Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: Hanging in the Balance

The Golden Boy atop the Capitol dome in Salem is feeling the heat building up under his feet. With only a couple of weeks left in the 2015 Oregon legislative session, the action is getting intense, with last-minute lobbying and buttonholing the order of the day. Several bills that will affect the food you put on your tables need action, so take a look at the short list below and let your legislators know what you think about these issues.

The numbered title of each bill (in bold) is linked to an overview on the state website.

The Battles We've Won

House Bill (HB) 3239: "Aggie bonds," legislation that will expand loans to beginning farmers, was signed into law by Governor Kate Brown in late May. Look for it to spur new farmers to enter the market. With the average age of an Oregon farmer at nearly 60 years old, this is a very welcome, and much needed, development.

Senate Bill (SB) 341: This bill protects agritourism providers, such as farmers who have farm stay programs, host farm tours (left) or have on-farm stores, from legal liability when they invite members of the public onto their property. It passed the House last week and will be signed into law any day.

SB 320: When a bill has 27 sponsors out of 30 members, you know it has a good chance of passing. This bill, allowing home cooks to produce limited amounts of baked goods and confectionary items for sale to the public without being regulated by State Department of Agriculture (ODA), was signed into law by the governor in mid-June.

These Bills Still Need Your Help

SB 920: This bill to limit the use of human antibiotics on otherwise healthy animals—a practice that factory farms (right) use to promote faster growth and keep animals alive in unsanitary, stressful and crowded conditions—is stuck in the Senate Rules Committee. This is a critical issue for public health, since abuse of these drugs by the livestock industry has created antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases that no longer respond to treatment with most antibiotics (see my post The Personal Gets Political). Click here to send an e-mail to your legislator.

HB 3554: This bill would help protect farmers whose crops are at risk of contamination from genetically modified (GM or GMO) crops by allowing the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to establish "control areas" to prevent cross-pollination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. This bill is currently stuck in the House Rules Committee because of lobbying by large out-of-state corporations and needs your support to make it into law before time runs out. Let your legislator know the integrity of our food system is important to you by clicking here.

HB 2723: Would provide a tax incentive for property owners to allow small scale urban agriculture for a period of five years on unused plots of land. It got a cool reception in the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee last week and may die if it isn't voted on soon. Let your legislators know that you think this incentive is a good way to incorporate more small-scale agriculture into our food system.

Read the other posts in this series, Opening SalvosThe Good, The Bad and The UglyThe Personal Gets Political and The Fight Takes Shape.

Thanks to Ivan Maluski at Friends of Family Farmers for his help with the information on these bills.

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