Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: The Fight Takes Shape

The following is an edited version of an original report that was published on the Friends of Family Farmers' Muckboots in the Capitol blog. The numbered title of each bill (in bold) is linked to an overview on the state website. It is critical that you let your legislators know what you think about the issues that concern you. Find links at the bottom of this post to do that.

In the Good Corner

House Bill (HB) 3239: Also known as the "Aggie Bonds" bill, this is legislation that would expand loans to beginning farmers. It passed 58-1 on the House floor in mid-April, passed the Senate Business committee and is on the Senate floor awaiting action. Update: This bill passed the Senate on May 13, 2015, on a bipartisan vote of 30-0.

Senate Bill (SB) 341: This bill would protect agritourism providers from legal liability when they invite members of the public onto their property for both commercial and non-commercial activities, but will also require clear warning signs and outline other basic safety steps agritourism providers must take. It passed the entire Senate in a resounding bipartisan 29-0 vote.

SB 920: This bills seeks to limit the use of "medically important" antibiotics—i.e. those used on humans—on otherwise healthy animals by Oregon's livestock industry. (See my post, The Personal Gets Political.) It is now in the Senate Rules Committee, but is being strongly opposed by the state’s biggest corporate factory farms and out-of-state agricultural pharmaceutical companies. This is despite growing evidence of widespread problems and regulatory failures related to recurring outbreaks of antibiotic resistant disease as happened at Foster Farms, featured in an article by Lynne Terry titled A Game of Chicken: USDA Repeatedly Blinked When Facing Salmonella Outbreaks Involving Foster Farms.

HB 2723: This bill encourages the development of urban agriculture by giving tax incentives to property owners who allow small-scale urban agriculture on their property for five-year increments. It passed the full House on a 50-10 vote, and is now headed to the Senate where it will likely be amended to limit eligible farm size so that the new tax incentive primarily encourages smaller scale agricultural operations.

HB 2721: If passed into law, this bill would provide $5 million in funding for farm-to-school programs—a major increase from the $1.2 million currently—making funding available to every school district in Oregon to purchase local farm goods and locally processed foods for inclusion in school meal programs. It is currently awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 657: This bill would provide $16 million for OSU Extension and Ag Research Programs for small and beginning farmers support, pollinator health, food safety, water quality protection and help with research needs on crop rotation, reducing pesticide use, fermentation sciences and sustainable management techniques. It is currently awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 204: Originally a much broader bill to promote conservation activities on working farms and forests, it has been scaled back to create a task force to look at issues around working lands conservation and to establish a Clean Water Fund to support greater protection for riparian areas on farms, including through long-term easements. It is also in the Ways and Means Committee.

In the Bad Corner

HB 2674, HB 2675, SB 207: These bills, introduced by Gov. Kitzhaber, would have enacted some common-sense regulation to better protect Oregon’s vast non-genetically engineered agricultural industries from poorly regulated genetically engineered (GE) crops. They were essentially abandoned when Kitzhaber resigned, and there are currently no bills alive in Salem to strengthen state oversight over GE crops in Oregon.

HB 3382: Introduced on behalf of a handful of canola growers unhappy with a 2013 bill. Despite being only halfway through the bill's three-year research program and having no research results available, HB 3382 authorizes 500 acres of commercial canola production per year from 2016-2019. Worse, the bill says there will be no cap on canola acreage beginning in 2019 and contains no restrictions on genetically engineered canola, effectively putting the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed, fresh market vegetable and organic industries at great risk. (See my series on canola in the Willamette Valley.)

HB 2666: If passed, this legislation would place mining for aggregate (gravel) on farmland above agricultural uses on farmland, putting high value Oregon farmland at risk of being lost forever to mining activities. It is currently in the House Rules Committee and, because of idiosyncratic rules, is not subject to normal legislative deadlines, and may be the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiating and arm-twisting from mining interests.

It is critical that you speak up about the issues that concern you, so please consider contacting your legislators. Find your legislators and let them know what you think. And stay tuned for further updates as the 2015 session progresses!

Read the other posts in this series, Opening Salvos, The Good, The Bad and The UglyThe Personal Gets Political and Hanging in the Balance.

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