April 2016
Strength in Numbers By Bill Schaefer

A shroud of scaffolding covers the Capitol Dome these days, as one of the world’s most iconic symbols of democracy undergoes a $60 million renovation. Under the towering presence of the Capitol, advocates for the potato industry came to Washington, D.C., for the National Potato Council’s (NPC) 2016 Potato D.C. Fly-In.

More than 130 people, including 22 from the Potato Industry Leadership Institute, flew or drove to the nation’s capital to attend the Fly-In, from Feb. 22 to Feb. 25.
On Monday evening, Howard Fineman, NBC/MSNBC political analyst, kicked off the Fly-In with a serious and entertaining review of the presidential campaigns of both political parties, and the ongoing political paralysis between the president and Congress.

Tuesday morning started off with National Public Radio’s national correspondent Mara Liasson followed by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard news magazine, analyzing and handicapping the presidential campaigns of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Following Hayes, EPA administrator Jim Jones presented his agency’s positions on organophosphates, worker protection standards and accusations by the agricultural industry that EPA has abandoned sound science in its regulatory efforts.

The way I hear it framed is, ‘we’ve abandoned science in our program,'” Jones said. “You don’t need to believe me, but I’m here to tell you science is the foundation upon which our program is built. Science and the rule of law, that’s how we make these decisions.”

Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for Western Growers, spoke on Western water issues.

Journalist Nina Teichart, author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” spoke on the many myths on nutrition and diet perpetrated by bad science and USDA.

The afternoon speakers included Wisconsin Congressman Reid Ribble. Keeping to a campaign pledge of self-imposed term limits, Ribble is retiring after three terms in Congress. He has sponsored legislation to increase weight limitations on the interstate highway system.

Ribble applauded the efforts of those coming to the Fly-In, but told the audience that the industry needed even more people coming to Washington to lobby for potatoes and coordinate with other food groups.

“The more of your members that you can get to come here, the more powerful and louder your voice will be,” Ribble said. “Numbers matter, and I would encourage you to the degree that is possible within an industry of this size to get people to come here.”

Randy Russell, president of the Russell Group, updated the audience on efforts to get a GMO voluntary labeling law through Congress. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I have to tell you that this has been one of the most difficult issues that I’ve ever worked on,” Russell said.

With Vermont’s law requiring mandatory labeling of GMO food, with exemptions for dairy, maple syrup and restaurant food, set to take effect on July 1, Russell said that without federal legislation preempting the Vermont law, the cost of food would increase and the number of products offered would decrease in that state.

“We need preemption; you can’t have a Vermont law,” Russell said. “Picture this, a state with less than 625,000 people is on the verge of dictating federal labeling policy for 317 million people.”

Wednesday began with steadyrain showers and ended with a torrential downpour, a tornado warning and flashes of lightning across the night sky. Between that time, Fly-in attendees armed with position papers on the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement; EPA policy issues on pesticides, pollinator health and Worker Safety Protection; GMO labeling and potato research special grants, spent the day walking between the six congressional office buildings meeting with senators, representatives and legislative aides.

The Maine delegation, led by Don Flannery and Tim Hobbs of the Maine Potato Board, began the day at 9 a.m. standing in the rain outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building to see Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King.

Across the Capitol, in the Rayburn House Office Building, at 11:30 a.m., an Idaho delegation of more than 20 people crowded into Rep. Mike Simpson’s office to spend an hour talking about potatoes and politics.

An hour later, in the Cannon House Office Building, the compact New York delegation of Melanie Wickham, executive director of the Empire State Potato Growers, and Gary Mahany and his son, Brian Mahany, were meeting with Rep. Richard Hanna’s legislative assistant Derek Judd in a secluded corner.

At the same time, just down the hallway, members of the Wisconsin delegation were meeting with Sydney Terry, the senior legislative assistant for Rep. Mark Pocan.

Throughout the day, delegations would run into one another in the office hallways, the cafeterias or the basement tunnels that linked the House office buildings. The day didn’t conclude for the Washington delegation until after 6 p.m. with a meeting with Sen. Maria Cantwell.

The Michigan delegation, led by Mike Wenkel, executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, continued into the evening with a tour of the Capitol led by Rep. John Moolenaar and his staff. Their day on Capitol Hill ended a little after 9 p.m.

To see photos from the 2016 Potato D.C. Fly-In, click here.

75 Applewood Dr. Ste. A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345


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