Congress can do better on GMO labeling

Capitol_Building_Washington_DC-870x300-855x285Both the Senate and House have passed the “DARK Act” (S. 764), a controversial bill that’s been debated for several years now. The bill is being touted as a “compromise” but falls woefully short on requiring mandatory, on-package labeling. The bill instead gives companies — including those already labeling their products — options for disclosing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in their products that are much less transparent, such as QR codes or 1-800 numbers. The bill also preempts existing and future state labeling laws, including Vermont’s, which went into effect on July 1. Though a national labeling law is ideal, we support strong state legislation when federal requirements don’t go far enough to support consumer choice. We’re also concerned about the absence of clear enforcement provisions in this bill and ambiguous definitions and loopholes that could exempt most GE foods from labeling.

The bill also prohibits certain labels on SEED. We’re concerned about a provision in the preemption section of this bill that prohibits states from requiring clear labeling of GE seed. As an organization that advocates for the organic seed community, including farmer choice in seed free of GE traits, we believe it’s important for organic and other farmers who sell to non-GE markets to have as much information as possible about the seed they’re buying.

Two states require clear labeling of GE seed (VT and VA). This bill will preempt existing and future state requirements for this type of transparency. And, because the definitions in this bill begin to blur the lines between what is GE and what isn’t, it’s that much more important to protect transparency in the seed marketplace (see Sec. 295(b) of the bill).

Call President Obama TODAY. Tell him to veto this bill because Congress can and should do better. It’ll only take a minute. The number is: (202) 456-1111.

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Southeast Collaboration Already Yielding Results

Daniel Parson Oxford FarmOSA is collaborating with universities and organic farmers to address Downy Mildew pressure on cucurbits in the eastern part of the US. The project takes a participatory plant breeding approach and spans five states (New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama) and includes three universities (Cornell, Auburn, and North Carolina State). Michael Mazourek of Cornell is the project lead and recently published variety trial reports for 2014 and 2015 on eOrganic. This trial data helped the project team identify varieties with strong resistance to Downy Mildew. Regional seed companies quickly responded to these findings by making some of the most promising open-pollinated varieties available to growers.

In the field right now are melons, cucumbers, and squash plots. Clemson University featured some of these trials as part of a field day on July 11th focused on managing cucurbit diseases and pests in organic systems. Learn more by contacting Kelly Flynn Gilkerson. Additional field days are planned for August in North Carolina. Contact OSA’s Tony Kleese for more information.

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Featured Publication: Conduct Variety Trials on Your Farm

Variety_Trial_Guide copyVariety trials are important because they allow farmers, plant breeders, and seed companies to evaluate the performance of seed options available. When you conduct a variety trial on your farm, you’re able to see which varieties perform best in your climate and have the quality traits that you value most. Investing a year in a scientific variety trial can minimize the risks of planting a variety you’re unfamiliar with on a large-scale, and can help certified organic farmers identify the best organic seed options available on the market. Variety trials also help farmers, plant breeders, and seed companies find the best varieties to grow out as a seed crop — to increase seed quantities for on-farm use or to sell commercially — and use in breeding projects. Variety trials are a core activity of our research program and a fun way to explore and celebrate crop genetic diversity. OSA’s publication, On-farm Variety Trials: A Guide for Organic Vegetable, Herb and Flower Producers, is the go-to resource for planning, planting, and evaluating a variety trial on your farm.

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Talking Organic Seed in Washington, DC

NOC-group-picOSA just returned from an inspiring National Organic Coalition (NOC) membership meeting in Washington, DC, which included a day on Capitol Hill educating members of Congress on a number of organic policy topics. Among several messages delivered was the need to increase research funding that results in more public plant varieties adapted to organic farms and regional climates. We also discussed the costs and burdens associated with GMO contamination in organic seed and other crops. NOC includes more than a dozen organizations and businesses representing organic farmers, processors, consumers, certifiers, researchers, educators, retail businesses, and policy experts. Learn more about NOC here.

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Summer Sowing for Winter Harvests

planting-chicory-summer-sowingProducing food for year-round harvests requires planning ahead. By June most farmers feel like they’re caught up with spring planting, but now is the time to source seed for crops that will extend the harvest into fall, winter, and early spring. At our research farm in Chimacum, Washington, we plant kale and other hardy greens in June and July for fall and winter harvest; we plant chicory in July for winter and spring harvest; and we plant purple sprouting broccoli in late July to early August for a winter and spring harvest the following year. Planting dates will vary by region, so check with your seed company, extension service, or other farmers to select the ideal date for your climate. And consider planting a variety trial to identify the best performing organic varieties for your farm. We’ve expanded our variety trials focused on season extension thanks to support from the Oregon and Washington State Departments of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant Program. See our 2015 purple sprouting broccoli variety trial report. A report on onion, cabbage, and chicory varieties will be released later this year.

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