Category Archives: Farm Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risks of oil and gas pipelines weighed in local forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genetically Modified Crops Continue to be Controversial

All Sides with Ann Fisher
1/14/15

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

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

Listen to the hour long conversation here.

Our Ohio Special: GMOs Parts 1-2

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

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

Watch Part 1:

Watch Part 2:

Organically raised food far preferable to genetically engineered crops: Carol Goland, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

Cleveland.com
by Carol Goland
8/4/2014
 

Organic foods are not just a consumer trend, but vitally important to sustaining our ability to feed ourselves. The absence of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, irradiation, and genetically engineered (GE) ingredients drives consumer demand for organics foods.

Three-quarters of food shoppers now seek the certified organic label because, as mounting evidence demonstrates, they correctly identify it as the healthier choice—for farmers, farmworkers, the environment, and themselves.

Agribusiness interests may express a benevolence about consumers and farmers who chose organics, but will argue that intensive methods, GE seed, and synthetic inputs are safe and necessary to produce enough to feed a hungry world. In fact, conventional agriculture isn’t doing a very good job of feeding the world, but the problem is not one of yield.

Globally we produce enough to supply everyone on Earth with more than enough food energy per day. The problem is what we produce, how we use it, and how it is distributed.

A growing body of research shows that organic crops can return the same yields as conventionally grown crops, while using fewer inputs. Moreover, they may perform better under drought conditions.

Organic farmers have achieved this through their own refinement of production methods, based on years of careful observation and experimentation and a farmer-to-farmer exchange of knowledge. They have done this largely independent of the billions of federal and industry dollars that have been directed to research that benefits conventional agriculture, with its heavy reliance on petrochemical inputs.

With even a modest increase in funding for research to improve yield, develop seed varieties, and refine preventive practices for livestock health, there’s no telling what organic agriculture could become.

Despite promises that genetic engineering would help feed a hungry world, any yield gains attributable to biotechnology have been modest at best. This is not surprising, given that GE seeds were developed to be herbicide tolerant (HT), not to increase intrinsic yield. Planting HT crops has not reduced the rate of herbicide use, but it has led to a proliferation of HT “super weeds.” Many GE crops—including corn and soybeans—have been developed for livestock feed, biofuel, and for use in high fructose corn syrup, not to improve human nutrition.

Organic is synonymous with GE-free, but it is so much more. Organic farming safeguards water quality, builds soil organic matter and nutrients, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, eliminates antibiotic use, emphasizes humane care and preventive treatments for livestock and poultry, and protects biodiversity. It supports small and mid-scale family farms and reduces exposure to pesticides. Because the organic label is backed up by a rigorous annual verification and inspection process, consumers can have confidence in how organic food and products are produced.

Supporters of organic farming are not driven by anti-technology attitudes nor are they advocating that we go backwards. Far from it. Our collective ability to progress—indeed, our future—depends squarely on our good stewardship of the natural resources on which we all depend. Organic farming is a way forward, and a long-term solution for nourishing our farming communities, feeding our families, and protecting our soil, air, and water.

 
 

Public News Service
By Mary Kuhlman
7/14/14
 
 Mud Run Farm in Stark County uses horsepower to reduce emissions linked to a warming climate. Photo courtesy of Mud Run Farm.
Mud Run Farm in Stark County uses horsepower to reduce emissions linked to a warming climate. Photo courtesy of Mud Run Farm.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The National Climate Assessment finds climate stressors, such as weeds and diseases, are threatening the future of farming.

But the report also suggests that sustainable agriculture practices could help slow the pace of climate change.

Mud Run Farm in Stark County is a small organic operation. Owner Alex Dragovich says changes of his farm’s position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness zone maps indicate a shift to warmer temperatures for growing.

And he admits there have been some changes in weather patterns impacting agriculture in Ohio.

“The season went from very cold to warm in a short amount of time and then a lot of rain,” he points out. “Can I say that that’s climate change? Maybe in the long-term but not in the short-term. It’s like a chronic illness, you don’t realize you have it until it’s too late.”

Dragovich says his farm uses earth-friendly practices that reduce carbon emissions.

He’s cut back on the use of diesel fuels by powering his farm mostly with horses and also manages cover crops, which reduce the amount of tractor time needed in the fields.

The National Climate Assessment found that the resiliency of the agriculture system can be increased through sustainable methods such as diversifying crop rotations, integrating livestock with crop production systems and minimizing off-farm flows of nutrients and pesticides.

Dragovich says he’s hopeful the next farming generation embraces sustainable methods, and considers the impact agricultural practices have on the environment.

“I see a lot of young people taking up the organic mantra and trying to save this planet,” he says. “So hopefully these young people will be a little more respective of Mother Earth and hopefully will be better at it than my generation.”

Recent research found organic farming methods that encourage soil health create higher yielding crops better able to cope with weather-related stressors compared to conventional farming.

Organic farming ends pesticide treadmill

Letter to the Editor
The Columbus Dispatch
10/28/13

The Dispatch’s description of a new “superweed” spotted in Ohio’s agricultural fields is alarming but not surprising (“Agricultural Armageddon,” Oct. 20). As pesticide use has increased, the number of correlated pesticide-resistant insects, pathogens and weeds has risen dramatically.

Today, an estimated 500 species of insects are resistant to at least one insecticide, and insecticide resistance continues to grow. Pesticide-resistant plant diseases and weeds are following the same pattern. As a result of the inevitable and inescapable biological facts of genetic variability, selection and resistance, farmers are caught on a “pesticide treadmill,” using more toxic synthetic chemicals or chemicals in greater quantities to try to stay ahead of pests and weeds.

Because of the increasing impotency of Roundup in the face of superweeds, agri-chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are seeking approval for corn, soybean and cotton varieties engineered for resistance to the herbicides 2, 4-D and Dicamba, which are susceptible to drift and pose a serious threat to sensitive fruit and vegetable crops.

Weeds, pests and disease are significant problems for every farmer. Yet some have chosen alternative ways of controlling them that do not lead to superweeds or pollute our air, water and soil. Organic farmers control pests through agro-ecological systems that rely on crop rotations to break pest cycles, well-nourished soils to grow crops resistant to diseases and management practices that reduce weed pressure. This approach not only protects the environment and public health, but reduces costs and increases returns per acre.

Our experience with resistant pests, be they insects, pathogens or weeds, demonstrates the truth of ecologist Paul Ehrlich’s observation that “nature bats last.” Organic farmers have chosen to get on the same team as nature, rather than attempting to overcome it with synthetic chemicals.

CAROL GOLAND
Executive Director
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

Federal food safety laws could cost industry millions

 
Farm and Dairy
June 25, 2013
By Chris Kick
  

WOOSTER, Ohio — When the new federal produce safety rules become effective — a process likely to happen in the next 12 months — they will do so at an additional cost to the farmers who must comply.The Food and Drug Administration estimates that its new rules, which meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act, will prevent 1.75 million foodborne illnesses, with about $1.04 billion in estimated benefits.At the same time, the new rules will cost the produce industry about $460 million annually and $171 million annually for foreign farms that export to the United States.The rules, which are available for public comment in the Federal Register until Sept. 16, are estimated to cost a “very small farm,“ about $4,700 a year. Small farms would pay nearly $13,000 a year, and large farms, will pay $30,500.

Farm sizes

A very small farm, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is a farm that sells more than $25,000 worth of food but less than $250,000, as an average of the previous three years. Small farms are slightly larger, and sell up to $500,000.And large farms are those that sell above $500,000 a year. Farms that sell less an average of less than $25,000 the previous three years would be exempt.For growers like Don Bessemer of Akron, the new costs are too much. He figures he could spend nearly $100,000 just to come into compliance, and would see the $30,000 fee for every year thereafter.He and his wife Carol, decided to lay off 30 workers this year and exit the produce industry, over what they say are too costly regulations.“You just can’t afford to farm,” he said. “The smaller growers are being put out of business.”The farm was started 117 years ago by Don’s grandfather, William Bessemer. The Bessemers said their age also is a factor. Don is 70 and Carol is 66. Although they’re in good health and don’t want to quit the produce industry, they say the investment in new equipment would not be a good business plan for their age.Instead, they’re planning for an auction in November.Don Bessemer said the farm’s workers already followed Good Agricultural Practices designed to keep the food safe. Now, the Bessemers fear they would need to hire separate staff to fill out the stacks of records and documents being required from the federal government.“What they want you to do is hire somebody to document this,” he said. “We’ve been here 117 years; we’ve never poisoned anybody.”

Common sense

Some growers say they’ll be prepared for the cost, and expect it could be less as the rule is finished. At a public listening session April 30, Raymond Yoder, of Yoder’s Produce Supply in Fredericksburg, said most of what’s being required is “common sense,” and he doesn’t expect much of a burden to the industry.

Not alone

But Bessemer is not the only grower who is concerned. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association says the costs, as they stand today, could put small farmers out of business.“Maintaining safe food in this country is essential, but it should not create unnecessarily burdensome regulations that put diversified, sustainable and organic farms at risk of going out of business,” MacKenzie Bailey, OEFFA’s policy program coordinator, said during the listening session.“We just can’t compete,” said Mark Bender, an Akron-area farmer who has operated a farm market since 1973. “The costs just got too crazy.”Bender still operates a self-service farm market, but has converted most of his produce farm to raising beef cattle and conventional crops.Mike Laughlin, of Northridge Organic Farm in Johnstown, said, as a small farm, it could cost him $25,000-$27,000 just to come into compliance, and about $13,000 annually thereafter. He fears it will hurt small growers like himself, and favor larger farms that can adapt.“I can’t raise my prices enough to cover that,” he said. “That’s going to cut right into the money I make in my profit. It’s already pretty tight.He said it’s simple math.“If you’re only making $30,000-$50,000 a year and they’re going to take $10,000-$15,000 of that away from you, that’s a huge pay cut.”Laughlin said he’s not ready to make a decision about the future of his farm until the rule is finalized. But if the costs hold up, he said it will be a major challenge to staying in business.“You just have to start thinking, ‘is this worthwhile to do,’” he said.

Serious about safety

Laughlin said he’s not balking at food safety, adding it has always been a “huge part of our operation,” with workers trained on how to handle food and conduct operations. But with the new requirements for new equipment and documentation, it will become more costly.The Bessemers say they want safe food as much as anyone, but that the words “safe food” can be used for a lot of different motives. Don Bessemer said he fears the inspectors will not have a good knowledge of farming and what they’re supposed to inspect.He’s also concerned inspectors will purposefully try to find issues, to keep their jobs.“I just keep thinking they’re (federal government) trying to create jobs,” he said.Carol Bessemer said the news reports about foodborne illnesses often incite more concern than the actual issue. She said when even a couple people get sick, it makes national headlines and legislators want to pass new laws.“That small percentage has got a lot of power, and sympathy power,” she said.One relief for farmers is that when the rule becomes effective, they will have a pre-determined amount of time to come into compliance. Farms would generally have two to four years to comply, with smaller farms given the most time.“They’re giving you time, but then again, how much is it going to cost,” Carol Bessemer said.The proposed rule would cover an estimated 40,496 domestic farms and 14,927 foreign farms.It is available online at www.regulations.gov, and also on the FDA website, at www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA.