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Policy Update, December 2019

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 December Issue Newsletter

By Marty Dagoberto, NOFA/Mass Policy Director

Healthy Soils and Pollinator bills move after packed public hearing, farmer input needed!

We have a lot to be thankful for this month. In this month’s Policy Update:

1. The Healthy Soils Bill and the Pollinator Protection Act have been passed by the Agriculture committee!

2. Advocates filled the hearing room on Nov. 12th to “Stop Pesticides!”

3. Are you a farmer? We need to hear from you on climate action and land access.

Two priority bills passed by the Agriculture Committee in the Mass. legislature

Pollinator Protection Act Passed from Ag. Committee

The legislature passed the Pollinator Protection Act (H.763, “An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators)
The legislature passed the Pollinator Protection Act
(H.763, “An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators)

The legislature is moving to protect pollinators: only a few days after the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee heard testimony from dozens of advocates in support of reducing pesticides, they passed the Pollinator Protection Act (H.763, “An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators”). This bill would place commonsense restrictions on the class of pesticides known as “neonics” and promote pollinator habitats in the state.

We are grateful to the strong environmental leadership of the committee chairs, Rep Smitty Pignatelli and Sen. Anne Gobi, for acting quickly to advance this bill. At the hearing on Nov. 12th (more on the hearing, below) we were excited to see our pollinator champions Rep. Carolyn Dykema and Attorney General Maura Healy testify together in support of the bill they cosponsored. “We believe that this bill represents a thoughtful, balanced step forward toward protecting our pollinators by curbing misuse of neonicotinoid pesticides,” Rep. Dykema said in a statement on Facebook

Thank you to everyone who has taken action by contacting their legislators about the need to protect pollinators and reduce pesticides. A broad coalition has formed in support of this bill, including farmers, gardeners, beekeepers, conservationists, academics, environmentalists, health advocates, nurseries, and landscapers. We will need to keep growing our numbers and the volume of our collective voice if this bill is to pass. The bill is now headed to the House Ways and Means Committee, which is where the chemical industry lobbyists would like to see it get “lost in the shuffle.” Even with over 75% of the legislature signed as cosponsors, there’s no guarantee that it will make it to the floor for a vote. It’s up to us to keep it on the top of the stack, so please keep contacting legislators and sharing the action page! Learn more about the bill and take action at http://bit.ly/mapollenaction (To have a greater impact, please call your legislators about this bill!...)

Healthy Soils Bill Passes from Ag. Committee

This month the Ag. Committee also passed the Healthy Soils Bill (S.2404)! We are again grateful to the chairs of the committee, Rep. Smitty Pignatelli and Sen. Anne Gobi, for moving this important piece of legislation. “A MAJOR WIN for healthy soils, our farmers, and our climate!!” proclaimed Senator Jo Comerford in her Facebook post announcing the passage.

This month the Ag. Committee passed the Healthy Soils Bill (H.763)
This month the Ag. Committee passed the
Healthy Soils Bill (H.763)

Filed by our healthy soils champions, Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Paul Schmid, the bill now has a new name/number and expanded scope. “An Act promoting healthy soils for reducing greenhouse gases and the effects of climate change in the Commonwealth,” would create a state healthy soils program which would provide grants and other assistance to support healthy soils. 

Not only would this program support healthy soils practices for farming but now also: suburban and urban lawns, yards and gardens, public and private forests, parks and other open or green spaces, as well as non-paved outdoor areas of offices, businesses and institutions across the Commonwealth. This more comprehensive approach aligns perfectly with the scope of the state-funded Healthy Soils Action Plan, which is currently under development with NOFA/Mass staff serving as advisors. 

Numerous farming and land management practices have been demonstrated to increase soil health and soil carbon, yet these are still not widely implemented. With state incentives and support, farmers and land managers can better adopt these practices, helping to mitigate the climate crisis, improve water quality and other “ecosystem services” of the soil, and become more resilient to extreme weather.

Thank you to the legislative Food Systems Caucus for making this important bill a priority! We are also extremely grateful to the growing coalition of climate activists, water protectors and agricultural advocates which has formed in support this bill.

Even though the bill has no known opposition, we will need to keep pushing for it to make it through the legislative labyrinth. The next hurdle is the Senate Ways and Means Committee (sorry to mix metaphors). If your legislator happens to sit on that committee (please LET US KNOW) and please be contacting them about the need to support healthy soils practices in our Commonwealth. They have many bills to consider and might not understand how critical healthy soils are to addressing the climate crisis!

For more details on the Healthy Soils Bill and to send a quick message to legislators, please visit: http://bit.ly/MASoils

Hearing room overflows with pesticide activists from across the state

On November 12th 2019, state legislators on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee heard five hours of passionate testimony from a packed room of advocates from around the state who are concerned about the effects of pesticides on humans, animals, insects and ecosystem health. Dozens of parents, teachers, beekeepers, farmers, landscapers, pediatricians and academics showed up to send a strong message to legislators that it’s time to limit pesticides use in Massachusetts!

Please add your voice to theirs by sending an email to legislators. Ask them to ban glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) from being sprayed where children learn and play and to restore power to local municipalities so that they can control local pesticide use: bit.ly/childrencides

“At a time of climate crisis, rapid insect extinctions, declining bird populations and rising rates of chronic human illness, we must address how the pervasive use of synthetic toxic pesticides in our school yards, our farm fields and our communities contributes to this urgent situation,” begins a coalition statement endorsed by over 40 organizations, farms and businesses and submitted to legislators at the hearing by NOFA/Mass. “We know that we cannot rely on federal agencies to protect the American people and ecosystems from the threats of the overuse of pesticides… We are now counting on our state legislators to help us.” (Read the full statement here, which is still accepting endorsements.) 

We at NOFA/Mass are grateful to the network of advocates from the Cape to the Berkshires who heard our call to action to attend the State House hearing. Here are some highlights and quotes from the testimonies delivered during the hearing:

  • -A group of grade-schoolers expressed fear over the chemicals used on their school playing fields. 
  • A woman carrying twins in her third trimester shadowed her two small children at the podium, who she would no longer allow to play on public land that abuts their home due to their planned use of glyphosate on invasive weeds, despite her respectful protests. 
  •  Beekeepers brought totes of dead bees to accompany the reported MDAR statistics of a statewide hive loss rate of 50%.
  • Two women shared their health struggles from cancer to hypothyroidism caused by pesticide exposure. 
  • Biologists, scientists, doctors and health practitioners took their turns in front of the panel to share research indicating that pesticides are harmful to human health.

“I am here for a very specific reason: I do not want my children, or anyone else’s, exposed to Roundup and other synthetic herbicides that may be about to be sprayed on conservation land right next to our house, and next to our neighbor who runs an in-home daycare. - Kaedra Walsh, Littleton resident attended with her two children (and twins due in December!), testified in support of S.447/H.776, An Act empowering towns and cities to protect residents and the environment from harmful pesticides and H.791, An Act relative to improving pesticide protections for Massachusetts schoolchildren.

“As Public Health Chair... I’ve dug into the harmful effects of glyphosate on public health… As the state moves to restrict these chemicals, I would suggest that we give strong consideration to a just transition… grant programs and training programs to help farmers make a transition.” - Sen. Jo Comerford, speaking in support of S.447, S.463 and S.499. 

“Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure...All children in the Commonwealth deserve safe schools where they can learn, play and grow, so it’s time for us to update the rules on the use of pesticides on schoolgrounds.” - Sara Dewey from Conservation Law Foundation, in support of H.791, An Act relative to improving pesticide protections for Massachusetts schoolchildren.”

“The incidence of leukemia in the United States has seen the fastest rise among Hispanic children… Oncologists and epidemiologists speculate that this is because of the most intense exposure to pesticides in agricultural workers.” - Dr. Julia Koehler, representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, was the last witness to speak after nearly five hours of testimony.  

What’s next for these bills?

In the weeks following the public hearing, the committee will consider the pesticide-related bills before them (see a full list with breakdown of the bills, here). They have until March 2020 to “report them” out of the committee. The legislative process is a labyrinth -- and the chemical lobby is already working to kill these bills. We must speak up now, and often, in greater numbers, and with a stronger voice. Please take action by contacting your legislators today and help activate your friends and family for a less toxic Commonwealth.

 

Ways to take action to support state legislation to reduce pesticides:

  1. Take quick action, here, by customizing a form email to your state legislators: bit.ly/childrencides
  2. Ask your friends and family to take action (see #1).
  3. Get to know your state legislators/staffers. Be sure they know how important this issue is to you. Call them. Visit their district or State House office. Get in touch with NOFA/Mass to “adopt” your legislators.

For more information on these and other proposed state legislation being tracked by NOFA/Mass, please visit: https://www.nofamass.org/content/legislative-priorities

Are you a farmer? We need to hear from you on climate action and land access.

Farming on a small parcel? 

Our allies at the Mass. Food System Collaborative are collecting data from farmers on their land use and access problems. They are particularly interested in farmers who farm on individual plots which are smaller than 5 acres, whether they own or rent or regardless of the total acres they farm. Legislators want to know the extent of such use and what any change in law would mean for municipal assessors and tax structures. Please contact the MFSC Agricultural Network Coordinator, Jeff Cole.

Concerned about the climate crisis?!...

As sustainable and organic farmers we can do much to build the resilience of our farms to extreme weather events, store excess carbon in our soils and trees, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we cannot do it alone - and now is the time to join thousands of other producers across the nation to ask policymakers and federal administrators to help us meet the challenges of a changing climate and become part of the solution.

As a member group of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, NOFA/Mass is gathering signatures on a Farmer Letter on Climate Change. Beginning in the spring of 2020, we will use this letter in meetings with members of Congress, USDA program leaders, and other key decision-makers to urge effective policy action to combat climate change, and especially to help farmers and ranchers weather the storm and lead the way towards a more sustainable future.  

Please view the letter at and add your signature: http://bit.ly/NSAC_NOFAMass  (Please note, this is for farmers, as defined by USDA as producers who sell at least $1,000 in farm products annually. 

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