WASHINGTON, June 11, 2014 – National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) members came to Capitol Hill this week to deliver their policy priorities to Congress, including immigration reform, resisting patchwork state labeling laws for products made with genetically modified organisms and relief from certain government regulations, particularly the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.”
Beyond the immediate policy priorities, NCFC President Chuck Conner emphasized to his members that the organization needs to “represent all aspects of agriculture today,” especially by attracting the so-called Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000.
“The winners and losers of the next elections will be those getting the Millennial voters out,” Conner said. “We’ve got to show we are inclusive.”
Before introducing speaker Sam Kass, White House senior policy adviser for nutrition policy and the executive mansion’s former assistant chef, Conner said today’s politics require farmer cooperatives to gain support from every branch of government. “Gone are the days when you just need your guy on the Ag Committee,” he said. “It’s also not just about USDA…We need a close working relationship with everyone, including the White House chef.”
Kass told attendees at the NCFC’s Washington conference that the government’s school nutrition standards, designed to reduce obesity levels in children, are working. “The last thing we can afford to do right now is roll back these standards,” he said, a reference to efforts by House Republicans to allow some school districts to seek waivers from compliance with the standards.
He also outlined White House efforts to redirect private companies’ food marketing efforts, which he said too often promote junk food. He noted that Sesame Street recently committed to offering its characters to fruit and vegetable companies to market their products for two years.
“There are few organizations with the perspective from seed to plate that you have,” Kass told the NCFC members. “I want to count on the leadership in this room to figure out what it is we can do together to get healthier food on peoples’ plates.”
“We have to grow what people want to eat, but we can work together to push consumers toward these choices to ultimately grow healthier food,” Kass said.
Questioned about his stance on the debates surrounding genetically modified crops and food, he said there is “room for diversity” in the food system. However, he added what appeared to be a shift in his perspective in favor of GMO traits: “As climate change starts to take more of an effect, I think this debate is naturally going to shift. The science I pretty clear, I think, and ultimately the science will win out.”
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