Potato D.C. Fly-In postmortem
Between Feb. 22 and Feb. 25, the National Potato Council (NPC) hosted the 2016 Potato D.C. Fly-In. More than 130 U.S. potato growers and industry partners came to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the industry’s most pressing federal policy priorities. Growers blanketed Capitol Hill and met with federal regulators at USDA and EPA. During their visits, growers urged Congress and agency officials to address key industry issues, including the Potato Research Special Grant, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Voluntary GMO labeling, pollinator health, and the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.
Potato Research Special Grant funding: For more than 25 years, NPC has worked with Congress to secure these grants. Last year, the potato industry received $2 million in funding, which was roughly a 30 percent increase over FY2015 funding. Growers reported that their lawmakers were receptive and eager to continue the funding at the $2 million level for FY2017.
TPP: The Obama administration is seeking approval from Congress for TPP, an Asia-Pacific regional free trade agreement with 11 other countries. The agreement will give the potato industry the ability to be more competitive by eliminating tariffs in key markets where U.S. exports are valued at $1.05 billion. Although there are some doubts that this bill will be voted on by the end of the 114th Congress, NPC believes that the interaction between growers and lawmakers increases the chances of it happening.
Voluntary GMO labeling: Fly-In attendees did an effective job of communicating their concerns over the effects of state-mandated food labeling regulations. Growers told their elected representatives that genetically modified foods are as safe for consumers and the environment as conventionally grown food, and that a patchwork of state laws will cost American families hundreds of dollars for groceries each year. NPC believes that this message was heard loud and clear, and will encourage Republicans and Democrats to work out a compromise that will establish federal preemption for food labeling. Vermont’s mandatory labeling law could go into effect in July, unless Congress passes a national labeling law.
Pollinator health: EPA is being urged by environmental activists to limit the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture, claiming that they are responsible for declining health in pollinators. Neonicotinoids are a valuable pesticide tool for potato growers, and restricting them could bring negative impacts to grower operations. The scientific community has reviewed extensive studies carried out by registrants on possible impacts on pollinators, and there is no scientific evidence, when used according to the label, that they pose a threat to the bee population. Potato growers noted this fact to EPA officials, and said that the biggest threats were coming from other areas such as habitat conditions and the varroa mite. The EPA is evaluating study data. We believe that grower participation will help inform the agency’s deliberations.
WOTUS: In March 2014, EPA revised the definition of what constitutes the federal jurisdiction over waters of the U.S. (WOTUS). The new WOTUS rule is the subject of litigation seeking to vacate it. At a meeting with EPA officials, growers expressed concerns that the new rule will subject additional areas of their farms to regulation by the federal government. EPA officials believe that the exemptions contained in the rule for normal farming practices will protect farming operations. Both the court challenges initiated by agriculture interests and the interest in Congress to void the WOTUS rule indicate that many do not agree with EPA’s position.