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Leo Horrigan, MHS

Leo Horrigan, MHS

CLF Correspondent

Center for a Livable Future

Farm Bureau is a dubious ‘voice of agriculture’ on pesticide bill

A coalition of groups is supporting a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would require that pesticide use be recorded in a central database, so that researchers could track the environmental and health impacts of these chemicals.

The bill is being introduced for a third time, and for a third time its main opposition comes from the Maryland Farm Bureau.  This persistent opposition begs two questions: What is the Farm Bureau, and whom does it represent?

The Farm Bureau says it draws its strength from “the active participation of over 30,620 member families that belong to the state’s 23 county Farm Bureaus.” But, don’t be fooled.  Read More >

Food & Faith Project launches contest to inspire ‘good food’ dialogue, actions

More and more faith communities are interested in better aligning their food choices with their religious values.  However, figuring out how to do that, amid the complexity of our modern food system, can seem overwhelming.

Not to worry.  The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and its Baltimore Food & Faith Project have devised two ways to help Baltimore-area congregations succeed on this journey of self-discovery.

First, Baltimore Food & Faith launched The Good Food Toolkit: A Food Sustainability and Justice Evaluation Guide for Faith Communities, which walks congregations through a process to help them improve their food policies and procedures in several different areas of congregational life.  Now, to sweeten the process, Read More >

FDA Feeling the Heat on Genetically Engineered Salmon

Jillian Fry, Congressional briefing

Opposition is building rapidly to a pending approval of the first genetically-engineered animal in the U.S. food supply—AquaBounty’s GE version of the Atlantic salmon. The opposition is so strong, in fact, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just extended its public comment period by another 60 days.

Up until yesterday, the public was invited to submit comments until February 25 on FDA’s draft environmental assessment of GE salmon, in which the agency issued a preliminary finding that the salmon would have no significant impact on the U.S. environment. As of this morning, the deadline was extended to April 26, 2013.

As part of the mounting pressure on FDA, on Monday three groups opposed to the current process being used to consider approval of GE salmon—including the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future—held a standing room only Capitol Hill briefing on the issue for Congressional staffers. Read More >

Pesticide database would be a boost, not a burden, for farmers

Spraying Fruit Trees in the Okanagan Valley, 1963

Pesticides are dangerous substances. After all, they are designed to kill living things.

So, if they are going to be released into our environment—whether by a farmer or a lawn-care specialist—the least we can do is track who’s releasing what, when, where and how much, so we can monitor whatever unintended consequences these substances might be causing. This means requiring the people who apply pesticides to report their use to government regulators.

This seems like an uncontroversial proposal, and yet a bill to this very effect has failed in the Maryland General Assembly all three times it has been proposed in the past four years. Read More >

Policy expert Mark Winne has watched food movement grow up

Long-time food policy expert Mark Winne has seen this nation’s food movement follow a path that mirrors his own professional journey. More and more advocates are delving into policy to get support for the hands-on projects that were their first forays into food issues.

As a result of this shift in food movement emphasis, there has been an explosive growth in food policy councils in the U.S., going from 100 councils in 2010 to 180 in a recent census by the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC).

Winne may know more about the history of U.S. food policy councils than anyone, as he has been a consultant to dozens of councils over the years, working under the auspices of CFSC. That organization is closing shop at the end of 2012, however, leaving Winne without an umbrella organization to support his food policy council work.  Meantime, he will soldier on as an independent entity, Mark Winne & Associates, while looking for another organization that will house his work.  He has just released a how-to manual for anyone who’s creating a food policy council, entitled Doing Food Policy Councils Right: A Guide to Development and Action. Read More >

DOJ ain’t the new sheriff in town, after all

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (right)

Ask and you shall receive …

In early April I wrote a blogpost lamenting the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice had not followed up on its nationwide “workshops” on competition in agricultural markets that were held throughout 2010. The lack of follow-up seemed a bold-faced betrayal of farmer hopes, especially after Attorney General Eric Holder had referred to the first workshop as “a milestone” and had done some tough antitrust talking at the event.

Well, lo and behold, the DOJ heard my plaintive call for follow-up and mustered a report about the workshops, released in May. All right, so my blogpost had nothing to do with the report being issued, but a man can dream, can’t he? Read More >

Senators, let’s tie “soil insurance” to crop insurance

This story has conflict, suspense, fast-moving legislators (oh, my!), and sexy terms like “conservation compliance,” so stick around.

The fast-moving legislators have already entered the stage and have been acting against type by drastically speeding up the normally glacial process of creating a new farm bill. The Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday finished marking up a version of the bill that will now be sent to the full Senate. Read More >

Contract farmers step up, and Justice leaves them hanging

Carole Morison, independent chicken farmer

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice raised a lot of hopes among contract farmers that they would finally get some help from the federal government in their struggles with corporate control of the livestock industries.

The department’s Antitrust Division held five workshops around the country that dealt with competition (or the lack of it) in agricultural markets. There were sessions devoted to poultry, dairy and beef/hogs.

At the poultry workshop in Normal, Ala., contract farmers had a forum to vent about their disempowering relationships with corporate integrators. Many spoke out despite fear of reprisals from the industry. DOJ’s antitrust chief, Christine Varney, handed her business card to any farmer who expressed such fears. They could call her directly if industry threatened them with retaliation for speaking out, she said. Read More >

Next Farm Bill Should Strengthen, Not Threaten, Conservation

No farms, no food.

It’s a slogan you might have seen on a bumper sticker somewhere. Substitute “soil” for “farms” and you have a sentiment that’s equally apt. Maintaining our future food security and our health requires us to preserve the quantity and quality of a vital natural resource—the topsoil that we need to grow healthy food. Read More >