Thursday, January 26, 2017

Your Food, Your Legislature: Bills Address New Farmers; CAFO Air Pollution; GMO Contamination

Your Food, Your Legislature is a series of reports giving Oregon consumers a heads-up on issues before the current session of the legislature that affect the food we are putting on our tables, as well as providing you with contact information to voice your opinion on those issues. Thanks to Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers for help on details of the pending legislation.

The upcoming session of the Oregon legislature—scheduled to convene on February first—is going to be a tough one for the State of Oregon, which is facing a $1.7 billion (yes, with a "b") funding shortfall. That means that programs benefitting small farmers, like those supporting beginning farmers and for farmers transitioning to organic, as well as for Farm-to-School funding, are going to be David in a battle with big Goliaths like transportation, natural resources, education…you name it.

Here are three bills that I'll be keeping an eye on in the next few weeks and months, and I'll keep you posted on any new issues that arise.

New farmers gather to share information.

Tax credit for renting farmland to beginning farmers for a term of three years (HB 2085). This bill creates a beginning farmer tax credit to encourage landowners to rent land to beginning farmers, with higher rates given for organic practices. Despite growing demand for locally grown food, Oregon is in the midst of land crisis. The state lost nearly 25% of its beginning farmers (those in business fewer than 10 years) between 2007 and 2012, according to the USDA. The average age of farmers in Oregon is now 60 years old, and fast-rising farmland prices are raising serious question about who will grow our food in the future. HB 2085 is intended to help beginning farmers gain access to land, and builds on Oregon's Aggie Bonds program, which helps lower interest rates on loans to beginning farmers. If passed, the tax credit will apply to tax years beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

Oregon CAFOs produce air pollutant like ammonia and nitrogen.

Regulation of air contaminant emissions from dairy confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) (SB  197). This bill would require new rules be established to regulate air contaminant emissions from large dairy operations by 2019. In 2007, Oregon exempted large-scale livestock operations from air-quality oversight, and though a 2008 state task force recommended an air quality oversight program for large dairies, the state's Departement of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is not monitoring air quality impacts from large CAFOs and feedlots. Elevated concentrations of ammonia from mega-dairies like the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms (photo, above right) have been linked to acid deposits in the Columbia River Gorge, and nitrogen compounds are contributing to elevated levels of ozone in the vicinity of these operations. A recent proposal for a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy called Lost Valley Ranch near the Columbia River has prompted renewed interest from legislators in creating an air contaminant emissions program as outlined in SB 197.

Contamination from GE crops threaten Oregon's small farmers.

Allowing local governments to protect farmers whose crops may be at risk of contamination from genetically engineered seed or products (HB 2469). This bill will allow counties in Oregon to protect farmers within their boundaries from contamination of their crops by genetically engineered (GE) crops. It effectively repeals a bill dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act" that was signed into law in 2013 by then-Governor John Kitzhaber that took away the rights of local communities to set local food and agriculture policies. Up to that point, Oregon county governments had the highest degree of local discretionary authority of any state in the nation, according to the Oregon Secretary of State as quoted in an article at the time. HB 2469 would allow counties to once again regulate or ban GE crops to protect farmers growing traditional crops, and it would leave in place an existing ban on GE crops that passed in Jackson County on May 20, 2014. It would also allow a GE crop ban that passed in Josephine County in May, 2014, but which has been blocked in the courts, to finally go into effect.

The sponsors of legislation are listed on the information pages of the bills (links above), and links are provided for their offices. You can find your own legislators here if you want to contact them about these or other issues.

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