By Kent Leonhardt, W. Va Commissioner of Agriculture
Last month, I was invited to a red-carpet premiere of a documentary by The Epoch Times, “No Farmers No Food: Will You Eat the Bugs?” The film highlights many of the regulations being imposed in Europe and other countries. Their systems of government allow leaders to impose harsh restrictions on their people and their industries. Agriculture systems and their management practices are the first to feel the impact.
Holland has mandated a reduction in cattle herds to reduce methane gas and the subsequent greenhouse gasses. Once the largest European exporter of food, we aren’t sure what the impact of this regulation will do to their beef economy, but we do know food production will decline in the region.
Leaders in Sri Lanka imposed restrictions on fertilizer use, causing an immediate 30% drop in paddy rice production. As a result, rice prices rose by 30%. The island nation of 22 million had to import food to make up for the shortfall and raise government support prices to farmers. The additional cost to the consumer hurt the poor exponentially more than the wealthy.
Fortunately, here in the United States, we have a better system of checks and balances on our government. However, we have seen abusive government programs and regulations in the U.S in the form of the onerous Waters of the U.S. case, local land use management dictated by federal mandates and nefarious members of the public, as well as other challenges to agriculture. When a U.S. President (Executive branch) or Congress (Legislative branch) mandate such changes, we immediately see court (Judicial branch) challenges and, hopefully, the edicts are halted as we sort through the legal system.
It is important for those of us in the agriculture community to fully understand what is going on with our government at all levels, and that includes YOU, because everyone has to eat. It’s the rule of cause and effect. When our government attempts to influence a segment of the economy, it impacts various other segments, usually with the opposite effect. As noted above, when excess money is added to the economy, inflation increases. We see that every day in the cost of energy, automobiles/equipment and farm supplies. Maybe, it’s easier to determine what hasn’t risen in price in the last three years!
Those who know me well know I am a proponent of “know your farmer, know your food.” I am also an advocate for shortening the distance from where our food supply is grown to where it is consumed. Rules that limit agriculture’s capacity to produce food, fiber or fuel limit the choices for the consumer, and it’s the consumers who suffer. Realistically, we will never grow 100% of our food locally, but we should continue to strive to build a local system that provides some of our staple foods.
Going forward, we must protect ourselves from over-regulation. That includes imposing standards or limiting tools that would hurt production without the science to back it up. Some regulations are necessary to control the dumping of unsafe food into our markets and keeping the playing field balanced and competitive. We are currently seeing apple concentrates from other countries impacting our fruit industry. We need to ensure these foods are tested and safe. Consumers expect a product sold at a retail store to be what it says it is on the label.
The U.S. is a big part of feeding the rest of the world. We all want a safe, affordable and abundant food supply. It’s a complex system. We must choose our paths wisely.