General

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.

National Survey to Guide Organic Farming Research Priorities

October 14, 2015—The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is pleased to report that more than 1,000 farmers from across the US participated in their National Survey of Organic Farmers, which gave farmers and ranchers the opportunity to provide input on challenges affecting the organic community.

Preliminary results show that research on weed control (especially field bindweed and Canada thistle), building soil health and fertility, and coping with water management during drought and flooding are major priorities for US organic farmers.

Survey results will be used to update OFRF’s National Organic Research Agenda, an influential roadmap for the USDA and other research institutions, identifying the issues most critical to the success of organic farmers.

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.

Farmers and Advocates Gather at Farm Aid in Chicago

OFRF’s Executive Director Brise Tencer has just returned from Chicago, IL, where she attended the longest-running concert for a cause in America: Farm Aid’s 30th anniversary. The event continues what began as a one-off benefit concert in 1985, and the relevance of the message still rings clear today: we need to support justice, democracy, diversity, and sustainability in the food system. 

The gathering included pre-concert sessions on what it means to be a farm advocate, how we can continue to use grassroots organizing power to yield policy gains, and how to engage mentors to strengthen networks and achieve lasting change.

USDA releases results from 2014 Organic Production Survey

September 18, 2015 - The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) has released findings from its 2014 Organic Production Survey, a survey of all known organic producers in the U.S. as part of the Census of Agriculture program. The results provide valuable information on organic farms, sales, and practices.

“Innovation Challenge” Seeks Apps to Analyze Food Resiliency, Climate Change

September 17, 2015 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with Microsoft to launch the “Innovation Challenge,” a contest inviting entrants to develop and publish applications and tools that can tap into data sets compiled by government agencies such as USDA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NAA) and the United State Geological Survey (USGS), with the goal of modeling the future of food supply and production.

The challenge offers $60,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $25,000, for apps that make use of USDA data and provide actionable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists or consumers. In addition, Miscrosoft is granting cloud-computing awards to aid university researchers and students who wish to take part in the challenge. Key data sets are now hosted on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform.

The deadline for entries is Nov. 20, 2015, and winners will be announced in December. 

Carcinogenic Glysophate? Organic Farming Offers Alternatives

September 17, 2015 - Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, is the most intensively used pesticide in the United States. Following a 2015 report that classified the herbicide as a probable carcinogen from the United Nation’s International Agency for Research and Cancer, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has published its intent to list glyphosate as a known carcinogen in California.

The concerns that glyphosate is a carcinogen and that it is used so intensively enhance the importance of organic weed management, and reducing our dependence on glyphosate in agriculture. Weed control techniques used by more than 19,000 organic operations in the U.S. can be powerful tools available to all farmers in order to reduce the use of glyphosate and other herbicides.

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