Legislative Update for Week Ending April 30, 2021
Representative Peter Welch Re-Introduces Dairy Pride Act
Representative Welch is sponsoring the Dairy Pride Act that would stop the use of dairy terms such as milk, yogurt, and cheese on the labels of non-dairy products. The legislation does not prevent the sale of non-dairy products, only their mislabeling as dairy products.
“Dairy farmers, already struggling to survive, are facing a growing threat due to the misleading practice of marketing plant-based products as milk and dairy products,” said Welch. “These products do not meet the FDA’s definition of a dairy product because they do not have the unique attributes and nutritional values provided by dairy. Our bill would require the FDA to enforce its existing definition of milk and dairy products so that consumers can make more informed choices.”
FDA regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals. The agency has failed to enforce its own regulations. Misleading labels are harming dairy farmers who strive to ensure their products meet FDA standards and provide consumers with nutritious products.
The Dairy Pride Act would require the FDA to issue guidance on enforcement of its regulations on mislabeled dairy products within 90 days and require the agency to report to Congress on its implementation of the law two years after its enactment. The bill has 33 co-sponsors in the House.
“Vermont Farm Bureau policy urges the FDA to enforce the dairy labeling regulations and laws,” said Mary White, Chair of the VTFB Dairy Committee. “Thank you, Congressman Welch, for reintroducing the Dairy Pride Act and promoting real dairy products and their unique nutritional values to consumers.”
Farm Bureau member Beth Kennett, owner of Liberty Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast in Rochester, did a terrific job in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday. She shared the history of agritourism in Vermont and the importance of the proposed bill to farmers. Adam Necrason, representing the Trial Lawyers Association, testified in support of the bill. He commented on how well it was written and how thorough the discussion had been in the House. The bill passed out of committee unanimously and presented Tuesday by Senator White for Second Reading. Several members, including Senator Ginny Lyons and Senator Bobby Starr, spoke in support. H.89 was scheduled for Third Reading. Since there were no changes, it should be heading to the Governor’s desk for a signature soon.
This is a great win for agritourism sites as well as Vermont Farm Bureau. The concept of limited liability for farms offering educational components for guests has been discussed for at least 20 years. More information, including the signage, will be reviewed in a future Under the Golden Dome.
The Senate Agriculture Committee propose to amend H.420 by adding language to the repeal of the sunset for on-farm slaughter. With scheduling challenges at commercial slaughterhouses, there are concerns that the number of livestock allowed to be processed per year is too low. Their proposal would increase the number of swine from 15 to 30, cattle from 5 to 10, sheep or goats from 40 to 80 and increase “any combination of swine, cattle, sheep, or goats, provided that not more than 12,000 pounds of the live weight of livestock are slaughtered per year.” The current combined limit is 6,000 pounds.
An Animal Share section has been added:
“An animal share means an ownership interest in an animal or herd of livestock created by a written contract between a consumer and a farmer that includes a bill of sale to the consumer for an ownership interest in the
animal or herd and a boarding provision under which the consumer boards the animal or herd with the farmer for care and processing and the consumer is entitled to receive a share of meat from the animal or herd.”
The share must be entered into prior to slaughter. The meat is provided by a farmer who owns or controls the farm. The meat is received by the owner of the share. The meat provided is obtained from the particular animal or herd subject to the share. A prominent warning that the meat has not been inspected is delivered to the consumer. Information regarding the standards with respect to herd health and processing is provided to the consumer. A person who obtains meat under this section shall not sell, donate, or commercially redistribute the meat.
The committee discussion centered around the amount of meat a consumer must purchase from a farmer. This proposal would allow for quantities smaller than a quarter, half, or whole animal.
Dr. Kristin Haas, State Veterinarian, requested more time to discuss the proposals with her staff before commenting on the proposed changes. She and others from the Agency of Agriculture will be testifying on April 30 in Senate Agriculture.
Further discussion on this amendment will be scheduled for next week. Since the House Agriculture Committee has not seen the language, H.420 will require a conference committee if amended.
Continued Discussion on Farm Labor Housing
The House Agriculture Committee was unable to hear from two Migrant Justice representatives on the farm labor housing issues on Thursday, due to testimony being cancelled. It will be rescheduled next week. This discussion is important and ensures farmer voices are heard. To date, there have been no witnesses from the farming community. Please contact Jackie via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be willing to speak to the Committee members. Gus Seelig from Vermont Housing and Conservation Board is willing to set aside up to $500,000 for repairs of, or purchases for, farm labor housing but needs a specific plan and a person or group willing to take the lead. Migrant Justice may be proposing to work with Efficiency VT on building a home as a pilot project and offering to sell it to a farmer at around $150,000. Nothing concrete has been decided. VTFB is concerned about the cost of this pilot project and expenses the farmer may be required to cover, including permitting, septic, water and electric. There may be a challenge with land in current use being used for housing if a 2-acre site is not already carved out.
House Natural Resources Hears New Proposed Category for Current Use Program
Members of the House Natural Resources Committee viewed a presentation by Michael Snyder, Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation and Keith Thompson, Private Lands Program Manager on old forest growth and the possibility of adding that as another category for the Current Use Program. This topic came up at the beginning of the session. A subgroup formed by Chair Amy Sheldon began working with Commissioner Snyder to work on the challenges.
The language is listed as Draft 4.3 (dated 4/28/2021– MOG – 4:10 pm) which can be found on the House Natural Resources website under the date of 4/29/2021. Part of the problem with allowing passive and restorative management towards old growth forest conditions is that under current law, any forestland enrolled in Current Use has to have a management plan that can include cutting trees to maintain a healthy forest. The draft proposal would pave the way for a carve out of that requirement on old growth forestlands but still be considered for Current Use. Mr. Thompson used a mapping program that viewed the entire state using criteria for vernal pools, riparian areas, natural communities, rare, threatened, and endangered species, steep slopes, and wetlands. He was very clear in stating that if a new category for wild growth forests is added, all review for applications into Current Use will be done on the ground and not via the maps. The Committee appreciates the work done by Commissioner Snyder and his staff. Discussion will continue through this session and probably into 2022.
Joint Public Hearing on Unemployment Issues for Employees and Employers During the Pandemic
On Tuesday, May 4, 2021, from 5:00 – 7:00 pm, the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and the House Committee on Government Operations will hold a joint public hearing about issues faced with Unemployment Insurance. The public is invited to register to speak or submit written testimony.
To register as a speaker, please sign up here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/links/public-hearing-unemployment
Registrations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis and testimony time will be limited to two minutes per person.
To submit written testimony, please email an MS Word or PDF file to: email@example.com
The hearing will be live streamed on the Legislature’s Joint Committees YouTube channel at:
Vermont Climate Council Update
Jane Lazorchak, Director of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), presented a preliminary draft outline for the Climate Action Plan (CAP). It focuses on strategies for mitigation, sequestration and resiliency and adaptation in each sector. A final draft of the CAP is expected December 1st. An RFP for technical consultants will be issued soon. The consultants will be charged with creating the carbon budget by July 1, 2021.
House Natural Resources Act 250 Proposals
The Committee continues to work on the Chair’s proposal (H.120) and recently started a side-by-side comparison between that and the Administration’s proposal (H.400). It will be surprising if any Act 250 language gets out of Committee this year, but it does set the stage for discussion in 2022. While H.120 has more of a focus on forest block language and local and regional criteria, both include a climate adaptation section. The Governor’s proposal includes further exemptions for farm structures under an acre for accessory buildings.
Dairy Task Force to Meet May 3, 9:00 a.m.
Newly appointed members of the Dairy Task Force will meet via Zoom on Monday, May 3, at 9:00 a.m. The first meeting will introduce members, set an agenda, and discuss next steps.
To view the livestreamed meeting, click on this link: Vermont Legislative Study Committees – YouTube or “announcements” on the legislative website https://legislature.vermont.gov/home/noteworthy/announcements/ for more information.
Committee members include Senators Starr and Brock, Representatives Marcotte and O’Brien, Jo Bradley, Heather Darby, John Roberts, and Dan Smith. The Task Force was initiated in a bill last year. It will look at how to increase prices to dairy farmers in Vermont.
VTFB Member Has Feed Available
Brett Urie from Orleans County has feed for sale. Several of his customers have gone out of business recently and he would like to move the bales out. He has 70 third-cut round bales (wrapped) at $70 each, and 30 first-cut early June round bales (wrapped) at $40 each. He has feed available out of the bunk. He can be reached at 802-586-2879.
Enjoy the beautiful spring weather. Thank you for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau.