On Friday afternoon, February 12th, twelve fishing and public interest groups jointly sued the federal government, challenging new regulations allowing industrial fish farming in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), under the Department of Commerce are agencies charged with protecting and managing ocean resources. The groups allege the agencies overextended their authority in creating a permitting scheme for ocean fish farming.
The questionable federal permitting scheme, more than ten years in the making, is an attempt to do an end-run around the United States Congress: multiple national bills that would have allowed and regulated industrial aquaculture never made it into law in the past decade. In an effort to push offshore aquaculture forward without a new law permitting it, NOAA and NMFS decided they would try to regulate fishing under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the main federal law that controls fishing, and now plan to permit offshore aquaculture as a “fishing” activity.
Finalized in January 2016, the regulations will allow up to 20 industrial facilities and collectively 64 million pounds of fish to be produced each year in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the same amount of wild fish currently caught from the Gulf of Mexico annually (excluding menhaden, a fish used mainly in pharmaceuticals, and pet and fish feed, not for direct human consumption), so farmed fish would essentially double offerings and flood the market.
Fishing communities, conservation organizations, consumer groups, scientists and many others are very concerned about the regulations to allow this new industry. The global experience with open water aquaculture has been riddled with serious problems – water pollution, fish escaping, habitat damage, spread of disease and parasites and more.
With the Gulf of Mexico still recovering from the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and existing issues like a large dead zone and run-off pollution, allowing development of aquaculture in the Gulf to many seems irresponsible and unnecessary. Especially given that there are other more sustainable ways to increase availability of domestic seafood without risking harm to the natural environment or competing with commercial fishermen.
Recirculating farms raise fish in aquarium like tanks, located on land. They reuse waste and water, and are closed loop, so they avoid many of the problems associated with open water farms – escapes are very difficult and there is no pollution of the surrounding environment, as everything in system is recycled. Further, because they are not attached to natural waters, a wide range of fish can be raised, to avoid competition with local fishermen.
The groups are challenging the new regulations allowing industrial aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
Read the entire press release here.
On Thursday November 19, 2015 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignored major concerns voiced by a wide range of environmental, consumer advocacy, scientific and other organizations, and over 2 million public comments (the most the agency has ever received on a topic) to approve the first ever genetically modified (GM) animal for human consumption – a reportedly “fast growing” salmon.
RFC’s Executive Director, Marianne Cufone, released a statement about the approval.
Some of the major concerns with the salmon are that:
- There are no meaningful long-term studies done on health effects from eating this fish, or the real risks involved if these salmon were to escape into the wild;
- The main stated reason for approval is to strengthen farmed fish’s economic viability — but the FDA has not done due diligence in exploring alternative options;
- While the FDA echoes the company’s contention that the engineered fish are sterile, and thus supposedly unable to reproduce, 100 percent sterility is highly unlikely. There is still risk the fish could unintentionally end up in the wild and intermix with wild salmon; these risks have not been well evaluated;
- The salmon contains compounds that may cause increased allergic reactions;
- FDA failed to adequately explore safer methods for fish production. For example, aquaponics – raising fish in tanks connected to plant grow beds in a closed-loop recirculating system – can naturally achieve fast growth rates for fish, making genetic modification to artificially enhance growth unnecessary. These systems are also space, energy and water efficient – an all around win for our planet; and
- The company that created and will sell the salmon supplied the data FDA used to evaluate the fish’s safety. That is in no way objective or rigorous.
Surprisingly, FDA also decided that the new salmon will not be labeled as GM in stores because the agency says ‘ it is nutritionally equivalent to conventional farm-raised Atlantic salmon’. This is problematic for consumers – they deserve to know that the fish they may be buying and eating is genetically modified, so they can make informed decisions.
Over 9,000 stores owned by 60 chains across the nation have already rejected genetically engineered salmon, including Kroger, Target, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and others. Seventy-five percent of respondents to a New York Times poll said they would not eat genetically engineered salmon, and 1.8 million people have sent letters to the FDA opposing approval of the so-called “frankenfish.”
With this first approval of a GM animal for human consumption, there is widespread concerns that other GM animals will be approved soon.
On Thursday, September 17, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden led a panel of veteran farmers and veteran training organizations, including Marianne Cufone on behalf of Recirculating Farms Coalition. The group discussed, via an online chat through Google+ Hangout, opportunities available for returning service members who are looking for long-term careers in farming and ranching.
Many veterans show interest in agriculture because they feel that working on the land helps them successfully transition to civilian life and provides them with a way to continue serving their community. As part of the beginning farmer and rancher community, many veterans are eligible for a wide variety of USDA programs and resources.
Recirculating Farms Coalition, through a grant from USDA’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, has been hosting market (commercial) farmer trainings in New Orleans, Louisiana throughout this year, especially focused on veterans, women, and socially disadvantaged communities.
The event allowed RFC to highlight the assorted benefits of water-based growing methods for veterans. During the talk, Marianne Cufone noted, “[w]e learned these growing methods are especially useful for more senior or disabled vets – they are very versatile in design and so inspire creativity, they can be inside or outdoors and so offer flexibility, growing food often leads to healthier eating, and socializing, and in terms of physical requirements these systems are usually vertical – in towers, or elevated in beds – so they don’t require much bending and there is no weeding!”
To read Marianne’s entire remarks, click here:
To watch the full Google Hangout, click here.
See the USDA’s blog at for more information.
Two new bills in Louisiana that support bringing more good food to communities through local agriculture are now law!! The first creates a “farm-to-school” program, which allows Louisiana public schools to communicate directly with local farmers to buy food. Previously, for any food item over $25,000, schools had to go through a complicated and difficult public bidding process, which often left out local farmers because they could not participate, be it due to lack of time or technology. Now, schools can connect with farms for any items under the federal minimum purchasing threshold, which is currently $150,000! This will bring more fresh local food to Louisiana schools. As over 65% of students in Louisiana public schools qualify for free or reduced price meals, the new law will promote providing children with fresh food who may get their primary meal, or even most or all of their meals at school.
The second new law is an urban agriculture incentive, which allows Louisiana cities to reduce taxes on land used for farming. The hope is that more landowners will be motivated to allow use of their properties for urban agriculture and share the tax savings with farmers by leasing at more affordable rates. The intent is to increase access to affordable land in cities for farming and thus also increase availability of local fresh food.
Recirculating Farms Coalition, working with students from Loyola New Orleans Law, various farmers, food advocates and especially the National Farm to School Network and Louisiana Farm to School Alliance successfully moved these 2 very important concepts through the Louisiana Legislature with Rep. Ebony Woodruff and Sen. Francis Thompson. On August 1st, with unanimous approval of the House and Senate, they both became law. Hooray for local food and farming and CONGRATS to all involved.
Yesterday, the Louisiana House Agriculture Committee moved a Farm to School bill forward that could bring more fresh local food to schools, by allowing them to directly connect with farmers, and sets up a database of farmers and schools interested in participating in such a program. Emily Posner, RFC’s Policy and Legislative Counsel, testified in support of the bill.
House Bill (HB) 730 would increase the “small purchase threshold,” which is the maximum amount of money schools can spend on a contract to buy food items, without having to engage in a lengthy and complicated formal public bidding process with potential food providers. In Louisiana, the threshold is low – up to $30,000 – so most school food purchases require formal bidding. This often prevents smaller-scale farmers, who can not spend significant time doing intricate paperwork, from selling to schools. Additionally, the bill creates a database so that farms and schools able and willing to participate in such programs can identify one another and easily make contact.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Ebony Woodruff, is supported by many and was crafted with assistance from Loyola University of New Orleans, School of Law students, Pepper Bowen and Sarah Thompson, the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance and the Recirculating Farms Coalition.
HB 730 comes on the heels of Senate Bill (SB) 184, which has a similar focus, introduced by Sen. Francis Thompson. SB 184 passed through the Senate Education Committee unanimously two weeks ago. Both bills will now move through the full House and Senate respectively.
Read the full press release here.
To learn more check out our fact sheet here.