Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Your Food, Your Legislature: 2019 Session Kicks Off with Big Issues on the Docket

On the first day of the 2019 Oregon legislative session, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, and there are likely to be at least twice that many by the time the session ends in five months. Here at Good Stuff NW I'll be reporting on the issues facing our legislators, particularly those bills that could affect our food system here in Oregon. Plans are afoot for monthly installments titled Your Food, Your Legislature, bringing you updates with background on, and the dirt from, the major players.

A bill banning aerial application of pesticides considered.

Among the top issues for our food system so far are bills that could ban or heavily limit aerial spraying of pesticides (HB 2493); a bill that seeks to assign responsibility to the patent-holder of genetically modified seeds for losses to a farmer's income due to contamination from genetically modified crops (SB 434); restrictions on the home use of neonicotinoid pesticides (HB 2619); and the proposed moratorium on current and future mega-dairies—factory farms that typically house thousands of cows in indoor facilities—until legislators establish regulations for these industrial facilities (SB 103 and SB 104).

Another big issue that's being pushed this session is the so-called "Clean Energy Jobs" bill (HB 2020), a cap-and-trade effort that seeks to, in the words of advocates, "put a limit and price on climate pollution from the largest polluters in the state" as well as "secure greenhouse gas reductions and reinvestment into communities across Oregon to create clean energy jobs and a thriving economy, especially in communities that need it most."

Wind turbines in the Columbia River Gorge.

An article in the Oregonian said that Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek "are all in on putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, and Oregon could become the second state after California with an economy-wide cap on such emissions. What remains to be negotiated is how many big emitters qualify for free emissions allowances under the law, and whether the program has any environmental integrity." Another big question is whether the new bill will broadly exempt agricultural sources like factory farms from the cap, as did a similar cap-and-trade bill that failed to pass two years ago.

Ivan Maluski, Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), which conducted a series of "listening sessions" with farmers across the state, said that farmers expressed the need for legislators to do more to support Oregon's small and mid-size family farmers. "Small and mid-sized family farmers face significant challenges," Maluski said. He outlined the farmers' primary concerns as getting assistance in accessing land and capital, enabling access to small farm meat processing infrastructure, expanding opportunities for agritourism, and aiding farmers in improving water conservation efforts. Follow HB 2020.

On the issue of aerial spraying of pesticides, concerns around this practice—widely used on agricultural and public lands in Oregon—center on the damage cause by "off-target drift," that is, the tendency for these sprays to drift beyond the targeted areas, causing damage to nearby crops, waterways, wildlife and beneficial insects. Several environmental, agricultural and consumer groups can be expected to be involved in this legislation as it develops. Follow HB 2493.

Oregon taxpayers are on the hook for cleaning up escaped GE bentgrass.

The subject of what happens to a farmer who suffers losses when a crop is contaminated by genetically modified crops is an issue that the legislature has wrestled with in past sessions.

"I’ve had a front row seat to the damage caused by Roundup Ready GE bentgrass, which spreads easily on the wind and through water, infesting irrigation ditches and cross-pollinating with wild relatives," wrote Vale farmer Jerry Erstrom in an op-ed when a similar bill was before the 2017 legislature. "I am not opposed to genetically engineered crops, but as a farmer of some non-GE varieties, and after my experience with GE contamination in my alfalfa seed production, and with the GE creeping bentgrass escape, I am a supporter of making the right people accountable if crops are damaged."

 "The legislature tends to be crisis-oriented," said Maluski, indicating that FoFF will be actively involved with the Center for Food Safety and Our Family Farms Coalition as the bill moves through the legislative process.

"We shouldn't have to wait for a contamination incident before we put rules in place," he said, citing the appearance of an experimental variety of Monsanto's genetically modified wheat that appeared in an Oregon field in 2013. Follow SB 434.

Toxic emissions are just one problem with factory farm dairies.

Two bills, SB103 and SB104, are an effort to establish regulations governing factory farm dairies that are already located, or that may want to locate, in Oregon. Both bills apply to mega-dairies, that is, facilities with more than 700 cows that are confined without seasonal access to pasture, or 2,500 cows. The legislation would regulate these dairies as the industrial factories they are rather than treating them as traditional agricultural farms, and would require limits on toxic emissions to air and water, including groundwater. These bills would require studies on the impacts to Oregon's small and mid-size dairies and on animal welfare. They would also close existing loopholes that allow excessive use of scarce groundwater, and establish a course of action if a facility fails to meet state standards, as happened with Lost Valley Farm, a mega-dairy that piled up more than 200 violations in less than two years of operation and yet was still allowed to keep operating.

“Lost Valley showed us how horribly wrong things can go given our current laws,” said Amy van Saun, staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety in Portland, in an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal. If these bills pass, according to the article, factory farms "wouldn’t qualify for regulatory exemptions available to farmers under the state’s right-to-farm and other laws. That would allow local communities to have input into siting decisions and enact health and safety ordinances restricting or prohibiting air and water emissions," a problem that's occurred with other industrial agricultural operations looking to locate in Oregon.

Since it's still early days in this session, there will be more to come, and you can count on reading about the legislative sausage-making in future updates. Stay tuned!

Read more about the ongoing problems at Lost Valley Farm.


Rowan DeSantis said...

Thank you Kathleen, for writing this article. This is very good news. It is time that legislation evolved enough to pay attention to all these genetically engineered crops that are being produced in our verdant and the chemicals being overused to provide mega production farms (with massive crops) that endanger unsuspecting consumers. It is time for our representatives to hold these farms accountable. It has been proven that these manufactured contaminates live in our systems for a long time and are being heavily used while, the science isn’t even in on the long term effects. I wish that more people would wake up about these problems before they suffer the wake up calls. These are baby steps but, steps none-the-less to address these problems Great info! Thanks for apprising us. Your work is deeply appreciated.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Rowan. And I couldn't agree more!