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Policy

Photo by beauconsidine, available under a Creative Commons license.

While we sit and wait for our legislators to move forward with the agricultural omnibus bill, the GMO labeling bill, and much else, let’s take a moment to zoom out, scan the horizons, and find inspiration in some unexpected places.

Massachusetts tends to pride itself on being first in the nation on a number of landmark pieces of legislation. First on health care reform, first on gay marriage, etc. But there is much we can learn from the efforts of other states too.

Lunch-In for Labeling GMOs on June 8 at MA State House

As we prepare to send you this update, just a few days before the historic Vermont GMO labeling law implements, attempts to shut down the Vermont law (and laws in Alaska, Maine, Connecticut, along with bills pending in state legislatures like Massachusetts) are moving quickly at the federal level. Senators Roberts and Stabenow have introduced a new bill that is nothing more than an industry-sponsored attempt to keep Americans in the DARK about what we are eating.

The evolution of the organic movement

We’ve come a long way since the early dawn days of Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale, and those other pioneers that defined the threads of what has become organic agriculture. Just thirty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the likes of Walmart and Stop & Shop would have an entire aisle of organic foods, or that pop icons like Oprah or Gwyneth Paltrow would be advocating for organic farming on TV.

Massachusetts State House

On May 5th, the Senate passed An Act Promoting Agriculture in the Commonwealth (now S.2286), a bundle of bills of interest to the farm community. Currently in the House in the Joint Committee on Rules, this bill looks poised to head to a floor vote soon.

Many of the bill’s provisions reflect recommendations made in last year’s Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

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.

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