Ohio Farmers Union Outlines Policy Priorities for 2016

Ohio’s Farmland Property Tax Problem, Frack Waste Key Issues

 COLUMBUS – From opposition to the Obama Administration’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership to advocacy for further reform in the way farmland is taxed in Ohio, the Ohio Farmers Union announced 2016 policy priorities today that touch both state and federal government.

OFU President Joe Logan said that the Farmers Union is one of the few remaining farm organizations that looks out exclusively for the independent, family farmer.

He said that on issues like international trade, government-sponsored commodity checkoffs and many issues in rural Ohio arising because of fracking, OFU’s stance is rooted in “looking out for the little guy.”

“Neither the National Farmers Union, nor the Ohio Farmers Union, have been captured by huge multi-national corporate interests or the ongoing trend for big business consolidation in agriculture,” Logan said.

“Our policy priorities are different. If you’re running a family-sized farm or working to build a local or regional food and fiber network, OFU puts your interests first.”

Two highlights from this year’s priorities are proposed reforms to Current Agricultural Use Valuation and the standards for fracking waste disposal wells.

CAUV is the system for taxing farmland that is currently in production. It was enacted in the 1970s and values farmland across Ohio according to its agricultural value rather than a general market value. CAUV has kept much of Ohio’s farmland from disappearing into urban and suburban sprawl and has helped farm families across the state continue to work their farms. Since the end of the Great Recession, farm families in Ohio have seen their CAUV assessments increase 50-300 percent.

OFU is backing S.B. 246 and H.B. 398, both pending in their respective houses of the Ohio General Assembly. Logan said both bills would update the complex formula used to determine CAUV land value to better reflect changes to the economy since the Great Recession. The wild fluctuations experienced over the past several years would be taken out of the system, legislators hope.

OFU is also calling on the Kasich Administration to change Ohio’s regulations concerning the deep wells used around the state to dispose of waste from fracking. This waste comes from Ohio’s gas and oil production as well as that of neighboring states.

Specifically, the 4,000-member family farmer group wants a moratorium on so-called Class II injection wells used for frack waste. OFU wants any new frack waste disposal wells to be built and regulated under Class I standards. Along with ensuring the wells would be built more robustly, Class I wells are regulated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency rather than the Dept. of Natural Resources.

In all, OFU is unveiling nine 2016 policy priorities. Please follow this link for a document outlining them in their entirety.

Read Joe Logan’s Op-Ed on Voluntary COOL Compromise

Joe Logan PhotoEditor’s Note: OFU President Joe Logan penned this op-ed for the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s online and ran in print edition.

Today’s consumer goods are sourced from around the world and quality can vary greatly, so naturally, folks want to know the origin of their food. This is not only common sense, but is supported by a decade’s worth of polling.

And this isn’t simply an American phenomenon. European consumers demanded food labeling after they found out that the “beef” they were consuming was actually imported, mislabeled horse meat. Congress recognized the consumer demand for food labeling and passed a popular labeling law known as Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) in 2008.

COOL simply says that muscle cuts of meat, and some fruits and vegetables, must be labeled with the name of the country where the product was produced and processed. Unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always win the day, so our popular labeling law has been challenged in federal court by the multinational meat packers. Failing there, our chief trade competitors – Canada and Mexico – filed an official dispute, claiming severe economic harm, at the World Trade Organization. In response to fears of economic retaliation being considered by the WTO, the U.S. House of Representatives repealed the law and the fate of COOL is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate.

Your favorite shirt, your winter coat, your kitchen appliances and the replacement parts for your car are all labeled with their country of origin, so why shouldn’t your food be? According to a decade’s worth of polling on this issue, roughly 90 percent of the nation’s consumers support food labeling.

It’s just common sense that parents want to know as much as possible about what they are putting into their mouths, and the mouths of their children. Some consumers want to eat locally, purchasing Ohio sweet corn – the best corn in the world – while others don’t care if their corn comes from Ohio, Ottawa, or Oaxaca. But regardless of what they want, they can’t make that targeted distinction if the food isn’t labeled.

The notion of shopping local or buying American is very popular among many consumers, who see the value of spending their hard-earned incomes close to home, supporting their local farmers and rural economies. But it can only happen if the food is labeled.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio has stood strong against the notion of repealing the COOL law and is working on compromise solution in the Senate. His alternative would retain the framework of the COOL law, while bringing it into WTO compliance by making COOL voluntary for beef and pork. This should not only appease the objections of our trading partners, given Canada has a voluntary labeling program on the books, but also give consumers who want to support their local farmers the option to do so.

Additionally, Canada and Mexico both suggested the adoption of a voluntary system in the 2012 WTO Appellate Body Report, and the U.S. trade representative’s office also noted that repealing the mandatory requirement and replacing it with a voluntary system has the “potential to constitute compliance with U.S. WTO obligations.” That gives voluntary COOL the “thumbs up” from every corner.

And while Ohio Farmers Union has fought for mandatory labeling for years, this bill would avoid the current lobbyist-driven call for a complete repeal and ensure that the framework for accurate food labeling remains on the books. It’s a far better option than complete repeal of COOL.

When you throw some meat on the grill this weekend, think about how and where that food was produced and processed. Let Brown know that you support his efforts, and urge Sen. Rob Portman to support food labeling, as well.

OFU Urges Senate to “Chill” on COOL

ofulogofbfeatAmericans Want to Know Where Their Food Comes From

COLUMBUS – Ohio’s second largest general farm organization leveled a broadside at members of Congress who voted this past week to repeal Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for beef, pork and poultry in the United States.

“In an era where food travels around the world indiscriminately, is there a mother in this country, when asked, who would say they don’t care to know where their food comes from?” asked Joe Logan, president of the Ohio Farmers Union.

“Does the chicken they’re putting on the grill tonight come from U.S. producers – with all of their health and safety regs – or does it come from China where health, safety and environmental regulations are an after-thought?”

Logan said OFU and the National Farmers Union have backed COOL since before it was enacted in the 2002 Farm Bill. He said that globalization and the opening of markets made it a necessity for U.S. consumers to know where their food comes from because many other countries don’t have the food safety regulations protecting U.S. consumers.

Logan said that much of U.S. meat production and processing have come under the control of foreign corporations, and American consumers need to be vigilant. The current largest pork processor in the U.S. is Chinese-owned and the second-largest beef processor in the U.S. is Brazilian company JBS.

Late Thursday night, Congressional supporters of these huge, multi-national corporations used a recent World Trade Organization ruling as an excuse to push a repeal of COOL through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

“The WTO process is not over regarding COOL,” said Logan. “The U.S. has ample time and the administration has signaled it would continue to work with Canada and Mexico on fair and honest labeling requirements in this country.”

“Basically, corporate interests and big money won out this week in Washington – consumers and independent family farmers lost big time,” Logan said.

Logan hopes that the U.S. Senate ignores the House bill.

Logan said that the vote to repeal COOL is important enough for every Ohioan to know where their member of Congress stands when it comes to knowing where their food comes from.

Unless your member of Congress was Joyce Beatty, Marcy Kaptur or Tim Ryan, if you live in Ohio your member voted to take away your right to know where your food comes from.

“In a global economy, information about the foods we eat is essential,” Logan said. “It’s unfathomable how a representative of the people could vote against that.”

Editor’s Note:

 Here are a couple of noteworthy links on the background of this issue:

  1.  The most recent consumer poll results are available here: http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/COOL-poll-results-May-2013.pdf
  2. The Robert Taylor study can be found here: http://www.nfu.org/images/COOLReport1132015Final.pdf

You’ll find in the poll that Americans, when asked, overwhelmingly favor knowing where their meat comes from. You’ll see in the Prof. Robert Taylor study that Canada cannot demonstrate material damage to their own markets as a result of COOL.

Logan: Why We Fight for Country of Origin Labeling

by Joe Logan, President OFU

Joe Logan, OFU

OFU President Joe Logan addressing the organization in January 2015.

Sometimes it seems like a colossal waste of time and energy but organizations like ours are compelled to rise and speak out when destructive things are happening. Such was the case last week as an extraordinary series of events took place in Washington D.C.

On May 18, a dispute resolution panel from the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced its decision that an existing U.S. law requiring food companies to apply Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) to many meat products presents a hardship to other nations who wish to sell their products to American customers. The dispute was initiated by Canada and Mexico, who together export about 7% of the beef and 5% of the pork consumed by Americans. Oddly, the dispute panel was chaired by a representative of Mexico.

As a result of their decision, Canada and Mexico will be given the chance to prove/document the economic harm they have suffered. Pending sufficient proof, they will be entitled to impose an equal value of penalties onto the offending country (the U.S.) in the form of tariffs of any American products of their choosing.

The WTO settles many such disputes each year and the process is often a multi-year affair, which includes numerous delays and much negotiation among the parties before a final resolution. This case, however, is taking a radically different course. The nations claiming to be harmed (Mexico and Canada) are supported by some organizations who are authorized by the U.S. government. As ridiculous as it might seem, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) – two organizations authorized by the U.S. Congress — are siding with our trading partners and against the United States in this case.

L-R: Joe Logan, Edward Edney, office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Roger Wise, OFU Treasurer. Logan and Wise were in Washington lobbying Congress on COOL in late May 2015.

L-R: Joe Logan, Edward Edney, office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Roger Wise, OFU Treasurer. Logan and Wise were in Washington lobbying Congress on COOL in late May 2015.

The rationale for this strange occurrence is simple but frightening in its implications. Our livestock producing, processing and marketing systems have been changing in profound ways. Our pork, poultry and beef industries have become highly integrated and globalized. They are now dominated by a handful of very large, global corporations. Gone are the days when independent farmers raised hogs and chickens and offered them for sale in local or regional markets. Although many independent cattlemen still raise calves, the feedlots where most cattle reach market weight are dominated by large corporate beef processors.

In such a global, integrated system, both processors and importers have taken seats on the boards of the organizations (like NCBA and NPPC) that were once held by independent farmers and ranchers. Now, those organizations serve the interests of their global corporate giants who own and control the lion’s share of the livestock, processing plants and distribution chains. If today’s globalized, integrated system had been this firmly in place in 2002, we would never have been able to get COOL enacted, despite that it is very strongly supported by both consumers and independent farmers.

The National Farmers Union fought vigorously for the better part of two decades to get COOL passed by Congress and enacted by USDA. We have been extremely proud to have championed a policy that was so robustly supported by consumers and that gave those remaining independent farmers and ranchers a chance to redeem the benefits of their extraordinary efforts to produce safe, high quality food products for American Consumers.

The changing structure of the livestock and food industry, along with the changing character of our more partisan congress, have created a seismic shift in the political landscape for issues like COOL. Members of Congress can now ignore the enormous popularity of issues like COOL (90% approval) and instead bow to the interests of corporate lobbyists who can provide resources needed to overwhelm any political foe.

In this political environment, it is not surprising that the opponents of COOL – the global food processing companies have mustered the resources to influence key members of congress to take extraordinary actions like the one that occurred on May 19: The House Ag Committee Chairman introduced a bill to repeal the COOL. Not only did Chairman Conaway introduce the bill, but he conducted an expedited “mark up” and committee vote to approve his bill the following day.

Despite our feverish efforts to inform many thoughtful members, the bill easily passed out of committee and will be scheduled for a vote on the floor of the House in June. After several days of work talking to hundreds of members of the House and Senate, we believe we have headed the stampede. We feel confident that the WTO process will have a chance to play out before Congress takes repeals the law.
We are also confident that Canada, Mexico and the global meat processors will be hard pressed to demonstrate any legitimate harm from our COOL law. If so, our hard-fought and highly popular policy may survive and serve the interests of consumers and for years to come.

If you haven’t already, please call your member of Congress and ask your friends and family – farmer and consumer alike – to do the same. Tell your representative that Americans deserve to know where their food comes and that America’s – and Ohio’s – family farmers deserve their right to proudly proclaim their bounty is a product of the U.S.A.

Logan, Wise Lobby in D.C. to Preserve COOL

USAJoe Logan and Roger Wise are no strangers to the ongoing struggle in Washington, D.C. and Geneva, Switzerland over whether U.S. consumers have a right to know where their food comes from.

The pair are Ohio farmers but they are also the current president of the Ohio Farmers Union (Logan) and the immediate past-president (Wise). Since 2009, Country of Origin Labeling – “COOL” in agricultural circles – has been a recurring policy consideration for each.

COOL is a rule in the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill that mandates retailers provide country of origin labeling for beef, pork and lamb. In 2008, Congress expanded the labeling law to include some other products such as fresh fruits and nuts.

In 2009, the first challenge to COOL came from the Canadian government via the World Trade Organization. While Canada – and subsequently Mexico – have claimed that U.S. COOL rules have cost foreign producers, there is scant economic evidence to support their claims.

There has been, however, a sea change in ownership of U.S. meat interests. The primary owner of U.S. pork interests is now Shuanghui of China. JBS of Brazil is now the largest meat processing company in the United States. Both China and Brazil have issues regarding food safety.

“Yesterday’s WTO decision is an insult to all who wish to have information about the food they consume and an affront to our nation’s ability to adopt legislation that is strongly supported by US Farmers and consumers,” said Logan

“Once again, the Farmers Union will be leading the charge to defend COOL on behalf of farmers and consumers,” Logan said.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson is asking lawmakers to allow U.S. trade representatives to work things out with Mexico and Canada.

Johnson pointed out that there have been various press reports in recent weeks indicating that the administration will work with Canada and Mexico on COOL.

“We support that approach to the extent it results in a mutually agreed result that provides consumers meaningful information on the meat products they purchase, including the country where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. With the significant interest by consumers in knowing where their food comes from, any other result is not acceptable,” Johnson said.

Logan, of Trumbull County, and Wise, of Sandusky County, have a full slate of meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress over the next two days. They are part of an NFU group of more than 60 Farmers Union leaders from around the country.

“Our primary message to Congress at this point is leave COOL alone,” said Wise.

“There is precedent for U.S. and international officials to work out their differences rather than scrap a U.S. law and start completely over,” he added.

Thankful for COOL on Thanksgiving … For Now – It’s Under Threat

The following is an op-ed submitted to Ohio newspapers for the Thanksgiving holiday.

by Warren Taylor and Joe Logan

As American families prepare their Thanksgiving turkeys, they should thank local livestock farmers producing beef, pork, chicken, eggs, and dairy products. Unfortunately, politicians, lobbyists and trade negotiators in DC are working against those farmers. Shockingly, in our great country, which celebrates independent farmers and ranchers, America’s largest pork processor is Shuanghui International Holdings, a Chinese corporation. Our second largest beef company, JBS USA is a Brazilian corporation. These trans-national corporate giants show the extent of consolidation, and how globalization has played out.

These huge businesses find it profitable to shop global markets for low cost meat cuts that end up for sale in American supermarkets. Their profits soar higher as they avoid labeling the meat’s source.  Customers trust American farmers and regulators to provide safe, healthy food products. Not necessarily so for Chinese or Brazilian meat.

Naturally, these meat packers oppose requirements to label the sources of meats. Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) is that law. Although passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2002, foreign and trans-national food corporations have prevented implementation, and now look to repeal COOL.

It’s disappointing that they have found powerful allies in the Beef and Pork promotion organizations authorized by Congress and mostly funded by American farmers and ranchers. The National Cattlemens Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) are adamant opponents of COOL. The very livestock promotion organizations who should speak for American farmers and ranchers are working against their interests and the interests of 90% of American consumers seeking honest information about how and where their food is produced.

Impossible? Most other industrial agriculture nations require Country Of Origin Labeling for food. The American Meat Institute, The National Grocers Association, McDonalds and others shamelessly interested in sourcing the cheapest food possible, have assaulted America’s COOL laws. After passage in the 2002 Farm Bill and surviving four Federal Court suits, COOL is facing repeated World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges.

It’s bad enough when American business interests used money and influence to get their way in Washington DC, now it is multinational corporations’ agenda lobbying against COOL, clearly against America’s farmers’ best interests.

[Read more…]

Ohio Legislative Update

The Ohio Farmers Union is providing testimony on two bills this week:

Sub. H.B. 490 – the large, catch-all bill which began life as part of Gov. John Kasich’s Mid Biennium Review package of legislation meant to make budget adjustments. The bill covers both the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture and Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources areas of governmental responsibility. OFU has taken an “interested-party” position, due to the large number of subjects covered in the bill. OFU has told legislators it is supportive of tightened regulations on saline injection – or frack water disposal – wells. The bill also creates a path toward ODNR being able to provide first responders information about the chemicals being used at an oil or gas drilling site in the event of an accident. That language is rather nebulous, however, leaving it to ODNR management to implement. This issue will bear watching if 490 moves on through the Senate and to the governor’s desk.

OFU suggested in testimony by President Joe Logan some potential additions to the parts of the bill regarding nutrient management. Working with the Ohio Environmental Council, OFU is seeking amendments which would allow the state to aggregate and analyze data from nutrient management and manure management plans to get watershed-wide views of manure and chemical fertilizer sales/production/use.

Read Joe Logan’s testimony from November 12, 2014 on Sub. H.B. 490.

S.B. 296 – is sponsored by State Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and is supported by Ohio Farmers Union. A main provision of the bill provides that retail filling station operators are not responsible for mistakes customers make in putting the wrong fuel in their vehicles. (So long as the pumps are clearly marked and the station is in compliance with all other laws and regulations.) Ohio’s ethanol producers have urged farmers to support this because some filling station operators have refused to provide E85 or other fuel choices because they say customers may not pay attention while fueling, unintentionally pump the wrong fuel into their vehicle and then sue the station for damages. Ohio Farmers Union testimony was provided by OFU Treasurer Roger Wise.

Read Roger Wise’s testimony submitted ‘as written’ on November 12, 2014 on S.B. 296.

Logan appointed to U.S. EPA Advisory Committee

Joe Logan speaking at the Ohio Farmers Union 2014 Farm Bill Implementation Forum. Photo: Ron Sylvester

Joe Logan speaking at the Ohio Farmers Union 2014 Farm Bill Implementation Forum. Photo: Ron Sylvester

Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan has been appointed to a national committee that provides advice on environmental, agricultural and rural development issues to the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Logan will serve on the Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Committee.

According to a letter sent Logan by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the committee “provides advice, information and recommendations to the Administrator on a broad range of environmental issues and policies …”

The committee’s members represent a broad range of interests including academia, farmers, ag industry interest groups and state and local government representatives.

“This year’s water quality issues in Lake Erie validate the importance of issues that touch on both the agricultural industry and the environment,” Logan said.

“I’m pleased to represent Ohio’s farmers on this important committee. I believe Administrator McCarthy takes seriously the advice and real-world experience brought to the EPA’s decision-making process by the committee,” Logan said.

“I intend to take the same pragmatic approach to my work on the committee that I take as a leader in the Ohio Farmers Union. Regulation should be targeted, not one-size-fits-all and based in science and real-world data,” Logan said.

Logan is a dairy farmer from Kinsman, Ohio who has built a second career serving agricultural and environmental interests. He has been a leader in the Ohio Farmers Union for several years. This is his second stint as president and he has also served as the group’s legislative director. He also worked on agricultural and water quality issues for several years at the Ohio Environmental Council.

News Release: HB 490 Could Help Untangle Debate on Where Erie’s Harmful Algal Blooms Come From

Ohio Farmers Union Calls for Targeted State Action on Algal Blooms

In wake of Toledo problems and recent forum, family farm group feels a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may not be best for farmers on environment.


ofu_200COLUMBUS – Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan said today that Ohio agriculture can and should be a part of fixing Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms (HAB) and outlined several policy positions OFU may take to state legislators later this year and into the next General Assembly.

“The information we have to work with today tells us that the there is a problem in the Lake Erie watershed, but not the specific sources or locations. There’s a hole in the data; we need to fill that hole,” Logan said.

House Agriculture Chairman Dave Hall told Hannah News last week that his committee will continue to pursue H.B. 490 in the lame duck session of the legislature after the elections. The bill in its current form is supported by OFU due to water quality and safety measures related to the handling of wastewater from Ohio’s growing fracking industry.

The bill also includes some ag provisions including moving the state’s agricultural pollution abatement program – which focuses on livestock farming – from the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources to the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture. Logan said H.B. 490 could be an important part of Ohio’s effort to control nutrient runoff and the algal blooms they can feed.

OFU will ask Hall’s committee for an amendment to H.B. 490 that would do two things. First, for ODA to establish procedures for all operators of confined animal feeding operations or their third party distribution contractors to report the amount of manure delivered to other persons and the location to which it was delivered. This is to address a so-called ‘manure loophole’ in state regulations where manure distribution from a regulated location is outsourced, stretching the chain of accountability to the breaking point.

[Read more…]

Presentations and Clips from OFU’s Lake Erie Solutions Forum

Lake-Erie-Forum640I’m working on a story and our own video coverage from what turned out to be an excellent set of presentations from Dr. Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant; Greg LaBarge, OSU Extension; Todd Hesterman, farmer and NW Ohio Coordinator of Conservation in Action and Adam Rissien from the Ohio Environmental Council. For now, find below the PowerPoint presentations from our presenters and links to media coverage of the event. Thanks to all who attended and to our presenters!

OFU Farmers Seeking Solutions Forum – Presentations

OFU Farmers Seeking Solutions Forum – Media Coverage

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