H.860, the bill that preserves Vermont’s on-farm slaughter law, was signed into law by Governor Shumlin on May 10.
From the outset of the 2016 legislative session, Rural Vermont’s primary goal with on-farm slaughter was to prevent the automatic repeal of the existing law, which was set to happen on July 1, 2016. For farmers already using the law, young farmers planning their new businesses around it, and consumers who rely on it to feed their families, allowing this law to expire—however imperfect it is—was unacceptable.
H.860 will extend Vermont’s on-farm slaughter law for another three years, allow farmers to sell more animals per year, and make changes to the reporting requirements and registration requirements in the law. While there remains room for improvement, without this bill Vermont’s farmers would lose any legal means to feed their communities through this generations-old traditional practice.
REQUIRED AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES (RAPs) AND WATER QUALITY
In mid May, the Agency of Agriculture submitted its final draft of the RAPs into the formal rulemaking process, and released its proposed schedule of public hearings throughout the state. The five scheduled hearings will take place in June. Although this is an extremely difficult time for farmers to weigh in on the proposed rules, as it falls right in the middle of the growing season, it is critical that we make clear our opinions of the final draft, both in person and in writing.
Since the Agency released its first draft of the RAPs in October, Rural Vermont and small farmers around the state have been calling for the new rules to recognize the critical role of regenerative agricultural practices as the only truly sustainable and long-term approach to improving water quality in Vermont, rather than more of the same short-sighted band-aid approaches that created the problem in the first place. As legislators have finished up their work this session and now turn their attention to reelection, we must take this message to the public hearings, and make clear that this issue affects all of us.
For the hearing schedule, the final draft of the RAPs, and significantly more information, visit this page.
This session, Rural Vermont was involved in the passage of two bills, H.539 and H.861, that address the decline in pollinator health and population seen in Vermont and throughout the country. Legislators heard testimony from a number of stakeholders and Rural Vermont members, including small farmers, orchardists, beekeepers, plant nursery operators, and UVM researchers. And despite the best efforts of lobbyists from Big Ag and chemical companies, these bills were both signed into law this year.
H.539 would establish a Pollinator Protection Committee, made up of Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) staff, beekeepers, academic experts, and farmers, to convene this year and make recommendations to legislators to address the plight of pollinators by the end of 2016.
H.861 will close a regulatory loophole that has—until now—allowed seeds coated with neonicotinoids and other pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to go completely unregulated in our state, despite the fact that pre-treated corn and soy seeds are planted by the tens of thousands of acres in Vermont every year, and have been linked to the decline in pollinators. H.861, which gives the VAAFM the legal authority to regulate these and other “treated articles” is a significant step forward, and will make Vermont the first state in the nation to enact regulatory oversight of treated articles.
FUNDING FOR WORKING LANDS
Thanks in part to targeted calls by Rural Vermont members during the final budget negotiations, the Budget Conference Committee agreed to increase Working Lands funding to $800,000 next year.
Since its creation in 2013, the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative has provided highly effective investments in farm, forest, and value-added food businesses, and has generated over 100 new local jobs and created over $12 million in added income. If adequately funded, the Program is projected to create 230 new jobs in the future and more than $25 million in added gross income. Unfortunately, the program has seen its funding cut in recent years, and many farmers are turned away simply due to lack of funding. The increase in funding to $800,000 next year will allow more Vermont farmers to access these grants and fund key improvements and innovations on their farms.
Toward the end of the session, we discovered proposals being considered in the State House that would have opened up Vermont’s GMO labeling law to several changes. Thanks to your calls, emails, and the work of our supporters, we were able to fight off the proposals that could have affected the law’s implementation. The budget does contain a provision that would delay a citizen’s ability to bring a lawsuit under Act 120 for one year, but it does nothing to stop the Attorney General from enforcing the law or push back the law’s start date. We will keep fighting in Vermont to make sure our law remains strong.
Unfortunately, we once again need to turn our focus to Washington D.C., where corporate food lobbyists continue to try to pass legislation to preempt Vermont’s labeling law before it goes into effect on July 1st.
Big Food and Senator Debbie Stabenow are pushing a proposal to replace Vermont’s clear on-package labeling law with ineffective “QR Codes”. QR Codes are similar to bar codes and would require consumers to have a smart phone, the correct application, internet service and the time to scan each product and visit companies’ websites to find out if their food is genetically engineered –all of this to avoid putting clear labeling on food packages!
We will continue to monitor and fight these last-ditch efforts by the industrial food industry to prevent our law from taking place. Watch your email and Facebook for information about these efforts, and for details about a celebration we’re planning for July 1, when Vermont’s law is finally implemented.
For significantly more detail on all of these issues and more, please visit our issue pages, call the office at (802) 223-7222 or email email@example.com.