Reflecting on 2015 and looking ahead to 2016
The potato industry focused on several important public policy priorities in 2015. As you saw on the national news, it was a difficult year in Congress. Most of the significant decisions on budget and policy were lumped in a giant must-pass omnibus bill that Congress approved and the president signed in December, just before they left town. The potato industry, working with allies in various coalitions and our friends in the House and Senate, had our share of victories and some temporary setbacks.
While some priorities require more work this year, potato growers did achieve victories last year that will pay huge dividends for the grower community. The 2016 omnibus bill made the Section 179 expensing allowance permanent and extended the bonus depreciation options for three years. Small businesses can now expense rather than depreciate up to $500,000 of capital expenditures. The bipartisan bill increased National Institute of Food and Agriculture potato breeding research funding, which is a significant source of funding for breeding programs in all major production areas. The bill also repealed the country of origin labeling requirements on meat, which will prevent Canada and Mexico from imposing retaliatory tariffs sanctioned by the World Trade Organization. Potatoes and frozen potato products would have been a target in the retaliation had Congress not acted in our favor.
During the 114th Congress, potato growers, commodity groups and our food industry partners launched a major legislative effort to pass a voluntary federal food labeling bill that would preempt states from implementing individual food labeling requirements for GMO or other technology. Without federal law establishing FDA as the sole authority on food safety and food labeling, a patchwork of state labeling laws will disrupt commerce and send confusing messages to consumers. Activist groups bombarded Capitol Hill with emails and calls and placed television ads opposing federal voluntary labeling. The fight was really a struggle between those who choose to trust science and those who choose to ignore it. Even with FDA determining that GMOs don’t present greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding,” efforts continue to establish state food labeling laws that do nothing to protect consumers but increase the cost of food. The food industry effort was successful in passing a bill in the House but failed to get the Senate to debate a bill or to get language added to the omnibus. The pressure for Congress to establish federal primacy on food labeling will continue as the implementation date for state labeling laws nears.
Potato growers also showed their commitment to improving transportation efficiency by their work to pass legislation to provide states the option of increasing weight limits on federal highways. Department of Transportation studies and several pilot programs have clearly demonstrated that trucks weighing as much as 100,000 pounds, with the addition of a sixth axle, operate more safely, lower emissions and reduce road wear. A vote in the House to increase allowable truck weight limits to 93,000 pounds was unsuccessful. While we face strong opposition from the railroads, the data and the experience of other industrialized countries support the soundness of increasing truck weights. The potato industry remains committed to achieving that goal.
A new congressional calendar means new opportunities and new challenges. From Feb. 22-25, members of the potato industry will come to Washington, D.C., for the Potato D.C. Fly In. Come and represent the potato industry on Capitol Hill. Make the commitment to make a difference.
— John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO