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Policy Update: Lots of Good News! (Then there's the Farm Bill...)

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 May Issue Newsletter

By Marty Dagoberto, Policy Coordinator

Source: agriculture.com

Author’s note: Our monthly policy update was looking like it would be a total downer, but fortunately some good news broke late in the month, so let’s start with that!

Good news for the pollinators (and all of us)!

In a great week of international news for the pollinators (and everyone who depends on their pollination services), the European Union, on April 27, 2018, voted to ban the use of the class of bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics). The ban on neonicotinoids is expected to come into force by the end of 2018 and will mean they can only be used in closed greenhouses. (Read more about it in The Guardian, here.)

In related news, our neighbors to the north in Vermont announced a big win the same day as the EU announcement: The Vermont State Senate voted 29-0 to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on all ornamental, non-agricultural plants in Vermont. The bill also will require that seed dealers accept orders for corn and soy seeds that are untreated with neonicotinoid pesticides for the 2019 planting season.

All of this legislative activity bodes well for our efforts in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Pollinator Protection Act already has the support of 67% of the MA legislature and more than 100 scientists and professors from across the state. This law would place commonsense restrictions on neonics and promote pollinator habitats in the state. Thanks to a recent outpouring of constituent support after an action alert that many of you participated in last month, our Queen Bee Champion, Rep. Carolyn Dykema, was able to get 110 (out of 200) legislators to sign a letter to the House Ways & Means Committee, asking them to bring this bill out for a vote.

Now that the budget process is mostly done on the House side of the State Legislature, we hope to see movement on bills we’re pushing. Please continue contacting your state legislators regarding the Pollinator Protection Act, the Healthy Soils Bill, and other legislative priorities outlined on our policy page. Stay tuned to our e-blasts and Facebook page for related news and action alerts over the next month. Reminder: the legislature has until the end of July to pass current bills, so we’re headed into crunch time.

 Also related: Check out this great Letter to the Editor of the Greenfield Recorder from Dan Greene over at Good Bunch Farms (Conway) and consider writing your own to increase the buzz for pollinator protection!

Good news for the soil (and our climate)!

The Healthy Soils Bill is moving! While the bill itself (H.3713) is still waiting with many other bills in the bottleneck that is the House Ways and Means Committee, on April 23rd we received the very good news that the entirety of the Healthy Soils Bill language was included in the Agriculture Committee redraft of Governor Baker’s Environmental Bond Bill. This makes perfect sense, as healthy soil practices present truly shovel-ready methods for climate change mitigation! You can read more about the language on our policy page.

We are elated to see Healthy Soils language included in a piece of “must-pass” legislation, because real action on climate change can’t wait. We encourage any constituents and/or friends of the committee chairs to contact them with words of gratitude: Senator Anne Gobi and Representative Smitty Pignatelli. We will be issuing a full action alert in coming weeks to help make sure the Healthy Soils Bill remains in the bond bill draft when it “gets to the floor.”

 

And now for the bad news….


The Farm Bill finally released after secret subcommittee process. And it’s lousy.

First: “What is the Farm Bill?” Our national partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) have a very helpful info page on it, which includes this description:

Through programs covering everything from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access for low-income families, from beginning farmer training to support for sustainable farming practices, this powerful package of laws sets the course of our food and farming system – in good ways and bad. It’s our job to make sure the farm bill reflects what our country’s farmers and eaters need for a sustainable future.

The Farm Bill must be reauthorized every five years. In past reauthorization cycles, drafts of the bill were released through a subcommittee process. This time, however, even our champion on the Ag committee, Congressman Jim McGovern, was unable to view the bill’s contents before it was released to the public (He joked at an Ag forum in Shelburne Falls in February that perhaps it would take a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in order to release the draft text).

"If what comes out from behind some closed door in the Capitol is a lousy farm bill, then we should say 'no' to it," he said. "And then hopefully get through an election, and then maybe re-write it." - Congressman Jim McGovern in Buckland,  MA, Feb. 11, 2018

As summarized by our partners at NESAWG: “On April 18th, 2018, the House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee passed their draft of the 2018 Farm Bill- the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2)- in a 26-20 vote along party lines. This Farm Bill draft has been criticized by sustainable food and agriculture groups for its drastic changes to SNAP, which will result in benefit cuts for millions of people, in addition to steep cuts to critical farm and food systems programs, including conservation, programs that support local food, and programs to support organic farmers.” Also of note for the organic movement: the current draft totally eliminates the organic certification cost-share program.

In the words of Congressman McGovern, this certainly is “a lousy farm bill.” Accordingly, NOFA/Mass has joined with our national partners at NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) in opposition to this draft, along with other NOFA chapters, Food Policy Action, Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists and a very large and growing list of others. Read more about this coalition effort, with statements of opposition of various organizations, here: https://www.betterfarmbill.org/

What’s next for the Farm Bill? Advocates across the country are meeting and strategizing the first week of May, so stay tuned for ways to participate in rejecting this terrible farm bill, and promoting a better one. For now, feel free to contact your members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to encourage them to oppose the current House draft of the Farm Bill (which we fully expect them to). We also encourage everyone to contact the offices of our Senators Warren and Markey, asking for their help in creating a better farm bill on the Senate side.

 

Proposed Monsanto-Bayer “Merger From Hell” Clears Major Hurdle

On April 9, 2018, the Department of Justice gave the greenlight for the mega-merger of Monsanto and Bayer. If the merger goes through, the new company would be the world’s largest vegetable seed company as well as the largest manufacturer and seller of herbicides, giving a single corporation unprecedented control of our food supply.

An overwhelming majority of surveyed farmers are concerned about the proposed Bayer-Monsanto merger and believe it will have a negative impact on independent farmers and farming communities. The poll also found a high level of concern amongst farmers surveyed that the merged company will increase pressure for chemically dependent farming, control data about farm practices, increase prices, and diminish quality, choice and availability of seed varieties including that of regionally adaptive seed, which farmers identified as critical given increasing climate variability.

 NOFA/Mass had helped to distribute the above-referenced survey and continues to work directly with the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has been a vocal opponent to the megamerger. At this point, it is unclear what we can do to stop this merger. If there are action steps that we can take (besides stoking outrage…. #mergerfromhell), our members will hear about it through our newsletter and Facebook page.


USDA reaffirms “hands-off” approach to GMO crops produced with gene editing

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released at the end of March their policy that they will not regulate crops produced through “genome editing,” such as with the CRISPR method. This is in line with an ongoing PR campaign promoted by the likes of Monsanto to try and convince policy-makers and the public that gene editing is not genetic modification.

With this statement on “Plant Breeding Innovation” (the framing promoted by the likes of Monsanto), the USDA makes it clear that as long as genetic engineers only use genetic material normally found in that plant, they can rearrange the crop’s genome as much as they want without any sort of regulation from the USDA. This change means that foods created with CRISPR and will reach store shelves years sooner than they otherwise would.

And as mentioned in last month’s policy update, we suspect that the GMO labeling regulations soon to be released by the USDA to exclude products of “genome editing.” More on that when the actual regulations are released (May 2018?).  

  

And to end with a solutions-oriented action update...


Urging Congressional Action to End the Dairy Crisis

Farmers are in deep debt, family dairy farms are being sold off; the New York Times even covered the growing rate of dairy farmer suicides last month. NOFA/Mass recently signed on to a letter from the National Family Farm Coalition urging Congressional ag leadership and USDA to take immediate steps to address the crisis and set a fair price for family dairy farmers. The letter was developed by dairy farmers in WI, PA, and NY, and signed onto by more than 50 other organizations, including labor, consumer, and environmental groups.

The solutions proposed in the letter include a milk floor price set at $20 per hundred pounds; establishment of a program to purchase excess milk for food banks; a moratorium on federal funds granted to industrial livestock operations (so-called “factory farms”); federal hearings on the milk pricing structure; and implementation of a dairy supply management program to stabilize prices. The letter can be read here.

Want more regular food policy news and updates? We highly recommend subscribing to the Politico Morning Agriculture daily briefing. Here are a couple excerpts we thought worth sharing:

 

Not "impossible," just too soon: Impossible Foods has considered its product GRAS since 2014, but the company has not succeeded in persuading FDA to give its blessing to the magic ingredient in its Impossible Burgers - plant-based heme, a key part of red meat and source of iron. FDA initially said it needed more evidence given the product's novelty. Bloomberg reports that the company has tried again and is awaiting the agency's response. More here.

 

MONSANTO'S LEGAL ROLLERCOASTER: Arkansas farmers are taking matters into their own hands over whether they can spray the herbicide dicamba onto crops this growing season and into the future.

In late 2017, the Arkansas Plant Board banned use of the herbicide after widespread complaints from farmers that the herbicide drifted from neighboring fields and damaged their crops. Monsanto sought to block that rule from taking effect but a state judge tossed out the suit based on sovereign immunity grounds, citing an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that makes it difficult to sue state agencies. Monsanto has filed a notice of appeal in that case.

But the judge also ruled that six farmers involved in challenging the ban were denied their due process rights because they had no means to get the ban overturned (because of the state sovereignty loophole) so the ban would not apply to those particular growers.

That prompted a mass run to courts. Groups of farmers are seeking the same relief, and some judges have granted temporary restraining orders preventing the plant board from enforcing its regulation. Meanwhile, the state attorney general's office is gathering up those restraining orders and taking them to the state Supreme Court. That ruling is expected to be imminent.

West Coast legal woes: Over in California, Monsanto was handed a court loss by a California appellate court that decided the state is allowed to list glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's flagship product Roundup, as a probable carcinogen under Proposition 65.

"This is a huge win for Californians -- and a huge loss for Monsanto -- as it upholds our right to protect ourselves and our environment from unnecessary and unwanted exposure to the dangerous chemical, glyphosate," the Center for Food Safety, which joined the case, said in a statement.

 The California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment based its decision to list glyphosate on a 2015 conclusion from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that the chemical was a "probable" human carcinogen. An IARC finding is one way under that a chemical can be subject to Prop 65 rules.

 No word yet on whether Monsanto will take the ruling up to the highest court. The company said it is reviewing the ruling "and will be analyzing further options."

 

Want to get involved in policy work? Have a news tip or policy suggestion? Marty Dagoberto, our Policy Director, can be reached at marty@nofamass.org.

 

 

 

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