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Legislative update

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 April Issue Newsletter

By Amie Lindenboim

It was a busy month at the State House!

“Rule Ten Day,” the final day for bills to move out of the committee to which they were originally assigned, so that they can move forward in the legislative process, passed on March 16th.

An omnibus ag bill was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee for Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture (ENRA) as bill S2171.  Read more about that here.

The Genetic Engineering Food Labeling Act, ­­­awaiting a new bill number, was reported favorably out of committee, and now heads to the House Committee on Ways and Means. We are excited to see that our advocacy and your support have taken GMO labeling one big step closer to reality in Massachusetts!

Our work isn’t over yet. Apparently the bill had a bit of a detour to House Speaker DeLeo’s office first. The bill that emerged from the committee differs somewhat from the one originally filed.  The redrafted bill will still require that food offered for retail sale in Massachusetts that is entirely or partially produced with genetic modification be labeled, and prohibit food produced with genetic modification from being labeled as “natural,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” “naturally made” or anything similar that would tend to mislead a consumer.

The redraft added a “trigger” clause, delaying the point at which the law would take effect. As currently written, the law would not go into force until five of the following states enact “similar” bills: ME, VT, CT, NY, NH, RI. Also, the total aggregate population of those states will need to reach 20 million.  In passing a bill with such a stringent trigger, Massachusetts would essentially be telling the rest of the Northeast, “We’ll go last!”

As the House Committee on Ways and Means is reviewing the bill, we will be pushing to remove the trigger clause and other changes/revisions that will make the bill more effective and consistent with existing GMO labeling laws.

MDAR News

The Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources (MDAR) has been holding hearings on their draft Pollinator Protection Plan.  The Plan acknowledges MDAR’s responsibility under EPA directives to develop a plan for protecting pollinators.  However, it is mainly a re-iteration of regulations already on the books, combined with some voluntary guidance. 

As we see it, the Plan is insufficient, for the following reasons:

(1) The Plan has no plan to reduce, restrict, or even re-evaluate pesticides that are adding to the stress and death of pollinators.

(2) Landscapers and homeowners are given almost total free reign.

(3) There is no provision for consumer notification as to whether plants or seeds have been pretreated with pesticides harmful to pollinators.

(4) There is no provision for pesticide applicators to notify abutting beekeepers when they plan to apply pesticides that pose acute danger to bees.  While beekeepers are unique in that they husband livestock that forages on public and private property, this foraging often benefits not only the beekeeper, but also the owner of the flowering plants/crops.  Because honeybees provide the environmental benefits of pollination without discrimination to flowering plants on any land within their range, including public land, as a society we should make special provisions to ensure they can keep going about their buzzy business into the future. 

While a general pesticide application notification law would be the best move, at the very least abutters should notify beekeepers so that in some (not all) cases they may be able to move their bees or keep them home under such dangerous conditions.  MDAR’s proposed Plan places quite a bit of responsibility on the shoulders of beekeepers to ensure the health of their hives.  Beekeepers cannot be expected to prevent their bees from being poisoned without requiring disclosure of this crucial information.

The public comment period ended in March; stay tuned for their next steps.

Federal Developments

A “cloture” vote on Sen. Roberts’s “Dark Act” bill was averted on March 16th

With your encouragement, Senators Warren and Markey stood strong, and refused to vote to keep consumers in the dark.  Had the bill received sufficient support, its passage would have preempted state’s attempts to label foods with genetically modified ingredients, codified a failed voluntary labeling regime, and directed the USDA to “educate” consumers with pro-GMO propaganda.

A new version of the bill could come up in early April.  But with Vermont’s mandatory GMO food labeling law set to go into effect July 1st, some manufacturers have already chosen the path of transparency, rather than fighting to keep consumers in the dark. General Mills is apparently breaking ranks from the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association (GMA), of which it is a member, by announcing that it will voluntarily label its products that contain genetically engineered ingredients. Mars, Incorporated did the same thing a few days later.  This follows a similar announcement by Campbell Soup Co. back in January. 

Meanwhile the GMA continues to lobby against meaningful GMO labeling efforts, and remains embroiled in a lawsuit seeking to prevent Vermont’ law from taking effect.

We’ll keep you posted on any news or opportunities to get involved!

Join NOFA/Mass for Ag Day at the State House!

Tuesday, April 5 2016

9:00am to 2:00pm

State House - Boston, MA

Agriculture Day at the Massachusetts State House is your chance to speak directly to your State Senators and Representatives about food and farm-related policy issues. This is a rare opportunity to voice concerns, illuminate opportunities, and to generally make your voice heard by our state lawmakers.  Tables representing local agricultural groups (like NOFA!) are set up; food tastes and a catered lunch are provided.  Please RSVP to our policy director, Dan Bensonoff, if you plan to join at Dan@nofamass.org.

Want to get involved? Have a policy question or concern? Contact Amie@nofamass.org or Dan@nofamass.org

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