2013 23.2 Tilth Producers Policy Update

GE Labeling Campaign

According to several recent studies, over ninety percent of Americans want to see genetically engineered (GE, also known as GMO) food labeled as such. Over sixty countries already require GE labeling. Labeling GE food allows consumers to make informed choices about what they are eating, and helps farmers know GE-status of seeds and maintain access to international markets that require labeling. Implementing GE food labeling will be fairly simple and inexpensive.

Last year the Label It WA campaign collected over 350,000 signatures and got a legislative initiative certified to require labeling of GE food in Washington State. The initiative went to the state legislature who has passed it on to Washington voters to decide whether to make GE labels the law. Initiative 522, “The People’s Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” will be on ballots in November.

For farmers, I-522 would ensure that all GE seed and seed stock is labeled “genetically engineered”. It would also keep farmers who sell in international markets to countries which require labeling, such as Japan where much of Washington’s wheat harvest is sold, from losing markets due to concern over GE contamination. For consumers, labeling would raise awareness of which foods contain GE ingredients. Labels may also dissuade some manufacturers and consumers from using GE foods in the first place. To learn more, endorse the initiative, or get involved, visit www.yeson522.com or www.labelitwa.org.

WSDA Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm-to-School Programs

An effort is underway to reinstate funding for these key programs, also referred to as the “farm-to-market program”. If readers have ever used the green Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook or had a conversation with Patrice Barrentine or Fred Berman at Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), they have used these programs. Tilth Producers participated in a lobby day in February where we connected with fifty-five legislators on this issue, and passed around a sign-on letter in support of the programs which gathered over sixty signatures. To take action in support of these programs, visit bit.ly/sfdm2013.

Farm Bill

No progress has been made on crafting a new Farm Bill yet this year. This means that the government is still operating on the partial extension of the expired 2008 bill, which does not include any of the programs which support organic or beginning farmers. On the bright side, Washington State has more of a say in this Farm Bill due to the appointment of new First District Congresswoman Suzan DelBene to the House Agriculture Committee. Tilth Producers has received a grant from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to work with Congresswoman DelBene on our Farm Bill priority issues, which she seems likely to champion. We plan to host a farm-based listening session with her on Saturday, April 13th to give our farmers a chance to share their concerns. To attend, contact Ariana Taylor-Stanley, or 206.660.8958.

Food Safety Modernization Act

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first significant overhaul to U.S. food safety laws in nearly a century. Food safety laws help farmers minimize the risk of a customer getting sick from farm produce, but if not written carefully, they can also put small farms out of business by mandating protocols which are not feasible at a small scale. The FSMA was carefully crafted by Congress to encourage scale-appropriate regulations and not to be the kind of one-size-fits-all policy that hurts small farms. In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released proposed rules to implement the FSMA. On the whole, the proposed rules seem to honor Congress’ intent of inclusivity to all farmers. See article on page 11 of this issue for more details on the proposed rules. The comment period on the FSMA rules is open until May 16th. Go to http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/ to make a comment.

Internship Pilot Program

Senator Kevin Ranker has introduced a bill in the state legislature to create a temporary pilot program for legal, educational, and safe farm internships. The voluntary five-year pilot would allow small farms in San Juan, Skagit, King, Whatcom, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, Spokane, Yakima, Chelan, Grant, Island, Snohomish, Kittitas, Lincoln, and Thurston counties to take up to three interns per season who would perform farm work, benefit from a structured educational program administered by the farmer, and receive Workers’ Compensation coverage. Unpaid interns would not be allowed to replace paid, skilled labor and would not be considered employees under state law. This is an extension of a successful pilot program that took place in 2010 and 2011 but was only available in two counties. The program improves the educational quality of farm internships while protecting both farmers and interns from liability and risk of injury. Contact Ethan Schaffer at to learn more about how to take action in support of the bill.

Farmland Preservation

Tilth Producers is engaged in two efforts to support farmland preservation at the state level this year. One is an effort to change property tax law so that farms under twenty-acres receive the same tax benefits (having their land assessed at its agricultural value rather than full market value) as farms over twenty-acres. Currently “small farms” must pay full market value tax rates on the acre under the farmhouse. To learn more, visit www.weneedsmallfarms.wordpress.com/

The second effort is to fully fund the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, because funding for farmland preservation is a part of this program which only receives a portion of the overall program budget. Twenty-two farmland preservation projects are currently in line for funding. A successful lobby day in February brought this issue to the attention of lawmakers, but help is still needed. To get involved, visit www.farmland-forever.org.

Organic Check-Off Program

Tilth Producers is joining partners in the organic industry in investigating the possibility of a “check-off” or “research and promotion order” program for organic food. Check-off programs are, in the words of the Organic Trade Association, “industryfunded generic research and marketing programs”. The “Got Milk?” campaign and “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” are examples of check-off campaigns in other food sectors. Players in the industry would be required to contribute towards the program, which would in turn benefit all organic producers and companies by raising awareness of and interest in organics. To learn more, visit www.ota.com/ORPP.html.

Tags: Direct Marketing, Farm Bill, Farm-to-School Program, Farmland Preservation, Food Safety Modernization Act, GMO, Policy