Federal provision protects farmers

July 25, 2013 

If agriculture is the lifeblood of the Central Valley, Merced County is undoubtedly at the heart of it all. Both our economy and our lifestyle depend heavily on our local farming communities. It is for precisely this reason that it is necessary to pay attention to how our government is working with the agriculture industry.

Congress and the executive branch recently were able to work together to benefit family farmers here in California. President Barack Obama signed a budget amendment (Public Law 133-6) in 2013 and with it the inclusion of a small but incredibly crucial section known as the Farmer Assurance Provision. The provision gives farmers and the countless Central Valley workers employed in the ag industry the ability to protect our livelihoods — at least temporarily — from the seemingly endless onslaught of legal assaults mounted by opponents of biotechnology-improved crops.

Unfortunately, this vital protection is at risk of being repealed. The FAP is falsely labeled by anti-biotech activists as simply a safeguard for big corporations — going so far as to label it the "Monsanto Protection Act."

I'm here today to tell you the real group it protects is the American farmer. The FAP grants the USDA the ability to allow farmers to continue growing and harvesting their crops while "nuisance lawsuits" over regulatory technicalities and paperwork play out in the courts. Farmers are thus provided a guarantee through the provision that production may carry on as usual, only subject to appropriate interim conditions set by the government, while those disputes are resolved.

It is important to note that the FAP only applies to genetically enhanced seeds that have already received the approval of the USDA. Many don't know that for a company to get approval for a proposed biotech trait, they must jump through numerous government agency hoops, including rigorous scientific reviews and safety tests. An approval by the USDA is a certification of and testament to the produce's safety for both consumption and the environment.

Without the FAP in place, the threat of nuisance lawsuits is very real to American farmers. In 2010, a district court in Oregon ordered sugar beet farmers to pull their newly planted seed crops from the ground to comply with legal proceedings, but the order was successfully appealed and overturned. Had partial deregulation not been granted during the appeal process, 95 percent of the sugar beets in the country would have been in jeopardy — as well as the next year's production. The FAP protects farmers by ensuring that such actions don't occur in the first place.

For the reasons above, I believe the FAP is an altogether necessary provision for modern farmers and should not be repealed. A number of organizations with a keen interest in protecting farmers agree, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance and the national associations of wheat, cotton, sugar beet and corn growers. Former USDA Secretaries John Block and Mike Espy, and several state secretaries and commissioners of agriculture, are also on board.

Their reasoning is simple and applies directly to farmers like myself: Biotechnology- enhanced seeds are the way of the future and are responsible for producing the reliable, high quality food U.S. farmers are known for — for example, more than 88 percent of corn, 94 percent of soybeans and 90 percent of cotton crops have been improved by biotechnology to be resistant to disease, pests, herbicides, drought, etc. Keeping this in mind, the FAP is extremely important to our farmers, our food supply and our economy.

Opponents of biotechnology-enhanced crops have the right to express their opinion regarding the FAP, but they should not prevail in pressuring our representatives by drumming up negative and false press.

The political grandstanding of these activists is not without cost and these lawsuits have real-world effects. We cannot allow farmers to suffer at the hands of those who stand to benefit from senseless litigation. Support your fellow farmer and our way of life by educating yourself on the facts of this issue and encouraging our representatives in Congress to oppose any effort to repeal the FAP.

Merced's farms depend on it.

Michael is vice president of Bowles Farming Co. in Los Banos and a great-great-great grandson of Henry Miller, a pioneering Los Banos farmer.

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