Speaking up on the animal ID plan

I wrote, a few months back, about my opposition to the national animal identification system, a Bush administration plan to track all farm animals with computerized tags. There’s been a lot of opposition to the plan on food and farming blogs, and now it is coming to the mainstream press: The New York Times ran this article over the weekend about western ranchers who are vehemently and vocally opposed to NAIS.

According to the Organic Consumers Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has put out a call for comments on the plan. The deadline to make your opinion on NAIS heard is August 3, and all the information on how to speak to your legislator about this is on OCA’s Web site.

This is not simply a case of ‘Big Brother’ looking over our shoulder. It is more tailored to serve the needs of the mega-agricultural-industrial complex. Although the information would be ‘strictly confidential’ any leak of information would provide market demand and trends for the entire country. How easy then would it be for the big producers (CAFOs) to use the information to control the market? VERY! In a world where information is power, what would ever justify a governmental mandate to provide that information to your competition?

Look to see who is pushing for this and it is a laundry list of Big Ag. Let’s not give them the tools to destroy independent agriculture! Let us be heard! Don’t settle to just be a part of the herd, you may be counted next.

Organic vs. “organic”

Beth, a member of the Sparta CSA group, sent me an e-mail today with a link to a pretty disturbing story. The Washington Post details, at great length, how the surging demand for organic food in America has been accompanied by a weakening of federal standards over the use of the “organic” label.

The result? Synthetic additives in 90% of all organic baby formula, additives that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had decided just three years ago violated federal standards. Or how about wood starch in grated organic cheese? Yum.  Want more? Dean Foods, the largest organic food brand in the U.S. and the business behind Horizon organic milk, is undercutting its own brand with a new line of “natural” products.

Beth said in the note that she hopes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will get things under control. I hope so too. But while we wait for Washington to act, there is something that every consumer can do: Get to know a certified organic farm and its farmer, and become an active participant in the integrity of your organic food by joining a CSA.

To those of you who already have, my thanks.

USDA to survey organic farms

The 2007 Census of Agriculture revealed that there are more than 20,000 organic farms now in the U.S. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is about to conduct a big survey of organic production. It might surprise you, however, to learn that this is the first time that the USDA has ever taken such a look at organic farming. It almost makes me nervous to see what the agriculture giants are going to do with the information.

Better late than never, I guess.

USDA Plants A ‘People’s Garden’ In DC

OK, this has got to have the folks at Monsanto twitching. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that for decades has put big ag ahead of good ag, broke ground yesterday on a 6-acre organic garden on the National Mall in the heart of Washington, D.C.

According to The New York Times, the garden will include a “1,300-square-foot vegetable plot, pollinator gardens, mini-wetlands, green roofs and demonstrations of planting techniques that can reduce stormwater runoff.” The USDA’s newest deputy secretary, organic farming friend Kathleen Merrigan, kicked off the gardening by helping the children of department personnel to plant a traditional Sioux “three sisters” garden–corn, squash and beans.

I can’t find a video on YouTube of Snoopy doing his little dance of joy, but you can insert that as a mental image here.

Zoning Out

plantzonemapUpper Meadows Farm is in growing zone 5. Verona, where the Essex County CSA picks up, is in zone 6. Or are they?

The Organic Consumers Association says the U.S. Department of Agriculture is revising its Plant Hardiness Zone Map–the first change in 19 years–and the results will show the impact of global warming. The new map is due out later this year, but no one is saying when. The OCA does, however, say that, with 82 million American households doing some form of gardening, a new map could be a potent tool for education. “Hopefully the new map will clear up a lot of confusion about what’s happening to the climate,” a National Gardening Association horticulturist told the OCA.

There’s no confusion in a recent post on RealClimate, a group blog by climate scientists. It reveals that data compiled by the USDA shows that April is the new May. Apparently, the USDA planted one variety of lilac around the country in 1965 to show when spring began and help farmers time their corn planting. RealClimate says the USDA’s records show that the lilacs now bloom up to two weeks earlier than they did in 1965.

The image in this post is the USDA’s current Plant Hardiness Zone Map. For an interactive version, click here.

Is NAIS an Ag Version of Star Wars?

I am strongly opposed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan for a National Animal Identification System, NAIS for short. Please don’t just take my word for it that this is a poor idea, read this post from “La Vida Locavore”, a food blog we track here.

To Jill Richardson, the writer of the post, NAIS makes about as much sense as Star Wars. Not the movie series that plagues Virginia’s life, but the missile defense shield proposed by President Ronald Reagan. And to prove it, she shreds the assertion by Minnesota Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson that the NAIS would be necessary if there were an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the U.S. (For the record, America’s domesticated livestock are FMD-free now.)

The threat, if you care about our export markets for livestock, is roughly like a nuclear bomb. It could come anytime, from anywhere, and it’s instant (economic) annihilation. It’s really scary. The government’s general plan if it happens is to find all of the sick or exposed animals as quickly as possible and kill them. Yes – you read that right. This is a disease that nearly all animals recover from naturally, but the government would kill them. And to aid with the killing, they want to register all animals in a burdensome, costly, Big Brothery national animal ID system.

Follow us for more commentary from time to time on this misguided and insidious attempt to control livestock production in the U.S..

Get The USDA To Stop Corporate Farm Subsidies

green_tractor2There are only a few hours left to convince the U.S. Department of Agriculture to end one of the most noxious aspects of  mainstream commercial farming in America today: Massive payments to corporate farms that don’t need them. Known as direct payments, they now total $5.2 billion a year and, because the original legislation was so poorly drafted, are paid regardless of crop prices and are not tied to need. Corporate farms are using this taxpayer-funded bounty to outbid small farms–family farms–for land. President Obama has proposed phasing out direct payments, an action he says will save us $9.8 billion over 10 years.

Through the end of Monday, April 6, the USDA is taking comments on a rule to limit farm payment.  Food Democracy Now, the group that spearheaded the campaign to get organic food friend Kathleen Merrigan named to the USDA, has provided a sample letter, which I am reproducing below.  Don’t think that someone else will send in this letter and so you don’t need to. Every voice is critical for any to be heard! Please feel free to add your own sentiment and personalize the letter below before you send it.


Sample Letter – (Please cut and paste)

Mr. Dan McGlynn
Stop 0517, Room 4754
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC  20250-0517
Emailed to: dan.mcglynn@wdc.usda.gov
or FAX to: 202-690-2130

RE:  Comment on Farm Program Payment Limitation Rule, Federal Register, Vol. 74, No. 23, February 5, 2009

Dear Mr. McGlynn,

I appreciate President Obama’s courageous call for subsidy reform and stand firmly behind his decision to end “direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them.” By reforming the rules on subsidy payments to farmers, this Administration can finally create a level playing field for independent family farmers that allows them to thrive, and grows opportunities for rural America and midsized farms.

In order to do this, I encourage the USDA to close the biggest payment loophole available under the current rules by providing a strong and effective definition for those “actively engaged in agriculture”.

Currently, wealthy corporate “partners” with minimal management involvement, in some cases, as little as two conference calls per year can qualify for payments.  I urge you to correct this problem.

For those who qualify solely by providing active personal management and no personal labor, the rule should require that person to:

1. Provide at least half of the total management required to run the farm; or
2. Provide at least half of the total management that would be necessary to conduct a farming operation commensurate in size with his/her requisite share of the operation.

Closing the “actively engaged in farming” management loophole will strengthen family farms and rural communities and help restore integrity to a program which is rife with abuse.

Sadly, for decades, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have allowed this abuse to continue. This Administration, which campaigned on commodity program payment reform, needs to end business as usual, clean up the system, and restore good government.  Enacting a quantifiable test for farm management is the best place to start.

[Your name & city here]