2012 22.3 Tilth Producers Policy Update

2012 Farm Bill

After a marathon three day session, the U.S. Senate passed its Farm Bill on June 21st. The final Senate version includes several provisions to help small and sustainable farms, many of which Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell supported. Please take a moment to send an email thanking Senators Murray and Cantwell for supporting Washington family farming and organic agriculture. Their contact information can be found at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=WA.

Before amendments, the Farm Bill was estimated to cost approximately $970 billion over the next decade, which works out to about $23 billion in spending cuts. The most fundamental change from the previous (2008) Farm Bill is a major switch from direct payments to commodity crop producers (who grow wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, et cetera) to subsidized crop insurance.

Tilth Producers applauds the senators for including the following programs in the final Senate Farm Bill:

  • Specialty crop (fruit and vegetable) block grants ($70 million per year) and specialty crop research ($25 million+ per year)
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program ($150 million) and Department of Defense Fresh program ($50 million) to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to schools
  • Hunger-Free Communities grant program ($100 million over 5 years)
  • Farmers Market and Local Food promotion program ($100 million over 5 years)
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher development program and rural development programs ($150 million saved by a floor amendment supported by Senators Murray and Cantwell)
  • Crop insurance support for organic farmers (also saved by an amendment)

Below are disappointments from the Senate Farm Bill process:

  • $4.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (food stamps), cutting benefits to half a million families by $90/month (supported by Senators Murray and Cantwell)
  • $3.7 billion in cuts to working farm conservation programs
  • Failure to pass an amendment which would have made it explicitly legal for states to mandate labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients (supported by Senators Murray and Cantwell)
  • Senators Murray and Cantwell’s failure to support conservation compliance requirements for receiving crop insurance subsidies (included in final bill)

While this bill includes important reform and the positive, incremental, program-based changes above, it does not steer the Farm Bill towards the coherent food systems policy needed to fundamentally shift the country’s farming landscape to one that is environmentally or culturally sustainable.

The Farm Bill will now go to the House for committee markup and a floor vote. This will be followed by conference to align Senate and House versions, and then sent to President Obama for signing. Ideally, the new Farm Bill will be signed into law before the 2008 Farm Bill expires on September 30th.

Stay tuned and get involved as the bill moves into the House at Tilth Producers listserve http://tilthproducers.org/list-serve/ and by taking our member policy priority survey at bit.ly/tilthpolicysurvey.

GMO Labeling

Following this spring’s unsuccessful legislative attempt to pass a state-wide bill that would have mandated labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), key organizers have begun to plan a two-part strategy for this year’s efforts to get labeling established. Part one is to submit a legislative initiative for the ballot by gathering 300,000 voter signatures before January of 2013. We will be looking for help gathering signatures at farmers’ markets this summer! Part two is to encourage partners in our state legislature to introduce another bill like this year’s, and provide it the support it needs to pass. Stay tuned for updates from Tilth Producers about how to help!

Food Safety

On-farm food safety practices have become increasingly formal in the wake of food-borne illness outbreaks of the past few years even though farm-based contamination has been proven to be relatively rare, especially in organic systems. Larger producers and shippers of leafy greens have begun adopting additional safety systems, developing extensive in-house testing protocols, and implementing increasingly sophisticated systems of labeling and record keeping for product traceability.

Adequate food safety practices are critical to successful farm businesses. However, some regulations governing food safety being developed are geared to address large-scale, grower/packer systems, industrial, and non-organic farms. These will be difficult and costly to for small and mid-sized farmers to implement. Additionally, many farmers and researchers have voiced concerns over the ecological impact some of these regulations would impose on critical habitat areas.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) certification is one such food safety practice education and outreach program by food safety experts at WSU. Some WA institutions that source products directly from producers are asking farmers to become GAP certified. This certification is causing concern with some growers in the state. For more information, visit http://foodsafety.wsu.edu/. The National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) is another food safety regulation causing debate among growers. Tilth Producers submitted comments last fall on the proposed LGMA, which would follow California’s lead in this area and set austere food safety protocols that could lead to destruction of on-farm wildlife and beneficial insect habitat.

GAPs and LGMA rules cover on-farm food safety practices and are currently optional for small and mid-sized farms who do not sell to institutions. However, new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules could be released this summer that address food safety handling practices at farmers’ markets. These could include sanitizing containers and surfaces, keeping produce away from pets and children, record-keeping, and hand washing stations at markets (all of which are good ideas to reduce risk, regardless of FDA rules). Watch for updates and send comments to make sure proposed rules make farming better and safer, not harder.

Tags: 2012 Farm Bill, Farm Bill, GAPS, GMO, LGMA, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray

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