Full list: Agriculture in the News

USA Today: Roundup a ‘probable carcinogen,’ WHO report says

Tracy Loew
March 20, 2015
Full Article

A report published Friday in the journal The Lancet Oncology says glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is a “probable carcinogen.”

The report is from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the France-based cancer research arm of the World Health Organization.

“This latest finding, which links Monsanto’s Roundup to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer is not the first to make these links, but it is one of the strongest indictments of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup,” said Ronnie Cummins, international director for the Organic Consumers Association.

Monsanto disagreed with the classification.

“All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health and supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product,” Philip Miller, Monsanto’s global regulatory affairs vice president, said in a written statement.

Roundup is the No. 1 herbicide used in the world. Most genetically modified crops, such as corn and soybeans, are modified to withstand applications of Roundup.

The Department of Agriculture does not test food for glyphosate residues, but in 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency raised the allowed limits of glyphosate residues on fruits and vegetables.

The report comes as legislatures in Oregon and other states consider mandatory labeling of genetically modified food and restricting the planting of genetically modified crops.

It prompted the Environmental Working Group to call on the FDA to require mandatory GMO labeling.

“The widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybeans has led to an explosion in the use of glyphosate — a main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and Dow’s Enlist Duo,” said Ken Cook, EWG president. “Consumers have the right to know how their food is grown and whether their food dollars are driving up the use of a probable carcinogen.”


Burlington Free Press: For this farmer, raw milk is a symbol of values

We began preparations with dessert. Weeks before our wedding reception, Edge and I churned raw milk into ice cream crank by crank in an old-fashioned ice cream maker. We could have bought it — after all, there are delicious Vermont-made ice creams — but we chose to sit in the evenings on the back porch with coffee-infused cream, ice, and rock salt, and take turns cranking.

Like everything else in our lives we did it for connection, but also because if we wanted to have seven gallons of raw milk (as opposed to pasteurized milk) ice cream, we had to make it ourselves. In 2011, the year we got married, we lived on a grass-based dairy and livestock farm, and had an ample supply of raw milk available to us. In fact, we had first come to this farm seeking raw milk, and after a series of dinners with the farmers were invited to set up a yurt and learn how a small organic dairy farm works.

I didn’t grow up drinking raw milk; it was pasteurized skim for my family, and the watery, near tasteless liquid never excited my taste buds much. It wasn’t until after college when I began working on a small farm in Northfield with dairy goats that I discovered that people drank raw milk. Once I drank my way into the raw milk crowd, I found a large subset of Vermonters who see raw milk as a symbol for the values of traditional small-scale farming.

Aside from the health benefits of raw milk — it’s more easily digestible for some and has a higher vitamin content than pasteurized milk — the process of producing it requires close attention to cleanliness and animal health, and it practically demands a sustainable method of farming that takes care of animals, land and people.

Farmers that sell raw milk typically raise their herds on grass and allow them to follow natural patterns through rotational grazing. Raw milk also tends to be sold in a closer radius than pasteurized milk, creating a customer base who knows its farmers and cows or goats. For many, choosing to drink raw milk is choosing to be part of a community that values healthy animals, healthy and diverse pastures, clean water, clean farms, and farmers who respect the relationship between environmental resources, animals and people. To me, drinking raw milk is not just a personal health choice, but a statement on what kind of community I want to live in.

It was early August when we began making batches of ice cream for our reception at the end of the month. By that time, we had spent enough early mornings in the cement pit of the milking parlor for the romance of dairy farming to wear off, though our time moving the cows on pasture continued to offer a rhythmic peace to our days. We knew by then that if we were to have cows on our own farm, the number would be closer to 1 rather than 50. Still, the time spent with a herd of over 50 cows on a grass-based farm taught me that dairy farming is much more than milking. To witness the herd instincts of cows is to be brought back to the intuitive rhythms of animals, and being in their presence sparks the same unspoken connection between people and land.

When we finally scooped that ice cream into bowls, it was perfect. The thick creaminess of it coated our mouths unlike any other ice cream I’d eaten before, and I smothered the accompanying fudge brownies with scoops of vanilla and coffee.

Now, four years later, we have our own farm but no cows. Instead, we buy raw milk from Rogers Farmstead in Berlin, and I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the one milking to have a connection to the cows. I’m happy to acknowledge that my strength is growing vegetables, and that the Rogers’ know how to produce delicious, creamy milk, perfect for ice cream.

With enough support, a new raw milk bill, H.426, is set to make raw milk easier for farmers to sell and customers to buy. The current law and proposed bill include health and cleanliness standards and regular testing, though the Vermont Department of Health opposes the bill in favor of pasteurization. Raw milk producers often allow customers to view their milking facilities and practices, which creates greater transparency and accountability, while encouraging relationships between farmers and customers, in my experience. For more information on the proposed bill, visit ruralvermont.org, which advocates for the bill, or you can read the bill at http://bit.ly/1y1tzjA. You can let the House Agriculture Committee know whether you support H.426 by calling or emailing the Statehouse.


Environmental Working Group: DARK Act Blocks States From Mandating GMO Labeling

March 25, 2015
Full Press Release

Washington, D.C. – A bill expected to be introduced today by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) would block states from requiring labeling on genetically modified food, and also hamper any U.S. Food and Drug Administration efforts to mandate labeling nationwide, the Environmental Working Group said in a statement.

“More than 90 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, believe foods made with GMOs should be labeled,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG. “Consumers in 64 countries already have the right to know if their food contains GMOs.  Supporters of this bill are trying to keep this basic information from their constituents.”

The bill – dubbed by its critics the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know or DARK Act — would overturn labeling laws enacted in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine and prevent other states from adopting such laws. Since 2013, more than 70 labeling proposals have been introduced in 30 states.

Contrary to promises from the biotechnology industry, the widespread adoption of GMO crops has lead to a surge in herbicide usage. As weeds have grown resistant, farmers have been forced to turn to more intensely toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems. Last week, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in the infamous weed killer Roundup, as a probable human carcinogen.

Besides interfering with states’ rights, the DARK Act would make the current, broken voluntary GMO labeling system the law of the land.

“Not a single company has ever voluntarily disclosed the presence of GMOs in its food,” Faber said. “Voluntary labeling does nothing to solve the confusion consumers face at the supermarket, nor does it provide them with the information overwhelming numbers of consumers clearly want.”


Seven Days: The Life, Death and Afterlife of a Vermont Steer

By Alice Levitt
March 24, 2015
Full Article

On a day in early February, Charlie stuck close to home in Plainfield, munching on hay just downhill from where Highland cattle lolled their fuzzy, square heads. He doesn’t like to be far from his mom, Janet Steward, who owns Shat Acres Farm and Greenfield Highland Beef with her husband, Ray Shatney. When Steward approached, Charlie batted his long eyelashes blankly and waggled his big, fuzzy ears with pleasure when she began to brush him and coo compliments.

From birth, Charlie was labeled a “terminal animal” — Shatney and Steward always knew his lifespan would be about 20 months. “He has only one purpose, and that is to produce beef,” said Steward, explaining that the steer would not be passing down his half-Highland, half-shorthorn genetics. But his success as a breed cross might inspire a trend among Vermont farmers who are eager to profit from an animal well suited to living on grass and enduring cold winters.

Charlie’s life and death could end up serving as a template for big-money beef in a state far better known for its beer and cheese than its meat.

And, in fact, Charlie — whom Steward called a “man of few thoughts” — had more in store for him than just becoming dinner. At Denver’s National Western Stock Show in January, he had come in last in his market animal category. But for an extra $25, Steward and Shatney entered him in the show’s carcass competition, judging the meat he would one day become. Such contests were once focused on actual dead flesh, but technology has brought the practice to life.

The animal was taken from the show ring to an area where his side was shaved for an ultrasound. The scan revealed that an exceptionally generous portion of Charlie’s physique consisted of the muscles that would become high-end cuts such as tenderloin and rib eye steaks. In short order, the living, breathing steer was named the competition’s grand champion reserve carcass. Translation: His was deemed the second most valuable cattle corpse in the country — while he was still alive and well.

Back home in Vermont, Steward publicized Charlie’s victory in every way she could. In a February article in the Barton Chronicle, she told reporter Tena Starr, “We always believed he was special on the inside, and the carcass competition proved it.”

Steward invited Joe Emenheiser, the state livestock specialist for the University of Vermont extension, to come and meet Charlie. Emenheiser later complimented the farmers for recognizing “that crossbreeding is the most powerful tool in animal breeding.” About Charlie he said, “He was a nice calf. He had grown well and was right at 12 o’clock as far as finishing” — meaning the animal was ready to meet his fate.

Saying Farewell

Charlie’s win may have garnered him a reprieve, but on February 16, it was time for his final trip. “The hardest thing I do is go to the slaughterhouse,” admitted Shatney. “But our goal is for these cattle to only have one bad day in their life.”

Dying is part of living, and both are filled with indignity for all organic beings. But at Sharon Beef, Darryl Potter tries to make animals’ transition from life to death as easy as possible. He’s a certified humane handler who lives on the same property as the facility. Outside the slaughterhouse, Potter’s two affectionate dogs follow him closely.

“They deserve a good ending,” he said of the creatures he eases off this mortal coil. “I’m an animal lover even though I’m a butcher.”

Potter makes sure that his staff adheres to famed animal scientist Temple Grandin’s philosophy of how to move his charges without frightening them, and he’s strict with farmers, as well. Livestock delivered to the facility must be clean and drug-free. If the people unloading their animal are deemed cruel in any way, Potter will not process it. The slaughterhouse is also USDA-inspected, an indication of additional oversight that helps “keep the food supply safe,” said Potter.

Shatney and Steward were quiet in the car as they pulled Charlie in his trailer to Sharon, Steward recounted. He spent his final night in a clean pen with fresh hay and water. “Darryl likes for the animals to come a day ahead of time,” Steward explained. “They eat in the pen so they’re relaxed, and they’re not loaded into a trailer then shuffled along.”

The next morning, Charlie was dispatched with a single gunshot to the head. His body weighed in at 1,350 pounds while alive, and came to a full hanging weight of 804 pounds. Steward said her animals’ hanging weight is generally between 55 and 60 percent of their live weight. Charlie — on a winning streak even in death — showed his value at 65 percent.

A Taste of Victory

As his ultrasound at the Denver stock show had predicted, Charlie’s high-end primal cuts were exceptionally large for an animal of his size. “The rib primal was 19.67 pounds, the largest we have ever had, with beautiful marbling,” Steward wrote to Seven Days the day she collected the first half of Charlie’s meaty remains.

Potter was impressed, too. Charlie’s shorthorn DNA gave him the advantages of thriving on a grass diet like a Highland, with the marbling and size of the larger breed. Compared to a full-blooded Highland, Potter said, “Charlie is a different category. It’s like buying a Cadillac versus a Volkswagen. When you’re trying to make money by the pound, there’s no comparison.”

Steward took the meat home and cooked herself and Shatney a pair of Charlie’s rib eyes. Seated at the dinner table, Shatney sawed away at the flesh, telling his wife that the meat was tough; Steward’s heart dropped, she said later. But when she cut into her own steak, “It was like butter,” Steward remembered. Shatney had been joking. “It was the best New York strip steak we ever had. I was just so grateful to Charlie.”

Other meat lovers can be grateful, too. In addition to the Capital City Farmers Market in Montpelier, most Greenfield beef is sold at Healthy Living Market & Café in South Burlington. Steward makes a delivery each Friday to Colin Driscoll, the store’s meat manager and buyer.

Aside from the significantly larger size of Charlie’s steaks, what Driscoll noticed was the marbling. “It looked more like grain-fed beef, and it was a grass-fed animal,” he said. That means the meat had the soft, fatty texture of a western-style feedlot steer, but with the lower cholesterol and higher Omega fatty acids of grass-fed cattle.

Driscoll admitted that when he prepares steak at home, it’s usually from a grain-fed animal. But Charlie’s meat seemed to combine the greatest advantages of both finishing methods.

This reporter found the filet more forgiving than most; the meat seared effortlessly to a medium rare. Though this cut is generally tender, it is often bland. Charlie’s cut had more external fat than usual, and therefore more to cut away, but it also had deep capillaries of marbling. This lent the meat a fat content that made it practically moo with beef’s deep, mineral flavor.

As for Charlie’s short ribs, they fell off the bone after just two hours of braising — about half the time usually required to render down the fatty cut. In the ground beef, the fat made for a lighter color than that of other Greenfield cattle, but also an intensely beefy flavor.

Greenfield created not just a medal winner with Charlie, but the start of something big in Vermont beef. Beginning next month, 30 more shorthorn-Highland crosses will be born at Shat Acres. “We’re going to have 30 baby Charlies! We’re so excited,” Steward said.

And with them, the cycle of life, death and afterlife will begin again.


Times Argus: Costly Irony, Letter to the Editor by Peter Burmeister

3/22/15
Full LTE

GlobalFoundries, the probable successor to ownership of the IBM manufacturing facilities in Vermont, is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, one of the richest countries in the world. It is also an absolute monarchy, headed by a hereditary ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who ranks among the planet’s wealthiest individuals.

As an inducement to get GlobalFoundries to take the money-losing, obsolete Vermont and New York operations off its hands, IBM has agreed to give the acquirer $1.5 billion along with the lock, stock and barrel of its holdings and real estate.

How ironic, then, that little Vermont, struggling to balance its budget with a deficit that figures in the mere millions, still plans to pony up several million in order to sweeten the deal. This against the backdrop of severe budget cuts to homegrown programs such as working lands and Current Use that benefit our rapidly expanding homegrown agricultural sector.

Why are we being so generous with our scant resources, to the benefit of an oil-rich Arab nation that has already received what amounts to an enormous gift from IBM? Do we really believe that $2 million will ensure that GlobalFoundries will continue to operate in this state? What will it want from us next year, and in years to come? What kind of friend or ally is it that has to be bought in order to stay on our side?

It would be far better to take the remote chance that the Chittenden County facilities might be shuttered, than to shortchange the courageous, hardworking Vermont entrepreneurs who truly represent the future of our state.

Peter Burmeister

Berlin
The writer is an organic livestock farmer and processor.


Valley News: Bill to lighten Vermont raw milk regulations draws debate

By DAVE GRAM, Associated Press
March 19, 2015
Full Article

(AP) — Vermont Rep. Teo Zagar says he prefers raw, unpasteurized milk, but will stop at his general store for the conventional stuff when the dirt road to his favorite farm is deep in snow or spring mud.

“There’s a little more terroir,” the Democrat from Barnard said of the milk he gets from Kiss the Cow Farm, using a wine enthusiast’s term for earthiness. “If the dandelions are blooming, the milk has a little yellow tint to it.”

Zagar is lead sponsor of a House bill that would made it easier for the state’s growing number of organic dairies to bring raw milk to market. Consumers now must go to the farm or have it delivered to them by the farmer. The bill would allow raw milk to be sold at farmers’ markets, through community-supported agriculture programs and, with some additional regulation, at retail.

The state Health Department doesn’t like the idea.

Expanding the sale of raw milk “really allows producers to bypass one of the most effective public health measures ever, one that is often called one of the triumphs of the 20th century, and that is pasteurization,” said Dr. Erica Berl, a state epidemiologist.

Raw milk’s popularity has been growing in recent years, as people become more educated about food and as the “foodie” movement gains ground with its adherents’ interest in traditional foods, said Andrea Stander, executive director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont. Its sale is legal in some form in 26 states, she said.

Vermont opened the door to the current, limited sales of raw milk in 2009, and the bill’s backers say there have been no disease outbreaks since then. Raw milk producers testified they have unnecessary hurdles to pass that are not faced by conventional dairies, including the need to drive their milk to just two locations in the state for testing.

Aside from the expanded sales, the bill would allow less frequent testing of milk produced by raw milk dairies. But supporters say the real aim is to better balance the costs of doing business with profitability.

“It’s a balance between safety, which is No. 1, and economic opportunity,” Zagar said. “Farmers need to sell enough milk to make enough profits to keep the business viable.”

Stander said the bill is not expected to become law with less than two months left in this year’s legislative session. But if it can get through the House, the Senate can take it up when lawmakers reconvene next January.


VPR: Bill to Expand Raw Milk Sales Faces Opposition in Montpelier


Mar 19, 2015
Full Article & Audio

Lawmakers are considering a bill designed to expand the raw milk market in Vermont. But health experts and dairy industry stalwarts say the proposal could inflict serious damage on the state’s agriculture sector.

Among those voicing concerns is Mateo Kehler. And Kehler knows his audience.

Kehler, co-owner of Jasper Hill Farm, was about to testify before the House Committee on Agriculture Thursday morning. But first, he presented legislators a wood board loaded with thick wedges of artisanal cheese from his renowned cellars in Greensboro.

“Madame chair and honorable members of the committee, I really appreciate the opportunity to come share,” Kehler said as the legislators tucked in to the spread.

Kehler was in the Statehouse to testify in opposition to a bill that aims to expand the raw milk market, and also allow small raw milk farmers to sell cheeses and other value-added items made from their product.

It’s the latter provision that has Kehler and other artisan cheese makers concerned.

“And I just have to ask, given the scale and the scope and the trajectory of the Vermont cheese industry, whether it makes sense to undermine that for the sake of seven or eight tier two producers. From my perspective, it doesn’t make sense,” Kehler said.

Kehler is less concerned about the parts of the bill that would producers to sell raw milk at farmers markets and retail stores – places they’re prohibited from selling now. But that provision faces stiff opposition from other constituencies, including public health experts who view the consumption of unpasteurized milk as a disaster waiting to happen.

“Allowing the sale of raw milk to consumers really means allowing these consumers to bypass one of the most effective health measures ever implemented. In fact it’s often called one of the triumphs of the 20th century,” said Erica Berl public health epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health.

Raw milk producers however say the financial viability of their raw milk operations hinges on access to the kinds of high-traffic markets available at farmers markets and retail outlets.

They say the state has yet to see a confirmed raw-milk outbreak from a licensed producer since selling raw milk became legal five years ago. Goat farmer Frank Huard told lawmakers that stringent testing requirements imposed by the state mean it’ll stay that way.

Huard, who milks 10 goats on his family farm in Craftsbury, says testing costs money.

“And I can’t incur that cost of doing business if I can’t sell product,” Huard said.

The bill also would allow very small raw milk operations to sell raw milk to sell to their neighbors without any testing requirements at all.

Stephanie Eiring, owner of Sunrise Farm in Enosburg Falls, says it’s the kind of provision that could help her raise the revenue needed to grow into the farm of her dreams.

“How am I going to get there? How am I going to pay for these cows, the semen, the shavings, the hay?”  Eiring said. “You guys could make it easier for us. You definitely could provide this economic opportunity.”

The legislation would also allow raw milk producers to sell in community supported agriculture operations.


Food Safety News: Maine Legislature May Go Along With Governor on Raw Milk

A state Senate committee working session on Thursday should signal whether the Maine Legislature will go along with Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage’s desire to limit raw milk producers who are exempted from state licensing and inspection requirements to “on farm only” sales.

LePage carved out his raw milk stance last session when he vetoed Legislative Document (LD) 1282, which would have exempted from licensing and inspection requirements any producer who sells less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, whether the product is sold on the farm or at farmers markets. After the veto, LePage suggested the legislature return an “on farm only” version of the bill to his desk next time.

The next time is here for the Maine Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which has two new raw milk bills up for consideration.

LD 229 is pretty much a repeat of the bill LePage vetoed last session. Any raw milk dairy, which produces less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, would be exempted from both state licensing and inspection. LD 229 would again permit both “on farm only” and farmer’s market sales.

The second bill, LD 312, would exempt raw milk producers from licensing and inspection only if they are limited to “on farm sales” and agree not to advertise. It also requires raw milk producers participating under the bill’s constraints to take a dairy sanitation course and use labels that clearly state that the milk is not pasteurized.

In his veto message last session, LePage stated, “Such face-to-face on Farm transactions should be promoted. The ‘on Farm only’ approach would reduce risk to overall public health because consumers would know the farmer who produced the milk, see and inspect the farm and hold the producer accountable for foodborne illnesses that are associated with unpasteurized milk.”

LePage administration officials went public in favor of LD 312 last week at a Senate hearing on both bills.

Ronald Dyer, director of quality assurance and regulations at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the administration opposes LD 229, the broader bill. He also made it clear that the state would retain the right to investigate any farm involved in an outbreak concerning an “unlicensed dairy product.”

The number of small dairy farms in Maine not selling milk for further processing has grown to 160 today, up from 13 just 20 years ago.

While LePage is clearly offering raw milk advocates a path to easing regulations, not all want to take it.

“There is no need for the superfluous intervention of a dairy inspector to assure that milk is the best and healthiest a farmer can provide,” said Betsy Garrold, who testified before the Senate committee last week on behalf of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

She said her group supports LD 229 and was “neither for or against” LD 312.


Star Tribune: Cook County officials back embattled dairy farmer blocking inspectors

Maya Rao
March 18, 2015
Full Article

Cook County commissioners sided with the embattled Lake View Natural Dairy on Tuesday, approving a letter of support for the Grand Marais farmer who is refusing to allow state agricultural inspectors on the property.

The commissioners backed the Berglund family’s right to sell products from the farm, citing lines from the Minnesota constitution that protect the farm “from governmental intrusions, when [it] is privately associating with private men and women to sell and peddle the products of their farm at their farm location.”

The move comes a week after Judge Michael Cuzzo denied a motion from the Department of Agriculture to hold David Berglund in contempt for not allowing inspectors on his farm. The state initially sought to have him fined $500 a day. Cuzzo stayed the department’s order for inspection until he could address the constitutional issues in the case, a ruling that will come in the next 90 days.

Lake View sells milk from its cows without processing it in sanitized containers, according to court records. Some of the milk is turned into cream and butter for customers. The Agriculture Department initially tried to visit the farm two years ago to discuss how Lake View could voluntarily comply with rules governing the manufacturing and sale of unpasteurized dairy products.

Regulators disagreed with Berglund’s assertion that he was constitutionally exempt — by the “No license required to peddle” clause — from a requirement that he have a license to sell goods from the farm. They argued that the farm was still subject to inspections and food-safety requirements and that it needed a dairy-producer permit.

“He’s a local farmer, the family’s been here for generations, and so we support economic development and people that are trying to make a living here,” said Heidi Doo-Kirk, who chairs the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Like many others in town, Doo-Kirk and her family have gone to the farm to buy milk. Lake View even has an honor system, she said: customers can grab milk from a cooler, write their purchase on a sign-in sheet and leave money in a box.


EcoWatch: $620 Million Reasons to Legalize Hemp

Lorraine Chow
March 13, 2015 9:53 am
Full Article

Hemp truly is a cash crop. The total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. last year has been tallied, and the multipurpose plant brought in a stunning $620 million, according to estimates from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a non-profit trade association representing hemp companies, researchers and supporters.

The figure is based on sales of clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products. Total retail sales of hemp foods and body care alone totaled approximately $200 million, according to the HIA.

Mary Jane’s non-intoxicating cousin had been stymied by a federal drug policy until last February when President Obama signed the Farm Bill which contained an amendment to legalize hemp production for research purposes. The bill also allowed states that already legalized the crop to cultivate hemp within the parameters of state agriculture departments and research institutions.

Currently, 21 states may grow hemp thanks to the Farm Bill, including California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. More states are moving to legalize industrial hemp farming as well.

“Eleven new states have passed legislation and new businesses are rapidly entering the market now that American farmers in a handful of states are finally beginning to grow the crop legally,” said Eric Steenstra, executive director of the HIA. “Challenges remain in the market and there is a need for Congress to pass legislation to allow farmers to grow hemp commercially in order for the market to continue its rapid growth.”

There’s also been increasing grassroots pressure on the Feds to allow hemp to be grown domestically on a commercial scale. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in both the House and Senate earlier this year. If passed, it would remove all federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, and remove its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

The bill was introduced by Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Kentucky Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner decided last week to co-sponsor the bill, and said in a media release: “Industrial hemp is a safe substance with many practical commercial applications. Removing it from the Controlled Substances Act is a common sense move which would create jobs and get the government out of the way of farmers and our agricultural industry.”

The $620 million figure from was gleaned from natural and conventional retailers, excluding Whole Foods Market, Costco and certain other key establishments, who do not provide sales data, which means the true sales figure could be much higher by at least two and a half, the HIA said.

Hemp retail sales in the U.S. just keep growing. According to data collected by market research firm SPINS, combined U.S. hemp food and body care sales grew in the sampled stores by 21.2 percent or $14,020,239, over the previous year to a total of just more than $80,042,540. Sales in conventional retailers grew by 26.8 percent in 2014, while sales in natural retailers grew by 16.3 percent.