November 10, 2009
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is scheduled to begin markup of the Food Safety Modernization Act (S 510) on November 18. The Act seeks to decrease foodborne illnesses by strengthening the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety oversight and enforcement–including provisions that would extend authority to on-farm production and processing. NSAC will issue an alert on Tuesday or Wednesday of this coming week with specific recommendations to HELP Committee members and a call to action on S 510. NSAC is working to limit negative impacts on small and mid-sized sustainable and organic farms. Stay tuned for our action alert aimed at key HELP committee members and prepare to send to your networks!
For background on the issue, please see NSAC’s Food Safety on the Farm policy brief.
USDA has issued a proposed rule for the new Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP). RMAP was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to provide loans and grants to Micro-enterprise Development Organizations that support micro-enterprise development in rural areas. While the law directs USDA to provide grants to allow development organizations to offer training and technical assistance to micro-entrepreneurs the proposed rule fails to do so. Training and technical assistance are essential to the success of these new businesses. Comments on the rule are due on November 23rd and can be submitted here. An alert with talking points is available here.
You can learn more about RMAP by checking out this summary in the Grassroots Guide to the Farm Bill.
Senate Climate Change Legislative Proposals: On Thursday, November 5, the Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved by a vote of 11-1 a marked up version of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S.1733). The only vote against the measure came from Senator Baucus (D-MT) whose state is a major coal producer. The markup was preceded by three days of hearings the week before with 9 panels including 54 witnesses. The seven Republican members of the Committee boycotted the markup, with the exception of Senator George Voinovich (R-OH). He showed up briefly on Tuesday, the first day scheduled for the markup, to state that Republican members were boycotting the markup pending preparation of an EPA economic analysis of S. 1733. Senate rules require the presence of at least two Republicans at the markup, unless the Majority feels it is in the best interest of their states and of the nation to act, a finding that Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer was quick to make.
Completion of a climate bill in the Senate, however, appears to be receding into 2010. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to ask the EPA for economic analysis of any climate bill before it goes to the Senate floor. This week, EPA officials testified that it would take the agency about five weeks to complete an analysis of the current version of S. 1733.
In the meantime, there are separate bills from at least five Senate committees that are to be merged into S.1733, including S 2729 – the Senate Agriculture Committee’s contribution to the Senate climate change package which was drafted under the lead of Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and introduced this week. S2729 has not yet been posted to Thomas but you can keep checking here and search for bill number “S2729”. No further Agriculture Committee hearings have been scheduled yet, but on Tuesday both Senator Baucus’ Finance Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold climate bill hearings.
Further complicating the process, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the co-sponsor of S.1733, has joined forces with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to work on a revised version of the bill which will patch together various pieces, including what are reported to be large increases in nuclear subsidies and off shore oil drilling permits, in an attempt to gather the 60 votes that will ultimately be needed to pass climate change legislation in the Senate. At this point, the only clear thing is that there will be no climate change legislation until 2010 at the earliest, with a final product that may look like a patchwork quilt.
VAPG Beginning Farmer Clarification Un-clarified: NSAC was told by USDA this week that in order to qualify for the 10 percent of funds reserved for beginning farmers in the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, 100 percent of the farmers in a farm coop or business must be beginning farmers, an unlikely occurence. This is a change from what we reported previously in the Weekly Update, based on earlier assurances from USDA.
Now we are told the problem will be fixed in the VAPG rule-making process now underway, but that will be too late for this round of grants. However, applications by groups of farmers that include some beginning farmers will be considered in the regular pool of grants and the proposals will receive points for including new farmers, a priority clearly expressed in the Farm Bill language. Barring a substantial number of proposals by individual beginning farmers, it is likely that for this year at least the reserve funds will not be used and will need to be merged into the regular pool.
Deputy Secretary Merrigan Announces Beginning Farmer Program Award: Last Tuesday, November 3, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the recipients of the 2009 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program competitive grDULY NOTEDant awards. Merrigan made the announcement on a farm in southeastern Minnesota operated by Eric and Lisa Klein – farmer members of the Land Stewardship Project and graduates of LSP’s Farm Beginnings program.
The $17 million in BFRDP funds was awarded to 29 universities and organizations, including four NSAC member groups, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), California Farmlink, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), and the Land Stewardship Project. A full list of program award recipients is here. NSAC’s press release with further descriptions of the projects awarded to NSAC member groups is here.
Farm to School on Facebook: On Thursday, November 5, Deputy Secretary Merrigan had her second Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Facebook chat — this time to discuss Farm to School. She kicked off the discussion with a report on her visit to the St. Paul, Minnesota school district last week. The St. Paul school district purchased 110 thousand pounds of regional food valued at $76,000 in the first six weeks of the school year, accounting for 56% of their total produce purchases.
Merrigan also reported on the Department’s Farm to School Tactical Team which has been formed with representatives from the Agriculture Marketing Service and the Food and Nutrition Service. The goal is to collect information and create a library of knowledge on the Know Your Farmer website. Merrigan said that USDA is deeply interested in Farm to School and hopes to see an equally high level of support in Congress when it takes up the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization, scheduled to begin early in 2010.
Extended Comment Period on Leafy Greens, Tomatoes, and Melons: As we mentioned last week, the Food and Drug Administration has granted the public more time to submit comments on new food safety standards for the production of leafy greens, tomatoes and melons. With the two-month extension, the comment deadline is now January 4, 2010. For more information, see the Federal Register notice here.
Traceability Listening Session: On Tuesday, November 3, FDA and USDA announced a public listening session on December 9 and 10 in Washington, DC to stimulate discussion about enhanced tracing systems for all types of food from production to processing to distribution. More information is available here.
ERS Releases New Report on Organic Dairy Sector: On Monday, November 2, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released a new report on the characteristics, costs, and issues for organic dairy farming. The study uses data from the 2005 Agricultural Resource Management Survey on US dairy operations, which includes a targeted sample of organic farmers. Additionally, the report compares conventional and organic production costs, and suggests that organic and conventional operations are increasingly similar. The report concludes that the future structure of the sector will depend upon the interpretation and implementation of new organic pasture rules. To access the report, click here.
Categories: General Interest