO foods are not going to advertise it.

The legislation passed in the U.S. House with only two Ohio lawmakers voting against it. The Senate could introduce the measure soon.

Taylor contended that the bill undermines existing businesses like his that sell non-GMO products. For the past eight years, he said, Snowville Creamery has been breaking even, and recently received a game-changing offer that would have paid the company a premium for its non-GMO milk – but the deal didn’t last because of the labeling act.

“The day the DARK Act passed the House of Representatives, a week later, they called me from the cheese plant and rescinded their offer because all cheese in America became non-GMO, according to the DARK Act, if it passes the Senate this month,” he said. “Snowville Creamery is like a cat hanging on a wall right now.”

There are global economic concerns, Taylor said. At least 35 countries have laws that impose labeling or import restrictions on GMO foods. Taylor said America’s non-GMO producers will suffer without proper labeling.

“The purpose of the DARK Act is to not give the American people the GMO labeling that every other industrialized democracy and Russia and China have,” he said, “but rather to assure that the American people will never be able to make an informed choice.”

A poll this year found that 87 percent of Ohioans surveyed support the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Details of the legislation, HR 1599, are online at congress.gov. The poll is at policy.oeffa.org.

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.