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Protecting agriculture is critical to national security


Issue Date: May 5, 2004

In the wake of events on Sept. 11, 2001, our country has stiffened its response to terrorism, and it has taken steps to prevent future assaults on Americans and their freedom. The Bush administration, in examining critical infrastructure needs in the U.S., has identified agriculture as vital for food production, and it has placed a priority on keeping this sector strong in the future.

In its February 2003 report, "National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets," the administration states that agriculture and food systems "are a source of essential commodities in the U.S., and they account for close to one-fifth of the Gross Domestic Product."

This week, a group of Farm Bureau leaders from California visited Capitol Hill to enforce the message that agriculture is a vital contributor to national security. Members of Congress can play a supportive role to help address threats like bioterrorism, exotic pests, the spread of disease and the cumulative impact of regulations on family farmers and ranchers. Every vote in Congress-whether it concerns endangered species, labor, water, taxes or trade-can be a vote to help or hurt farmers and our national security.

This week, our delegation focused on additional funding for border security to help prevent disease outbreaks that threaten our food supply. We also supported country-of-origin labeling as a way to inform consumers about their food choices and to help our farmers compete more equitably in the global marketplace. And we delivered important messages that farmers are under siege from costly regulations.

In an election year, much attention will be focused on the economy. We think the farm economy deserves to be front and center as a significant issue. Candidates who support national security should support farm security.

California agriculture supports more than 1 million jobs and a significant portion of the Gross State Product. It is a major contributor to the rest of the nation by virtue of our position as the top farm state, which provides more than half of the country's fruits, vegetables and nuts.

If anyone doubts the impact of government regulations on agriculture, they only need to look at the state's timber business. Over the years, environmental regulations have cut a path through the heart of California's vital timber sector. Today, mills have closed, people are out of work, communities are suffering, and there is a greater reliance on imported lumber. And, the threat of catastrophic wildfire in our forestlands has never been greater.

A recent report by the Property and Environment Research Center found that government agencies have underestimated the cost of regulations to protect endangered species by billions of dollars. Too often the intended benefits of regulations fail to materialize and government wastes money and misplaces priorities.

This week, we told members of Congress that they should refrain from supporting legislation that does not rely on incentives to meet environmental objectives. Laws passed by Congress often become mandates for states to implement. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, states pay nearly $30 billion in unfunded costs each year to implement federal programs. So when the state is on the ropes financially and trying to comply with these mandates, it cuts programs and services, including ones that are vital to agriculture. It makes no sense.

The government's report on critical infrastructures and key assets indicates that "agriculture and food markets are highly competitive, and many parts of the food system operate within slim margins." Family farms in California cannot continue to operate and contribute to the national security without a lot more support from elected leaders, especially those in urban areas who may not see farmers as constituents.

It's time for Congress to work better to help maintain a healthy economy and to secure our critical infrastructure role for the United States. That's an issue that should be a high priority-in an election year or not.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item. (Top)






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