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December 07, 2009   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
December 07, 2009

Mark Maslyn says there are so many issues facing farmers today that they must get involved or lose the fight.
MOBILE, Ala. -- With America's farmers facing an "avalanche" of environmental legislation, huge budget deficits, food safety concerns and estate tax problems, Alabama's farm families were urged to make their voices heard Monday during the Alabama Farmers Federation's 88th annual meeting here.

"Don't ever be hesitant to get involved and let people know what you think. Become an influencer," Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy development for the American Farm Bureau Federation, told a packed room of Alabama farmers at the annual gathering of the state's largest farm organization.

"It's a relational business. It's who you know -- in a good way," Maslyn said. "You get to know these people; they get to know you. You respect them; they respect you. You help them; they help you. That's the way it is. It's your government, and these people represent you."

Maslyn touched on a variety of topics during a one-hour "Ag Issues Briefing" at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center. Citing projections of a $186 trillion budget deficit over the next decade, Maslyn put it this way: "Another way to look at it is as a one-handed budget because you can count it on one hand -- defense, social security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest for debt. Those things alone take almost everything that we take in, and that's what has a lot of people very concerned."

Another concern, Maslyn said, is food safety, and how media attention over such things as salmonella outbreaks is causing a push for greater scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration.

"There are 13 federal agencies that now have some jurisdiction over food safety," said Maslyn. "Most of the focus is on FDA right now, and some folks have concluded, after lots and lots of hearings, that the FDA doesn't have the legislative and regulatory authority to do some of the things it needs to do in the 21st century to keep up with the food we're sending all over this country and all over the globe."

But greater FDA regulation, Maslyn says, raises more questions. "Which facilities do we register? Do we register farms? Which kinds of farms? Do we register packinghouses? Do we register warehouses? What information, what crops or commodities do we have to keep records on? Grains or leafy greens? Do you have to report it to a government agency, and if you report it to a government agency, who has access to it? Lots and lots of questions have to be sorted out."

One of those questions, he says, is what happens if the FDA is wrong as it was a couple of years ago when tomatoes in salsa were blamed for a salmonella outbreak but peppers turned out to be the real culprit. "It knocked the bottom out of the tomato market -- people lost their shirts," Maslyn said. "So what happens when FDA gets it wrong? Is it just an 'Oops! I'm sorry!' or do they try to make somebody whole?'"

He also talked of an "avalanche" of environmental legislation that could seriously affect farmers, including the hotly contested climate change bill and an effort to expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act that could "roll back all those Supreme Court victories over the years."

The key, he said, is for farmers to remain vigilant and involved, educating the non-farming public of what is happening.

"So many of our opportunities come from people who don't know about agriculture, and they aren't just in the big cities," he said. "Your neighbors back home don't understand why you do what you do, the tools you use, why you use them, why the equipment has to be so big and why it has to go so slow down the road, why do we give antibiotics to our livestock. They need to understand that, and their susceptible and vulnerable to misinformation from people that have an alternative motive and an agenda. Get involved in telling that story."

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