Big Issues Loom in 2014

Elections, trade and food labeling top agenda

Published in the March 2014 Issue Published online: Mar 14, 2014 Luther Markwart
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Farm bill: As of late January, all signs are that the conference report will finally be completed, approved by both houses and signed by the president in early February— well beyond its “due date.”

The depth and length of the labor pains of birthing this bill have been excruciatingly difficult. Sugar policy is unchanged from the provisions in the 2008 farm bill. Once this legislative process is completed, the next step is to defend sugar policy from attempts by our opponents to try to erode various provisions on other bills that will move through Congress in 2014. You have seen how this Congress operates, and it is an election year, so we have to be on our toes all of the time.

Beet grower leaders will be in Washington in late February and early March to walk the halls of Congress. Thank all of those members and staff who have supported us, and learn and address the concerns of those who oppose us. We will also set the record straight and inform them of the collapse of the market due to Mexican imports, which have given sugar users prices that existed in the 1980s.

The 2014 election season is well under way, with primaries beginning in Texas on March 4 and ending with four eastern states on Sept. 9. Throughout this period, we willbe meeting with many new congressional candidates who are running to fill at least 39 open seats due to retiring members or those running for other offices. All of these candidates are introducing themselves to different industries and looking for financial support for their campaigns. These critically important opportunities to meet with the candidates are possible because of your generous support for your political action committees. Once again, I want to express our deepest gratitude for your commitment to this effort, because it is essential to explaining the importance of our industry and policy to prospective members. We will be tracking these races every day until Election Day.

Sugar markets, both domestic and global, remain very depressed. Everyone is focused on the mess created by Mexico’s exports to the U.S. over the past year that led to forfeitures in 2013. A great deal of work has been under way to look for solutions to address the Mexican problem. Some sugar loans come due as early as April this year, and we will be watching closely to see whether they are redeemed or the sugar is forfeited.

On the international trade front, the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations are now down to the most sensitive and toughest issues in order to conclude the free trade agreement. We are watching it every day, because whatever decisions are made have long-term implications for our industry and sugar policy. Providing more access to our sugar market when the market is already oversupplied poses a serious risk to our producers. Our negotiators understand that quite well.

Biotech: Perhaps one of the biggest battles in 2014 will be over food labeling for products containing ingredients from biotech crops.

There is a tremendous amount of activity at the state level that is driven by the anti-biotech community and the organic industry. There will be federal labeling legislation that will be supported or opposed by both the anti-biotech and the pro-biotech industries and commodity organizations. Sugar is unique in that the sugar is identical regardless of whether it is derived from a conventional or biotech crop. Anyone who talks or writes about our product needs to make that important distinction. You will hear much more about this debate as information becomes public and the debate heats up on both sides of the issue.

We are also very focused on Jackson County, Ore., where there is a ballot initiative to stop any production of biotech crops in the county. Strong support from the sugar industry is needed to fight back an effort that would have a direct impact on the industry’s seed production in Oregon. The write-in ballot process begins on May 6, so there will be a decision on this proposal by late May.

Internship: Intern applications for 2014 are to be received in our office by March 31. Applications can be found online at www.americansugarbeet.org.