NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – September 14, 2009

September 14, 2009


First Conservation Stewardship Program Sign up Ends September 30th: Time is running out to be a part of the first sign up for the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  Farmers must take the first step in the application process by submitting a basic application with their local Natural Resources Conservation District by September 30th.   The CSP will make payments to farmers for maintaining existing conservation practices and for adopting additional practices on cropland, grassland, improved pasture, rangeland and non-industrial private forestland.  Payment will also be made for adopting resource conserving crop rotations.
An NSAC alert  is posted

NSAC is producing a guide book on the CSP that will be available soon.  NSAC members, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the Organic Farming Research Foundation have posted a wealth of information for producers on their Websites.

NCAT and the Center for Rural Affairs are also providing phone-based sign up assistance to farmers.  Call the Farm Bill Helpline at the Center for Rural Affairs at (402) 687-2100.  The NCAT number is 1-800 346-9140 (English) or 1-800-411-3222 (Spanish).

CSP Comment Period Extended:  USDA’s Natural Resoruces Conservation Service is about to announce that the original September 28 deadline for public comment on the Conservation Stewardship Program interim final rule is being extended to October 28.  NSAC had requested the month extension so that the 2009 sign-up for CSP, which ends September 30, could be finished before comments are due.  NSAC has action materials, including talking points, for the comment period on our website for those who want to respond now, and then we will be back with updated materials at the beginning of October.

SARE Letter Delivered:  On Monday, September 14, NSAC will be delivering a letter to the offices of Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) urging them to maintain the increase in funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) that was in the Senate-passed Appropriations bill and to adopt a conference position of raising competitive grants programs equitably, including $25 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) program and $5 million for Organic Transitions program.


Harkin Takes HELP, Lincoln In as Ag Committee Chair:  In a rapid-fire series of events last week, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), next in line to take over the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee from the late Senator Ted Kennedy, decided on Monday night to stay with the Banking Committee he currently chairs instead of making the widely-anticipate shift.  That opened the door to Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA), next in line on HELP, to seize the coveted position, and by Tuesday afternoon, Harkin became the new HELP chairman, throwing the Agriculture Committee to Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).  While not next in seniority, all of the Senators ahead of her would have had to give up other chairs to take Agriculture and, as expected, none of them made that trade.

Lincoln becomes the first female chair of the Committee.  Harkin remains as a member of the Committee and his Committee staff is expected to stay through at least a brief transition period while Lincoln hires her new committee staff.

PAMTA Letter Delivered to the White House and Senate:  On Wednesday, September 9, a group of family farm and sustainable agriculture advocates, including NSAC, delivered a letter to the White House and to the Senate calling for restrictions on the unnecessary use of antibiotics in raising food animals.  The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009 (“PAMTA”) (HR 1549 and S 619) would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to withdraw the approval of seven specific classes of medically important antibiotics.


Clarity for Meat Labels on the Horizon? On Monday, September 14, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) to seek input on what conditions should be met for use of the “natural” meat label claim for livestock and poultry products.  A previous 2006 ANPR led to a good deal of public comment but no consensus.

Comments may address how best USDA can coordinate between the FSIS “natural” label and the Agriculture Marketing Service’s (AMS) voluntary “naturally raised” marketing claim standard (see story below).  The FSIS natural label concerns meat processing, whereas the AMS naturally raised claim concerns animal raising considerations.  Both labels have problems in their own right, and the combination of the two leads to major consumer confusion.

FSIS will continue to apply its current “natural” label — which essentially means no artificial ingredients are added and the product is only minimally processed — during the comment period.

Comments are due by November 13, 2009.  More information is at the FSIS site.

Reprieve on Naturally-Raised Meat Label:  On the last day of the Bush Administration, the Agricultural Marketing Service promulgated a final version of a naturally-raised livestock label that was strongly opposed by sustainable agriculture and consumer organizations.  While final, the new label did not become effective due to a missing step in the rulemaking process in the rush to get it out before the previous Administration ended.

Since then, NSAC and other groups have been calling on the Obama Administration to take steps to revoke the proposal, noting that the label claim standard was confusing to consumers and potentially damaging to sustainable livestock farmers and ranchers.

With the announcement of a new advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for the Food Safety Inspection Service’s natural label (see story above), USDA is holding the naturally-raised label claim in abeyance at least until the public has a chance to comment on possible changes to the natural label.  During the comment period on the natural label, the public is also invited to comment on whether or not to have a naturally-raised label.

Look for public comment materials from NSAC in the coming weeks on this important turning point in the battle over meat labeling and its impact on sustainable livestock production.

Interstate Shipment of State-Inspected Meat:  In another breaking meat story, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected to announce on Monday, September 14, that new proposed rules for the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat will be published later in the week.  If this 2008 Farm Bill provision is effectively implemented, it could be an important improvement for small and mid-sized ranchers who will be able to expand their markets beyond state borders.  NSAC will publish more information about the proposed rule as it becomes available.

“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Unveiled: As mentioned in last week’s Update, USDA will be unveiling the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Initiative this week-a new campaign that emphasizes vibrant local and regional food systems.  Starting on Monday, September 14, each day will have a different theme underscoring the importance of regional food system development: Monday will focus on “Rural Revitalization” and economic development, Tuesday will focus on “Farm to Institution” (including Farm to School programs), on Wednesday the focus is “Healthy Eating” and will include a celebrity chef cooking at USDA, Thursday will focus on “Direct Marketing” and will be the day the White House launches its own farmers market in downtown D.C., and Friday the theme is “Ag is Back!” and will be the launch for the new USDA website and a live facebook chat with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.


Obama Nominates New Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment:  On Thursday, September 10, President Obama nominated Harris Sherman as USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE).  The NRE mission area includes the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  An earlier nomination for the top slot resigned before taking office, leaving the position open until now.

Sherman is the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.  Previously he has served on the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, and Denver Regional Air Quality Council and was also Commissioner of Mines.  His nomination has been long rumored, but of several persons rumored to be in the running for the position, he was the least favored candidate of several national conservation and environmental organizations.

November NOSB Meeting Announced:  The next meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will occur in Washington, DC, on November 3-5.  Requests from individuals and organizations wanting to make oral presentations, as well as comments on proposed NOSB recommendations, are due by the close of business on October 19.  At the November meeting, the NOSB will begin and conclude a series of substance reviews, will present its recommendation for rule change on various definitions and the use of nanotechnology in organic standards, and will present recommendations on the development of more specific standards for the improvement of animal welfare, among other agenda items.  The meeting is open to the public and includes time for public presentations.  For meeting and agenda information, and for instructions on submitting comments and request for presentation time, click here.

ERS Updates Organic and Climate Change Briefing Rooms:  USDA’s Economic Research Service has updated two of its briefing rooms – the organic briefing room and the global climate change briefing room.  Check them out for updated material!


New Food Safety Report:  On Thursday, September 10, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Food and Water Watch released an excellent new food safety report, “Bridging the GAPS: Strategies to Improve Produce Safety, Preserve Farm Diversity and Strengthen Local Food Systems.”  Written by Elanor Starmer and Marie Kulick, the report is a welcomed addition to the public discourse as Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), incoming Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and other committee members consider food safety legislation (S. 510), and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of USDA holds hearings on a proposed national Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

PFI Featured in Documentary for CNN:  This fall, citizen journalist, Neil Moore, is paddling a canoe down the Mississippi River and documenting his visits with everyday Americans along the way.  Videos and blog posts capturing Moore’s journey will be shown on CNN.  On September 2, Moore visited a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day at Greg Koether’s farm in McGregor, Iowa.  Moore also sat down to interview Ryan and Kristine Jepsen as well as Greg Koether and his daughter Kayla, on September 3, to discuss the economics of sustainable agriculture, and visited with Kathleen Hein and other sustainable agriculture advocates in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin on August 31.  To see both the video and blog posts on all three interviews, visit Moore’s website and scroll down for the entry on August 31, September 2, and 3.

IATP Report and Video on Antibiotic Use in Ethanol Production:  A new report and You Tube video “Fueling Resistance? Antibiotics in Ethanol Production,” written by Julia Olmstead of the NSAC member group, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, documents the use of antibiotics in the ethanol fermentation process to control bacteria outbreaks.  The report discusses documentation of antibiotic residues found in dried distillers grains (by-product of ethanol production) that is fed to livestock.  The report and video also suggest alternatives to antibiotics, including hops.

Categories: General Interest

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