Thursday, April 06, 2017

Your Food, Your Legislature: Do-Or-Die Time

Your Food, Your Legislature is a series of reports giving Oregon consumers a heads-up on issues before the current session of the legislature that affect the food we are putting on our tables, as well as providing you with contact information to voice your opinion on those issues. 

The 2017 Oregon legislative session is half over, which means it's make-or-break time for bills to move out of committees or die if they don't get the support needed to go to the legislature for a vote. There are bills that directly affect our food system and the farmers we depend on to put food on our tables, so it's urgent that you act now.

Regulating air contaminants from mega-dairies, SB 197, has just taken on new urgency with the approval last week of Lost Valley Farm, a California-owned, 30,000-cow mega-dairy in the town of Boardman on the Columbia River, joining North Dakota-based Threemile Canyon Farms, a 70,000-cow factory farm nearby. This bill is based on the Dairy Air (no, I didn't make that up) Quality Task Force recommendations from 2008—never enacted—that called for the adoption of a combination of voluntary and regulatory measures to monitor and control the emissions from larged Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

Young supporters of Oregon farmers rally at the State Capitol in Salem.

Since 2008, elevated concentrations of ammonia from Threemile Canyon Farms has been linked to acid deposits in the Columbia River Gorge, and nitrogen compounds are contributing to elevated levels of ozone in the vicinity. Acid rain falls frequently and a permanent haze hangs over the area. If these problems aren't dealt with now, especially with the addition of Lost Valley Farm and the pollution from both facilities' open-air cess-pits (one of several covers 20 acres of land), the cost of clean-up could run into the millions for Oregon's taxpayers, not to mention the degradation of the quality of life and safety of the area's residents.

Oregon has lost nearly 75% of its small dairies since 2001, when the first mega-dairy opened in the state and started flooding the market with cheap, factory farm milk, driving down prices to the point where smaller family-run operations couldn't make a living. With neighboring states (California, Washington and Idaho) establishing tougher environmental standards, these out-of-state-owned mega-dairies and their polluting systems are flocking to Oregon.

Farmers and supporters rally in Salem.

To act now, contact your state legislators, especially your Senators, and urge them to support this bill, currently in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. It must move out of that committee by Tuesday, April 18, or it will die. Call or e-mail and tell your legislators who you are, where you live, what you do and why it's important for them to act on this bill. If you can, also contact the members of the committee, listed below. They are under tremendous pressure from mega-dairies—with their mega-money—and agribusiness lobbyists who are against any attempt at regulating their industries.
  • Sen. Alan Olsen: phone 503-986-1720; e-mail
  • Sen. Michael Dembrow: phone 503-986-1723; e-mail
  • Sen. Floyd Prozanski: phone 503-986-1704; e-mail
  • Sen. Chuck Thomsen: phone 503-986-1726; e-mail 
Here is the message I sent in an e-mail to the Senators listed above: "I am an Oregon resident and I am contacting you to ask that you pass SB 197 out of your committee and send it to the legislature for a vote. Oregon’s air quality should not be compromised by out-of-state mega-dairies flocking here to take advantage of our lax regulatory system. Thank you."

* * *

Local regulation of genetically engineered crops (HB 2469): This bill allows counties in Oregon to protect farmers within their boundaries from contamination of their crops by genetically engineered (GE) crops. It effectively repeals a bill dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act" that was signed into law in 2013 by then-Governor John Kitzhaber that took away the rights of local communities to set local food and agriculture policies. If passed, it allows counties to once again regulate or ban GE crops to protect farmers growing traditional crops, and it would leave in place an existing ban on GE crops that passed in Jackson County on May 20, 2014.

Oregon farmers and supporters rally in Salem.

Allowing farmers to seek damages for contamination (HB 2739): This bill clarifies that the responsibility of contamination of a farmer's crops by another farmer's GE crops lies with the patent-holder, allowing the court to award prevailing plaintiff costs, attorney fees and triple the economic damages. In many cases in the past, the farmer who is the victim of contamination has not only lost his crops, but has been successfully sued by the patent-holder for "stealing" the GE crops. In addition, in some cases organic farmers have lost their organic certification due to this kind of contamination by GE crops, essentially putting them out of business. Oregon farmers deserve to have legal recourse in the event of this kind of contamination.

Maintaining funding for farm-to-school programs (HB 2038):  Currently, Governor Kate Brown’s proposed two-year budget cut all funding for Farm-to-School programs. In 2015, the Legislature provided over $5 million in funding for a farm-to-school program, but because Oregon is facing a severe budget shortfall of roughly $1.8 billion, top Legislative budget writers earlier this year proposed significant cuts to the program. This bill appropriates funds to the Department of Education for grant programs allowing school districts to purchase Oregon food products and to pay for costs related to food-based, agriculture-based and garden-based educational activities.

Tax credit for renting farmland to beginning farmers (HB 2085). This bill creates a beginning farmer tax credit to encourage landowners to rent land to beginning farmers, with higher rates given for organic practices. Despite growing demand for locally grown food, Oregon is in the midst of land crisis. The state lost nearly 25% of its beginning farmers (those in business fewer than 10 years) between 2007 and 2012, according to the USDA. The average age of farmers in Oregon is now 60 years old, and fast-rising farmland prices are raising serious questions about who will grow our food in the future.

Read the other posts in this series. Find your legislators here

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