GMO Labeling — The most important issue we are working on with great urgency is getting a GMO labeling bill through Congress. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) released a draft bill on Feb-ruary 19 and was scheduled to move it through the Ag Committee on February 25. We need to move the bill quickly in order to preempt the Vermont labeling law that goes into effect on July 1, 2016. Of course, food companies have to make labeling decisions months earlier so that all inventory in stores and distribution centers that do not have the proper required label can be rotated out — or face the threat of being sued. It is essential that Democrat sen-ators work with Sen. Roberts to fashion an acceptable bill that is long overdue and move it forward quickly.
In the U.S. beet sugar industry’s press statement in sup-port of the bill, we made the following points:
“GMOs have been proven safe by nearly 2,000 studies from the leading scientific bodies in the world, including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association,” said research agronomist Rebecca Larson (Ph.D.) of Denver, Colo. “It has been proven multiple times that in the processing of sugar from biotech sugarbeets, all of the protein and DNA is removed and the sugar is identi-cal to white sugar produced from conventional sugarbeets, sugarcane or organic sugarcane. They are all GMO free.”
GMOs help farmers use fewer, safer pesticides and less fuel, reduce greenhouse gasses, conserve water, and decrease soil erosion while producing higher yields on less land. Sugar beet farmers overwhelmingly elect to use GMO sugarbeets on their farms because the sugar is as pure and natural as it has always been, while achieving 25 environmental benefits.
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Unless Congress acts swiftly, families and food companies will face higher costs and chaos in the market. Multiple studies have shown that the costs associated with Vermont’s GMO labeling laws and a subsequent patchwork of state laws will cost American families hundreds of dollars more for their groceries each year — with low-income Americans being hit the hardest. “I’m a mother of three boys and a sugarbeet grower in the Red River Valley region of North Dakota and Minnesota. I am deeply concerned that these additional costs will harm vulnerable families across our nation who already struggle to manage their grocery bills. This technology is safe, and Congress needs to take action now,” said Laura Rutherford of Grafton, N.D.
“State labeling requirements like Vermont’s will cause huge and costly inefficiencies in the complex supply chain for our nation’s farmers and food producers. Many family-run businesses will simply be unable to navigate these new hurdles,” said Richard Gerstenberger, chairman of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association Biotechnology Committee and board chairman of Michigan Sugar Co.
We expect the debate to be contentious, and your voices need to be heard loud and clear. Let your senators and House members know how important it is to get this done. This is not something you leave for someone else to do. Follow the instructions that will be provided to you by your co-operative and growers association to push for passage of the bill. This issue will require our intense attention through-out the year. Once the bill is passed, there will be details to address in the regulations and implementation. As they say, “the devil is in the details,” and your industry leaders will be immersed in the details.
Primary Season -- March is a huge political month, with 37 states holding primaries or caucuses. At month’s end, the candidates and the path forward for both parties will have much greater clarity. We monitor any discussion or debate on farm policy or sugar policy which, frankly, should not even rise to the level of a presidential campaign.
I typically do not interject my views on individual candidates and simply let the process play out, unless there is a reason to comment out of professional obligation to growers when our industry or policy is blatantly attacked. Unfortunately, Sen. Ted Cruz has harshly and repeatedly attacked Sen. Rubio for his support of U.S. sugar policy, and has peddled false and misleading propaganda about our policy in his attack advertisements to the voting public. I will be perfectly clear in case anyone has missed it: Sen. Cruz is absolutely no friend of American agriculture. It is safe to say there has been no presidential primary season to match what we have witnessed for the past several months, and it will be further clarified and defined in the weeks ahead.
2016 ASGA Annual Meeting -- Our annual meeting was a tremendous success, with great educational opportunities for attendees to learn more about the key issues we face and what we are doing to address them. In the history of our organization, we have never had to turn people away from an annual meeting until this year. Given the great lo-cation, wonderful weather and wonderful program, we hit our maximum capacity and literally could not accommodate those who wanted to attend at the last minute. We want to do everything we can to avoid that problem. So please make a note to check our website in November and register early to make sure you can attend our 2017 meeting. If we do not have your registration in hand at least two weeks prior to the meeting, there is no guarantee that we can accommodate you, and we all want to avoid that situation. Next year’s meeting will be in Miami on January 29-31.
We want to congratulate our new officers: President Galen Lee, President (Nyssa-Nampa, Amalgamated Sugar); Vice President Richard Gerstenberger (Michigan Sugar); and Treasurer Pat Freese (Minn-Dak Farmers Co-op), and all of our new directors. Our new team is in place and doing a great job. We are blessed to have such a big pool of strong leaders for our organization. Finally, a special thanks from the Markwart family for the wonderful tribute by President Snyder to our three generations of commitment to the beet sugar industry.
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Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.