U.S. House Blocks State Laws that Require GMO Labelling

On Thursday, July 23, 2015, the United States House of Representatives passed the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” (or, as opponents call it, the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act) with 275 representatives voting in favor of the bill and 150 opposed.  This bill makes the labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs) voluntary, and is applied nationally. This has the effect of preempting and overruling the states that are attempting to or have passed laws that require that all GMO containing food-products be labelled accordingly (Maine and Connecticut, for example).

Many food and agricultural companies lobbied for the bill, stating the requirement that some states put on them (or would put on them, should individual states pass label requirement laws) would be heavily burdensome. Conversely, those opposed to GMOs continue to cite that science is unclear on the effects that GMOs have on the environment and on the consumer.

Supreme Court Ruling on Horne v. Department of Agriculture – Taking Raisins

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Horne v. Department of Agriculture on June 22, 2015.

The Department of Agriculture, through the Secretary of Agriculture, has authority to issue “marketing orders” that require growers of food goods to give up percentages of their crop to the government for free.  In this case, specifically, it was raisins.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution protects individuals constitutional right to personal property and prevents the government from taking people’s property without compensating them fairly.

In 2002-2003, raisin growers were required to turn over 47% of their crop to the government without any compensation, and in 2003-2004, raising growers were likewise required to turn over 30% of their annual growth yield.  Marvin and Laura Horne refused, bringing this suit all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court held that the government, specifically the Department of Agriculture, must fairly compensate raising growers that are affected by the “market orders.”

Maine Legislature Exerts its Right to Hemp Farm Contrary to Federal Law and Governor Veto

The 2014 Farm Bill, signed by President Obama February 2014, lifted the ban on hemp farming for “research purposes” only, holding in place the ban on hemp farming for commercial purposes.

After a few amendments, Maine’s House and Senate passed the bill on to the governor, Republican Paul LePage, who vetoed it, citing the “legal risks for Maine’s farmers” because federal law has yet to exclude “industrial hemp from its definition of ‘marihuana’.”

However, the Maine legislature officially overrode the governor’s veto.  The Maine House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to override the governor with a vote of 135 in favor to 6 against on Friday, June 12, 2015.  The Maine Senate followed suit on Monday, June 15, 2015 with a vote of 27 in favor to 6 against.

Maine’s major industries include shipbuilding, fishing, tourism, and agriculture. The U.S. market for hemp is at least $600 million per year with over 25,000 uses for hemp including food, fabrics, cosmetics, plastics, and biofuel. U.S. is the number one importer of hemphemp_2 in the world with Canada and China act as the leading exporters of hemp in the world.  This law will greatly benefit Maine’s economy, not to mention that hemp is well suited for organic production as hemp can grow densely and control weeds.

The final version of LD#4 can be found here, and its terms will be effective state law 90 days from June 16, 2015.

I am cynically waiting to see whether the US Drug Enforcement Agency will use its resources and tax-funded budgets to prosecute Maine farmers for participation in the commercial hemp market.

Wisconsin Town to Appeal Decision Allowing a Factory Dairy Farm

Saratoga, WI is appealing a trial court decision that will allow the construction and operation of a 5,300 cow dairy farm.  Notice of appeal was filed Monday, June 15 in Wood County, Wisconsin.

The 7,000 acre farm is slated to offer many new jobs to Central Wisconsin. The Wysocki Family of Companies also promises to use the 7,000 acres to allow for grazing, as well as growth for potatoes and other vegetables.  Wysocki plans to use manure produced by the 5,300 cattle as nutrients for the potato and vegetable soil crop.

As with any large scale factory farm, the risk of run-off pollution is ever-present with large scale land application of manure. Soil density, precipitation, temperature, and amount of pollutants (such as nitrogen and phosphorous) require a delicate balance, and it is notoriously difficult to environmentally enforce or control such methods.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is still reviewing the environmental impact of the agricultural pollutant permit applications.

Oregon Senate Bill 207

In interesting remedy to the dichotomy created by the infamous US Supreme Court Monsanto decision [or as some characterize the predatory and evil practices of Monsanto], Oregon introduced a bill earlier this year that seeks to help the often targeted smaller farmers.

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Senate Bill 207 seeks to establish “control areas” between growers of genetically modified ((and thus patent-protected) plants and the growing of “other plants” in order to avoid conflicts between growers that naturally arise from cross-pollination (wherein plants accidentally incorporate legally protected biotech genes, potentially incurring large monetary liability on innocent farmers merely based on wind patterns and proximity.

Oregon’s legislative session ends July 30, 2015 and this bill is currently sitting in a committee, so if you are an Oregon resident, find your legislator and contribute to the discussion or stay informed!