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Policy

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.

On December 18th congress ratified a $1.1 trillion government spending bill for the following fiscal year in a document that spanned 2,242 pages. This bill, also known as the Omnibus Appropriations bill, includes a collection of “riders”. These riders are unrelated laws that were tacked onto this gargantuan bill in an effort to circumvent the typical law-making process.

What happened with the salmon?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval of the genetically modified AquAdvantage salmon in November marks the first time a genetically engineered (GE) animal has been approved for human consumption as food. This Atlantic salmon has been engineered to reach market size more quickly than non-GE, farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

Holidays are all about food. For many of us, some of our fondest memories are of the smells and tastes of holiday fare, while gathered around the table with the family.

That is why the holidays are a natural time to think about food – who raises it, how it is raised, and what is in it.

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