Sugarbeet grower leaders from across the country are gathering in Scottsdale, Ariz., in early February to discuss the broad variety of policy and regulatory issues our industry faces in 2016 and finalize our strategies to successfully address each of them.
GMO Labeling -- At the top of our agenda is the GMO labeling issue that was not resolved last year. Everyone knows that a solution is needed very early this year to preempt the Vermont mandatory labeling requirement that goes into effect on July 1, 2016. USDA Secretary Vilsack and congressional leaders on the House and Senate agriculture committees are working hard with the opposing sides of the issue to find a solution that will gain enough support so it moves through Congress as soon as possible. Proponents of mandatory labeling have little incentive to make any compromises because the Vermont law forces food companies to conform to the law in that area of the country.
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The delay in the passage of a labeling bill has caused food manufacturers to take various positions as to how they will manage this issue with their customers. Most major food companies are looking to provide transparency and disclosure of any GMO ingredients in their “Smartlabel ™,” which is a “Quick Response” or “QR” code, or even a bar code on the package. Smaller companies could use a website or 1-800 number to provide information. This would provide the consumer with his/her “right to know” if the product contained any ingredients from biotech crops without disparaging the product through the use of words or symbols.
One major soup company has decided to voluntarily indicate the presence of GMO ingredients on the label. The problem with that is there is no additional information to inform the consumer that GM ingredients are equivalent to ingredients from conventionally grown crops. It fails to give proper context to the words on the label. Some companies are reformulating or sourcing non-GMO ingredients for their products to avoid labeling. The point is that there will be a good deal of turbulence until a resolution brings stability and certainty to the issue.
The additional problem is that if non-labeled products are still on store shelves on July 1, stores will ask companies in the supply chain to recall their products in order to legally comply with the Vermont law. Labeling decisions have to be made now in order for all the non-labeled stock to clear out before July 1 to comply with the law.
This is just one of the reasons why this issue should have been resolved last year to avoid chaos in the marketplace. Government leaders know the urgency of the matter and simply must make decisions soon to move the process forward. We will have much more clarity in the weeks to come, so watch this debate closely.
Mexico -- While our suspension agreements are in place and the markets have stabilized, there are still many outstanding policy management and compliance issues that have to be overseen and perfected to assure that the agreements work as intended. We always must remember that we work in an ever-changing environment and are dealing with crops and markets that change from one month to the next, depending on many weather and other production and consumption factors. Collecting accurate and complete information in a timely manner is critically important to making sure that the agreements operate as intended.
Much of this work is very technical, and we appreciate those in the industry and government who are working together to get the job done. Solutions are not always easy or quick, so we must patiently strive to get the best results possible.
Sugar Policy -- We fully expect attacks to be made on our policy THE SUGARBEET GROWER February 2016 11 again this year. Numerous opponents of the program are in re-election mode and want to show sugar-using constituents back home that they continue to lead the charge against sugar policy. We meet with members of Congress and staff on a regular basis. Your grower leaders will welcome and join Louisiana cane growers in making more than 300 congressional visits in late February and early March. They will make it clear that any attempt to harm sugar policy should be strongly rejected.
Grower leaders will go through special training and education in Scottsdale to make sure that we are making the most effective presentations in defense of sugar policy. We will also be meeting with candidates who are vieing for open seats in the coming months to understand their views on our issues well before the November elections.
Primaries -- February 1 begins the process of sorting out the candidates for Congress and the White House, which effectively becomes a demolition derby among the various opponents. It will be very interesting to see whether the polling prior to voting will be an accurate indication of how voters will actually cast their votes. We are watching them closely to get a good feel for how politics are playing out at the state level, and will then focus intently on those who will face off in November. Suffice to say, it will be a very interesting year.
Congratulations to our 2014 summer intern Jacob Chisholm (Gary, Minn.) for being selected for a summer internship at the International Sugar Organization in London. This is both a high honor and a tremendous experience for a young leader in the world of sugar. The ISO executive director told me that Jake’s impressive resumé and the fact he worked at the ASGA created great anticipation by the ISO team to have Jake work on global economic sugar issues. We are proud to have been part of his career path.
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Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.