Oregon Legislature Talks about Problems with GMOs and Large CAFOs

The week of March 6 was a good one for wearing muckboots at the Oregon Capitol. That’s because the Legislature began tackling two major issues having to do with manure: air pollution from large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and tax credits for manure digesters.

The controversy over these questions goes back more than a decade, but two major issues that are brewing – a proposed 30,000 head mega-dairy in eastern Oregon that will lack any air pollution controls, and a massive state budget shortfall – are causing Legislators to ask tough questions.

Liquid manure enters a lagoon at Threemile Canyon Farms in eastern Oregon. Big, open-air manure lagoons can release harmful gases that impact public health and the environment.

On Thursday, March 9, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on SB 197, a bill to create rules to regulate air contaminant emissions from large dairy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), like the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms and the proposed 30,000-cow Lost Valley Ranch dairy, both in eastern Oregon. FoFF testified in support of SB 197, as did a group of 27 public health professionals.

Earlier in the week, on March 7, the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee heard testimony on HB 2853, a bill to limit a controversial manure digester tax credit to those digesters already in operation as of January 1, 2017. Read FoFF’s testimony in support of HB 2853 and why we have concerns over Oregon’s tax subsidies for manure digesters.

In some ways, these two issues are linked: In 2007, in response to concerns that air pollution from Threemile Canyon Farms was fouling the Columbia River Gorge and the rural communities near them, the Oregon Legislature pass a bill that created a Task Force on Dairy Air Quality to look at potential solutions to the problem. The Task Force met throughout 2008, and produced a final consensus report that called for the creation of an Oregon Dairy Air Emissions Program, a combination of voluntary measures (beginning in 2009) and regulation of large sources of pollution (beginning in 2015).

Agreed to by Threemile Canyon Farms and others in the dairy industry, as well as Friends of Family Farmers and public interest groups that also served on the Task Force, the final proposal was described by all involved as ‘an optimal balance between the need to protect air quality and ensure the viability of Oregon’s dairies.’ The intent of the program was to reduce harmful air emissions and ‘prevent future problems from arising.’ New operations were supposed to comply with the rules upon startup.

But the program was never created. Instead, the state has authorized millions in tax credits, most of which have gone to Threemile Canyon Farms to build a methane digester, something they had been promising for nearly a decade but did not construct until taxpayers were on the hook to pay for it. Now, as a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy seeks approval to operate, Oregon remains woefully unprepared. We have no air quality rules in place and do not even require basic air quality monitoring.

Friends of Family Farmers believes that new, large CAFOs should be required to comply with air quality rules and to pay for air pollution controls (like manure digesters) as a cost of doing business in Oregon, not have state taxpayers cover the cost. The current manure digester tax credit is structured so that it primarily benefits the state’s largest operation, even as small and mid-sized dairy farms in Oregon have been going out of business in large numbers. And, as neighboring states, like California, get tough on air quality from large livestock operations, Oregon’s current manure digester tax credit could be used as a subsidy that in effect encourages new, large operations to come here. Some in the Legislature are pondering the same questions, as this story in the Portland Tribune on the manure digester subsidy reveals.

Contact your Legislators and urge them to vote yes on SB 197, and to support ending the manure digester tax credit for new mega-dairies.

Dealing with the Problems caused by poorly regulated GMO crops 

On March 16, there were public hearings on two bills dealing with problems associated with poorly regulated genetically engineered crops.

Genetically engineered canola is not welcome in some parts of Oregon, where it can cross pollinate with and contaminate valuable vegetable seed crops.

HB 2469 is in the House Agriculture Committee and would allow for local regulation of genetically engineered (GE) crops to protect farmers whose crops may be at risk of contamination due to a lack of state regulatory oversight. This legislation is in response to ongoing state inaction since the passage of a bill in 2013 that declared regulation of GE crops to be under the ‘exclusive regulatory power’ of the state. But the Oregon Department of Agriculture claims to lack any regulatory authority and this has left vulnerable farmers stuck in a regulatory vacuum that primarily benefits GMO crop developers, not most Oregon farmers. Since the state has had over 3 years to address these issues and hasn’t, advocates are pushing for a return to local decision-making on these issues. Read FoFF’s testimony in support of HB 2469 here.

In the House Judiciary Committee, Legislators are considering HB 2739, which would allow farmers who discover the unwanted presence of GE material on their land to seek damages from the patent-holders of these crops. The recent ‘deregulation’ of herbicide-tolerant creeping bentgrass has many farmers concerned, as bentgrass has already proven to have escaped into the wild and can cross with non-GE grass varieties. Oregon and Washington farmers have also seen high profile contamination incidents in recent years with experimental GE wheat and deregulated GE alfalfa hay. HB 2739 strengthens the ability of farmers to hold GE crop patent-holders financially liable for the damage from unwanted presence of their products. Read Friends of Family Farmers testimony in support of HB 2739 here.

We urge you to Contact your Legislators to urge them to vote yes on both HB 2469 and HB 2739 to protect farmers from the problems associated with genetically engineered crops.

Family Farms Mean Business Rally and Day of Action – April 4, 2017

If you haven’t already, please sign up to attend our April 4 day of events in Salem, and show your support for the bills above. Join us for a day of education, action and fun!

Morning policy workshop at the 2015 Family Farms Mean Business Day at the State Capitol in Salem.

The Family Farms Mean Business day at the State Capitol will include educational farm and food policy workshops, a mid-day rally on the Capitol steps, an indoor ‘farmers market’ to promote the positive impact of direct marketing and small farms, meetings with Legislators, and more.

We will be talking about a number of key issues, including:

1) increasing support for new and beginning farmers
2) addressing economic risks to farmers from poorly regulated genetically engineered crops
3) addressing problems associated with factory farms
4) stopping proposed funding cuts to Farm-to-School

We are asking folks to RSVP in advance if planning to attend workshops and meetings to help us with planning.

Morning policy workshops begin at 9:30 am – Please RSVP (includes continental breakfast and lunch)
Rally on the Oregon Capitol Steps begins at 12:30 – Come one Come all!
Afternoon meetings with your Legislators – Please RSVP

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