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MOFGA Continues to Push for Policies to Support Organic Producers

September 9, 2019

MOFGA Policy Updates

We've been working hard to advocate for policies to support you as an organic producer and want to let you know what we've been up to. There are several policy updates here and work is ongoing. We encourage you to read through these updates and be in touch with any questions or comments.

Sarah Alexander delivers petitions to Senator Collins
Sarah Alexander delivers petitions to Senator Collins

Earlier this year we asked MOFGA supporters to sign petitions asking Senator Collins to fight for Maine's organic dairies by telling the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to close the origin of livestock loophole and to address climate change. In August Sarah Alexander, MOFGA's executive director, delivered over 400 signed petitions to Senator Collins during a visit to the Bragg family's MOFGA-certified organic Rainbow Valley Farm.

Senator Collins was very responsive and has requested the language we were seeking in the appropriations bill.

The origin of livestock rule has been sitting at the USDA for more than three years waiting to be finalized. Issuing the final rule would level the playing field for organic dairy farmers, because all dairies would have to follow the one-time herd transition from conventional to organic, rather than the continuous transition that some certifiers are allowing. Maine dairies are adhering to the intent of the law.
The House of Representatives included language to address the loophole in its appropriations bill earlier this year, and now we'd like the Senate to do the same. This would be a good first step toward helping organic dairy farmers in Maine. Alexander recently spoke about this issue on Maine Calling with Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal, who also supports clarifying this rule.

Other Federal Policy Updates

Pasture Rule Compliance Oversight

Organic dairy farmers and organic farm organizations have complained for many years about the lack of uniform enforcement by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) of accredited certifiers regarding the Pasture Rule, which ensures that organic ruminant operations are pasture-based systems. Now the NOP has committed to enhanced oversight of certifiers and developed a Dairy Compliance Project to review how certifiers interpret pasture and outdoor access. In mid-August we saw the first product of that work when the NOP entered into a settlement agreement with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) to resolve outstanding noncompliances observed during a 2018 livestock-focused site visit.

The agreement calls for TDA to provide additional training for its livestock inspectors and to confirm that inspectors have the knowledge and experience needed. TDA must also perform additional unannounced inspections of livestock operations, conduct a program review of its livestock certification and not accept new livestock clients until the NOP allows it to do so.

Organic Farmer's Association Letter on Genetic Engineering in Organic

On July 17 at the House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research hearing, USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach said that he was interested in considering new technologies such as gene editing in organics.

This comment disturbed the Organic Farmers Association (OFA), of which MOFGA is a member. Genetic engineering (GE) is prohibited from the organic standards and would require a lengthy process of rule-making to change. We believe that the organic community is united in its opposition to any GE in organic, and exploring this issue would be a major distraction for the USDA and NOSB, which need to attend to other crucial issues.

OFA developed a letter to Secretary Perdue strongly disagreeing with any discussion of GE in organic production, and MOFGA signed on to this letter.


Farmer Scholarships Available to Attend NOSB Meeting

The National Organic Coalition (NOC) is offering a limited number of scholarships to farmers wishing to attend the NOC Pre-NOSB meeting (October 22, 2019) and National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting (October 23 to 25, 2019) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The following important topics will be discussed during these  meetings: D.C. organic policy update, oversight and enforcement for imports and dairy sector, origin of livestock, pasture rule enforcement, prohibition against GE in organic, transparency about GE contamination levels in field corn seed, marine materials, fatty alcohol (used for suckering tobacco), paper pots, sanitizers, parasiticides for livestock (fenbendazole, moxidectin) and others.

Farmers affiliated with NOC member organizations (including MOFGA) and NOC network affiliates are eligible to apply.

Farmers who apply by Friday, September 13, will be given priority and will be notified of scholarship awards around September 20.

  •  Scholarship amounts will vary depending on the number of applicants and their specific needs. Scholarship recipients should attend the NOC Pre-NOSB meeting on Tuesday, October 22, if possible.
  • MOFGA encourages farmers to make oral comments to the NOSB. You can apply to give oral comments here.
  • The NOSB also accepts written comments, which are due at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on October 3, 2019.

State Policy Updates

Maine Meat Labeling

The Maine Department of Agriculture will be writing rules to implement a new law requiring that meat products labeled with a certified "Maine" trademark be born and raised in the state, and not imported from out of state, slaughtered here and sold as "Maine raised." Poultry may be labeled as "Maine-raised" as long as it's raised in the state from no longer than a week after hatching.

We encourage producers who have specific ideas about rules or enforcement to contact Emily Horton ([email protected]) in the Commissioner's office to share their ideas. MOFGA will continue to monitor and comment as the rules become available.

Solar Farms

We're also monitoring the potential issue of solar farms being sited on prime farmland. The Department of Agriculture is aware of this issue and is working on guidelines, and we're working with several groups in the state to draft recommendations. If you have suggestions or would like to chat about this issue, please contact Heather Spalding ([email protected]).