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Policy

This organic poultry house would be spacious enough under the new rules

This organic poultry house would be spacious enough under the new rules

For those of us who are concerned about the integrity of the organic seal, the National Organic Program’s (NOP) recent announcement that they have issued a proposed rule to define animal welfare standards was a cause for celebration. Should the proposed rule stand as is, gone will be the day of poultry house “porches” and other semblances of outdoor access. Controversial physical alterations such as poultry de-beaking and cattle tail-docking will also be prohibited.

A comprehensive omnibus bill (S.2171) aimed to “promote agriculture in the Commonwealth” is making progress within the State House. This bundle of legislation, which just recently made its way out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, addresses issues ranging from farm-specific tax reforms to a veteran agriculture program and much else in between. Many of the provisions included are specific recommendations that reflect the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan which was put together last year.

The PPE for mixing Actinovate includes a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, and a dust/mist filtering respirator.

The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) is a federal law designed to protect agricultural workers and pesticide handlers from the risks associated with pesticide exposure. The law requires that employers on farms provide protections for their workers from exposure to pesticides, training about pesticide safety, and mitigations in the case of exposure. The WPS was first issued in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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.

Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture public hearing on the humane treatment of farm animals ballot measure

New Policy Director Dan Bensonoff and Policy Organizer Amie Lindenboim have been working on a number of policy issues of interest to our members. Here’s the latest.

Federal GMO Labeling Update: Sen. Pat Roberts's (R-Kan.) bill to kill GMO labeling will likely be the subject of a heated Senate Ag Committee debate on Tuesday, March 1st. While there has been plenty of discussion as to what will come out of that debate, given the timing of it, I think I will refrain from speculating on what may be old news by the time you read this! The good news is that thus far, the Massachusetts delegation has stood up for food labeling transparency, and is not interested in passing a bill that would restrict the rights of states to act on behalf of their citizens.

Jesse McDougall’s farm, Studio Hill, in Shaftsbury, Vermont. (From ecowatch.com)

More and more farmers are starting to understand that their ecological and cultural role goes far beyond producing food; they are what farmer Jesse McDougall of Shaftsbury, VT would call “planetary engineers.” Right now, some of our farmer engineers treat their land like a mining site: they rely on ancient energy, burn through soils, and deplete water aquifers. Other farmers have engineered their farms to function more like bee colonies. These farms are low on inputs and produce an abundance of products and benefits. Such farms, often called regenerative farms for their ability to rebuild ecological capital, offer a variety of benefits beyond food. They build soils, sequester carbon, retain water, and cycle nutrients efficiently.

Group gathered at 2016 Winter Conference

This year NOFA/Mass’s Winter Conference convened the first ever summit of grassroots activists and organizers to discuss Massachusetts’s pending GMO labeling bill (H3242). The gathering brought together a consortium of farmers, consumer advocates, and interested citizens who are concerned about the risks and lack of transparency associated with genetic engineering of our foods.

Greens grown in mid-January in unheated greenhouse at Clay Bottom Farm

Our new online workshop series, “Inspiring Ideas from Experts in the Field,” attempts to make quality education easily accessible to all. On the last Tuesday of every month anyone can call or go online to join a one-hour workshop focused on farm management issues. Remote learning will never surpass the value of on-farm, in-person workshops, but our online series removes the added burdens of travel time and cost, increasing the likelihood of participation from beginning and experienced farmers alike.

Operations inside a potato chip production facility.
Photograph by Meg Roussos — Bloomberg via Getty Images

We’ve compiled this list of stories to help keep you up to date on issues impacting food and farming.

If we pause for an instant to consider this historical moment in agriculture we come across the following findings: Based on the New England Food Vision, we have lost 63% of all American farms since 1900. In New England, we are currently left with roughly 30,000 farms, down from a high of 250,000 just 100 years ago. And even though, according to the Economic Research Service of the USDA, the average American farmer now husbands roughly 500 acres of land, 85%-95% of a farmer’s income derives from off-farm sources.

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