Maine delegation asks for more help from USDA to…

WASHINGTON, DC—Today Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01) and Jared Golden (D-ME-02) urged the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack is quickly and fully utilizing all USDA resources and authorities that can help respond to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, which is increasingly affecting more Maine farmers and rural communities.

“We cannot overstate how devastating this situation is for the affected farmers and their families. In addition to extreme financial hardship, they also face the potential health risks associated with exposure to these permanent chemicals. While the state is devoting resources to help cover the costs of testing, water filtration and some level of compensation for affected farms, these resources are not enough to restore the integrity of these farmers. », the delegation wrote in part. “These farmers are looking for immediate income replacement while they cannot sell their produce, in addition to longer-term supports to help them recover. However, federal support provided by USDA programs is currently very limited.

Collins, King, Pingree, and Golden then describe how the USDA can help farms impacted by PFAS contamination through existing programs, including:

Dairy Allowance Payment Scheme

Emergency aid for livestock, honeybees and farmed fish

Loans from agricultural service agencies

· Environmental Quality Incentive Program

Conservation Reserve Program

· Farm and Ranch Stress Relief Network Program

Additional research efforts

Federal Coordination

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

The State of Maine has been at the forefront of efforts to identify and address contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are known to be harmful to human health. Unfortunately, these forever chemicals are increasingly finding their way into the soil, water, feed, crops and livestock on Maine farms. In light of this, we ask that you promptly and fully utilize all United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) resources and authorities that may assist in responding to this situation.

Maine is not the only state where PFAS contamination has been identified in agricultural products. However, due to the state’s proactive approach to this issue, Maine farmers are uniquely and disproportionately affected. There are currently no federal standards for PFAS in foods, but Maine is the first — and so far, only — state to set PFAS tolerance levels for milk and beef. Several Maine farmers who do not have state-defined standards for their products have also recently made the difficult decision to voluntarily remove their products from the market in order to protect their communities.

We cannot overstate how devastating this situation is for the affected farmers and their families. In addition to extreme financial hardship, they also face the potential health risks associated with exposure to these permanent chemicals. Although the state is devoting resources to help cover the costs of testing, water filtration and some level of compensation for affected farms, these resources are not sufficient to restore the integrity of these farmers. . These farmers are looking for immediate income replacement while they are unable to sell their produce, in addition to longer-term supports to help them recover. However, federal support provided by USDA programs is currently very limited.

We call on the USDA to make full use of all existing programs and authorities to provide additional assistance to farms impacted by PFAS contamination. This should include, but not be limited to:

Dairy Indemnity Payment Program (DIPP): We appreciate recent changes to the Dairy Indemnity Payment Program (DIPP) to provide dairy producers with the option of receiving compensation for the value of infected cows. We ask that you implement these changes quickly and provide as much flexibility as possible for extensions on a case-by-case basis so that farmers have enough time to make the best decision based on their personal circumstances. We also ask that you review DIPP compensation payment rates to ensure that organic producers are fairly compensated by the program.

Livestock, Honeybee and Farmed Fish Emergency Assistance (ELAP): ELAP is legally authorized to provide financial assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farmed fish for losses due to “other conditions”, as determined by the Secretary, in addition to adverse weather and disease. We ask the USDA to explore the use of ELAP to cover PFAS-related livestock losses that cannot be addressed by the DIPP, such as compensation for beef cattle, hogs, poultry, etc. contamination and the provision of financial assistance for the costs of providing clean feed and water for livestock. .

Farm Services Agency (FSA) Loans: We understand that the FSA has temporarily suspended overdue debt collections and foreclosures for distressed direct borrowers and provided other flexibilities during the COVID public health emergency -19. We call on the FSA to provide as much flexibility as possible to borrowers affected by PFAS contamination to defer, restructure or cancel their debt, as appropriate. Additionally, we call on the FSA to work to prevent PFAS indemnity payments from being diverted to repay FSA liens instead of helping to replace a farmer’s lost income.

Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP): We appreciate that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is using the EQIP Emergency Animal Mortality Management Standard to help producers remove and safely dispose of PFAS-contaminated livestock. NRCS should also provide technical and financial assistance to livestock producers regarding nutrient and manure management where PFAS contamination is a concern. We also request that the NRCS also make full use of existing Conservation Practices Standards for soil testing to help growers test soils for PFAS, which can cost several hundred dollars per test. Although there is currently very little scientific evidence to inform best practices for remediating PFAS in soil, we also request that the NRCS act quickly to develop and implement a standard of conservation practice to implement these methods. whether scientific evidence supports them in the future.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): We are asking the FSA and NRCS to explore the use of the CRP to register PFAS-contaminated agricultural land that may not be suitable for further agricultural production. This could provide affected producers with rent and cost-sharing assistance for installing conservation practices, helping them recoup some of their lost revenue while providing environmental benefits. Due to higher costs in Maine, we also ask that you consider a higher lease payment rate for land affected by PFAS to ensure this is a viable option for affected growers. .

Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) Program: FRSAN funds currently support PFAS response efforts in Maine. Given the extreme financial and emotional burden of PFAS contamination on affected growers, we ask the USDA to prioritize future FRSAN funding to applicants who will use this program to target assistance to support producers in this devastating situation.

Additional research efforts: Although there is some evidence regarding which crops may be more or less likely to absorb PFAS from the soil, there are still significant knowledge gaps regarding PFAS and their impacts on Agriculture. We call on USDA research agencies to further investigate the movement of PFAS in soils and water, plant uptake, sanitation options, and feed modifications that could block PFAS in livestock rations. Additionally, there is currently no coordinated effort to compile existing research on PFAS and disseminate it to farmers. We ask that USDA research agencies and the Cooperative Extension System coordinate to ensure farmers can develop a response to this predicament that is based on the best science available.

Federal Coordination: The USDA is not the only federal department playing an important role in addressing this issue. We also ask that you work closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other federal partners to develop a comprehensive federal response to prevent, identify, and address contamination from PFAS on farms and in food.

Thank you for your attention to these requests. We look forward to continuing to work with you to support American farmers and the security of our food supply.

Truly,

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