Massachusetts Organic Farmers Question Candidates

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association is quizzing candidates for governor and the legislature on issues the organization expects will come up for a vote in the coming session. The state House of Representatives has 160 members; the Senate has 40. I don’t know how many seats are contested in either branch of the legislature, known collectively as the General Court.

Four people are running for governor. None faces a primary, and none has yet sent in their survey form.

So far, more than 80 legislative candidates have replied. My district has four candidates for state representative in the Democratic primary; the incumbent is running for sheriff. Three of the primary candidates are among those who have answered. The sole Republican running hasn’t replied, but for him the campaign has only begun.

I have my preferred candidate, whose answers are just what I’d like them to be. I’m town meeting moderator, though, which makes me the head of the legislative branch of our town government. There’s no law against it, but I don’t feel comfortable campaigning for anyone, although if I’m asked I don’t hesitate to say whom I’m voting for.

NOFA offers a bit of background to the questions, careful not to express a position on them. The organization is a non-profit, but so it’s restricted to educational efforts; attempts at persuasion could bring it to grief.

Candidates are invited to answer Yes, No, or “I don’t know right now. Help educate me.” There are few Nos in the responses, but plenty of requests for information.

Fact: Massachusetts dairy farmers are currently allowed to sell raw (unpasteurized) milk to consumers at their farms. Sales of this milk are regulated by MDAR (the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources) to ensure safety. The price that farmers receive for such milk ranges from 6 to 10 times as much as they receive for milk sent to pasteurization plants.

Question 1: Do you support the right of consumers to ask someone else to pick up their milk for them at the farm?

Question 2: Would you support regulations allowing farmers to deliver raw milk to their customers?

Question 3: Would you support regulations allowing farmers to sell raw milk at farmers markets?

Question 4: Would you support regulations allowing farmers to sell other unpasteurized dairy products, such as skim milk and cream?

Question 5: Would you support regulations allowing retail sales of raw milk at retail stores not on farms?

Fact: More than 30 Massachusetts towns have passed resolutions calling on the state legislature to regulate the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in agriculture and in our food.

Question 6: Do you think consumers have the right to know when they are eating food containing GMOs?

Question 7: Would you support state regulations calling for GMO labeling in food?

Question 8: Would you support state regulations that make manufacturers of GMO crops strictly liable for damages caused by genetic contamination from their products to organic or other non-GMO crops?

Fact: In Massachusetts, poultry sold to restaurants must be slaughtered in a USDA inspected plant. No such plant, however, exists in Massachusetts. To aid farm viability, Connecticut just signed into law a “Farms, Foods, and Jobs bill” allowing poultry slaughtered at farms inspected by the state to be sold to restaurants and hotels.

strong>Question 9: Would you support regulations allowing sale of poultry slaughtered at state-inspected facilities?

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture and food looks to be the hot spot in next year’s ag legislation in Massachusetts – and the place where legislators need and want the most educating.

By far the largest number of potential legislators need help understanding the implications of having a farm plant GMO seeds – corn, for example – next to an organic farm. More than half don’t know that pollen from a GMO crop can pollinate a non-GMO crop and make an organic farm no longer certifiable as organic. This has been such a hot issue in Massachusetts that many towns’ right-to-farm bylaws specifically prohibit use of GMO seeds.

The sale of raw milk is also hot this year. Farmers are not allowed to deliver raw milk, let alone have someone else deliver it for them. Customers must go to the farm if they want to buy unpasteurized milk. One legislative candidate who weighed in in favor of selling raw milk said in a comment that she was raised on it, but added that it must be boiled before drinking. Now there’s someone who needs educating.

One candidate copped out by returning the questionnaire unanswered, saying no answers were possible without seeing the specific legislation. Another, replying with all Yesses, is a certified organic farmer.

NOFA can’t lobby, but they can educate. And they can surely tell others where the potential supporters are, assuming they are winners in November.

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