Policy

USDA Update on Federal Funding for Organic

Betsy Rakola, Organic Specialist for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, made a presentation on federal funding for organic programs at the 30th annual Natural Products Expo East Tradeshow and conference in September. Over 25,000 people attended the conference.

Rakola provided an update of the Organic Working Group, the federal funding available for organic programs and the USDA strategic plan for organic agriculture. Her presentation covered the many hats the USDA wears for organic farmers, including risk management, conservation and research. These efforts are monitored by the USDA Organic Working Group chaired by AMS Administrator, Anne Alonzo, and includes staff from various agencies.

FFAR Board Holds Inaugural Meeting

The first public meeting of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Board was held October 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. An independent non-profit organization authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, FFAR was provided $200 million by Congress in support of its launch. By Congressional mandate, as the Foundation identifies and approves projects, it must generate non-Federal matching funds to utilize the funding from Congress. Dr. Diana Jerkins, Research Director for OFRF, attended the meeting to meet the new Executive Director and Board. OFRF had previously provided comments to the Board on research issues relevant to organic agriculture and the sustainability of agriculture. 

The Foundation funds research for new and innovative ideas to meet the current challenges facing U.S. agriculture and to supplement and complement the work being done by USDA.

USDA Approves a New GMO Corn

The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently announced it would deregulate a corn genetically engineered to be resistant to the pest corn rootworm and the herbicide glyphosate.

The deregulation allows Monsanto, the developer of the corn, to begin selling the product anywhere in the U.S. According to APHIS, "Our determination is based on our evaluation of data submitted by Monsanto Company in its petition for a determination of nonregulated status, our analysis of available scientific data, and comments received from the public in response to our previous notices."

NOSB Holds Public Meeting in Vermont

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is holding its public meeting this week in Stowe, Vermont. The NOSB is an advisory committee of organic community and stakeholder representatives established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The board meeting provides a public forum for the organic community to weigh in on issues concerning organic production and processing.

During the meeting, the board will address several petitions pertaining to changes to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, including substances due to sunset in 2017 and 2018.

Senate Committee Meets to Discuss National Standards

On October 21st, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing on Agriculture Biotechnology: A Look at Federal Regulation and Stakeholder Perspectives.

Based on comments by ranking Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow, it appears she is trying to negotiate a compromise bill and hopes to have the legislation passed by the Senate before the end of the year. “I share the concern about the difficulty in doing business across our country if 50 different states have 50 different standards and requirements,” said Stabenow. One of her goals is to have a bill that would provide, “a national system of disclosure and transparency” that “does not stigmatize biotechnology.”

Pollinator Loss Threatens Vital Food Crops

The decline of bees and other pollinators around the world is affecting some of the most nutritionally and economically vital food crops. In response to this issue, the EPA and USDA released a strategy and action plan outlining needs and priority actions to better understand pollinator losses and improve pollinator health.

Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of their honey bee colonies, which presents a significant threat to their livelihoods and the essential pollination bees provide to agriculture. According to the White House, pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops in the U.S. each year.

Contact Your Senator Now On the DARK Act!

On July 23rd, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate the consumer’s right-to-know by blocking all state efforts to require labeling of genetically modified organism (GMO) foods. The “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act” or DARK Act would make voluntary labeling of GMO foods the national standard.

The labeling bill would also dilute the USDA organic certification because it does not explicitly state the certification as evidence of non-GMO, and includes no additional certification or testing requirements. Furthermore, the bill allows products to be labeled non-GMO while using GMO feed, processing aids or enzymes—despite the fact that existing USDA Organic regulations do not allow the use of GMO feed, processing aids or enzymes. 

EU Countries File to Ban GMO Crops

Nineteen of the 28 European Union member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory. The decision is in accordance with the October 3rd deadline for opting out of the use of GM crops, already authorized as safe for cultivation, or under consideration by the EU.

The countries include Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. Belgium has opted to keep its French-speaking Wallonia region GMO-free as well. These EU members join Britain, who is also seeking a ban for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, leaving England the only country willingly allowing GM crop cultivation.

Organic Farming Gives Maine’s Economy a Boost

According to the 2014 Organic Survey released by the USDA in September, Maine added the most new organic farms of any state between 2008 and 2014. The state added 139 new organic farms during the time of the survey, for a total of 517, or roughly 10 percent of the 8,173 farms the USDA counted in 2012. In an economy that has faced significant challenges in recent years, this is good news. 

An article in the Bangor Daily News attributes the growth to innovative, private sector programs that connect new farmers with the experienced, help lower the cost of farmland, and make it easier for growers to get their products to large buyers.

USDA Expands Farm Safety Net, Offers Greater Flexibility for Organic and other Farmers

September 17, 2015 - One of the challenges facing U.S. organic farmers is the lack of coverage, or limited risk protection, available through the federal crop insurance program. The standard practices of organic farmers have not fit well into an insurance framework created to serve conventional agriculture.

But thanks to provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, organic growers could soon see much-improved options for crop insurance; such as coverage for diversified farm operations and reimbursement rates that cover organic’s higher costs.

The farm bill required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish organic price elections for all organic crops by the 2015 crop insurance year, which began in July 2014. Risk protection options have also improved in recent years through the efforts of USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA).

A recent announcement by Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden revealed several changes that will benefit organic farmers.

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