Iowa Farm Bureau members traveled to Washington, D.C., last week and might have given just the push Iowa congressmen needed to support the passage of the biotech labeling bill.
The House passed the biotech labeling bill on Thursday last week, just one day after Farm Bureau members met with Congressmen Rod Blum, David Young, Steve King and Dave Loebsack in their offices on Capitol Hill. They also met with Sens. Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley.
All four of Iowa’s congressmen voted for the bill, which allows manufacturers to choose among three options for disclosing that a food product is genetically modified. Labeling options include text on the packaging, a symbol or an electronic link that would direct consumers to a website for more information. Beef, pork, poultry, eggs wouldn’t be subject to labeling.
While the new legislation was a compromise to the first labeling bill, this bill preempts state-by-state labeling laws. This bill means that states wouldn’t be allowed to make their own laws concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like Vermont, which had passed its own labeling bill.
Farm Bureau supports biotechnology and opposes state-by-state labeling of food that contains GMO ingredients, farmers told representatives in Washington, D.C.
"In Vermont, they’ve pulled more than a couple thousand products from their shelves because of their labeling bill," Mary Van Zante, a cattle, corn and soybean farmer from Pella, told Loebsack. She mentioned that manufacturers are pulling their products out of stores in Vermont because it adds cost to print other labels for their products to comply with the state’s labeling bill.
The new bill preempts state-by-state labeling laws and creates a more uniform system, Van Zante said.
"To me, it seems like it’s a good compromise and a good start," Loebsack told members. He voted with a majority of House members to approve the bill.
A big trade opportunity
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an important opportunity for U.S. farmers, Farm Bureau members told their officials.
The TPP agreement is expected to increase cash receipts and net exports from Iowa by $632.8 million and $389.4 million per year, respectively. Increased marketing opportunities for Iowa’s farmers will add more than 2,940 jobs to the Iowa economy. Eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers on Iowa’s ag exports to TPP-partner countries will increase trade for a range of Iowa agricultural products, members said.
"As a pork producer, it’s the biggest trade opportunity ever for the U.S. pork industry," Mike Paustian, a pig farmer near Walcott, told Ernst. "If we don’t move forward, we’re going to get shut out. It’s the biggest thing we can do for the next generation, like my son and daughters if they choose to farm.
"The phasing out of these tariffs wouldn’t necessarily benefit me, but they would benefit my son and daughters should they decide to raise pigs."
Ernst told members that she isn’t as optimistic on the passage of the trade deal yet this year.
"What we see now is we have two likely nominees from the parties, neither of them supportive of TPP," Ernst said.
And since President Barack Obama has endorsed Hillary Clinton, who said she doesn’t support the agreement, it’s unlikely that he would work on TPP even during the lame duck session.
"I do support TPP. But we will have a lot of work with whoever the new president is to try to get them to agree to TPP because they would be signing off on it," Ernst said.
Export sales make an important contribution to Iowa’s farm economy and would expand market opportunities for Iowa’s farmers, members told their elected officials on Capitol Hill.
"It would bring a lot of added support for our low prices right now, and while we sit and wait, they’re working toward getting a partnership with other countries," Deanna Brennecke, a cattle farmer near Lineville, told Loebsack.
Farm safety net
Also on the Hill, farmers urged their lawmakers to vote against any attempt to reopen the farm bill. Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposes a $18 billion cut to the federal crop insurance program.
"Crop insurance is a huge risk management tool for us, plus bankers want to know what the coverage is before they consider loans," said Garry Rankin, a Taylor County Farm Bureau member from Bedford.
Grassley said he understood Rankin’s concern.
"Earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes and stuff like that—100 percent is paid for by the federal government. This is one of the few disaster risk management tools where the private citizen is contributing to it," Grassley said.
"So what’s the justification and equality of giving some people 100 percent because of a disaster that they don’t know anything about, just like you don’t have any control over the disaster that causes you to use crop insurance. And you’re paying premiums for it … so we ought to encourage risk management."
Farmers also told Iowa senators and congressmen to oppose the Clean Water Act and the Waters of the U.S. rule, which if upheld would affect 97 percent of Iowa.
"It would have a huge impact, and people have no clue as to how it would affect their daily lives," Neil Shaffer, a dairy farmer from Lime Springs told Blum.
Shaffer, who also works for the Howard Soil and Water Conservation District, said WOTUS would slow conservation efforts in the state and prevent farmers and even his district from implementing conservation practices due to costly permits.
Trips like these are important, said Kevin Kuhle, national policy advisor for the Iowa Farm Bureau.
"We appreciate farmers taking time away from their operations to tell their story on Capitol Hill. Our farmers understand how policies affect their farms, and it’s important that our senators and congressmen hear from their constituents," Kuhle said.
Farmers recognize the importance of their lobbying efforts and Hill visits in Washington, D.C.
"It’s important to get our point of view across. Farmers on a large part haven’t. We’re busy and don’t engage, and that’s been a mistake. We’re all going to have to get more engaged in this process to have an influence," said Richard Kuntz, a Lee County Farm Bureau member and farmer near Wever.
"If we don’t take time to show up here and say, ‘Hey, this is what you’re going to be voting on, this is how it’s going to affect me on my farm,’ then they don’t know," Paustian said. "It’s a lot easier to pass rules when you don’t really have to deal with the consequences of it. So if you can tell your story and what the consequences would be on the farm, that makes it a little more personal."
Title Photo Caption: Butler County Farm Bureau member Dale Boelman thanks Sen. Joni Ernst for her support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and her fight against the Waters of the U.S. rule during a visit last week to Washington, D.C.