House bill proposes national standard on GMO food labeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overrides state law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposing view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GMO label

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great River Organics Looks to Build Name for Organic Produce in Central Ohio

By Susan Post, The Metropreneur, 3/3/15

Collaboration can go a long way when you are a small business owner. It means more – more resources and more ways to reach your customers. As the movement to eat local and organic continue to grow, a group of eight Central Ohio farms are banding together to form Great River Organics.

“Great River [Organics] is a farmer-owned, non-profit corporation comprised of farmers in Central Ohio looking to expand local, certified-organic products,” says Adam Welly, co-founder of Wayward Seed Farm, one of the members.GROlogo

“Our farm individually is never going to feed all of the people here in Columbus,” says fellow Co-Founder Jaime Moore. “We need a real collaborative effort.”

GRO aligns the values of these farmers, all of which are certified organic or are pending certification, with ambitious goals.

“We feel like we’re setting a really good example of what Ohio farming can be,” Welly says. “We think that this idea of creating a local, organic brand is really, really important for both Central Ohio and the wider region.”

In addition to Wayward, Sippel Family Farm, Rock Dove Farm, Sunbeam Family Farm, Harvest Sun Farms, Toad Hill Farms, Clay Hill Farms and Dangling Carrot Farm are a part of the co-op. While some of the farms were already certified organic, making sure each farm met the standards was an important part of the foundation. Welly says it gives them transparency in their processes, and a clear stance on what they stand for as they broach multiple markets.

Currently, the operation is focused mainly on the direct to consumer market, making their produce accessible through their multi-farm CSA known as The Great River Market Bag. The eight-product CSA is a mix of everyday staples and a few unique items.

“We only grew a few items for GRO in 2014, which meant we could focus on doing it really well,” says Kristy Ryan of Clay Hill Farms. “We think the quality of produce going into the CSA is phenomenal because each farm gets the freedom to grow the items that they specialize in growing.”

The CSA is delivered to about 20 community partners, mostly corporations, and includes the likes of Nationwide, Cardinal Health and Limited Brands. GRO’s collaborative effort allows the organization to extend a traditional 20-week CSA into 30 weeks starting in June and ending around Christmas, which means closer to year-round fresh, local produce.

The group is working on some other CSA options like every-other-week pickup or a peak-season selection.

“We’ve taken a lot of feedback from our customers and we’re trying to give people a wider number of options to take part,” Welly says.

GRO2

Although the CSA is the anchor of GRO, wholesale of certified organic produce is in the long-term plans. The organization is just trying to be thoughtful in the way that they grow.

“A lot of people want to buy our product, but we believe it’s smarter for us to work in the framework of what our farmers are capable of right now,” Moore says. It ensures that customers are getting the highest quality of goods. And, it takes time to expand as a farming operation.

In addition to a steady outlet for their produce, member farms are also finding huge marketing advantages as a part of GRO.

“Great River provides the farmer a network of support and marketing ability that opens up an array of opportunities that otherwise would not be available to them as an individual organic producer,” says Ben Dilbone of Sunbeam Family Farm.

Ryan echoes Dilbone’s sentiments. Being a young, growing farm in rural area, “While it is very nice to live a quiet, rural life, the downside is we don’t have access to good markets,” Ryan says. “Joining GRO allowed us to pursue our farm dream and gain market share. We can enjoy the stability and benefits that CSAs offer farms, without the pressure of ‘going it alone,’ especially this early in our career.”

Overall, GRO wants to bring awareness to and help grow the local food system.

“Local agriculture needs as much support as it can get to maintain economic viability and compete with the pressures of cheaply produced “corporate organics” that are imported from other countries that we see flooding the shelves at the grocery store,” Dilbone says. “GRO provides much-needed support to local organic farmers who work diligently to provide an alternative food option that travels far less miles to your dinner plate, and with much more quality and flavor.”

“I want people to crave that information and the value and the quality of products that we offer,” Moore adds. “I want people to crave that as much as we do.”

For more information, visit greatriverfarms.org.

Solar Electric Workshop Scheduled for June: Farmers and Others Can Learn How to Design and Install Photovoltaic Systems

For Immediate Release: May 5, 2015

Contact: Milo Petruziello, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 206, milo@oeffa.org

Press Release

Columbus, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and Jay and Annie Warmke of Blue Rock Station will be offering a five-day solar electric workshop designed for people who want to make their farm, home, or business energy independent, or who are looking to start their own business installing photovoltaic (PV) systems.

The workshop will be held Monday, June 15 through Friday, June 19 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at OEFFA’s offices in the Ohio Lumbermen’s Building at 41 Croswell Rd. in Columbus, OH.

“During previous courses, we’ve helped many people to enter a new career field or gain the skills necessary to design and install their own PV system,” said instructor Jay Warmke.

Jay is the author of numerous textbooks on the subject, teaches renewable energy classes at Central Ohio Technical College, and serves as vice president of Green Energy Ohio. He and his wife Annie put this knowledge into practice at Blue Rock Station, a 38 acre educational center which is home to Ohio’s first Earthship and a 6kW solar array.

During this training course, participants will learn how to design and install photovoltaic systems through lectures and hands-on labs. They will learn with a working PV system, dismantling and reinstalling it, troubleshooting, and testing its proper operation. The class will also learn how to construct a working solar generator to run pumps, freezers, lights, and more when the grid goes down.

As part of the class, registrants can nominate a site to serve as a “real world” model; one site will be selected and together the class will evaluate, size, and design a system for that site.

At the end of the week, participants will have the opportunity to sit for an internationally recognized certification Level 1 examination offered by the Electronic Technicians Association (ETA).

“Many farmers and homesteaders are looking for a way to be energy independent and reduce their reliance on polluting fossil fuels. With prices for PV systems falling and demand on the rise, systems are becoming economical for nearly every home or farm,” said OEFFA Program Assistant Milo Petruziello. “Finding qualified personnel to install and maintain systems remains a challenge, however. We hope this course will give people the tools they need to harness the power of the sun.”

The cost of the workshop is $930 for OEFFA members and $970 for non-members. The cost includes ETA fees, an installation toolkit, and a course workbook. Lunch is provided on each class day.

Pre-registration is required. Space is limited. Register at www.oeffa.org by June 10. To register by mail, send a check made out to OEFFA along with the names of all attendees, addresses, phone numbers, and emails to OEFFA Solar Workshop, 41 Croswell Rd., Columbus, OH 43214.

For more information, or to register by phone, please contact Milo Petruziello at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 206 or milo@oeffa.org. For more information about Blue Rock Station, call (740) 674-4300 or go to www.bluerockstation.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OEFFA Comments: National Organic Standards Board Spring 2015 Meeting

April 7, 2015

National Organic Standards Board
USDA – AMS
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
RE: AMS–NOP–15–0002

National Organic Standards Board members:

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a grassroots coalition of nearly 3,400 farmers, gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, and others who since 1979 have worked to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, safeguards the environment, and provides safe, local food to consumers.  OEFFA employs education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to promote local and organic foods, helping farmers and consumers connect to build a sustainable food system.  OEFFA’s Certification program has been in operation since 1981.  OEFFA certifies 838 organic producers and food processors, ensuring that these operations meet the high standards established for organic products.  Of these operations, 300 are dairies, 175 are mixed vegetable operations, and 72 raise poultry.

While there are many issues being discussed at this spring’s NOSB meeting, OEFFA’s comments focus on three materials of particular interest: Copper, Methionine, and Zinc Sulfate.  We gathered input from our certified producers through surveys and conference calls.  We were heartened by the response and interest from our clients and their desire to participate in this unique democratic process.  We at OEFFA are thankful for the process that so many have worked to create and maintain, and respectfully offer the following comments.

Copper
OEFFA strongly supports the continued listing of fixed coppers and copper sulfate on the National List for organic crop production.

OEFFA producers utilize many cultural practices to support plant health and prevent diseases, including pruning, wider spacing between plants, crop rotation, variety selection, nutrient management, and mulches.  They also employ products containing hydrogen peroxide, as well as several other remedies including milk, oils, and microbial inputs to manage diseases.  While these practices and products are helpful, they are insufficient to manage disease problems such as phytopthera in tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and cucurbits.

OEFFA producers work to make sure that copper does not accumulate in the soil by using specially designed sprayers and spraying techniques, as well crop rotations and soil testing.  Some report success in managing disease by alternating between hydrogen peroxide and copper applications, further reducing the use of copper.

Copper is a controversial input in organic production and, due to the negative effects it can have on soil, aquatic ecosystems, and farmworker health, its use is included in critiques of organic production systems.  For these reasons, we want to encourage further research into other viable disease management tools for use in organic production.  However, copper remains a necessary tool in growing organic produce.  Our producers maintain that copper is an essential part of their disease management programs and there is currently no comparable substitute available.

Methionine
OEFFA supports the Livestock Committee proposal to change the listing of DL-methionine on the National List.

OEFFA producers are primarily raising birds in poultry barns with access to soil and pasture.  No major health issues have been observed at the current methionine ration, though some producers noticed minor pecking issues with some flocks.  Despite this fact, nutritionists working with our clients are recommending additional methionine beyond the amount currently allowed in the rule.  As a result, producers are adding more soybean meal to organic rations, which can lead to wet litter, reduced indoor air quality, and ultimately decreased flock health.

OEFFA producers choose soybean meal over other nonsynthetic forms of methionine such as earthworms and soldier flies for various reasons.  Some are concerned that they will be unable to procure a consistent supply, or that inputs may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms or cause diseases.  Other nonsynthetic protein sources are prohibited by NOP rules.

OEFFA producers indicate they could continue to produce organic poultry using the current methionine restriction, but they would prefer to calculate and record methionine use per ton of feed as an average over the life of the flock, per the NOSB Livestock Subcommittee’s recommendation.  As proposed, OEFFA producers think this modified ration would allow them to increase protein earlier in the birds’ lives leading up to peak production, without the negative effects, and then taper it off as the flock requires less.  Producers also feel confident that they could keep records demonstrating compliance with the “average over the life” ration.  As a certifier, OEFFA is concerned about how the verification of such records would play out on the ground.  Such a change would require clear guidelines and ACA cooperation to ensure consistency across the industry.

OEFFA eagerly anticipates improved poultry standards as part of the forthcoming proposed rule on animal welfare and hopes that the link between synthetic methionine demand and access to pasture is considered in these changes.  We emphasize the need for continued research for viable natural methionine alternatives and we are committed, as is stated in the Livestock Committee recommendation, to see a phase out of synthetic methionine in organic rations over time.  While these alternatives are being developed and field-tested, we hope to see the Livestock Subcommittee’s proposal adopted to support the health and productivity of organic poultry operations.

Zinc Sulfate
OEFFA supports the addition of Zinc Sulfate to the National List.

OEFFA clients are already utilizing several cultural practices to support hoof and foot health in their organic management systems, including rotational grazing, maintaining dry housing and laneways, confining animals in very wet conditions, and conducting hoof trimming as needed.  Despite these practices, foot and hoof issues such as foot rot, heel warts, and hairy warts arise from time to time.  OEFFA producers are generally seeing these issues in one to three animals at a time, not in the entire herd.  More issues seem to arise in those herds engaged in comparatively less grazing, while still meeting the organic grazing requirements.

Currently, OEFFA producers are using varied remedies to treat foot issues, including copper sulfate, hydrogen peroxide, and various home remedies including sulfur and garlic powder, a sugar/molasses paste, and dietary supplements including salt.  Producers find the pastes difficult to administer because of the need to isolate the afflicted animal (a stressful process for the animal), clean the foot, apply the paste, and wrap the foot.  There are also concerns that wrapping the affected foot could hold in moisture and potentially foster additional foot problems.

Because foot issues generally occur in only a few animals, OEFFA producers indicated both a need and a strong preference to use zinc sulfate directly on the affected hooves rather than as a footbath.  An individual, spray-on treatment can be applied in an efficient, stress-free manner in the milking parlor without the need to wrap the affected hoof.  We recognize that use as a topical application is not specifically requested in the petition, but topical use provides the needed benefits to farmers and affected animals.  As an additional environmental benefit, the individual topical application does not require the disposal of footbath wastewater.

Should a footbath be allowed, our clients noted that the footbath wastewater would be mixed with manure and applied to fields.  Although the zinc sulfate would compose a relatively small portion of the manure applied, it should be disposed of in a manner that minimizes accumulation of zinc in the soil, which could be monitored through soil testing.

In keeping with OFPA, we recognize the responsibility that comes with requesting this synthetic material be added to the National List.  We hope that, as the process dictates, research for effective alternatives will continue.

Idea Regarding NOSB Material Review Process
This is the first time OEFFA has participated in the NOSB comment process.  We are struck by the sheer volume of materials for review and the tremendous amount of work undertaken on behalf of the organic industry.  As we experience this process for the first time, and in the spirit of continuous improvement, we offer the following question: Would it be possible to stagger the sunset materials review work over multiple meetings?  In other words, perhaps rather than having one meeting in which all sunset 2017 materials are discussed, consider dividing the 2017 sunset materials in such a way that they can be discussed over the course of several meetings, timed in such a way to permit the vote at the appropriate (sunset date) time.  This might improve the quality of the dialogue we have with producers, and the quality of information received, while not overwhelming everyone from NOSB members to producers in the process.

In closing, we would like to sincerely thank the Board for your service and for considering our comments.   We appreciate the good work you do to maintain integrity and transparency in the organic industry.

Sincerely,
Carol Goland, Ph.D.
Executive Director

OEFFA Joins Groups to Challenge Major USDA Change to Organic Rule

Washington, DC, April 8, 2015 – Organic stakeholders have filed a lawsuit in federal court, maintaining that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the federal rulemaking process when it changed established procedures for reviewing the potential hazards and need for allowed synthetic and prohibited natural substances used in producing organic food. A coalition of 15 organic food producers and farmer, consumer, environmental, and certification groups asked the court to require USDA to reconsider its decision on the rule change and reinstitute the agency’s customary public hearing and comment process.

When it comes to organic food production, consumers and producers expect a high level of scrutiny and are willing to pay a premium with the knowledge that a third-party certifier is evaluating compliance with organic standards. The burgeoning $35+ billion organic market relies heavily on a system of public review and input regarding decisions that affect organic production systems and the organic label. The multi-stakeholder National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)[1], appointed to a 5-year term by the Secretary of Agriculture, holds semi-annual meetings to solicit public input and to write recommendations to the Secretary on organic policy matters, including the allowance of synthetic and non-organic agricultural materials and ingredients.

The unilateral agency action taken to adopt major policy change without a public process, the plaintiffs maintain, violates one of the foundational principles and practices of OFPA —public participation in organic policy-making. In adopting the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), Congress created standards for organic certification and established the NOSB to oversee the allowance of synthetic materials based on a determination that they do not cause harm to human health and the environment and are necessary in organic food production and processing, given a lack of alternatives. Under the law, a review of these materials takes place on a five year cycle, with a procedure for relisting if consistent with OFPA criteria. Plaintiffs in this case maintain that the USDA organic rule establishes a public process that creates public trust in the USDA organic label, which has resulted in exponential growth in organic sales over the last two decades.

At issue in the lawsuit is a rule that implements the organic law’s “sunset provision,” which since its origins has been interpreted to require all listed materials to cycle off the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances every five years unless the NOSB votes by a two-thirds majority to relist them. In making its decision, the NOSB is charged with considering public input, new science, and new information on available alternatives.

In September, 2013, in a complete reversal of accepted process, USDA announced a definitive change in the rule it had been operating under since the inception of the organic program without any public input. Now, materials can remain on the National List in perpetuity unless the NOSB takes initiative to vote it off the List.

In a joint statement, the plaintiffs, representing a broad cross-section of interests in organic, said:

We are filing this lawsuit today because we are deeply concerned that the organic decision making process is being undermined by USDA. The complaint challenges the unilateral agency action on the sunset procedure for synthetic materials review, which represents a dramatic departure from the organic community’s commitment to an open and fair decision making process, subject to public input. Legally, the agency’s decision represents a rule change and therefore must be subject to public comment. But equally important, it is a departure from the public process that we have built as a community. This process has created a unique opportunity within government for a community of stakeholders to come together, hear all points of view, and chart a course for the future of organic. It is a process that continually strengthens organic, supports its rapid growth, and builds the integrity of the USDA certified label in the marketplace.

The plaintiffs in the case, represented by counsel from Center for Food Safety, include: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Equal Exchange, Food and Water Watch, Frey Vineyards, La Montanita Co-op, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, New Natives, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Northeast Organic Farmers Association Massachusetts, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Organic Consumers Association, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, PCC Natural Markets, and The Cornucopia Institute.

[1] The NOSB is a 15 member Board comprised of farmers, consumers, environmentalists, retailers, certifiers and food producers who advise the Secretary of Agriculture and the National Organic Program on all matters related to organic food and agriculture policy.

Ohio Business Owner: Fracking Stifling Local Food Movement

Ohio Public News Service 4/6/15

By Mary Kuhlman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll Shows Bi-Partisan Support for GE Labeling in Ohio

For Immediate Release: March 12, 2015

Contact: 
Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 208, amalie@oeffa.org 
Lauren Ketcham, Communications Coordinator, (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203, lauren@oeffa.org

Columbus, Ohio- A poll of Ohio voters conducted this February illustrates overwhelming support for labeling food that contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.

“There can be no doubt that Ohio voters want the right to know what they eat and feed their families,” said Amalie Lipstreu, Policy Program Coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). “The results clearly show voters—regardless of political party—support GE labeling and disapprove of GE food.

OEFFA contracted with Public Policy Polling for an independent poll of 520 registered Ohio voters on February 4-5, 2015. Key findings include:

  • 87% of Ohio voters want GE foods labeled and 61% disapprove of GE food;
  • 70% of women—the primary food purchaser in most households—disapprove of GE food and 92% of the women polled want those products labeled;
  • Support for GE labeling is a non-partisan issue: 89% of Republicans, 88% of Democrats, and 85% of Independents support GE labeling.
According to OEFFA member and clinical nurse Lynne Genter, “This poll clearly illustrates that Ohioans are knowledgeable about genetically engineered foods and want to know when foods contain GE ingredients. Ohioans have raised their concerns in a unified voice and our legislators should pass a GE labeling bill.”

Despite widespread use, consumers and non-GE farmers have expressed serious concerns about the technology, including drift of GE pollen contaminating other plants, the patenting of seed and ownership of nature, the increased use of synthetic chemicals that has led to herbicide resistant “superweeds,” and other potential environmental and human health impacts.

These concerns are often the subject of much debate, particularly given the lack of independent scientific review and oversight. “It’s clear from this survey that Ohioans want the right to choose,” said Lipstreu. “Just as consumers can choose whether to buy juice from concentrate, labeling foods produced with GE ingredients can provide them with information they are asking for in a clear and cost effective way.”

A two page issue brief and infographic summarizing the poll results can be found at http://policy.oeffa.org/gepoll.

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