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Daily News Blog

17
Jul

Grassroots Power, Democratic Process, and Organic—Pillars of Transformative Change—under Threat

(Beyond Pesticides, July 17, 2023) Students of environmental policy quickly learn that the most meaningful change to protect health and the environment begins with action in local communities. The challenge now is to preserve the rights of communities under federal law to restrict pesticides and advance local protections through the adoption of eco- and health-friendly, organic land management practices. As is known from history, with the leadership of local communities, the states and the federal government will follow.

History of Action in Communities and States

Major actions on the banning or restricting of specific pesticides over the last seven decades—from DDT (in Michigan and Wisconsin), 2,4,5-T [1/2 of Agent Orange] (in Oregon [read A Bitter Fog]), to chlordane (New York)—began with calls from the grassroots about dying wildlife to elevated cancer and miscarriage rates and other diseases. But, these chemical incidents (which continue to today with similar campaigns, but different chemical names like glyphosate, imidacloprid (neonicotinoids), and others), launched broader community-based efforts to curtail overall pesticide use—stop drift, runoff and other nontarget exposure—and require organic-compatible practices. Tracing the history—from Mendocino County, CA to Lincoln County, OR, to Casey, WI (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court), to Montgomery County, MD, to South Portland  and Portland, ME, to Eastern Arkansas—communities have sought to exercise their local democratic right to protect their families and communities from the assault of toxic pesticides. This right is the current existential challenge because today the continued reliance on petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers significantly contributes to existential health, biodiversity, and climate crises. Will we allow Congressional elected officials, in alliance with the pesticide lobby, to take away this path to a livable future?

Chemical Industry and Congressional Allies Seek to Take Away Local Rights

While chemical industry power has in most cases successfully curtailed the rights of local communities to restrict pesticides on private property (allowing drift over neighbors and sensitive areas and runoff to waterways), the issue has been left to the state governments to determine the authorities it allows to its cities, towns, and counties. At least six states have upheld the right of localities to restrict pesticides, with Maine and Maryland communities serving as the shining example of local governments exercising their values and principles to protect people and the environment. Where a state preempts local authority, local governments are increasingly adopting ordinances that adopt organic land management practices (allowing only organic-compatible products to be used) on their public property. However, communities are fighting to get pesticides out of their local environment because these chemicals move so easily through the total environment (air, water, land, lawns, gardens, etc.). While not giving up on the responsibility of federal and state governments to honor their responsibility to protect public health and safety, the history of change teaches that the urgent need for transformative change will occur from the ground up.

Industry Pushes Farm Bill to Limit Local and States Rights to Adopt More Protective Standards

The industry, and its allies in Congress, continue to try to stop local governments from acting and are now discussing, in the 2023 Farm Bill, provisions that will stop local governments from restricting pesticides (see below). In so doing, the legislation under discussion will take away the right of states to restrict or choose not to restrict (like Maine and Maryland) their local jurisdictions from restricting pesticides. The federal pesticide law (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) currently allows localities to restrict pesticides. As the federal government fails to take the urgent action necessary to confront the health, climate, and biodiversity crises, and is paralyzed by the current political discourse, the importance of local and state action has never been more important. (For more history, read this.)

Fighting Back with Organic

The good news is that practices are available through organic land management that contribute significantly to the mitigation and reversal of the current health, biodiversity, and climate emergencies by eliminating petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers. (See legislation under discussion below that upholds and supports organic management practices.)

Act Now

There is an urgent need to enact a transformation to organic agriculture in order to address existential threats to human health, climate, and biodiversity. The Farm Bill covers many areas—ranging from the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP) to trade—offering many opportunities for strengthening organic production.

Tell Congress to use the Farm Bill to strengthen organic agriculture and our democratic process.    

As Congress drafts the 2023 Farm Bill, there is an opportunity for many topics—good and bad—to be introduced. Dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, which addressed threats posed by the Great Depression and drought, the Farm Bill is an omnibus bill passed every five years. It is designed to secure a sufficient food supply, establish fair food prices for both farmers and consumers, provide supplemental food assistance, and protect the soil and other natural resources on which farmers depend, but includes much more. Several proposals relevant to organic agriculture are currently under consideration, and Congress needs to hear that there is strong public support for those that will strengthen organic agriculture. In addition, bills that threaten democratic processes are also being considered. Our voices are also needed to oppose attacks on democracy and support an open, democratic process in writing the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is created through a process of negotiation that largely excludes the public at large. It consists of many sections, championed by a number of different constituencies and vest interests. The Agriculture Committees negotiate the contents of the Farm Bill, but it reaches Congress as one bill to be considered as a whole. As the Farm Bill is currently being put together, we are aware of several potential “marker bills” relevant to organic agriculture and the adoption of organic land care that may be incorporated.

Positive goals may be supported by these marker bills:

  • Increase number of organic farms.
  • Support beginning and BIPOC farmers.
  • Promote soil health and climate resilience through conservation policy.
  • Sustain research that supports organic.
  • Provide infrastructure that supports organic.
  • Support for organic dairy is urgently needed, but so far no marker bill has been introduced that covers these areas:
    • More detailed organic milk data to reflect the depth of information provided for non-organic milk production.
    • An organic dairy safety net program based on organic-specific milk and input cost data.
    • Immediate support to address dramatically increased organic input costs for organic dairy farms.
    • Investment in organic milk processing infrastructure that serves areas within the US that have large numbers of organic dairies.
    • Fund feasibility studies on Regional Organic Milkshed Market Access.
    • Expand and improve access for organic dairy farmers to current funding.
    • Create Regional positions for Organic Dairy Market Specialists.
    • Support increased regionally headquartered processing capacity.
  •  
  • Invest in local and regional food systems.
  • Address consolidation in food and agriculture.
  • The following measures to strengthen organic integrity should be supported, but currently no bill incorporates them:
    • Set a timeframe for the NOP to do rulemaking after receiving a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendation when the recommendation is supported by 2/3 of the board.
    • Require the NOP to clearly state how their rulemaking relates to NOSB recommendations.
    • Authorize funding for the NOP to keep pace with organic industry growth and direct specific resources towards standards development.
    • Allow USDA to expand the definition of reimbursable expenses for farmer members of the NOSB to cover substitute labor on their operations during their Board service. Restore the NOSB procedure for “sunset review” of National List materials, to require a 2/3 vote to re-list a material (as opposed to the current process of a 2/3 vote needed to de-list.)
    • Require the NOP to accredit third-party material review organizations that review agricultural inputs for compliance with the organic standards.
    • Grant the NOP the authority to take enforcement actions against false organic claims on agricultural non-food products.

In addition, the following bills threaten the adoption of pesticide restrictions and organic land care by communities and should be strenuously opposed:

  • Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act (R. 4288). Threatens to undermine local and state authority to protect the health of their residents from pesticides—effectively overturning decades of Supreme Court precedent.

  • Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression Act (EATS Act, 2019), not to be confused with the Enhance Access to Snap Act (also abbreviated EATS Act). The EATS Act is virtually identical to the notorious “King amendment,” which former Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tried unsuccessfully to attach to the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, generating overwhelming bipartisan opposition. With the bill’s purpose “To prevent States and local jurisdictions from interfering with the production and distribution of agricultural products. . .,” local and state health and environmental concerns are preempted. An analysis of the King amendment by the Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Program produced a long, but not exhaustive, list of laws in every state that could be repealed by the EATS Act.

Note: We will update this action as more information becomes available to Beyond Pesticides.

Tell Congress to use the Farm Bill to strengthen organic agriculture and our democratic process.    

Letter to U.S. Representative and Senators:

I am writing to urge you to support an open democratic process in creating the 2023 Farm Bill and to use the Farm Bill to address the existential threats to health, climate, and biodiversity, as well as threats to democratic process.

As Congress drafts the 2023 Farm Bill, there is an opportunity for many topics to be introduced. The Farm Bill is created through a process of negotiation that largely excludes the public at large. It consists of many sections, championed by a number of different constituencies. The Agriculture Committees negotiate the contents of the Farm Bill, but it reaches Congress as one bill to be considered as a whole. I urge you to support a more open process.

I also urge you to support the following goals, as embodied in these marker bills:

*Increase number of organic farms: Opportunities in Organic Act H.R. 3650 and S. 1582.

*Support beginning and BIPOC farmers: Justice for Black Farmers Act (S. 96, H.R. 1167)

*Promote soil health and climate resilience through conservation policy: Agriculture Resilience Act (S. 1016, H.R. 1840)

*Sustain research that supports organic: Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act
(SOAR) (H.R. 2720)

*Provide infrastructure that supports organic: Seeds and Breeds for the Future Act (S. 2023)

*Support for organic dairy is urgently needed, but so far no marker bill has been introduced that covers these areas:

– More detailed organic milk data to reflect the depth of information provided for non-organic milk production.

– An organic dairy safety net program based on organic-specific milk and input cost data.

– Immediate support to address dramatically increased organic input costs for organic dairy farms.

– Investment in organic milk processing infrastructure that serves areas within the US that have large numbers of organic dairies.

– Fund feasibility studies on Regional Organic Milkshed Market Access.

     – Expand and improve access for organic dairy farmers to current funding.

     – Create Regional positions for Organic Dairy Market Specialists.

     – Support increased regionally headquartered processing capacity.

*Invest in local and regional food systems: Local Food and Farms Act (S. 1205, H.R. 2723); Strengthening Local Processing Act (S. 354, H.R. 945)

*Address consolidation in food and agriculture: Farm System Reform Act (S. 271, H.R. 797); Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act (S. 272, H.R. 805); Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act (S. 270, H.R. 798).

*In addition, measures to strengthen organic integrity should be supported, but currently no bill incorporates them, and they deserve public debate.

It is also vitally important to protect democracy and local authority by opposing these proposals:

*Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act (H.R. 4288), which threatens to undermine local and state authority to protect the health of their residents from pesticides—effectively overturning decades of Supreme Court precedent.

*Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression Act (EATS Act, S. 2019), not to be confused with the Enhance Access to Snap Act (also abbreviated EATS Act). S. 2019 is virtually identical to the notorious “King amendment,” which former Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tried unsuccessfully to attach to the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, generating overwhelming bipartisan opposition. An analysis of the King amendment by the Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Program produced a long, but not exhaustive, list of laws in every state that could be repealed by the EATS Act.

Thank you.

 

 

 

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