Category Archives: Farm Policy

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, and also on the FDA website, at

New Food Safety Rules: Too Much for Ohio’s Small Farms?

Public News Service
September 16, 2013
By Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO: Some Ohio growers are concerned that new federal food safety rules are burdensome enough to hurt their business and ultimately, reduce access to fresh, local foods. Courtesy OEFFA.

PHOTO: Some Ohio growers are concerned that new federal food safety rules are burdensome enough to hurt their business and ultimately, reduce access to fresh, local foods. Courtesy OEFFA

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Some Ohio growers are concerned that regulations they see as overly burdensome are being proposed for reasons of food safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to make changes to its Food Safety Modernization Act that the agency estimates will prevent close to 2 million foodborne illnesses.

However, as a result, small family farms such as Northridge Organic Farm in Licking County could incur expenses that the farm’s owner, Mike Laughlin, said are higher than they can afford – for changes that he sees as excessive.

“The added expense is going to drive an awful lot of farms out of business,” he warned. “At a time when people are asking for more and more local food for their tables, it’s going to mean fewer venders available to sell to farm markets, fewer choices for consumers.”

According to FDA estimates, a small farm would bear an initial cost of more than $27,000, and then an annual cost of nearly $13,000 – figures Laughlin said could wipe out a good chunk of annual profits. The FDA is taking public comment on the proposed changes until Nov. 15.

While he agreed food safety is an important matter, Laughlin said smaller operations are already at lower risk due to their size, scope and, for some, alternative farming practices that maintain soil and water integrity. He predicted that the new rules would favor larger farms and hurt the smaller growers who will struggle to absorb the costs of new equipment and documentation required under the changes.

“When you have rules and regulations, they do need to be size-specific,” he said. “It can’t be a ‘one size fits all.'”

Laughlin added it isn’t just farmers who need to weigh in on the matter.

“For the consumers who are out there shopping at the farm markets, if it’s something that’s very important to you then you need to get involved and get a hold of the FDA, and let ’em know what you think.”

Farm Bill Left Hanging in Congress

91.3 WYSO
By Lewis Wallace

A truck outside Mike Farm Enterprises south of Dayton. A variety of farm and nutrition programs are at risk since the Farm Bill expired Oct. 1.

Remember the Farm Bill? The omnibus law that funds food stamps, crop insurance, and a slew of farm subsidies? At midnight Monday, a nine-month extension of the latest version of that bill expired, which means for the moment, the law reverts to its 1949 version.

MacKenzie Bailey with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association says the ongoing insecurity over the bill makes life harder for organic farmers.

“Farmers rely on programs like farmers market promotion programs that help put investments in our local farmers markets, the national organic cost share program, which helps alleviate the costs of organic certification,” she said.

This expiration won’t immediately affect food assistance or crop insurance. But a safety net program for dairy farmers that keeps down the price of milk, support for seniors to shop at farmers markets, and international food aid in the bill are among the programs to be suspended. If no new bill is passed by Jan. 1, 2014, consumers could see those changes on the shelves.

The two houses of Congress had been playing ping-pong with the bill after the House stripped out the food stamp program, known as SNAP, and sent the Senate two separate bills. The House version of the SNAP program included $40 billion in cuts rejected by the Senate, which proposed around $4 billion in cuts and insisted on keeping the farm programs and nutrition programs in one bill.

Government impasse could have big impact on farming

The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday October 6, 2013 10:15 AM
By  Mary Vanac

The federal-government shutdown and the looming debt-limit fight have dominated the headlines the past week.

But a constituency that includes small farmers has been dealing with consternation caused by a different federal concern. Dozens of programs that create jobs, invest in the next generation of farmers and protect the environment lost their federal funding when farming legislation expired at midnight on Monday.

The most-profound effects could be years away, when new businesses, products or farming innovations fail to come to market for lack of funding.

“Enough is enough,” MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Columbus, wrote in a statement. “Farmers have been without a farm bill for a year.”

Congressional funding for nutrition and crop-insurance programs, which account for about 90 percent of the farm-legislation budget, is permanent and not affected by the lapse.

However, funding for programs that help specialty-crop growers, new farmers and farmers markets, as well as farm-related conservation, must be renewed by a farm bill, typically every five years. The most recent farm legislation expired a year ago, and a nine-month extension expired on Monday.

In spite of a partial government shutdown, some work on a new farm bill is being done in Washington, D.C., said Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of legislative and regulatory policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Programs for dairy farmers won’t be affected until the end of the year, and those for farmers who grow commodities such as grain and cotton, next spring.

However, farmers who want to enroll new acreage in agricultural-conservation programs will have to wait for new funding from Congress. So will farmers who use agricultural-export programs.

The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for food at farmers markets, roadside stands and community-supported agriculture programs, also has lost its funding.

Toledo Farmers Market used a grant from the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, now unfunded, to recruit vendors, establish and promote an electronic benefit-transfer system for food-stamp recipients, and build relationships with community partners that provided additional funding and support, said the Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Bailey.

And a three-year, $740,096 grant from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program enabled Ohio State University Extension to help new farmers — many of them women, minorities, immigrants and the disabled — to start tilling tracts of abandoned land in and around Cleveland. That program stopped taking grant applications on Monday.

The OSU Extension Cuyahoga County project helped create the 40-acre Stanard Farm and its Cleveland Crops business, which employs developmentally disabled people to pick, pack and sell produce grown on the farm, said Marie Barni, the project’s director.

The grant also helped establish an incubator farm to train new farmers, build hoop houses that extend growing seasons and set up a food-processing center that soon will employ people to process food grown on the farm and sell it to local schools, restaurants and institutions, Barni said.

“We would be so much farther behind” without the grant, she said.

A $16,000 Value-Added Producer Grant — another farm bill-supported program that has temporarily closed — helped Abbe Turner, owner of Lucky Penny Creamery in Kent, develop cajeta, a Mexican caramel sauce made from goat milk.

“We’ve already been funded,” Turner said, “but it’s going to affect other small, agricultural producers who are trying new, entrepreneurial ventures.

“That’s the sad thing,” she said. “If this program doesn’t get funded, then we won’t see these fantastic and important projects come to fruition.”

Ohio Farmers Ask for a “Sustainable” Farm Bill

Mary Kuhlman
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.

Farmers’ markets, organic producers in line for federal subsidies

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.

Humane Society forms own Ohio farm board

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.

FDA answers questions about produce safety rule in Wooster

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.

Manure application

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.

To comment

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.

Bill in Congress would help grow sustainable, local farms

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.

Modified crops get boost from budget deal

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.