Full list: Agriculture in the News
By Kristen Tripodi
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Starting Tuesday, raw milk can be delivered to farmers markets in Vermont. It’s all a part of a new law that was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin during the 2014 legislative session.
According to Rural Vermont—an organization that represents farmers, the new law says raw milk can be delivered to farmers’ markets by Tier 2 raw milk producers.
It gives increased access to markets for raw milk producers by allowing delivery to farmers’ markets.
The new law does not allow farmers to sell the raw milk at a farmers market. They can only deliver the product to customers who have already paid for the product.
To review the new law, click here.
By Eric Blaisdell
MONTPELIER — History was made Saturday at the Capital City Farmers Market as raw milk was delivered for the first time under a new law — though the man delivering the milk wishes the new rules had gone even further.
Act 149, legislation that allows dairy farmers to deliver raw milk to farmers markets, went into effect July 1. The farmers can’t outright sell the milk at the markets, but can hand it over to customers who purchased the product previously.
The law requires a potential customer to first go to the farm where they want to purchase the raw milk. After one visit, the customer can thereafter purchase milk from the farmer without going to the farm.
The state already regulates who can sell raw milk, breaking farmers into two tiers, with the second tier reserved for bigger producers. Tier-two farmers, or those who sell up to 280 gallons of raw milk per week, were allowed to sell the milk at their farms or deliver to the customer’s home, before the recent law expanding delivery to farmers markets.
Frank Huard, a goat farmer from Craftsbury Common, was the first at the farmers market in Montpelier to take advantage of the new law. The Huard Family Farm has won the state’s highest quality milk award for its goat’s milk from the Vermont Dairy Industry Association in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Huard said being able to deliver the milk at farmers markets is important because it gives small farmers the opportunity to expand into larger markets. It’s also more convenient for both the farmer and the consumer to pick up the milk at a spot where both were planning to be anyway.
Even so, Huard said he was disappointed the law requires customers to visit his farm before they can purchase his milk.
“It’s difficult for some people,” he said. “It’s just not convenient to ask them to drive all the way to Craftsbury to purchase milk. People are busy. I’m almost an hour away, so if they come and stay for 15 or 20 minutes and drive back, that’s almost three hours of (their) time.”
Huard said he had hoped the law would allow him to pick up new customers at the farmers market, not just at his farm. But he said he’d take the law as it is for now, calling it baby steps in the right direction for making raw milk more easily accessible to consumers in Vermont.
The man who was picking up the goat’s milk delivery from Huard was Alan LePage, owner and operator of LePage Farm in Barre. LePage also sells his own produce at the Capital City Farmers Market and is president of the Barre Farmers Market.
LePage said the new law was written because of farmers like Huard, and that people should be free to choose the food they want.
“I resent the fact that the state seems to think they know better than anyone else about the subject,” LePage said.
He said raw milk, which he has been drinking for 40 years, is no more dangerous than any other food or drink.
“The risks of raw milk spoilage are much less than they are with pasteurized milk,” LePage said. “The risks (of raw milk) are vastly exaggerated. If pasteurized milk spoils, there’s all kinds of bad things that can get into it. Whereas, raw milk generally makes cheese (when it spoils). You put it in a goat skin and travel to the other side of the hill on a 90 degree day, you’ve got cheese. That’s how cheese was invented. You can’t do that with pasteurized milk.”
LePage said raw milk has enzymes that pasteurized milk doesn’t. Those enzymes help keep certain pathogens out of raw milk.
As to why our food producers long ago started to pasteurize milk, he said it began when people started producing adulterated milk in what he called “dungeons” in the cities.
“Basically (the cows) were fed waste from breweries and basic inedible substances and the milk they produced was horrible,” he said. “People were dying from it. Rather than clean up these places and ban them, they simply insisted that all milk be pasteurized.”
June 17, 2014
As Vermont gears up to defend its first-in-the-nation labeling law concerning food that contains genetically modified organisms, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s is teaming up with the state to help raise money for the cause.
According to the Burlington Free Press, the company is changing the name of one of its most popular ice cream flavors in order to promote donations to the Food Fight Fund set up to defend the state’s new GMO labeling law. For the month of July, Ben & Jerry’s fudge brownie ice cream will be known as “Food Fight! Fudge Brownie.”
Additionally, the company announced it will donate $1 from every ice cream purchase at its Burlington and Waterbury shops to Vermont’s legal fund.
In order to promote the fund, co-founder Jerry Greenfield appeared with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday outside an ice cream store in Burlington.
“This is a pretty simple issue,” Greenfield said in a statement. “Vermonter’s want the right to know what’s in their food, and apparently a bunch of out of state companies don’t want to tell us.
“We’re used to putting dough in ice cream, but renaming Chocolate Fudge Brownie to Food Fight Fudge Brownie will help put some dough in the Food Fight Fund,” he added.
As RT reported previously, Vermont’s GMO labeling law is under legal attack from food companies such as Monsanto and Kraft Foods, as well as groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) – an organization that includes Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company.
Earlier this month, the GMA was one of four national trade organizations to file a lawsuit against the new requirements, arguing that GMO foods are safe and that labeling is not only costly, but also unnecessary. If states decide to come up with their own labeling requirements with no national guidelines, food makers say it would result in confusion and increased prices.
In a statement, the GMA called the law is “a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers.”
The National Association of Manufacturers, meanwhile, said, “With zero justification in health, safety or science, the State of Vermont has imposed a burdensome mandate on manufacturers that unconstitutionally compels speech and interferes with interstate commerce.”
To defend its legislation, Vermont itself has allocated about $1.5 million towards a legal fund, but that is unlikely to be enough. According to the Associated Press, state officials believe about $8 million is needed, and so far only $18,000 has been raised.
Still, Gov. Shumlin said that while the fund is there to raise whatever it can, it’s not the only option the state has.
“We want to raise as much as we can,” he said in a separate Free Press article. “The rest we’ll do the old-fashioned way. We don’t expect to raise the whole amount.”
As for Ben & Jerry’s, the company has been transitioning its entire portfolio of ice cream flavors into non-GMO products. Despite being owned by Unilever – which spent more than $450,000 to try and defeat California’s own labeling proposals – the company has decided to forge ahead on a GMO-free path and support Vermont’s law.
MORETOWN – Vermont awarded $1.1 million to 37 farm and forestry projects around the state on Tuesday in the second year it offered working lands grants.
Among the recipients is Grow Compost of Vermont LLC, which is receiving $75,000 for a new truck to collect food and food scraps from schools and businesses and manure from farms to turn into compost and for use in digesters to make energy. Some of the food will also go to food banks as Vermont moves toward its ambitious statewide goal of statewide recycling by 2015 and keeping food scraps out of landfills by 2020.
“We could not have imagined this day when we began eight years ago with a plan to create some good soil for our own gardens,” said Lisa Ransom, who along with her husband and parents own Grow Compost. “Our sights are now higher. We see an incredible potential for this work to create jobs.”
Other recipients are:
• $50,000 to Screamin’ Ridge Farm Inc. in East Montpelier for a collaborative processing facility for value-added agricultural projects;
• $75,000 to Vermont Technical College for a dairy processing plant and hub;
• $15,000 to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield for more efficient caramel equipment to expand production at its goat farm;
• $9,825 to Green Mountain Hardwood in Ripton for a portable sawmill and materials for solar-assisted lumber kiln;
• $38,000 to the Vermont Livestock and Slaughter Processing LLC in Ferrisburgh for a computerized weight data and tracking system for livestock; and
• $20,000 to Wilcox Ice Cream in Manchester for a manufacturing facility.
“Every time we invest in our working landscape in the state of Vermont as we are through this fund — as the entrepreneurs are every day — we actually are making an investment in our economy, we’re making an investment in our ecology, we’re making an investment in undergirding the very culture that makes this place so special and at the end of the day we’re building community in this state that is why we live here,” Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said.
The Working Lands Enterprise Board also leveraged $1.8 million in matching funds.
Farmers worry that it could lead to crop sabotage, while others say it’s needed for purity.
By GOSIA WOZNIACKA
PORTLAND, Ore. — Before residents in southern Oregon overwhelmingly voted to ban genetically modified crops last month, farmers negotiated for months with a biotech company that grows engineered sugar beets near their fields.
Their goal was to set up a system to peacefully coexist, an online mapping database of fields to help growers minimize cross-pollination between engineered and non-engineered crops.
But the effort between farmers and Swiss company Syngenta failed, leading to the ban.
Last October, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the state’s Department of Agriculture to undertake something far more ambitious than that failed mapping effort – map GMO field locations across the entire state and establish buffer zones and exclusion areas for GE crops.
The move was spurred by several instances of genetic contamination in the region that rendered non-engineered crops unsellable on the export market.
If the mapping goes ahead, Oregon would be the first state to map fields and mandate preventive measures for modified crops. Advocates say Oregon could become a model for the rest of the nation.
The failed mapping effort in southern Oregon illustrates the challenges in reaching a consensus on GMO mapping amid mutual mistrust, a dearth of regulations and intense consumer attention.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture committee has recommended informal neighbor farmer agreements and an insurance system to pay for damages resulting from GMO contamination. But organic farmers are pushing for more disclosure, formal prevention measures and a system to hold GE growers liable for cross-pollination.
Cross-pollination can occur when two crops within the same species flower simultaneously in nearby fields and pollen is carried from one to another via wind, insects, machines or human activity. Genetic engineering is prohibited in U.S. organic crops and many countries restrict imports of engineered products.
“There’s this need, a perceived need and real need in some markets, that they need zero contamination. And that is very difficult to achieve,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, professor of weed science at Oregon State University.
Already, dozens of seed associations across the nation – organizations for farmers who grow crops for seed – do mapping, also called pinning, and set isolation distances among crops to limit cross-pollination.
Some biotech companies participate in such mapping. But the efforts are voluntary and spotty, with locations and dates of planting available only to fellow growers, not officials or the general public.
Monsanto and other biotech outfits that hold patents to GE seeds resist publicly disclosing GMO field locations for competitive reasons. They claim farmers already coexist throughout the U.S. and more monitoring isn’t needed.
They are backed by farmers who plant GMO crops and worry that mapping could lead to crop sabotage and an outright ban on all GMO cultivation, regardless of the likelihood of contamination.
“More mapping would be redundant; we’re already doing it internally, we all work together with other farmers,” said Robert Purdy, who grows GE sugar beets for seed in the Willamette Valley. “If mapping were made public, nothing could stop people from pulling out those sugar beet plants.”
The company that contracts with Purdy for the seeds is a member of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which maps more than 1,200 fields as part of a pinning system in northwestern Oregon – meaning Purdy can coordinate what to grow and where with his neighbors.
But organic farmers and other advocates say a mandatory mapping and monitoring system that covers all regions of the state and the nation is badly needed to retain crop and seed purity.
By JESS BIDGOOD
JUNE 18, 2014
BLUE HILL, Me. — When Dan Brown quit his job driving trucks and began to work on his wife’s family homestead here about a decade ago, he was looking forward to a quiet life of farming. He began raising chickens and growing vegetables, and watched happily as a calf named Sprocket thrived. The Browns built a farm stand and began selling unpasteurized milk and eventually other products, like jam and salsa.
But a few years after the Browns began selling, state regulators saw a problem. It is legal to sell unpasteurized milk in Maine, but because Mr. Brown had never purchased a $25 milk distributors’ license and had not properly labeled his milk, the state argued that his farm was breaking the rules and needed to be stopped.
On Tuesday, Mr. Brown lost an appeal he had made to the state’s highest court after he fought a lawsuit filed by the State of Maine in 2011. It was a blow to a small but vocal rebellion among farmers and consumers who say that burdensome state regulations are keeping the most local form of food — which, around here, has near-religious significance — away from consumers. The case has pitted the state against some small-scale farmers and stirred a feud between new homesteaders and longtime family farmers.
“This isn’t about Dan Brown or Farmer Brown anymore,” Mr. Brown, 46, said on a recent morning. “They’re telling you that you don’t have the right to come get milk from a farmer.”
Mr. Brown said he was told by a state official in 2006 that he would not need to be licensed or inspected if he sold from his farm and did not advertise. So when state regulators from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry came calling a few years later, he said, he rebuffed them (colorfully, at times), unwilling to spend money on the upgrades he would need to qualify for a milk distributors’ license.
“I don’t need a $40,000 milk room to produce safe, healthy milk,” said Mr. Brown, who asserts that the decision to buy his milk should be left to customers who know him, not to the state.
In 2011, the State of Maine and the commissioner of its Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit against Mr. Brown, alleging that he had sold unpasteurized milk without the proper license and labeling, and operated a food establishment without a license to do so. Last year a judge agreed, ordering him to pay a fine of about $1,000 and to stop selling. Mr. Brown has since filed for bankruptcy.
“It was ridiculous, ludicrous and maddening,” said Florence Reed, a neighbor who directs an organic farming nonprofit and who was a customer of Mr. Brown’s. “Dan’s milk is what they choose to protect us from?”
Last month, Mr. Brown went to the state’s highest court, in Portland, for a hearing on his appeal. He was accompanied by a bevy of supporters who want farm-to-consumer sales to be free of state and federal regulation that, they say, is intended for supply chains that are much more complex than theirs.
In 2011, voters made nearby Sedgwick the first town in Maine to pass a so-called food sovereignty ordinance, which grants an exemption from food safety rules to farmers selling directly to consumers. Blue Hill soon followed. There are now 11 towns in Maine with such ordinances, and similar measures have popped up in states including California and Vermont. Pete Kennedy, the director of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, said this was the first litigation involving one of the ordinances, so advocates were watching closely.
“We’ve gotten them out of our bedrooms and our voting booths,” said Betsy Garrold, the head of a group called Food for Maine’s Future, before Mr. Brown’s hearing. She then said they needed to get the state “out of our kitchens.”
Mark Randlett, an assistant attorney general who was arguing the state’s case, said Maine needed to be able to regulate food sales to protect public health. “The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” but not without rules, Mr. Randlett said last month.
Mr. Brown’s lawyer, David Gary Cox, argued that the state could not change the rules on Mr. Brown, since officials had first told him he would not need a license, and invoked the Blue Hill ordinance in his defense. The judges said that public health ramifications outweighed Mr. Brown’s concerns about obtaining a license and that the ordinances were pre-empted by state and federal law. Advocates of the ordinances said that they expected towns would nevertheless continue to pass them, and that they would seek to pass a state law that would create some regulatory flexibility for small-scale dairy farmers.
“We’ll continue to work with the legislators who have supported us,” said Heather Retberg, 40, a farmer from Penobscot, Me., who sells raw milk without a license to a private buying club. Tuesday’s ruling, she said, “puts us in an uncertain spot again.”
But other farmers were worried that relaxing food safety rules for small-scale farms could endanger the industry, and were frustrated by Mr. Brown’s case and its supporters.
Mr. Brown had been lobstering to make ends meet but stopped so he could tend the farm when his wife, Judy, fell ill the morning after their State Supreme Court hearing. They will focus on homesteading for now, Mr. Brown said, but will pare down, and he will seek other sources of income. On Wednesday, they were planning to make pizza with mozzarella from their milk.
“The farm can change,” Mr. Brown said. “We can survive; it’ll just be more of a farmstead for our life, not our livelihood.”
James Posig of Burlington was walking his dog down Church Street in Burlington on Monday afternoon when he stopped to watch a rally in front of the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop.
Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield and Gov. Peter Shumlin were rallying interest in the state’s Food Fight Fund in defense of its new law requiring labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. Food manufacturers filed a lawsuit last week challenging the law, which is slated to go into effect in July 2016.
“We now need your help to beat the food manufacturers,” Shumlin said. He later said he planned to contribute to the fund but declined to say how much.
Ben & Jerry’s, which is in the process of transforming all its flavors to non-genetically modified ingredients, renamed its fudge brownie ice cream Food Fight! Fudge Brownie for the month of July. The South Burlington-based ice-cream maker will contribute $1 from each purchase at the Burlington and Waterbury scoop shops to the state’s Food Fight Fund, Greenfield announced.
Scoop shop crews then came out of the shop with trays of Food Fight! Fudge Brownie samples.
Greenfield, who sold the company to Unilever in 2000, said he had no say in the company’s decision to go non-GMO, but “I was thrilled.”
He noted that two years ago he testified on his own behalf before the Legislature in favor of GMO labeling when the company had yet to take a stand on the issue. “Now it’s all in,” he said. “I feel much happier about it.”
A few feet away on Church Street, Posig was enjoying a sample of Food Fight! Fudge Brownie.
“I support it,” he said of the labeling law. “Everything should be disclosed.”
The fund, which was unveiled at the May 8 bill signing, had raised about $18,000 by the end of last week. Attorney General Bill Sorrell has estimated a lawsuit could cost up to $8 million.
“We want to raise as much as we can,” Shumlin said of the fund. “The rest we’ll do the old-fashioned way. We don’t expect to raise the whole amount.”
The Attorney General has begun the process of drafting rules that will facilitate implementation of the newly signed VT GMO labeling law. Until the end of June, the Attorney General will begin soliciting input from the public and those who will be affected by the rules, including food processors, grocers and other retailers, the agricultural community, and consumers.
Four national organizations whose members would be affected by Vermont’s new labeling law for genetically engineered foods filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court challenging the measure’s constitutionality.
“Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law — Act 120 — is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement about the lawsuit.
“Act 120 exceeds the state’s authority under the United States Constitution and in light of this GMA has filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont seeking to enjoin this senseless mandate.”
The Legislature passed the labeling law in April, and Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill in May. The labeling requirements would take effect in two years: July 1, 2016.
Lawmakers, the governor and the attorney general expected the law to be challenged in court. Trade groups had promised to fight the law in court.
READ THE LAWSUIT: PDF: Lawsuit vs. Vermont GMO law
Attorney General William Sorrell noted Thursday he had advised lawmakers as they deliberated that the law would invite a lawsuit from those affected “and it would be a heck of a fight, but we would zealously defend the law.”
“We have been gearing up,” Sorrell said when reached Thursday afternoon in New York City. His office had yet to be served with the complaint.
The statement from the Grocery Manufacturers Association summarizes the grievances of the four plaintiff organizations: GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.
“Act 120 imposes burdensome new speech requirements — and restrictions — that will affect, by Vermont’s count, eight out of every ten foods at the grocery store,” the GMA said. “Yet Vermont has effectively conceded this law has no basis in health, safety, or science. That is why a number of product categories, including milk, meat, restaurant items and alcohol, are exempt from the law. This means that many foods containing GMO ingredients will not actually disclose that fact.
“The First Amendment dictates that when speech is involved, Vermont policymakers cannot merely act as a pass-through for the fads and controversies of the day,” the association continued. “It must point to a truly ‘governmental’ interest, not just a political one.”
The groups added that the federal government has the sole authority over regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce, and the U.S. Constitution prohibits Vermont from doing so.
“The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have both the mandate and expertise to incorporate the views of all the stakeholders at each link in the chain from farm to fork,” the association said.
The Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition, which lobbied for the law, argued that labeling would bring transparency to the information consumers would have about their food.
“The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a right to know what is in their food,” said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Schilling said lawmakers determined there was a lack of consensus about the safety of genetically engineered foods “so putting labels on is a reasonable and prudent thing so people can decide for themselves.”
The lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court in Burlington, contends the Food and Drug Administration has “confirmed the safety of more than 100 genetically engineered crops for human consumption” since 1994.
The court complaint suggests the motivation for the new mandate is to respond to public-opinion polling “showing a consumer desire for labeling,” but notes the law exempts dairy and restaurants, creating big gaps on the information consumers will have if they are concerned about genetically modified foods.
The lawsuit argues the state needs a compelling interest to restrict information that food manufacturers provide about their products. But at the same time, the complaint states that the law indicates private dollars should be tapped first for any legal battles. The measure caps state funding at $1.5 million.
The lawsuit has drawn attention from national organization on the other side of the issue from the four plaintiffs.
Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, defended the Vermont law, saying 60 other countries either have banned GMOs or require mandatory labeling of foods that contain them.
Cummins added, “Every U.S. citizen should be concerned when a multi-billion dollar corporate lobbying group sues in federal court to overturn a state’s right to govern for the health and safety of its citizens.” He called the lawsuit was a way to intimidate other states considering labeling laws.