Policy

Retailers Turn Down Genetically-Modified Salmon, GMO Labeling Debate Continues

Even though AquAdvantage salmon, the first major genetically modified animal product deemed safe for human consumption by the FDA, won’t be available for two years, several major retailers have already taken a stand. Among others, Costco, Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Target have said they will not sell the GMO fish produced by Massachusetts-based company, AquaBounty.

New Farmers Focus on Sustainability with Help from USDA

Cameron Green and Eric Wittenbach bought their 8.5 acre farm in Okanogan, Washington eight years ago, with the intention to make it as sustainable as possible. However, as beginning small-scale famers, they knew they would need some help.

Their work with a local forestland owner led them to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), where they began working with a conservation planner to develop a strategy for growing organic crops on their land now, and return it to a native, natural system in the future.

Organic Farming Handbook Available from USDA

The National Organic Farming Handbook published by USDA is now available to download. It provides an overview of organic agriculture and the National Organic Program (NOP), as well as information on conservation planning and activities.

FDA Releases New Food Safety Rules

On November 13th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced major steps toward preventing foodborne illness by finalizing rules implementing the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act. These safety standards are a significant step toward strengthening our food safety system.

Foodborne illness affects roughly 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) in the United States each year. The objective of these rules is to help prevent problems across the entire food system, rather than waiting to act until illness occurs. The rules apply to produce farms and make importers accountable for verifying that imported food meets U.S. safety standards.

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.

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