Farmer Co-ops Called On to Blunt the Overreach of Government, NCFC President SaysWed, 07 May 2014 15:30:27 CDT
Farmers cooperatives are a tremendously diverse set of businesses dealing with everything from fuel to grain to blue jeans. But, says National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President Chuck Conner, in survey after survey, they all have one thing in common.
“One thing unifies co-ops and our farmer members of all sizes and all regions of the country and that is overregulation. Those surveys come back, every one of them, number one priority: ‘Do something about the overreach of government.’ And there’s no better example of that overreach than this Waters of the U.S. issue that the EPA is working on.”
He recently spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays in Washington, D.C. (You can listen to the complete interview by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.) Conner also served as the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in the George W. Bush administration. He said that his group would like to see EPA bureaucrats scrap their current proposed rule and go back to the drawing board.
“They are headed down a path where we believe more and more farms and ranches in this country are going to be drawn into this notion of having to get approvals before going to the field and applying fertilizers or herbicides. Imagine the notion of having to get EPA to act on a permit before you could possibly go and make a decision on what to put on that field. The weather’s coming in, the weather’s changing, you’re dealing with a by-the-minute sort of thing and the EPA, you know, they deal in years.”
Conner said he believes it is not currently possible to derail the EPA legislatively on this issue, “And, so, we have to work with the EPA to try and fix this. Agriculture is pretty united on this-asking for the fix. So, you know, we hold out some optimism that we can get some additional changes made.”
On the issue of genetically-modified crops and calls in many states for legislators to enact mandatory labeling laws, Conner said it is time for Congress to take action.
“We’re strongly in favor of a bill that was introduced by Congressman Pompeyo of Kansas that would establish national standards for the labeling of genetically-modified organisms-GMOs. And we are supportive of that bill and we think it would go a long way towards doing two things: First, creating a science-based regulatory structure in Washington with the emphasis on science based. These are decisions that can’t be based on some activist’s trend out there or a consumer whim that may be going on.”
Conner said that food activists want to fight state by state to regulate farm policy and it makes more sense to preserve the federal government’s role in regulating interstate commerce. He says he believes farmers cooperatives should have a role to play in educating the public on these issues.
“We have a tendency to be pretty independent in American agriculture. We want to be left alone, sort of free to do our thing. The days of being able to do that are probably getting pretty limited and we need to do a better job of telling that story.”
He said it is incumbent upon everyone in the agricultural industry to take seriously their responsibility to provide accurate information to consumers.
“ They have proven they will find a place to get information. Whether it’s right or wrong, they will find information. So, we have got to make sure that they have access to the right information that is scientifically validated.”
Conner said he sees expanded roles for co-ops in international marketing for their members and in the provision of information not only to consumers, but to producers as well.
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