by Steve Wagner
At the 45th Cattle Feeder’s Day held at Lancaster, PA’s Farm and Home Center on Jan. 28, Penn State Extension Veterinarian Dr. Dave Wolfgang fielded questions at the end of his presentation on wise use of antibiotics. In his talk, he referenced what he called a new era of regulation. Because some farmers see regulation as the enemy or as over-regulation or even regulatory over-reach, Wolfgang went on the record as saying that exacting records keeping can only protect the farmer.
“It will be required that we need to have some way to document when animals are treated, who did it, and whether or not to keep the residues out,” Wolfgang said. “Having such records will be better for you because if the FDA comes calling, you’ll have to have a written record to document that. If you don’t have a written record, they will assume whatever they want to assume, and you’re guilty. We are in the era when the public will demand no antibiotics, and that everything be 100 percent natural. Anything to do with food safety or food quality or nutrition will find people making wise choices based on perception.”
A few years ago the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau joined the American Farm Bureau in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over what they deemed excessive regulations. “Farmers are telling us that one of the biggest areas of concern is over-regulation,” said to Mark O’Neill, PFB’s media relations director. “A related concern for farmers is the question ‘are my children going to want to continue farming because of the headaches caused by over-regulation?’ All regulations are not bad. A lot of regulations currently on the books have had input from the farm community. But there are always consequences that people don’t think about when new regulations are introduced. Regulations in and of themselves are not bad. The issue is regulations that just increase paperwork and do nothing else; they don’t change an issue, they don’t change a problem, they don’t make anything better. They only make farmers fill out permits, pay money, and spend time filling out paperwork. I think the goal of regulations should be to make improvements but also take into account the real world as well.”
The court ruled against Farm Bureau but the argument isn’t over.
“We’re appealing it,” said O’Neill. “The court ruled against the Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania farmers and farmers in the whole Chesapeake Bay region.”
O’Neill added that the decision doesn’t do anything to improve the bay. It doesn’t take into account how it will affect farmers or businesses or communities. PFB feels that the ruling gave every benefit of the doubt to EPA. “We are hopeful that at the higher court level there will be things looked at that will change the tide on this. If you read the laws, the actions by EPA does exceed their authority which is granted by Congress under the Clean Water Act. If EPA wants to change the power they are invoking as part of this whole thing, then they need Congress to give them the power to do it.
“Anyone who wants to build a building in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, or anyone who wants to make any changes to their operations, has things to consider,” O’Neill continued to explain. “Part of [the EPA’s] whole plan was that in the bay watershed, tens of thousands of acres of land have to grow trees and not crops. How do they go about implementing that? What power do they have? Can they go into a farm and say ‘hey! You can’t grow corn there anymore; you have to plant trees’? Do they have that power? Those are questions that need to be addressed.”
“Agriculture in Pennsylvania is heavily regulated. If you go to PDA and ask for a list of all the regulations that farmers have to abide by, and also ask for federal regulations at that level, it’s a heavily regulated industry to begin with. A lot of people in the general public are not aware of that. There are many things in terms of food safety as well as environmental, reducing the possibility of soil erosion, and things like that that are already on the books that farmers deal with. Farmers care about the environment a lot more than people think. Obviously, if they’re losing their soil, they’re going to be in big trouble. They won’t have anything to grow.
Also,” O’Neill concluded, “the idea that farmers only care about making money or only care about their business and don’t care about the environment is completely untrue.”
“In this day and age there clearly is a much better awareness of issues and shared information,” says Penn-Ag Industries Executive Vice President Chris Herr. “With a powerful vocal minority and the ability to move information, I think there is going to be more scrutiny of agriculture and regulation of it. We’ve already seen that with FDA and the Food Safety Modernization Act and people trying to figure out what that means. What are the standards the federal government is going to require with everything from produce to animal feed? It’s an era I don’t think will end anytime soon. It will probably force agriculture to continue to evolve and maybe change some of its practices.”
by Steve Wagner