JEFFERSON, Ohio – The Ashtabula County Farmers Union marked National Agriculture Week with a roundtable discussion with legislators, exchanging information on issues affecting area farmers.
Local, state and national officials were present, including John Stevenson, representing U.S. Sen. George Voinovich; state Sen. Marc Dann; state Rep. George Distel; county treasurer Robert Harvey and county commissioner Joseph Moroski.
Dann and Distal, who each serve on their respective ag committees, have worked closely with the local Farmers Union members. Dann, who received the state Farmers Union Legislator of the Year award, called the group “kindred spirits.”
Trade talk. Much of the roundtable concerned international trade, a topic Farmers Union president Bryan Wolfe called “probably the most important issue facing agriculture.”
Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan said the farm group grades trade proposals against three measuring sticks.
First, is there a mechanism to equalize currency between nations.
Second, does the agreement acknowledge existing environmental or regulatory block to freer trade. Logan explained that other countries use farm products or crop protection products that are prohibited in the United States.
“We can’t erect barriers here because it is authorized in that country,” Logan said, even those use of that product is deemed unsafe or illegal in the United States.
And third, Logan said the farm group said a successful agreement must remove inequities as far as labor standards.
Marie Wilkinson, from the Ohio Conference on Fair Trade, also spoke in opposition to free trade agreements, particularly the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, currently in negotiations.
Philosophical split. The Democratic legislators, Dann and Distel, agreed with much of the farm group’s trade stance.
“We’ve got to protect our country from free trade,” Dann declared.
On issues of international trade, however, the Voinovich corner was the Republican, free trade minority of the roundtable crowd.
Labeling issue. The Farmers Union speakers and a representative from Public Citizen’s Washington office also urged implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling.
“The federal government clearly isn’t listening to constituents,” Logan said, citing a study that found 82 percent of consumers support country-of-origin labeling.
An eye on CME. The Farmers Union is also urging its members and legislators to take a closer look at action on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and is participating in a bus trip to Chicago April 18 to protest the way cheese is priced on the exchange.
“This is not a transparent market,” Logan explained, because of the small number of buyers and sellers, and its cash market format.
The farm group said the current system sets the stage where a few players can manipulate the marketplace, which ultimately affects all dairy prices.
“It begs for oversight,” he added, but if there’s no oversight provided, “let’s uncouple the CME and the federal dairy price.”
Asking for support. Representatives of the local Farmers Union met with county commissioners earlier in the week.
According to member Bryan Wolfe, the farmers sought the commission’s support on several items, including a push for mandatory country-of-origin labeling.
The farmers also asked for support for state-level milk protein concentrate labeling; support for H.R. 521, a federal proposal to impose tariff-rate quotas on certain casein and milk protein concentrates, or MPCs; and support for a petition before the Food and Drug Administration regarding MPC.
The commissioners took no action, pending further review.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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