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NFU Applauds Administration on Step Towards Normalized Relations with Cuba PDF Print E-mail

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 17, 2014

Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202-314-3106
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WASHINGTON (Dec. 17, 2014) – National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson applauded the Obama administration on the important steps announced today to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba.

“NFU has worked hard over the last five years to push for a normalization of relations with Cuba,” said Johnson. “Acknowledging that Cuba is one of our closest neighbors and a potentially valuable trading partner, and allowing the relationships between the two nations and its citizens to renew and blossom is good for both nations,” he said.

The administration’s announcement noted that decades of isolation have failed to accomplish the U.S. goals of promoting a democratic and prosperous Cuba. Under the agreement announced today, the U.S. Commerce Department will ease the financial regulations on U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba as part of a normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations.

Johnson pointed out that the embargo against Cuba had been going on longer than forty years with little to show for it. “The Obama administration’s announcement will not only help the people of Cuba – who clearly need economic development – but will also open new markets for U.S. family farmers, who are always interested in new trade opportunities,” he said.  

Johnson noted that over the last five years, NFU has sent at least 20 letters addressing normalized travel and trade with Cuba. “The Cuban embargo has made no sense for a long time,” said Johnson. 

National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.

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NFU Strongly Objects to Anti-Family Farmer Provisions Snuck Into Appropriations Bill PDF Print E-mail

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Dec. 10, 2014)

Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202-314-3106
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WASHINGTON (Dec. 10, 2014) – National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson and United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) President Danni Beer today sent a letter to the House and Senate leaders strongly objecting to three anti-family farmer and rancher provisions slipped into the 2015 Appropriations Act in the dark of the night, without a single congressional hearing or an ounce of public discussion. 

“NFU and USCA are very concerned that the report language included on Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) could be used as an opportunity to stop the appeals process at the World Trade Organization or re-open the legislation that mandated COOL, both of which are unacceptable,” notes the letter. “Congress should not intervene in the WTO process.”

Formally known as Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, the bills are being considered before both the House and the Senate this week. The joint letter points out that also hid inside the Act is a provision that orders the Secretary of Agriculture to refrain from implementing a reformed beef checkoff program, with the irony that the closing period on public comments for the beef checkoff is today. 

“National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is so fearful of losing its $40 million-plus revenue stream through the beef checkoff that it has lobbied for this language to be included in the report rather than allowing producers the ability to have their comments recognized and addressed through the commenting process. NCBA has lobbied Congress on a mandatory producer checkoff program that they control,” notes the letter. 

Also contained in the proposed Act is a legislative provision that prohibits the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) from implementing regulations on the livestock and poultry industry that would address an array of fraudulent, deceptive, anti-competitive and retaliatory practices.  

The letter points out that gutting the GIPSA law “would deny farmers protection from retaliation when they use their first amendment rights to speak with congressional representatives, deny them the right to a jury trial, and deny them the right to request information on how their pay is calculated. This provision is unconscionable.  Its inclusion in a funding bill is unacceptable to NFU’s and USCA’s members.”

“We strongly object to the use of the appropriations process as a mechanism to limit the secretary’s authority to uphold the COOL law, to respond to the dire need for reform of the beef checkoff, and to address anti-competitive market concerns.” 

Read the letters in their entirety here.

National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
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NFU Submits Beef Checkoff Comments; Urges Major and Immediate Reforms to Split Checkoff-Funded Organization from Lobbying Organization PDF Print E-mail

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Dec. 8, 2014)

Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202-314-3106
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WASHINGTON (Dec. 8, 2014) – National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture today urging major and immediate changes to the current beef checkoff program including a clear separation between any organization receiving checkoff funds and those that lobby. 

“NFU believes a very clear separation must exist between all taxpayer-supported, checkoff-funded organizations and related commodity organizations which advocate and lobby for policy positions. In the case of the beef checkoff, such a line of separation does not exist,” said Johnson. 

Johnson suggests that there should be a new beef checkoff program that, like every other checkoff program, is devoted to research and market development, but divorced from all political, policy advocating organizations. “Every other commodity checkoff program has separated the policy organization from the non-political, promotional entity. Under this popular model, checkoff dollars are used exclusively for research, market promotion and product improvement.”

Johnson points out that the beef checkoff is the only program that has failed to embrace this new paradigm, which has caused an enormous rift in the industry. “Ranchers dislike that their checkoff dollars are being controlled by a lobbying organization that is fighting against the very policies many of these ranchers support. All other commodity checkoff programs have gone to this model, and it is time for beef to follow suit,” he said.

Johnson notes that the current beef checkoff is controlled by National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), an organization that has “aggressively lobbied against a number of very important producer and consumer programs, frequently placing themselves in direct opposition to the very producers they purport to represent.”

Johnson says a long list of such examples abound, including NCBA’s aggressive opposition to Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) in court, at the World Trade Organization and in Congress; NCBA’s opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard; and NCBA’s opposition to the 2014 Farm Bill, including provisions written specifically to aid livestock producers suffering from disastrous, weather-related livestock losses. “Such actions undermine producer confidence in the check-off program because cattle producers know that NCBA also controls the check-off program, which is required to operate in a strictly non-political, independent fashion,” he said.

Johnson points out that the current beef checkoff program is inflexible and unable to adapt to effectively market U.S. beef domestically and internationally. “While the checkoff has remained unchanged for the past 30 years, the beef industry has experienced many changes. The current checkoff program does not have sufficient flexibility to address industry changes such as changes in purchasing trends, demographics, or production systems,” he said.

Johnson notes that NFU supports voluntary checkoff programs that safeguard the interests of family farmers. The following conditions were adopted by delegates at NFU’s most recent national convention:

  • Control of the program is held by producers who are actively involved in production agriculture; 
  • Promotion of exclusively domestic product;
  • Exclusion of processors from positions of leadership and financial responsibility;
  • Review referendums executed by USDA every five years offering a program recall in the event of a simple majority vote; and
  • Prohibition preventing assessment funds from going to organizations engaged in lobbying.

NFU has a significant number of members who produce dairy and beef cattle, making this issue extremely important to both the organization and the family farmers it represents.

Read the comments in their entirety here.

National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
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Coast-to-Coast Coalition Urges Congress to Reject Changes to Country of Origin Labels in Budget Battle PDF Print E-mail

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 2, 2014

Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch: (202) 683-4905, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Andrew Jerome, National Farmers Union: (202) 314-3106, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Kevin Dowling, Western Organization of Resource Councils: (406) 252-9672, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Chris Waldrop, Consumer Federation of America: (202) 797-8551, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

More than 200 farm, consumer, rural, faith and other groups demand Congress to keep cool on COOL

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, a coalition of 207 farm, faith, environmental, labor, rural and consumer organizations delivered a letter to the Senate urging the legislators to reject any effort to repeal, rescind or weaken country of origin labeling (COOL) in any federal spending legislation.

“Congress needs to stay the course on COOL and leave it alone, especially now that the Obama administration has appealed the current decision to the WTO,” said Roger Johnson, President, National Farmers Union. “COOL has been embraced by consumers who want to know where their food comes from and by family farmers who are proud to provide that information.”

Congress enacted COOL in both the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills and chose to expand COOL coverage to additional products such as venison in the 2014 Farm Bill. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been considering a dispute over COOL since 2008. At each stage of the WTO dispute, the trade body has been increasingly receptive to the legitimacy of the COOL labels. The broad-based coalition of groups on the letter demonstrates the continued strong support for COOL from all sectors of the food system.

“U.S. consumers overwhelmingly support country of origin labeling,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “In fact, they want even more information about the source of their meat including where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Congress should not deny consumers this important information.”

COOL is being attacked by a coalition of special interests including the meat industry, food processing companies, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers that have pressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress to prematurely rescind or suspend COOL before the WTO dispute process has been completed.

“Congress should not unconditionally surrender to the special interest saber-rattling on COOL,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Congress should not short circuit the WTO process at the behest of the meatpackers and their special interest allies.”

Last week the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced it would appeal the most recent stage in the dispute, a move likely to extend the timeline of the dispute by many months. The signing organizations believe there are strong grounds for a successful appeal because the WTO overestimated the costs and underestimated the benefits of the labels. Further, the WTO inappropriately suggested that COOL caused declining livestock exports to the United States, but the economic downturn was a greater cause of the change in exports and in recent years exports have been soaring, even with COOL requirements in place. 

“As livestock producers and consumers, our members stand strong in our commitment to COOL and urgeour Congressional representatives to support the pending appeal and let the process proceed,” said Mabel Dobbs, a rancher from Weiser, Idaho, and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

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A copy of the letter is available here.

 
Agri-Pulse Guest Opinion: NFU Calls for a New Direction for the Beef Checkoff; Praises Secretary Vilsack for Seeking Public Comments PDF Print E-mail

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Dec. 1, 2014)

Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202-314-3106
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

WASHINGTON (Dec. 1, 2014) – National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson today called for a ‘new direction’ for the current beef checkoff program in an Agri-Pulse guest column, while also praising Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for seeking public comment on how to strengthen and modernize the outdated program.

“The checkoff program as we know it today has remained virtually unchanged for three decades while the world around it has morphed dramatically,” said Johnson. “This has raised serious doubts about the structure of the checkoff and whether it is capable of appropriately funding the much-needed research and exploring the new markets and new opportunities that the American beef industry so desperately needs. Clearly, the beef checkoff is in dire need of a major course correction.”

 Johnson noted that the current checkoff’s need for change stemmed from the fact that it is both underfunded and unacceptably inflexible. Johnson offered principles to guide adequate reform of the program under the Commodity, Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996.

“The modernized beef checkoff should be a single program, modeled after the 1996 Act,” said Johnson. “It would have a clear separation of the policy organization from the non-political, promotional checkoff entity… exclude processors and importers from positions of leadership, ensuring that beef producers are always at the helm… and be precluded from allocating a single dime to any organization engaged in lobbying.”

“The idea of bringing new ideas and much-needed change to the checkoff is nothing new, and in fact, organizations like NFU met for three years discussing a new direction,” noted Johnson. “But the meetings were a bridge to nowhere, because they were largely controlled by the organization that has a vested interest in making sure the current structure never changes. That organization, of course, is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).”

Johnson also noted that NCBA’s motivation for obstructing each and every idea should have been predictable, considering over 97 percent of all Beef Board contracts went to the NCBA, and the organization relies on the current program for a vast majority of its funding.

“NCBA regards the checkoff as its own personal financial trough and will do everything possible to cement that status into eternity,” said Johnson. “Clearly, NCBA wants to protect its turf and its income stream, but its days of living off the checkoff slush fund need to come to an end.”

Johnson commended Secretary Vilsack for stepping into the fractured discussions of the beef checkoff working group and allowing industry stakeholders to submit comments on ways the checkoff should be reformed.

“Finally, other voices and new ideas will be heard and given thoughtful consideration,” said Johnson. “Finally, after three long, frustrating years, meaningful structural change is actually a real possibility.

“The beauty of our democracy is that programs like the checkoff can be regularly scrutinized, fine-tuned or reformed. Recognizing that the success of the checkoff is an integral part of the success of rural America, let us work together to move this program forward. The promise of tomorrow relies on the changes of today.”

National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
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