Rayne Pegg, Head of the Ag Marketing Service, will oversee the implementation of the organic program. Pegg’s previous work includes the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where she oversaw the creation of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. This industry-led food safety program for farms has been harshly criticized by conservation, biodiversity and small farm groups, which argue that the LGMA encourages farmers to target wildlife with poison bait and traps and to mow down non-crop vegetation because it could harbor animals. (Wild boar are one suspect in the 2006 E. coli outbreak in California spinach.)
Now, for the good news…
Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Merrigan’s entire career has been dedicated to organic and sustainable food practices. Starmer best summed it up when she said, “If the USDA is a farm, then Kathleen is the farmer and Vilsack is the absentee landlord.” She is on the ground, working directly with the staff.
Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary of Food and Nutrition, will oversee WIC, Food Stamp and School Lunch Programs. He has long been an advocate for food accessibility to low income families and prevention of childhood obesity. J. Dudley Butler, GIPSA, is a former lawyer who defended family farmers against unfair practices by corporate farms. Lisa Bertelson, Special Assistant, Marketing and Regulatory Programs, was at the Pew Commission when it released its monumental study on industrial animal farm production.
For Starmer’s full PowerPoint, download here (link to PDF).
After the presentation was finished, we opened up the floor to participants. Rather than the usual Q&A format, participants were encouraged not only to ask questions but to engage in conversation with Starmer and other participants. Highlights of the conversation:
· SB 416 has been introduced in the California State Senate and will be voted on before June 5. The bill will ban the practice of feeding low doses of antibiotics to healthy animals in factory farms. To get involved, click here.
· The Farm Bill programs are just starting to be implemented. We have the opportunity to influence the legislation and how food policy bills are realized through a process called rule making. After a bill becomes a law, the agency in charge still needs to figure out how to implement it which is done by requesting public input. How do we want research money spent? How should the process for approving GMOs work? Should CAFOs be able to receive money for “conservation” efforts? We can provide input and help influence their decisions. It does not have to be a lengthy or detailed comment. It can be as simple as “I think X, Y and Z are a bad idea. I do not approve.” For info about when and how to participate in the rule making process, sign up for action alerts from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition or Food & Water Watch.
· Child Nutrition Act – by changing school lunch programs, we have the ability to feed hungry children healthy, nutritious foods which educates the next generation about healthy food choices. If schools utilize local farms, the revenue stays within the community and emits less carbon than food shipped from across the country. Write a letter, make a phone call or arrange a meeting with your legislator and tell them why children nutrition is important to you personally. Find the office’s address and your legislator’s contact info at www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
· There’s a disconnect between organizations working on food accessibility issues for low-income families and organizations working to protect and expand sustainable farms. How do we bridge the gap and create unity among the two groups?
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