Eleven Wisconsin Farmers Union members joined more than 150 farmers and ranchers from across the country in Washington, D.C., recently for the National Farmers Union's legislative fly-in.
"No one can tell our story better than our farmers. It is so much easier for members of Congress and their staff to relate to the stories they tell," says WFU President Sue Beitlich. "We knew there was only a few weeks left of this Congressional session but we also knew legislation would be worked on in the interim, so we wanted to voice our opinion on issues like proper implementation of COOL (country of origin labeling), suspension of the 10-acre rule, cap and trade and climate change."
Wisconsin farmers who participated in the fly-in thanked members of Congress for their strong support of the 2008 Farm Bill and urged them to hold the U.S. Department of Agriculture's feet to the fire so the law is implemented as intended.
Proper implementation of COOL was discussed with lawmakers. USDA has had discretion in defining "processed foods," and according to Farmers Union members, has stretched that definition to exclude more foods from being labeled.
"It is really important that consumers know where their food comes from and have a choice to make. I really believe that consumers will support U.S. producers. So it is important that USDA does not expand range of foods that are not labeled," says Sarah Lloyd, a WFU member from Wisconsin Dells who attended the fly-in.
Making a difference
Following the group's visit, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russ Feingold introduced legislation that would expand COOL to include dairy products.
Participants also set the record straight on the ongoing food vs. fuel debate and the effect rising energy prices have on the cost of food.
"We let our legislators know how much of the retail dollar farmers are actually receiving. A lot of the members of Congress and staff members we have met with are surprised that farmers are getting so little of the retail price for the food they produce," says Darin Von Ruden, WFU board member and farmer from Westby.
After the fly-in, Congress approved provisions to clarify language in the 2008 farm bill that will make it easier for producers to participate in the bill's disaster assistance program and temporarily suspend the bill's 10-acre provision, ensuring producers who qualify for farm programs will be able to participate.
Other topics discussed include rural access to quality healthcare, trade agreements that level the playing field for agriculture and the role for agriculture to play within climate change legislation that will likely be considered next year.
While in Washington, WFU members presented Golden Triangle Awards, the organization's highest legislative honor, to Senators. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, and Representatives Steve Kagen, and Dave Obey.