October 2, 2013

Natural Foodie: New head of MOFGA moves to Maine, and he's impressed

By Avery Yale Kamila

(Continued from page 2)

Beyond this basic challenge, there are issues like access to affordable farmland, soaring energy costs, development of scale-sensitive food regulations (particularly those associated with the Food Safety Modernization Act), and the need for a more robust infrastructure to support the processing and distribution of organic produce and meat. Each of these represents a major challenge for organic producers and for those who seek organic food. Going forward, I think we'll continue to see farmers, consumers and others in the organic industry working together to lower or eliminate some of these barriers.

Environmental changes are also creating challenges for organic producers. Shifting weather patterns, emergence of new pests, storm situations that seem to be intensifying, and the die-off of pollinators are among the concerns in this category. New regulatory regimens seem to be called for to address many of these problems, and that will mean a continued need for vigilance and activism among good-food advocates like those involved with MOFGA.

Q: Alongside the growing popularity of organic food, shoppers continue to show increasing support for local food. This is particularly true in Maine, where Sustainable America ranked the state #2 on its 2013 Locavore Index. Some people worry that shoppers think local food and organic food are roughly the same. What are your thoughts on the relationship between local and organic food?

A: As I noted, some consumers have a real challenge distinguishing among all the labels we've attached to food these days. Obviously, there is strong and growing interest in local food, just as there is in organic food. This is, perhaps, as it should be. Buying local provides direct economic support to family farmers, strengthens the local economy and likely helps reduce our energy consumption as well. Buying organic helps reduce the overall environmental impact of food production and helps ensure that we're bringing healthful food home to our families.

Buying local AND organic go hand in hand. To me, the obvious best choice whenever possible is to make it local and organic.

Q: I understand you helped found the Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture and served on the steering committee for the Genetic Engineering Action Network. MOFGA was very active in Maine's recent passage of a GMO labeling law. Do you feel labeling is the best way to address the GMO issue? Do other areas of concern, such as genetic pollution or patenting of seeds, still need attention?

A: People have a right to know what is in their food. That's just common sense, and recent polls show that some 95 percent of the people in the state of Maine agree with that assessment. Personally, I don't want to have anything to do with corn and soybean products that contain GMO ingredients. Labeling foods that contain GMOs is one way to give folks like me the information we need to make well-informed choices at the supermarket.

MOFGA's efforts to gain approval of the GMO labeling law were crucial in achieving victory in the state Legislature and for that the policy team and all others who worked on the issue must be commended. It is encouraging that Gov. LePage has pledged to sign Maine's GMO labeling bill into law in January.

Maine, once again, is developing sound policy that other New England states can, and will, embrace.

Regarding other concerns related to GMOs, the organic standards prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms, and MOFGA has a clearly stated position on the subject. Concern over other factors related to GMOs, like seed patenting and organic farmer protection against cross-pollination and contamination of organic crops, are well-placed and ongoing areas of interest.

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