Archive for the ‘policy and legislation’ Category

Action Alert: National Leafy Green Agreement

Monday, June 20th, 2011

119.jpgFrom NOFA/MASS, helping us to be ever vigilant about how one-size-fits-all policy and regulation affects local smaller-scale production:


Remember the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that passed last year? We won a hard fought battle, securing appropriate food safety rules for small-to-midsized farms and processors producing fresh and healthy food for local and regional markets. This law will be implemented by one of the agencies with food safety authority—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Now, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, an agency with no food safety expertise or authority, is proposing to establish a set of food safety regulations for leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, and cabbage) growers and handlers who sell into the wholesale market, called the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).


The most powerful “Big Ag” players in the leafy green industry are pushing the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA). The sellers, processors, or distributors that sign on to the rule will require that the farmers they purchase from comply with its standards. The rule adds a second and conflicting layer of food safety standards and audits on top of FDA food safety rules.


How to comment:

USDA is seeking written comments from the public on the NLGMA proposal by July 28th. Write USDA today to urge them to reject this proposal.  CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A COMMENT TO USDA


Here are some suggested points to make:

• I oppose the creation of a National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, which I believe to be the wrong approach to address food safety concerns.


• The Agricultural Marketing Service is not a food safety agency. It is bad public policy to create food safety regulations in order to address the “marketing” goal of increasing consumer confidence in the safety of leafy greens. Food safety policies should be driven by science, not by marketing problems.


• The NLGMA, as proposed, would give the large conventional produce industry the ability to use its own world view to dictate farming practices. Small scale and organic farmers would have a very small voice in the standard-setting process.


• The NLGMA is modeled on state food safety agreements in California and Arizona. In those examples, the conventional produce industry has pushed through food safety regulations that are biased against organic and small-scale farmers, have led to the destruction of wildlife habitat and discouraged good conservation practices on farms.


• Diversified farming operations with complex rotations have been shown to be beneficial to the environment. Yet crop-by-crop food safety regulations, such as the NLGMA, are an economic disaster for diversified farming operations, and are biased toward large mono-cultural operations. For a farmer with 40 crops on 100 acres to comply with 40 different food safety regulations is prohibitively burdensome.  Crop specific food safety regulations, such as NLGMA, will drive farmers out of environmentally sensitive diversified crop production, and toward chemical-intensive mono-cultural operations. This is counter to the goals of food safety and more environmentally sound agriculture.


• The Food and Drug Administration is currently writing regulations to establish food safety standards for produce. Why is AMS proposing to establish standards that conflict with or duplicate the FDA standards, with the conventional leafy greens handlers in the drivers’ seat?


The NLGMA is a disaster waiting to happen, for farmers, consumers, the environment, and ultimately for food safety. Also see the Action Alert and Comment Form from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition—(NSAC)


For more information on this action alert, or about NOFA/Mass Policy and Social Action, please contact Jack Kittredge, Policy Director, 978-355-2853, or

What if Your Garden was Subsidized?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International, a Maine-based nonprofit involved in persuading the White House to plant a vegetable garden, created a graphic of what that garden would look like if planted according to farm subsidies. As Doiron writes, “In a nutshell, I was really inspired by the diversity and nutritiousness of the crops planted in the White House kitchen garden this spring and thought it would be eye-opening—not to mention jaw-dropping—to see what the White House garden would look like if it were planted to reflect the relative importance of the crops that our tax dollars are actually supporting.”

The graphic is based on information compiled from the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database. Click on graphic to enlarge:




Action Alert: Why Weights and Measures Matter

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

img_2459.jpgIf you’ve been to a farmers’ market, you’ve probably noticed the inspection sticker on the farmer’s scale — it ensures the accurate weight of what we’re paying for. Now imagine what happens when the scales are off by a measure or two, and what’s being weighed is by the truckload. Whether a small handful of potatoes or a large load of grain, farmer and consumer alike lose when scales are out of balance.


Independent third party inspection of weighing and measuring devices used in commerce — this includes scales of all sizes and meters for fuel — is conducted through the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and is under immediate threat of being privatized with the passage of SB157. With the resulting loss of licensing fees, SB157 will also reduce departmental resources for monitoring and enforcement. The House will vote on this bill on Wednesday, April 27.


Now is the time to call or email all state representatives and ask them to vote NO on SB157, the bill that would give authority to private technicians to place seals on scales and meters.


To find and contact your NH state senator:


At the same time, the House budget, HB1, eliminates the three remaining weights and measures inspectors from the budget of the Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food — even though these positions are self-supported by inspection fees charged the businesses that own the devices. So eliminating the inspectors does not save money in the budget — but it is consistent with the SB157 bill to give private service technicians authority to inspect scales and meters.


This privatized inspection plan would put one group of businesses in charge of regulating other businesses, a situation full of conflicts of interest. In some cases, businesses such as fuel oil dealers, gas stations, or stores would be self-inspecting. The Senate is now working on the budget. Now is the time for state senators to hear from constituents about restoring the weights and measures inspectors to the Department of Agriculture’s budget.  


This ‘privatization’ scheme will really affect farmers who purchase grain, silage, fertilizer, lime, sand, etc. by weight. Not to mention fuel purchases. Towns will also pay a steep price without knowing it, with all their sand, gravel, asphalt, road salt, and solid waste transactions that are weighed on the vehicle scales that the Department of Agriculture inspectors found failed inspection at a rate of 36%.


One out of three gas and diesel pumps tested were shorting the customer. People say that NH had private inspectors for 20 years “and it worked well.” It did not work well, as these test results from the first year that we reinstated state inspection demonstrates. Report of the first year of the state inspection program: damf-wm-inspection-program-report-3-15-11.htm


Other documents presented to the legislative committees reviewing SB157 include:


• Letter to Sen. Carson from the National Conference of Weights & Measures:



• Letter from the Hanover-Lebanon Co-op Stores:



• The Department of Agriculture’s testimony to the House committee that just voted SB157 Ought To Pass by a vote of 11-3:



See also this Nashua Telegraph article on the attempt to eliminate state weights and measures inspection: “Checks show not all’s square at pumps, scales”

“Local Food, Local Rules” Ordinance Passes in Maine

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Congratulations to the people of Sedgwick, Maine for adopting the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance, and leading the way on how to keep local food systems truly local! From Food for Maine’s Future:



Sedgwick becomes first town in Maine to adopt protections


SEDGWICK, MAINE – On Saturday, March 5, residents of a small coastal town in Maine voted unanimously to adopt the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance, setting a precedent for other towns looking to preserve small-scale farming and food processing. Sedgwick, located on the Blue Hill Peninsula in Western Hancock County, became the first town in Maine, and perhaps the nation, to exempt direct farm sales from state and federal licensing and inspection. The ordinance also exempts foods made in the home kitchen, similar to the Michigan Cottage Food Law passed last year, but without caps on gross sales or restrictions on types of exempt foods.


Local farmer Bob St.Peter noted the importance of this ordinance for beginning farmers and cottage producers. “This ordinance creates favorable conditions for beginning farmers and cottage-scale food processors to try out new products, and to make the most of each season’s bounty,” said St.Peter. “My family is already working on some ideas we can do from home to help pay the bills and get our farm going.”


Mia Strong, Sedgwick resident and local farm patron, was overwhelmed by the support of her town. “Tears of joy welled in my eyes as my town voted to adopt this ordinance,” said Strong. “I am so proud of my community. They made a stand for local food and our fundamental rights as citizens to choose that food.”


St.Peter, who serves on the board of the National Family Farm Coalition based in Washington, DC, sees this as a model ordinance for economic development in rural areas. “It’s tough making a go of it in rural America,” said St.Peter. “Rural working people have always had to do a little of this and a little of that to make ends meet. But up until the last couple generations, we didn’t need a special license or new facility each time we wanted to sell something to our neighbors. Small farmers and producers have been getting squeezed out in the name of food safety, yet it’s the industrial food that is causing food borne illness, not us.”


“And every food dollar that leaves our community is one more dollar we don’t have to pay for our rural schools or to provide decent care for our elders,” adds St.Peter. “We need the money more than corporate agribusiness.”


Three other towns in Western Hancock County will be voting on the ordinance at or ahead of their town meetings in the coming weeks. Penobscot, Brooksville, and Blue Hill all have the ordinance on their warrants.


Click here to view a copy of the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance of 2011. For more information:

This Week’s Choice Bits

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

What we’ve been reading this week—Mark Bittman takes a look at “wholesome” oatmeal at McDonald’s; how the food movement may save environmentalism at Time; and an examination of why GM seeds are undemocratic:


How to Make Oatmeal… Wrong

By Mark Bittman, New York Times


There’s a feeling of inevitability in writing about McDonald’s latest offering, their “bowl full of wholesome” — also known as oatmeal. The leading fast-food multinational, with sales over $16.5 billion a year (just under the GDP of Afghanistan), represents a great deal of what is wrong with American food today. From a marketing perspective, they can do almost nothing wrong; from a nutritional perspective, they can do almost nothing right, as the oatmeal fiasco demonstrates…


Read more:


Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Green Movement

By Bryan Walsh, Time


These are dark days for the environmental movement. A year after being on the cusp of passing landmark legislation to cap greenhouse gases, greens are coming to accept the fact that the chance of national and international action on climate change has become more remote than ever. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under attack by newly empowered Republicans in Congress who argue that the very idea of environmental protection is unaffordable for our debt-ridden country. Accustomed to remaining optimistic in the face of long odds, the environmental movement all at once faces a challenge just to stay relevant in a hostile political climate. In 2004, authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus faced a harsh backlash from the greens when they released a polemic essay called “The Death of Environmentalism,” but now it appears they might have been ahead of their time.


Even as traditional environmentalism struggles, another movement is rising in its place, aligning consumers, producers, the media and even politicians. It’s the food movement, and if it continues to grow it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years. That would mean not only changing the way Americans eat and the way they farm — away from industrialized, cheap calories and toward more organic, small-scale production, with plenty of fruits and vegetables — but also altering the way we work and relate to one another. To its most ardent adherents, the food movement isn’t just about reform — it’s about revolution…


Read more:,8599,2049255,00.html


Control over your food: Why Monsanto’s GM Seeds are undemocratic

By Christopher D. Cook, The Christian Science Monitor


Question: Would you want a small handful of government officials controlling America’s entire food supply, all its seeds and harvests?


I suspect most would scream, “No way!”


Yet, while America seems allergic to public servants – with no profit motive in mind – controlling anything these days, a knee-jerk faith in the “free market” has led to overwhelming centralized control of nearly all our food stuffs, from farm to fork.


The Obama administration’s recent decision to radically expand genetically modified (GM) food – approving unrestricted production of agribusiness biotech company Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” alfalfa and sugar beets – marks a profound deepening of this centralization of food production in the hands of just a few corporations, with little but the profit motive to guide them.

Even as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials enable a tighter corporate grip on the food chain, there is compelling evidence of GM foods’ ecological and human health risks, suggesting we should at very least learn more before allowing their spread…


Read more:

Action Alert: What’s at Stake with GE Alfalfa

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

220px-megachile_1084.JPGIt’s sometime difficult to get a grasp on how national policy on something as far down the food chain as alfalfa affects us as consumers. The USDA’s recent approval of unrestricted planting of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered alfalfa, though, has widespread ramifications, from the ground up to our plates:


Soil: 83% of U.S. alfalfa is now grown without herbicides. GE alfalfa is designed to be used with the herbicide Roundup, another Monsanto product, meaning increased chemical pollution and dependency on chemical companies.


Seed: Alfalfa is open-pollinated; meaning Monsanto’s patented DNA can be easily spread, contaminating both conventional and organic crops, with seed growing regions at particular risk. Also, GE seeds can be spread when bales of hay are sold from farmer to farmer, and with the movement of harvest and transport equipment.


Pollen: Bees are a common pollinator; carrying GE pollen from alfalfa back to their hives contaminates the production of honey and contributes to the decline of bee colonies.


Forage & Feed: Alfalfa is a fundamental source of livestock forage, and is the primary source of protein for animals raised by livestock producers. Forage and feed contaminated by GE alfalfa means risk of contaminated livestock and, for organic producers in particular, loss of certification.


Meat & Dairy: If you eat meat and dairy, you are indirectly eating alfalfa; ruminant related foods that could be compromised by GE alfalfa include milk, cheese, beef and lamb. Also, loss of organic certification due to GE contamination of feed means less availability of organic dairy and meat, and higher prices for consumers.


Choice: GE is not labeled or tracked in our food supply; this means consumers are unable to identify and avoid GE food.


Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s deregulation of Monsanto’s GE alfalfa means farmers are now able to plant Roundup Ready GE alfalfa without restrictions nationally as soon as this spring. To learn more and take action:


• Cornucopia InstituteFact Sheet: Genetically Engineered Alfalfa


• Center for Food SafetyGE Food


• Food & Water Watch: Action Alert


• Organic Trade AssociationAction Alert

Action Alert: Stop Genetically Engineered Alfalfa

Monday, January 17th, 2011

The USDA is on the verge of approving Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE), Round-up Ready alfalfa for the spring planting season. From the NOFA-NH Public Policy and Advocacy Committee:


Stop Genetically Engineered Alfalfa and Protect Organic Food!


What can we do the influence the outcome?


Call or Email the USDA and the White House and request that they reject Genetically Engineered Alfalfa.


“I am ___________, a farmer/citizen in New Hampshire  I am calling to comment on USDA’s push to allow the commercial release of GE alfalfa and its failure to evaluate the public health, environmental, and economic consequences of that release.”


President Barack Obama

Comment line: (202) 456-1111

Fax: (202) 456-2461

Online Comments:




or call 1-301-851-2300 and record your comments


Here’s why:

Under heavy pressure from the Biotech Industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is hurriedly preparing to approve the use of Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered (GE) Roundup Ready™ Alfalfa in time for spring planting.


This authorization ignores on-the-ground realities and will lead to widespread GE cross-pollination and contamination of organic and non-GE crops, corruption of seed supplies, and protracted economic injury to farmers and markets.


Alfalfa is the nation’s 4th largest crop, planted on over 21 million acres. Forage and hay are primary feed crops for dairy cows and beef cattle as well as pork, lamb, and sheep. It’s not just for livestock — some vegetable farmers use the hay as mulch and alfalfa meal as a beneficial soil amendment. Further, sprouts constitute an important sector of the salad market and alfalfa also plays a major role in honey production.


Organic standards do not allow the use of GE crops, including for animal feed. The purity of organic milk from alfalfa-fed dairy cows is a major concern. Milk is a primary entry product and mainstay for many U.S. consumers in the organic market and GE contamination would cause severe economic injury to farmers and have a devastating effect on the viability and integrity of the organic label. There are also test-verified GE-free domestic and world markets in Asia and Europe that would stop buying from US farmers whose crops are contaminated by GE alfalfa.


Despite three District Court rulings and a landmark Supreme Court decision that makes planting GE alfalfa illegal and requires USDA to formulate a valid management plan, the agency is going full steam ahead putting the deregulation of GE alfalfa on a fast track. While conceding for the first time that GE contamination of organic and GE-free crops and markets is a major problem in the U.S., USDA’s court-ordered 2300 page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) relies on faulty data and fails to take into account the scientifically-validated promiscuous nature of GE gene flow in crops. It also overlooks the widespread corruption of conventional seed varieties by GE strains (such as occurred with StarLink corn and LibertyLink rice) along with documented severe economic injury to farmers and markets. And there is no mention at all of possible health consequences from eating GM crops.


USDA has NOT shown that contamination-free coexistence with deregulated GE alfalfa is likely or possible. USDA’s EIS fails to take into account the documented increase in Roundup-resistant “super weeds” that is requiring the use of highly toxic herbicide cocktails for weed control on conventional farms. Monsanto is in a big rush to spread GE alfalfa because the patent protections on their exclusive manufacture of Roundup expire in 2014. And, GE alfalfa is the all-important test case — waiting in the wings is an immediate decision on how to handle a lawsuit prohibiting GE sugar beets as well as a list of other GE crops coming along in the biotech pipeline.


Act now to preserve our organic future!


Download a pdf of this action alert here or go to

USDA Violates Own Rules on GMO Crops

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

sugar-beets-300×199.jpgBarry Estabrook at Politics of the Plate has posted a cogent summary of how the USDA is violating its own rules on GMO crops by permitting farmers to plant genetically modified sugar beets without filing the legally required Environment Impact Statement.


Tom Stearns, founder and president of High Mowing Seeds, along with the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, and the Organic Seed Alliance, are suing the USDA for disobeying its own rules. This excerpt explains what’s at stake:


Of all the plaintiffs in the case, Stearns has the most to lose. By the USDA’s own definition, crops grown from genetically modified (GMO) seeds cannot be labeled “organic.” Sugar beets are notoriously promiscuous, not only breeding with themselves, but with their close cousins, table beets and Swiss chard, both of which Stearns sells. If his seeds became contaminated with GMO genes, they would have to be destroyed.


But all of us have a stake in the game. Widespread contamination could mean that consumers would no longer have the option of buying non-GMO beets and chard. Half of the sugar we consume comes from beets, and does not have to be labeled as being made from GMO sources, meaning that Americans are being force-fed GMO products.


Because of climactic conditions, the vast majority of sugar beet, table beet, and Swiss chard seed in this country is grown in a small, confined area of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. And since beet pollen can be carried for distances of over a mile by the wind, Stearns has good reason to worry about the threat of contamination…


To read article, please visit Politics of the Plate >

Food Safety Laws and Small Farm Exemptions

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

A recent article from The Wire examines proposed food safety laws and possible exemptions for smaller farms, and includes observations from local farmers Andre Cantelmo of Heron Pond Farm, and Kate Donald of Stout Oak Farm:


Safety in Lower Numbers


A law proposed to ensure safer food nationwide could make local farms financially insecure. But revisions to the bill, which is likely to pass this week, would exempt small farms.


Andre Cantelmo, co-owner of Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton, said smaller farms would have trouble complying with some of the bookkeeping regulations. “We’re not equipped to do it,” he said. “It would probably put us out of business.”


Besides, he added, small farms are already held to high standards by the people they meet at the market or on the farm. “We’re more accountable to our customers,” Cantelmo said. “They know us and know where they’re getting their food.”


If the bill passes as it stands before the legislative session comes to a close, it will include amendments to exempt small farms that sell locally and make less than $500,000 a year. These farms would remain under state regulations.


Known as the Food Safety Modernization Act, the proposal requires that the Food and Drug Administration conduct an increased number of inspections of food facilities, farms follow new produce safety standards, importers verify the safety of their imported foods, and food facilities develop hazard analysis plans. The bill also gives the FDA mandatory recall authority, calls for the agency to develop an enhanced food safety surveillance system, and provides it with the ability to suspend a faulty food facility’s registration.


With several notable food recalls in recent years, it’s no wonder legislators are doing something about it.


But, Lorraine Merrill, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, said a “one size fits all” approach to regulation would be problematic.


“Everybody wants to make sure that our food is safe,” Merrill said. But, she added, the regulations are designed for large farms and retailers, and it would be “burdensome and expensive” for small farms to meet the same requirements.

“You’d almost have to hire a person just to deal with safety laws,” she said. “It’s just prohibitive.”


The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings on food-borne illnesses were just released on Dec. 15, updating information that was more than 10 years old. It reported about 48 million people—one in six Americans—get sick from food-borne illnesses. About 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year.


While those are significant numbers, it’s an improvement over the previous figures that included 5,000 deaths from both known and unknown pathogens. But, the CDC says in a press release, the two shouldn’t be compared because of improved data and methods.


Merrill noted that the higher numbers of illnesses had been used frequently in discussions of the bill, although the accuracy had long been disputed.


She also said the majority of food-borne illnesses are due to contamination that occurs after food leaves the farm and that a lack of basic safety at home, such as washing hands and surfaces, storing properly and cooking thoroughly, is also to blame.


“We have a very safe food supply,” she said. “It’s really remarkable.” But she said “risk-free” food isn’t possible.

The bill has traveled back and forth between the House and Senate, and was most recently attached to a shell bill, giving it more time. The Senate passed a revised version of the bill on Dec. 19. It goes back to the House this week, with exemptions for small farms.


Kate Donald, of Stout Oak Farm in Epping and Seacoast Eat Local, agrees that the exemptions are important to local farms. She said she called her senator weeks ago to encourage the inclusion of exemptions. The majority of New Hampshire’s farms would qualify for an exemption…


To read entire article, please visit

Judge Orders Illegal GMO Sugar Beet Crops Destroyed

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Sugar beets differ from those grown for the table, and are used specifically for industrial production of sugar. While some sugar is still produced from sugar cane, sugar beets make up slightly more than half of the nation’s sugar production. This year, genetically modified or GM sugar beets accounted for about 95% of total sugar acreage [NY Times]. If you are consuming processed food containing sugar (that is not labeled organic), chances are you are consuming something that’s been genetically modified.


A Federal court ruled last August that the USDA’s prior approval of GM sugar beets was unlawful and further analysis had to be done to measure the impact this Monsanto crop has on the environment and on farmers. Monsanto is pressuring the USDA to approve GM sugar beets again, and gained permission to plant crops despite the lack of a valid environmental impact statement. The latest on the status of GM sugar beets:

US court orders GMO beets destroyed

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has ordered what is believed to be the first-ever destruction of a genetically modified crop in the United States, saying that the altered sugar beets were planted illegally.


US District Judge Jeffrey White in California granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday sought by the Center for Food Safety and other groups, which contended that the Monsanto-produced sugar beet crops were planted without proper environmental review.

He delayed implementation of the order until December 7 to allow time for an appeal.


White said in his ruling that “there is a significant risk that the plantings pursuant to the permits will cause environmental harm.”

He added that despite efforts to prevent contamination or cross-pollination of crops, there was no guarantee that the GMO crops would not affect other plants.


He said there have been examples of contamination and that “these incidents are too numerous for this court to declare confidently that these permits provide sufficient containment to protect the environment.”


Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the US Department of Agriculture, which was named as the defendant for issuing the permits “thumbed its nose at the judicial system and the public by allowing this crop to be grown without any environmental review.”


At issue is the planting of so-called Roundup Ready beets that allow the agribusiness giant Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide to be used without harming the crops themselves.


“Herbicide resistant crops just like this have been shown to result in more toxic chemicals in our soil and water,” Achitoff said.

“USDA has shown no regard for the environmental laws, and we’re pleased that Judge White ordered the appropriate response.”


The center, which actively opposes biotech crops, said the case was the first in which a judge had ordered the destruction of plantings. [AFP]

The deadline for submitting comments to the USDA was December 6. For more information or if you would like to send  a letter of support to Judge Jeffrey White, who ordered the destruction of GMO sugar beet crops, visit FRESH >