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New Film “Seed: The Untold Story” Sounds an Alarm About Our Food Future

By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Advisor

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today”   

We don’t know precisely who originated this saying, but its wisdom speaks to us all.  The story of human civilization is inseparable from our heritage as seed breeders.  Most of our food, medicine, clothing and yes, the beautiful flowers which inspire us resulted from thousands of years of skillful selection and breeding practices drawing upon the abundant genetic diversity of plants.

Mark Keating's picture

Flood of Comments First Step Towards Correcting Proposed FSMA Food Safety Rules

By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Advisor

              We knew the stakes were high and apparently lots of other folks agreed. http://www.wisfarmer.com/news/headlines/fsma-comes-under-fire-b99150917z1-233454541.html By last week’s close of the public comment period on the FDA’s proposed regulations to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), more than 20,000 farmers, concerned consumers and grassroots organizations had weighed in.  A big THANK YOU to everyone for making your voices heard as this monumental process moves forward – you are making a major difference.

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FSMA Rules Threaten Small Organic Farmers: Comment Deadline Friday

By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Advisor            

            This Friday, November 22 brings to a close your opportunity to comment on the FDA’s proposed rules for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  Making your voice heard in an informed, constructive manner is essential for protecting the rights of farmers and consumers to build the organic and local food systems, which are our surest path to a sustainable future.

            The organic community has always supported fair, practical and efficient regulations to improve food safety, but virtually nothing in FDA’s current proposal satisfies those conditions.  As drafted, it would cripple small- and medium-sized farming operations with burdensome and expensive compliance requirements http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/food-safety-comments-top-10/   which cannot be justified by what we currently know about food safety.  Provisions in the proposal would largely eliminate the use of natural fertilizers including compost, require farmers using irrigation to test their water weekly and severely restrict the burgeoning local foods movement.

Mark Keating's picture

Looking on the Bright Side

There was no Farm Bill at this time a year ago, as Congressional dysfunction led to the legislation’s expiration.  Congress rallied in December 2012 and extended the Farm Bill for nine months, minus nearly $500 million in crucial funding for organic, local and beginning farmers.  The recent budget impasse in Washington shutdown all USDA farm credit and conservation compliance activities and forced the Department to cancel the National Organic Standards Board meeting scheduled for Louisville, KY.

With this history of achievement, it takes a healthy streak of optimism to get fired up about this week’s Congressional negotiations to renew the Farm Bill and pass a 2014 budget.  OFRF and its national network of partner organizations  will stay in the thick of those deliberations, though I personally look forward to a more relaxed atmosphere inspecting organic farms across Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

Mark Keating's picture

Farm Bill Breakthrough in Washington

Despite the ongoing budget stalemate, Congress took a huge step towards renewing the Farm Bill over the weekend when the House of Representatives agreed to negotiations with the Senate on a  compromise five year package.  Specifically, the House and Senate appointed their respective members to a Conference Committee which will seek to iron out the differences between the Farm Bills each side has already approved.

There is no minimizing the differences between the House and Senate proposals, especially with regard to funding levels and policy provisions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The good news is that, if the SNAP issues can be resolved, there is a viable pathway to agreement on a comprehensive package including desperately needed support for organic, sustainable, local and beginning farmers.  There are clear signs that a majority in both the House and Senate are prepared for significant reforms to the crop insurance and commodity programs at the same time that support for cost-effective organic and alternative initiatives is growing.

Mark Keating's picture

What’s more essential than eating?

One unfortunate misperception helping to sustain the current government shutdown is the assumption that since all “essential” federal employees remain on the job, Washington can meet its “essential” responsibilities. A closer look at USDA’s current capabilities reveals that nothing could be further from the truth and that the shutdown is inflicting immediate and lasting damage.

According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International, 1,423 farmers are waiting for Congress to pass a budget so that they can receive USDA direct farm operating loans that have already been approved for 2013. An additional 2,161 families have deferred their dream of farm ownership as they wait for funding of approved direct farm ownership loans, and an additional 1,005 are waiting on guaranteed ownership loans. No progress can be made on these loans until Congress funds the return of the “non-essential” USDA staffers to complete the paperwork.

Mark Keating's picture

Prospects for a New Farm Bill

 

Paul McCartney wasn’t thinking about renewing the Farm Bill when he penned The Long and Winding Road  yet his masterpiece aptly describes this ongoing process.  The latest hairpin turn came last Friday when the House of Representatives passed a bill for a stand-alone Nutrition Title which cuts $39 billion from domestic food assistance programs over the next decade.  Having passed the balance of the Farm Bill back in July the House now has a complete package which opens the door to a compromise with the Senate on its version.

Mark Keating's picture

Strength through Unity

This week I represented OFRF at the summer meeting of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition alongside beautiful beaches on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  The meeting also marked NSAC’s twenty-fifth anniversary and the changes our movement has experienced over that time point very favorably towards our future.

In certain regards, the times seem not to have changed at all.  The organization that grew into NSAC was founded during a crisis for America’s family farmers, when government incentives to plant fence row to fence row led to skyrocketing land prices and relegated resource conservation to an afterthought.  These conditions are all too representative of American agriculture today.

Mark Keating's picture

"On the Road Again"

Organic certification requires that farmers open up their entire operation to an annual inspection, and I’m spending a few weeks in Kansas and Colorado as the guy with the clipboard asking all the questions.  The farmers I inspect are as forthcoming with their answers as they are diligent about complying with the standards, since they primarily grow wheat, corn and hay and for many of them the organic price premium is the difference keeping them in agriculture.

Karen Adler's picture

The Climate, it is a-Changin’

Agriculture and, in particular, organic agriculture can be part of the solution to mitigate greenhouse gases through farming practices that build soil fertility, avoid use of synthetic fertilizer and improve carbon sequestration

-- Organic Agriculture and Climate Change Mitigation: A Report of the Round Table of Organic Agriculture and Climate Change

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