Research funding stacked against sustainable agriculture, says OEFFA speaker

By Debbi Snook, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/30/15

When Doug Gurian-Sherman gears up to talk about sustainable agriculture versus industrial agriculture, he pauses to consider the farmer in the middle.

“It’s important not to demonize big ag farmers,” said the senior scientist for the advocacy group, Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. “They’re stuck in the system, too.”

When those farmers cut back on chemicals to reduce their environmental impact, they risk being less competitive with similar farmers.

But, Gurian-Sherman adds, farmers who practice sustainable agriculture – a process of conserving and enriching the soil more organically – can have similar yields and many more ecological benefits.

“It requires 30 percent more labor,” he said of the ecologically principled farm, “but that’s not necessarily a problem, since more money goes to farmers. And it can reduce the need for chemicals by 90 to 95 percent, which is better for our water and soil.

“But the money for research is stacked against us.”

Gurian-Sherman, who is working to change that, is one of the keynote speakers at the 36th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, a statewide support and certification group holding its36th annual meeting Feb. 14-15 in Granville.

His talk will be part of a weekend of events that include a film about genetically modified organisms, a marketplace of sustainable goods and more than 75 workshops on everything from growing hogs in pasture to gut health to understanding the Farm Bill. A pre-conference event on Feb. 13 focuses more deeply on poultry production, udder and plant health. Two-day conference costs are $225 for adult non-members, with discounts for fulltime students, OEFFA members, one-day registrants, and online purchases before Jan. 31. Costs for the Feb. 13 pre-conference sessions peak at $95.

Gurian-Sherman, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expert on the effect of genetically engineered plants on human health, doesn’t dismiss the potential benefits of genetically modified organisms or GMOs now regularly used on the country’s largest corn and soybean farms. Transplanting genes from one plant to another can sometimes make plants more disease resistant. But they can also transfer hidden allergens.

He says more regulation and research is needed to sift through new GMOs and the growing concern over their potential to adversely affect people and the land.

If Gurian-Sherman could, though, he’d turn the argument away from GMOs.

“Part of the problem of that debate is that it focuses too much on potential health risks. Yes, all the major scientific bodies have admitted that some GMOs could be harmful to eat, but right now our research system is not robust enough to detect the risk in those crops.”

His real worry is that other, more important issues are ignored.

He lists the emergence of “superweeds” that have become resistant to herbicides, and are now reported in Southern Ohio. Farmers who grew food crops resistant to herbicides, but raised superweeds instead, are now returning to older herbicides to wipe them out.

“They’re going back with a vengeance,” said Gurian-Sherman, “and those older herbicides cause more health problems. There’s a lot of epidemiology to show a connection between one of those herbicides and higher rates of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in farmers.”

Also, he says some of today’s herbicides have likely contributed to the estimated 90 percent decline in Monarch butterflies because they’ve wiped out the insect’s main source of food, a variety of milkweed.

The trouble, Gurian-Sherman says, is the style of agriculture itself. Better soil health can be achieved with crop rotation, cover crops to enrich the soil coupled with no-till methods that curb nutrient runoff.

One is not as good without the others, he said, especially if you’re looking to tackle the algae-causing runoffs in places such as Lake Erie.

“Growing single crops without a sustainable agriculture process is in a nutshell why phosphorus is going into the lake,” he said. “Also, climate change with bigger storms.”

No-till reduces erosion and runoff, he said, but a lot of phosphorus stays on the surface, doesn’t bind with the soil and can get washed away. Growing cover crops helps prevent that.

“If no-till is implemented in a piecemeal way, you won’t see the real benefits,” he said.

Getting the word out is hard when the playing field is tipped in favor of big agriculture, he said.

“Over the last several decades, as we’ve reduced money for university research, private industry has stepped in. Now 60 percent of agricultural research money comes from industry. A lot of scientists are beholden to companies for research funds. Even if they are not directly beholden, their universities are. I know from talking to a lot of them that there is pressure to say the right thing. I’m not saying they’re making things up, but if you don’t ask certain questions, all you have is the answers to other things.”

Expert to Examine Ways to Build a Successful, Sustainable Farming System

Public News Service
By Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO:Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety, Doug Gurian-Sherman, will speak in Ohio about possible ways to building a successful, sustainable agriculture system. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
PHOTO:Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior
Scientist at the Center for Food Safety,
Doug Gurian-Sherman.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the nation’s agriculture industry is productive, a leading scientist and biotechnology expert says it’s not sustainable. Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman says the industrial model of farming, focusing on methods rather than the whole system, has contributed to loss of biodiversity, as well water and air pollution.

He suggests moving toward an agroecological approach that takes into account the ways farming interacts with the environment.

“To use natural processes that are more and more understood through the science of ecology in a way that enhances production and preserves scarce resources and reduces the impacts and pollution from farming,” says Gurian-Sherman.

He says no-till farming is an example of focusing on only a method. While it reduces soil erosion and saves water, it has increased the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Gurian-Sherman will discuss the relationships between biotechnology and agroecology, and how they can combine to build a successful, sustainable agricultural system when he speaks at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference in February.

Gurian-Sherman points to the toxic algae pollution in Lake Erie as another example, because it is linked to the runoff of excess nutrients from no-till farming.

“It illustrates dangers or risks of relying on piece-meal solutions without taking a more holistic, systemic view of agriculture as an endeavor and as a system in the environment as opposed to a series of methods,” he says.

Another problem, says Gurian-Sherman, is the uneven playing field when it comes to social, political, and regulatory views of agriculture.

“Maybe about two to five percent of our agricultural research budget goes to ecologically-based and sustainable farming systems and the rest goes towards reinforcing the industrial model including improving its efficiency,” he says.

Gurian-Sherman adds, research has contributed tremendously to the success of industrial farming, and with better support, sustainable farming systems would become more efficient as well. He’s scheduled to speak at the conference in Granville on Feb. 15th.

Ohio’s Largest Food and Farm Conference Features Three Pre-Conference Workshops: Regenerative Agriculture, Poultry, and Dairy Herd Health Sessions Will Provide In-Depth Knowledge to Farmers and Veterinarians

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 28, 2015Contact:
Renee Hunt, Program Director—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 205,
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator—(614) 421-2022 Ext. 203,

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) will host three full-day pre-conference workshops in Granville, Ohio on Friday, February 13 as part of its 36th annual conference, Sustainable Agriculture: Renewing Ohio’s Heart and Soil.

“These events feature some of the country’s top experts, and are designed to provide ecological growers a deeper education than short workshops or webinars can,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt. “This year, we’re also offering a session geared toward livestock veterinarians so they are better positioned to serve organic dairy clients. These practices can be used in non-organic dairy systems as well.”During this pre-conference workshop, John Kempf, founder of Advancing Eco-Agriculture, will help farmers learn regenerative farming principles which allow soil and plant health to improve, not degrade, over time. Using these techniques, growers will discover how they can produce disease- and pest-resistant crops, which are healthier and more nutritious.

An Amish grower from Middlefield, Ohio, Kempf is an internationally recognized lecturer on biological agriculture, plant immunity, mineral nutrition, and soil microbiology.
Jim Adkins of the Sustainable Poultry Network will discuss effective and profitable strategies for sustainable poultry production during this pre-conference workshop. For the past 30 years, Adkins has raised more than 50 breeds and varieties of chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. A licensed poultry judge, he established the International Center for Poultry in 1992 and has taught at field days, workshops, and conferences.Designed for poultry producers of any scale, this session will explore the unique advantages of sustainable production systems while exploring the history of traditional heritage breeds and the transition to hybrid breeds and industrial production models. Growers will walk away with an understanding of the breeding, feed, forage, facilities, and care required for different size production models, and how to make their poultry businesses profitable through effective financial planning, marketing, and consumer education.

During this pre-conference workshop, veterinarians Dr. Päivi Rajala-Schultz and Dr. Luciana da Costa from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Organic Valley staff veterinarian Dr. Guy Jodarski will help dairy producers and veterinarians serving organic dairy farmers learn how practical management and mastitis control practices can improve milk quality and farm profitability. Attendees will learn the basic requirements for good udder health, strategies for managing clinical mastitis, and more.
Thanks to funding from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Professional Development Program, a limited number of scholarships are available for veterinarians to attend the dairy herd health pre-conference event at no cost. To request a scholarship, or to nominate a veterinarian who would benefit from this opportunity, contact Eric Pawlowski at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 209 or
All pre-conference workshops will be held from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Friday, February 13 at Granville High School, 248 New Burg St, Granville, Ohio. Pre-registration is required and costs $75 for OEFFA members and $90 for non-members.
The pre-conference workshops will be offered as part of the state’s largest sustainable food and farm conference on Saturday, February 14 and Sunday, February 15, an event which draws more than 1,200 attendees from across Ohio and the U.S.
In addition to pre-conference events, this year’s conference will feature keynote speakers Alan Guebert and Doug Gurian-Sherman; nearly 100 educational workshops; a trade show; activities for children and teens; locally-sourced and organic homemade meals, and Saturday evening entertainment. Separate registration is required for all conference events.
For more information about the conference, or to register, go to

Opting out: Farm bill exempts more organic farmers from checkoffs

Farm and Dairy
By Brian Lisik

SALEM, Ohio — Circleville, Ohio-based dairy farmer Perry Clutts has been farming 100 percent certified organic since 2005.

Since transitioning from a conventional dairy operation, Clutts has not had to pay into the national dairy checkoff order, thanks to a 2002 farm bill provision exempting 100 percent organic operations from conventional checkoffs.

A proposed rule change announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dec. 15 would expand that exemption to include 95 percent organic farmers, handlers, marketers and importers — otherwise known as “primary organic” operations.

The USDA recently fast-tracked its efforts to expand the exemption, part of the 2014 farm bill. A 30-day public comment period on the proposed rule change ended Jan. 15.

There are 22 national research and promotion checkoff programs. Under these programs, producers of a particular agricultural product pay assessments to fund marketing campaigns and research initiatives that benefit their commodity.

The USDA estimates the organic exemption has freed up $13.6 million for the organic sector, which produces an estimated $35 billion in annual sales, according to the USDA.

Not far enough

Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of Organic Trade Organization, applauded the USDA’s efforts to implement the rule change so quickly.

“The 100 percent exemption solved some of the problems, but was drafted in such a way that it was restrictive,” Batcha said. “Communications from some of the commodity orders were bordering on disparaging to organic. They were not promoting organic a lot.”

The USDA’s proposed rule change, Batcha explained, would apply to split operations, those that farm both organically and conventionally. It would also address instances when non-organic agents are used in processing, such as sanitizing agents on a production line or milk processing line.

Carol Goland, executive director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said the USDA’s proposed rule change corrects the 2002 rule’s inequity in defining different types of organic operations.

“In a sense, what this farm bill does is better define the multiple foods and crops of organic as a single commodity,” Goland said, adding that OEFFA fully supports the proposed rule change.

Public comment

A number of conventional commodity organizations, including the United Soybean Board and the Almond Board of California, have requested the USDA extend its 30-day public comment period due to the complexity of the issue.

Organic checkoff option

The 2014 farm bill grants the USDA authority to not only expand the organic exemption in the 2002 farm bill, but to also explore options for an organic-specific checkoff order.

Maggie McNeil, director of media relations for the Organic Trade Association, said the organization has been working on the framework for such a checkoff for three years.

McNeil said they hope to have the application out within the next two months. If accepted by the USDA, it then has to go through a comment period, and a referendum — an actual vote of all organic stakeholders in the industry.

“A lot of people know the word organic, but don’t know really what it means,” said Clutts, who also sits on the board of the Organic Trade Organization. “It is based on a very specific criteria like no other food process anywhere. I think the collective pool could do something bigger (to promote organic agriculture).” Gaining majority support for an organic checkoff order, however, could be challenging.

Goland said OEFFA recognizes the need for organic research and promotion and feels the organic sector should “be able to spend its money as it sees fit.”

“But I would not necessarily go so far as an organic checkoff,” she said.

Several comments on the USDA’s rule change proposal also cautioned against an organic checkoff.

“Please stop the start of a checkoff plan for organic products,” wrote Roger Pepperl, of Wenatchee, Washington-based organic fruit farm, Stemilt Growers. “Our organic world is too large and diverse to have an organization work on our behalf. We grow organic tree fruit and have nothing in common with organic cotton, organic beef, etc.”

Organic farmer Ted Weydert, of DeKalb, Illinois, added, “Contrary to popular belief, the Organic Trade Association only speaks for a very small number of actual organic farmers. This checkoff is not needed.”

Does Fracking Threaten Future of Ohio Organic Farms?

Public New Service
Mary Kuhlman
PHOTO: Certified organic farmer Mick Luber of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz, Ohio, says he's concerned about what possible contamination from nearby fracking operations could mean for the future of his business. Photo credit: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Assn.

PHOTO: Certified organic farmer Mick Luber of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz, Ohio, says he’s concerned about what possible contamination from nearby fracking operations could mean for the future of his business. Photo credit: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Certified organic farming is a growing business in Ohio, but some farmers warn that the threat of contamination from hydraulic fracturing could dampen its future. Some of the chemicals used in fracking have been identified as naturally-occurring toxic substances, metals, and radioactive materials.

In eastern Ohio, Mick Luber is a certified organic grower and owner of Bluebird Farm in Cadiz. He says several well pads and a compressor station are located near his land. He is worried about contamination of soil, water, and air, and what it could mean for his organic certification.

“I’m in a quandary about the production on my farm being of good quality,” says Luber. “Do I lose my business? I’ve put 30 years into this soil to make this soil grow. You don’t just go someplace and oh, well it’s bad here, I’ll just go over the hill.”

If prohibited substances, including some fracking chemicals, are detected on a certified organic farm, the producer may have to wait at least three years before becoming eligible for recertification. Ohio is home to more than 700 certified organic operations and nearly 57,000 acres of certified organic land.

Luber says an air-quality monitor showed high levels of particulate matter on his farm. He says one time, he discovered water running white from springs coming out of a well pad near his land.

“The Ohio EPA had a 165-day investigation, supposedly, and said there was no problem,” says Luber. “But from my estimation, somehow they fractured the rock structure so that anything spilled on that well pad site will get into that water and flow down through the stream.”

Besides drilling sites, there are pipelines used to transport gas, and injection wells that store fracking waste throughout the state. In the event of an accident or spill, Luber says it’s impossible to know the full extent of the danger.

“What they’re doing is a bad idea,” he says. “Any cement you put in is going to crack sometime. So, all these wells are eventually going to leak. And if they have all these chemicals in these wells, they’re going come up and they’re going to affect the groundwater, and they’re going to affect people’s health.”

Supporters of hydraulic fracturing say it is an economic boon for the state, but opponents argue the risks outweigh the benefits.

Federal Produce Rules Still on Table

Farm and Dairy
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 Seating is limited.

Where does your ground beef come from? A new ruling might erase that information from meat packages

Cleveland Plain Dealer
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
By Debbi Snook

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

Public News Service
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
By Samantha Nelson

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.

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OEFFA Policy
Growers Resources
Apprentice Program