As the Oregon legislature nears the end of its 2023 session, there are several bills affecting small farmers that need your help to get over the finish line successfully. (Click on the action link at the end of each item.)
Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 3366):This bipartisan program, known as OAHP, helps farmers and ranchers protect their land while keeping it in production, supports rural communities, and helps Oregon leverage unprecedented federal funding. In the first grant cycle, OAHP protected more than 12,400 acres of working land across Oregon. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) requested $10.8 million in grant and administrative funding for the 2023-2025 biennium, but that funding was not included in the Governor's budget. Contact your legislators today and ask them to support this program at the link below.
Healthy Soils Bill (HB 2998): This bill leverages federal funding and existing programs to expand resources to support farmers and ranchers with soil health practices that make the most sense for their land and businesses. The Healthy Soils Bill is important in meeting the needs of farmers and ranchers, and addressing the climate crisis. We are at a critical time in the legislative session where funding for many bills, including the Healthy Soils Bill, is being determined. Your advocacy right now could make a real difference for the success of this bill so please contact key legislators to urge them to fund the Healthy Soils Bill.
Canola Bill (SB 789): In a parliamentary move attempting to waylay this bill, the House Ag Committee held a work session resulting in this being moved to the House Rules Committee instead of going to the House Floor for a vote. It is more important than ever that constituents make their voices heard to get this bill passed in this legislative session. We need to maintain the current 500-acre canola cap in the Willamette Valley in order to protect brassica specialty seed production.
Support for Farmers Transitioning to Organic (SB 1058):Oregon is ideally situated to be a leader in the rapidly growing organic industry, which surpassed $60 billion in 2022, but will need to make both public and private investments in order to fully actualize this opportunity. Organic farmers are subject to third party verification, rigorous certification processes, and federal standards that mandate practices which, among other benefits, creates the healthy soils found on organic farms. Certification takes three years and is a considerable economic burden on organic farmers that conventional farmers are not subject to. Given the triple bottom line benefits organic can bring Oregon, investments in organic farming and transitioning to organic are smart policy moves.
Legislative maneuvering on the part of Oregon's powerful agriculture lobby has killed one bill and basically gutted another since my last Legislative Report.
The Factory Farm Moratorium bill, SB 85-1 (formerly HB 2667), suffered a setback when an amendment was proposed (SB 85-3) limiting the bill to apply only to poultry factory farms, as well as shrinking the moratorium from eight to only two years, not nearly enough time to make the necessary changes to Oregon's laws and regulations. According to one insider, "while the amendment was an attempt by the committee to offer a compromise, industrial interests will never get to neutral on a moratorium, let alone support it, [so the effort] was all in vain."
The 11 mega-dairy facilities operating in the state produce over 17 million kilograms of planet-warming methane every year.
The Lower Umatilla Basin, home to some of the largest operating and proposed mega-dairies in Oregon, suffers from depleted and degraded groundwater with widespread nitrate contamination to drinking water wells, affecting the health of area residents.
Forty years ago, Oregon was home to more than 4,000 dairies, mostly small, family-owned businesses. As factory dairy farms have come to dominate state milk production, just over 200 family-scale dairies remain.
Despite public hearings showing Oregonians are in favor of the moratorium by a 3-to-1 margin, the new amendment basically gutting the intent of the original bill is being promoted as a "compromise" by industrial agricultural interests in the state.
The Canola Protected District (SB 789) bill, which would permanently place restrictions on growing canola within Willamette Valley Protected District, has passed out of committee thanks to the help of citizen action. The Willamette Valley is one of the last regions on earth suitable for large-scale brassica seed production—crops like kale, cabbage, mustard, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi—and grows over 90% of the world's supply of many brassica seed varieties.
Canola is a low-value oil seed oil product that can cross-pollinate with brassicas, and because it is mostly a genetically modified (GMO) crop, is particularly dangerous for Oregon's organic seed industry—if organic seed is found to be contaminated from GMO crops, the whole seed crop from the farm can be destroyed, potentially putting it out of business.
The bill will now be sent to the full Senate with a "do pass" recommendation from the committee. More information here.
Raw Milk Sales (HB 2616), the bill to expand small farmers' ability to sell raw milk to the public, was killed in committee by pressure on legislators from large dairy interests, as well as a disinformation campaign targeting legislators at a public hearing regarding the safety of the product.
The bill would have expanded the venues where farms under the micro-dairy exemptions could sell raw milk, to include delivery, at farmers' markets and farm stands if they label the raw milk. The bill would also have legalized the retail sale of raw cow milk and cow milk products to retail stores including butter, cheese and ice cream.
Though the disinformation was refuted by farmers and advocates who cited an internationally accepted product standard to ensure safety, after the hearing the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) issued a surprise ruling that would require farms selling raw cows' milk, most of which have three cows or less, to get a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation certificate from the state, normally a process only required of farms with more than 200 cows. Oddly, Oregon is the only state in the nation whose regulations—and the proposed ODA ruling—only apply to raw milk from cows, not raw milk from goats or sheep. Go figure.
TAKE ACTION:Sign the petition to let legislators know safely produced raw milk should be available to Oregonians.
Oregon's 82nd Legislative Assembly convened on January 17, 2023, with a long roster of proposed legislation to work through during its 160-day session, many of those involving the food Oregonians will be putting on their tables in the future.
Three of these bills are of particular concern:
Raw Milk Sales, HB2616: Currently, Oregon has the most restrictive laws on raw milk sales of any of the Western states, including Washington, California, Idaho and Nevada. This bill would authorize sale of unpasteurized milk from small-scale farms through a delivery service or at farmers' markets or other farm-to-consumer sales locations if the milk is labeled as unpasteurized.
In a state that prides itself on having a national presence in the dairy industry, in reality our state has been losing small dairy farms by the dozens in the last few decades because of the pressure to “get big or get out.” Because of this pressure, created by artifcially low prices for factory-farmed milk and the high cost of processing in the centralized food system, many small farmers choose to produce raw milk for their immediate community.
Currently it is impossible to obtain a license to sell raw cow’s milk in Oregon. Because of the exclusion from the sanctioned licensing program—and pressure from industrial producers on insurance companies—raw cow milk producers, who are following the letter of the law with the license exemption, are being dropped from their farm insurance policies. The goal of this bill is to create more opportunity for small farmers to diversify their offerings, a pathway to licensing for farmers who want to grow their raw milk business, and to ensure that raw milk is safe and accessible to Oregonians. More information here.
At that time, farmers, academics and food system activists came together to pass a law, sometimes lovingly called “The Pickle Bill,” allowing farmers to bring certain low-risk, value-added products like jams and jellies, pickles, lacto-fermented vegetables, dried herbs, etc., to farmers' markets and their farm stands. It opened up opportunities for small farms to differentiate themselves at the market, reduce waste, and create shelf stable products they could use to stretch their income year round when the weather doesn’t cooperate. At the time, it was one of the most progressive cottage food laws in the country.
This bill would address:
Online Sales: Explicitly permit the online sale of products that fall under the Farm Direct Marketing Law.
Modernizing Distribution: Allow for the contracting of a third party entity for the facilitation of a sale, marketing and/or delivery of products from the farm to the consumer.
Additional Products: Expand products eligible for Farm Direct Exemption.
Clarify Ingredients: Define and clarify the non-farm-grown ingredients allowed for valued-added products.
Consignment: Expand consignment eligibility to certain value-added products.
Factory Farm Moratorium, HB 2667: This bill places a moratorium on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and State Department of Agriculture (ODA) on issuing or renewing licenses or permits to allow construction or operation of new industrial confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) or additions to existing facilities (also known as Tier 2 CAFO permits).
Oregon has fewer regulations around these facilities than California and Washington, and as a result the state is becoming a target for these types of industrial facilities—55 and counting. Placing a pause on issuing new permits will help Oregon prioritize the agricultural legacy we want for our state.
The factors that legislators and public officials must consider when licensing these facilities include:
The Oregon Legislature adjourned "sine die"—which translates as "without a day," i.e. with no appointed date for resumption—on June 26, after a session marked by the usual rancor between the GOP minority (which staged a virtual "walkout" over objections to Governor Brown's COVID restrictions, the third year in a row for that maneuver) and the Democratic majority. Despite that and the fact that the session was conducted online due to the pandemic, there was some progress on strengthening our food system. Below is a summary of the hits and misses of the most important bills affecting our local food system:
Grant program to increase small-scale meat processing capacity (HB2785): The grant fund was allotted $2 million, plus an additional $300,000 for OSU’s Clark Meat Science Center. According to a report from Friends of Family Farmers' Amy Wong, "This long-overdue investment should be considered a major milestone for small farmers and ranchers who have pushed for expanded processing for decades." What this program means for you is that, in the future, more locally grown, sustainably produced meat from small Oregon farmers should be coming to your table.
Bovine Manure Tax Credit (HB 2451 and SB 151): This measure died in committee. It would have continued funding tax credits for factory farms that use methane digesters to product natural gas. The vast majority of these credits have gone to Threemile Canyon Farms, the 70,000-cow mega-dairy supplying most of the milk for Tillamook cheese products, which is owned by an out-of-state corporation. It's a big step forward that our legislature rejected a highly greenwashed process that maintains investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, one that also props up a factory farm system that harms small farmers, rural communities and our environment, not to mention the animals it exploits.
Double Up Food Bucks (HB 2292 and SB 555): The Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program assists recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. This important program was funded at the $4 million level—a big jump from the initial $1.5 million funding level in 2019. Nearly one in four Oregonians experienced hunger during the pandemic and this program is a triple win for eaters, farmers, and local communities.
Farm to School Grant Program (part of the Education Dept. budget): The Oregon Farm to School Grant Program, which was in danger of being eliminated altogether, was awarded $10.2 million, maintaining its current level of funding.
Oregon Organic Action Plan (SB 404): This bill would have increased funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. Assurances were made to advocates that it would be included in the final budget reconciliation bill, but at the last minute it was dropped from the bill.
Moratorium on permits for industrial dairies (SB 583): Sadly, as posted in the mid-session report, this bill that would have allowed a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies died in committee. Lobbying by powerful industrial agriculture interests have once again prevented the state from enacting reasonable protections of Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare.
Thanks to Amy Wong, Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers, for her help in compiling this report.
The Oregon Legislature is at its midpoint, where bills have either been scheduled for a public hearing and work session and are moving forward, or are dying in committee, or are being sent to a Rules or Revenue committee where the mid-session deadlines don’t apply. A summary of the most important bills affecting our local food system is below, with links to take action.
Moratorium on permits for industrial dairies (SB 583): Sadly, this bill that would have allowed a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies has died in committee. Lobbying by powerful industrial agriculture interests have once again prevented the state from enacting reasonable protections of Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare.
However, advocates were able to secure a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment and they need as many concerned constituents as possible to submit testimony to let legislators know it's not a subject that's going to get swept under the rug by powerful interests. Food and Water Watch has produced a template for your testimony that you can copy and paste into the legislative submission form. (Choose the meeting date of April 1, 2021, at 1 pm, then click on SB 583 to copy and paste your testimony.) Also consider sending a copy of your testimony to your legislator. For additional information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article "Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities."
Grant program to increase meat processing capacity (HB 2785): Unanimously passed out of committee with a recommendation for passage, this bill establishes a grant program to fund the building, upgrading or expansion of local meat processing facilities. Oregon’s already acute lack of meat processing capacity has been exacerbated by COVID-19, and investing in processing capacity will go a long way in creating food system resilience post-pandemic. Amy Wong of Friends of Family Farmers said this program would build "infrastructure and hopefully technical assistance for bringing existing, and potentially new, processing facilities up to standards compliance."
It is critical for the members of the Ways and Means Committee and your legislators to understand the importance of helping rural communities recover from COVID-19 and build long-term rural economic development. E-mail committee members and also e-mail your legislators to let them know how much you value and support access to local food. For more information, read about how important access to local meat processing is to Oregon growers.
Oregon Organic Action Plan (HB 2269 and SB 404-3): The Senate bill (SB 404-3) had a successful public hearing on March 15th and is scheduled for a work session on March 29th. The House bill (HB 2269) would increase funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. This bill likely will end up in the Ways and Means Committee and it will be important for you to e-mail the Co-Chairs and let them know that we want more organic production in Oregon. And consider e-mailing your legislators to let them know how much you value and support access to locally grown organic food.
Funding for Double Up Food Bucks program (HB 2292 and SB 555): The Senate bill (SB 555) had a successful public hearing and work session and is currently in the Ways and Means Committee. The House bill (HB 2292) would continue funding to assist recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. With nearly 1 in 4 Oregonians currently struggling to afford to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families, the number is closer to 1 in 3 in Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. E-mail your legislators and let them know that this program not only helps keep our neighbors healthy by providing them with fresh, locally grown food, but also benefits our communities and supports local farms.
Renewal of the Bovine Tax Credit (HB 2451 and SB 151): This bovine manure tax credit proposed to give taxpayer money via tax credits for an additional six years to industrial facilities like feedlots and mega-dairies that have methane digesters that produce biofuels. While industry claims that digesters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the fact is that burning biogas actually releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants—including smog-forming nitrogen oxides, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide— potentially offsetting other greenhouse gas reductions. Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Food and Water Watch, said they presents a false solution that doesn't address the underlying problem of methane emissions. At this point it looks like the House and Senate versions of the bill may have died in their respective committees and the tax credit will not be renewed.
The Oregon Legislature convened its 81st session on January 11 of this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the session will be held remotely with public hearings in both chambers done over videoconference. Governor Brown and the leadership of the House and Senate are planning to focus on the state's response to the COVID pandemic, addressing the damage from the climate change-related wildfires last year and the danger they present in the future, as well as dealing with the usual budget issues.
With all that, there are still bills dealing with Oregon's food system that are on tap for consideration. Here's an abbreviated list of what's coming up:
A moratorium on permits for industrial mega-dairies (HB 2924, SB 583): Put forward by Rep. Rob Nosse (D-42) and Senator Michael Dembrow (D-23), these bills temporarily prohibit the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) from issuing a permit to construct or operate any new industrial dairy, or to expand on an existing industrial dairy. "The moratorium would allow a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies until meaningful protections can be enacted to protect Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare," according to a statement from a coalition of community, farm, environmental and social justice organizations. One of those, Food and Water Watch, is encouraging citizens to sign a letter asking their legislators to co-sponsor the bills. For more information, watch a panel discussion on the topic.
Oregon Organic Action Plan (HB 2269, SB 404):Increases funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products.
Grant program to increase meat processing capacity (HB 2785): Establishes a grant program to fund upgrades to establishments under a program of state meat inspection. "So many of our [local] meat producers have been negatively impacted by Oregon’s lack of processing capacity," according to Amy Wong, Policy Director of Friends of Family Farmers. Oregon has lost several small processing facilities in the two years, crippling local farms and ranches who need to bring their animals to market. She said this program would build "infrastructure and hopefully technical assistance for bringing existing, and potentially new, processing facilities up to standards compliance." Read about the importance of access to local meat processing to Oregon growers.
Funding for Double Up Food Bucks program (HB 2292, SB 440, SB 555): Continuation of funding to assist recipients of supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program.
Renewal of the Bovine Tax Credit (HB 2451, SB 151): A bovine manure tax credit gives taxpayer money via tax credits to industrial facilities like feedlots and mega-dairies that have methane digesters for the production of biofuels. The problem is, as outlined in an issue brief from Food and Water Watch, "despite claims that digesters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, burning biogas actually releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants including smog-forming nitrogen oxides, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, potentially offsetting other greenhouse gas reductions." Additionally, less than half of methane emissions from an industrial agricultural facility are actually captured by digesters. In addition, digesters, because they are heavily incentivized and subsidized, actually spur the expansion of these kinds of industrial facilities, according to Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Food and Water Watch. She said they presents a false solution that doesn't address the underlying problem of methane emissions. Needless to say, consumer and watchdog organizations will be active in making sure this bill does not make it onto the floor for a vote.
In a stunning move, Republicans in the Oregon legislature and their corporate sponsors have completed a takeover of the legislative process that they couldn't achieve at the ballot box.
The so-called "interim session" of the Legislature, which occurs in even-numbered years, is constitutionally limited to 35 days and was was originally established to deal with budgetary issues that might come up between the main legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years.
"Lawmakers set out with a hefty policy agenda for the 35-day session: bills to prepare the state for an earthquake, changes to the way wildfires are fought, efforts to address the state’s housing crisis and an ambitious climate change policy," according to an article from OPB. "None of that happened."
Announcing the premature end to the session, House Speaker Tina Kotek had even harsher words for the 21 Republican legislators, whom she likened to a basketball team walking off the court for most of the second half, then asking to return in the final minute of the game on the condition that they get to dictate the final score.
Admonishing her absent colleagues, Kotek said that in team sports "you play hard, and you play by the rules. What [the Republicans] have done is cheat. They have not played by the rules. They took their ball and went home. They have broken their oath of office by not showing up to vote."
With hundreds of bills left in limbo and the state's budget up in the air, Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney said that they had no choice but to end the session rather than continue to be held hostage by a small minority of legislators. With plans to convene a meeting of the Legislative Emergency Board to approve an emergency spending package for cornonavirus response and flood relief for Umatilla County, the leaders were also requesting that the governor convene a special session later this spring to finish the work interrupted by the Republicans' walkout. Kotek also announced Governor Kate Brown would take executive action to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
Included in the bills that were not voted on because the Republicans walked out on the job they were elected to do—as well as defying a subpoena from the leadership to appear—was HB 4109 banning the aerial spraying of the deadly pesticide chlorpyrifos which had been passed in the House and was awaiting approval in the Senate. Its fate is unknown at the current moment.
One bright side is that the bill to amend some of the regulations governing factory farming in Oregon (SB 1513) that consumer and environmental advocates termed inadequate to deal with the dangers industrial agriculture present to our communities and our air, water and health, may not go forward. Advocates said its failure might present an opportunity to make real change in the way these extractive industrial facilities are regulated.
Addressing the walkout and its effect on these pending pieces of legislation, Amy van Saun, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said, “It is shameful that Oregon Republicans would prevent the functioning of our state democracy and hold up crucial legislation to protect our people and environment, including from dangerous and unnecessary pesticides like chlorpyrifos. We can only hope that the Governor’s office takes bold action to address the dangers of industrial ag in Oregon, including to put a moratorium on air, water, and climate polluting mega-dairies, like the new Easterday operation poised to take over the ill-fated Lost Valley site.”
Summing up this extraordinary, and potentially devastating, turn of events for the state, Les Zaitz, publisher of the Salem Reporter and the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, wrote that the action left "Republican legislators somewhere out of state and out of leverage, piles of legislation dead, and an uncertain political future for Oregon."
It's the midpoint of the interim session of the Oregon legislature, and it's time to let your legislator know what you think. Outlined below are several issues and suggested ways to let your legislators know your opinions.
Require large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to apply for approval from Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) and Dept. of Environmental Quality (SB 1513): On the heels of the catastrophic failure of the 30,000-cow Lost Valley Farm and the ongoing issues with the groundwater in the Boardman area, it was hoped that this bill would establish new regulations protecting Oregon's air, water and rural communities from these huge factory farms.
Unfortunately, according to Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), this bill is not adequate to address the problems raised by these extractive facilities. "The work group bill (similar to the bill proposed last session) does not go nearly far enough, and chipping away at the edges will not protect our community health and welfare from mega-dairies, including the new mega-dairy proposed at the infamous Lost Valley site," she said. "Further, we are concerned that the climate legislation again both exempts mega-dairies from controlling their methane emissions and creates a perverse incentive for people (especially from states with stronger controls) to set up or expand mega-dairies here, and to then sell dirty manure gas as 'renewable biogas' into the market."
I oppose SB 1513 and ask that you vote no on passing this bill out of committee. This weak proposal simply doesn’t go far enough in addressing the significant negative impacts that mega-dairies have on our state. Passing it would simply sweep under the rug the state's systemic failures to protect our environment and communities from this industry.
Mega-dairies harm our air and water, small family farmers, animal welfare, and Oregon's special places. Nowhere has that been clearer than at Lost Valley Farm, but it isn't just Lost Valley. Mega-dairies, including the proposed Easterday Farms that regulators are currently considering, have no place in Oregon.
SB 1513 is a weak half-measure that won't adequately address the mega-dairy crisis. We are past the point of minor regulatory tweaks. We need a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies.
Ban use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos (HB 4109): In a vote of 32-24, a bill to totally phase out the insecticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon by 2022 passed the House today over the objections of farm groups that argued the chemical is still necessary, according an article in the Capital Press. It now goes to the state Senate for approval, so it's time to contact your Senator and voice your opinion (suggested text below).
I am writing to urge you to support HB 4109 to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon. In some agricultural communities current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxin by children ages one to two exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times.
Even at low levels of exposure, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood and is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. In addition to its danger to people, chlorpyrifos has also been shown to harm beneficial insects, fish and birds.
Oregon should not allow industrial interests to endanger the health and well-being of its children or our environment. Please vote for HB 4109 to ban this dangerous chemical.
Climate cap and trade (SB 1530): Also known as Legislative Concept 19, according to an article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, "the bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit, and create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state. That cap would lower over time, in theory ensuring Oregon meets stringent conservation targets in 2035 and 2050. Entities required to obtain permits could trade them with one another."
Unfortunately, this bill does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits, could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions thereby threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.
Add your voice to the 7 out of 10 Oregonians who support climate action in Oregon, and insist that emissions from factory farms are included in the caps (suggested text below).
I believe that climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, created and exacerbated by our ongoing actions and inactions. In the face of unforgivable federal inaction, I thank you for your attempts to take action here in Oregon to address our own contributions to climate change and to prepare Oregonians for the future.
However, I am concerned that SB 1530 does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits and could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.
Oregonians deserve better than dirty mega-dairies. Again, while we applaud your efforts to address climate change, we urge you not to make the problem worse by ignoring the biggest source of methane in our state. Any effective climate legislation simply must address this significant and expanding source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.
When it gavels into session on Monday, February 3rd, the 2020 interim session of the Oregon legislature is set to address a stunning, some would say impossible, roster of work in the 35 days it is legally allowed. From climate change to gun control to spending $1 billion in revenue—not to mention the threat of Republicans walking out to kill bills they're not happy with as they did last session—it's bound to be a bumpy ride.
Several bills affecting our food system are in play, including:
New regulations on confined feeding operations (CAFOs) with more than 2,500 animals (SB 1513): On the heels of the catastrophic failure of Lost Valley Farm, a 30,000-cow mega-dairy, this bill seeks to establish more stringent regulations of new industrial animal operations. Specifically, it requires the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) or the state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to confirm the facility has an adequate water supply to operate and that it will need to obtain a separate permit for spreading animal waste on the land surrounding the facility.
According to Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), this bill is not adequate to address the problems raised by Lost Valley Farm. "The work group bill (similar to the bill proposed last session) does not go nearly far enough, and chipping away at the edges will not protect our community health and welfare from mega-dairies, including the new mega-dairy proposed at the infamous Lost Valley site. Further, we are concerned that the climate legislation again both exempts mega-dairies from controlling their methane emissions and creates a perverse incentive for people (especially from states with stronger controls) to set up or expand mega-dairies here, and to then sell dirty manure gas as 'renewable biogas' into the market," she said.
Study groundwater contamination and implement improvement plan for Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area (SB 1562): Some drinking water wells in the federally designated Groundwater Management Area (GWMA) in Umatilla and Morrow Counties are polluted with nitrates over the federal maximum allowable limits. Blamed on agricultural effluents, the area is the site of the state's two largest factory farm dairies—the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms and the not-yet-permitted 30,000-cow Easterday Farms Dairy, the original location of the now-shuttered Lost Valley Farm.
According to a study by Colorado State University, exposure to high levels of nitrates in water can cause "blue baby syndrome," (methemoglobinemia) a condition found especially in infants under six months. This results in a reduced oxygen supply to vital tissues such as the brain and can result in brain damage and death. Pregnant women, and even ruminant animals like cattle and sheep, are all susceptible to nitrite-induced methemoglobinemia. Nitrate contamination also has well-documented adverse health risks including increasing the risk of a variety of cancers, thyroid disease, and reproductive and gestational problems.
Additional pressure for legislators to act comes from the environmental watchdog Food and Water Watch, which is requesting the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take emergency action to address groundwater contamination in Morrow and Umatilla Counties. “Oregon officials have effectively abandoned their responsibility to protect people by doubling down on their failed approach to preventing groundwater contamination, which continues to put control in the hands of the very polluters that have created a pervasive threat to human health,” said Tarah Heinzen, Senior Staff Attorney with Food and Water Watch. “The Safe Drinking Water Act fully empowers EPA to take emergency action to protect human health in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area in these circumstances," she continued, "and our petition demonstrates that it must.”
Ban aerial spraying of pesticide chlorpyrifos (HB 4109):In some agricultural communities current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxin by children ages one to two exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times.
Even at low levels of exposure by women during pregnancy, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood. Researchers at Columbia University have demonstrated that the presence of chlorpyrifos in the umbilical cord of developing fetuses is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. A University of California Davis study found that women who resided within a mile of farms where chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides were applied had a 60 percent higher chance of giving birth to children with autism spectrum disorder.
Attorney van Saun said that CFS is "supporting a renewed push to phase out the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos from use in Oregon, following similar phase outs in Hawaii, California, and soon to be New York and the EU." She pointed out that a bill to phase out chlorpyrifos did not pass last session, "but the danger is still there for our kids and farm workers, so CFS is supporting efforts lead by Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) to make this happen this session." The hope is that the Oregon Legislature, through this bill, declares that the children of Oregon are more important than corporations that profit from exposing them (and the citizens of the state) to toxic chemicals.
Climate cap and trade (SB 1530): Also known as Legislative Concept 19, this bill follows the overall framework of last session's HB 2020, which failed to pass due to conflicts between urban and rural factions—some would say industrial and environmental concerns—in the legislature. According to an article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, "the bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit, and create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state. That cap would lower over time, in theory ensuring Oregon meets stringent conservation targets in 2035 and 2050. Entities required to obtain permits could trade them with one another."
Additions appease critics of the more stringent requirements of the previous bill, including protections for rural Oregonians from rising fuel prices; new exemptions and subsidies for industrial companies; rebates for big industrial gas users and a grandfather clause for existing wholesale contracts, giving some large companies (hint: Boeing) a break until their existing contract expires and they can structure a greener one.
Establishment of an Oregon Hemp Commission (HB 4051, HB 4072, SB 1561): House Bill 4051 creates a new state commodity commission; HB 4072 directs the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) to administer an Oregon Hemp State Program for studying growth, cultivation and marketing of hemp; SB 1561 deals with the commercial production and sale of hemp—changed from "industrial hemp"—as well as changing definitions of marijuana offenses and regulations regarding medical marijuana.
Stay tuned for future installments as the legislative sausage is made!
Canola has a long and sordid history in Oregon going back to 1990, when it was designated as a controlled crop with strict regulations on where it could be grown in the Willamette Valley, because of its habit of cross-pollinating with other crops. And ever since, producers have come back again and again to try to expand the restrictions on its production.
On July 1, current rules that cap annual canola production at 500 acres in the Willamette Valley expire, and—suprise, surprise—once again canola producers are attempting to roll back that restriction. The Oregon Legislature is considering SB 885, a bill that would maintain the current 500 acre per year cap indefinitely.
Meanwhile, according to Ivan Maluski, Policy director of Friends of Family Farmers, the ODA has announced a newly proposed rule to replace current expiring canola restrictions. "This draft proposal simply falls short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry," Maluski writes. "ODA’s proposal includes no acreage cap, doesn’t explicitly prohibit canola production in a proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves large parts of the Willamette Valley unprotected."
What can you do about it? You can e-mail your legislators and tell them to maintain the current restrictions as outlined in SB 885 (sample letter at bottom). You can also submit e-mail comments on the ODA canola rule by Friday, June 21 at 5 pm (sample text at bottom; written comments can be sent to Sunny Summers, Oregon Department of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. NE, Salem, OR 97301).
Why should you bother? Here's what I wrote in 2012:
"The Willamette River, from its headwaters in the Calapooya Mountains outside of Eugene to its confluence with the Columbia north of Portland, forms the base of a long narrow valley that not only contains 70% of the state's population, it's also Oregon's most fertile agricultural area. Averaging only 25 miles wide, the valley's rich volcanic and glacial soil was deposited here by ancient Ice Age flooding and can be half a mile deep in some areas.
"Orchards, vineyards and farmland vie with urban areas for space in its narrow confines, and some crops have been tightly controlled to prevent problems with cross-pollination from the distribution of pollen by the wind, water and dust churned up by traffic along its length. Canola, also known as rapeseed, has been one of those controlled crops and has been regulated in Oregon since 1990.
"Because it is a member of the Brassica family (Brassica napus, B. rapa and B. juncea), it can cross-pollinate with with similar brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips, endangering these valley crops and the farmers who depend on them for their livelihoods. With the bulk of the domestic canola crop also contaminated with GMOs (approx. 93%), this presents a particular threat to organic farmers and seed producers, since current USDA Organic guidelines do not allow for genetically engineered material."
The Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) issued a temporary ruling in 2012 to allow planting of the crop in certain formerly protected areas, prompting Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and three Willamette Valley specialty seed producers to file suit to stop the ruling from taking effect. As a result, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the ODA's action, whereupon the ODA filed for a permanent ruling to allow growing of canola, prompting the legislature to pass a ban on the production of canola in most of the valley through 2018. Unfortunately, in 2015 a handful of canola growers unhappy with the previous bill pushed through HB 3382, which authorized 500 acres of commercial canola production per year from 2016 through July of 2019.
What all this means that if you care about being able to buy locally grown, organic, non-GMO produce at the farmers' market or greengrocer's, it would behoove you to write your legislators and submit a comment to the ODA. I've made it simple to do by supplying suggested text (below) that you can copy and paste into your e-mails or letters. (Thanks to FoFF for supplying bullet points).
I am writing to urge you to support SB 885. We must maintain current restrictions on Willamette Valley canola production that expire July 1 in order to protect the region’s important specialty seed industry and the hundreds of farmers, gardeners, and food producers who depend on it.
I am writing because the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s draft proposal to address the risks from canola production falls far short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of Oregon’s world-renowned specialty seed industry.
I oppose the draft rule because it includes no acreage cap, doesn’t prohibit canola inside the proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves many Willamette Valley farmers unprotected from the risks associated with canola.
The final rule should include: an acreage cap not to exceed 500 acres per year inside the Willamette Valley Protected District; a clear prohibition on canola production inside the proposed Isolation Area; a larger Isolation Area where no production of canola would be allowed; clear protections for seed farmers outside the proposed Isolation Area; and a clear prohibition on growing herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered varieties of canola.