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Don’t take food safety availability for granter

By Staff | Feb 10, 2009

If you’re reading this column on a full stomach, be thankful. Many aren’t so fortunate.

Only four percent of the earth’s surface is suitable for farming. Food and fiber are so scarce in some countries that it must be rationed, even for feeding to livestock. The United Nations says nearly one billion humans on this planet are chronically hungry.

That’s one of every five people.

While 54 nations do not produce enough food to feed their people, we in America often take our abundance for granted. The typical U.S. grocery store offers nearly 40,000 products and still some complain if the bananas are too green or their favorite brand of hamburger buns is out of stock. Freezer and refrigerator shelves in most American homes are full. Restaurants are always open.

Despite living in the land of plenty, we should never take food for granted. Every 12 years, the world population grows by one billion and each day, nations and countries become more dependent on Iowa – a state that’s home to nearly 10 percent of the world’s richest farmland. It’s a precious resource that, with the tutelage of knowledgeable men and women, provides abundant food and fiber and sustains livestock, hogs and poultry.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that some are voicing deep concern about an attempt by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose a new tax on U.S. farmers who raise livestock.

The proposal is one of several being forwarded by the agency after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that it should regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This could extend beyond cars and trucks and include the flatulence of livestock.

If approved and applied to agriculture, the measure would require scores of farmers to pay an annual fee of about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 for each hog. The tax would cost owners of a modest-sized cattle farm $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

At a time when hunger is becoming more pervasive worldwide, this new tax proposed by the EPA would likely reduce the number of livestock that U.S. farmers raise, resulting in higher prices for consumers. By driving down production here at home, it would also create the need to import meat from other countries countries that don’t have the health or environmental standards that are present in the U.S.

As a result, food safety issues would likely escalate here at home and jeopardize fragile lands abroad that are not suitable for raising livestock.

“This is one of the most ridiculous things the federal government has tried to do,” says Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. “We’ll let other countries put food on our tables like they are putting gas in our cars.”

Predictably, the proposed tax has been greeted with applause by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It makes perfect sense if you are looking for ways to cut down on meat consumption and recoup environmental losses,” says PETA’s Bruce Friedrich, a former Grinnell College student who has advocated the “blowing up” of restaurants that serve meat “and the banks that fund them.”

An old Indian Proverb says, “Have a full stomach and have lots of problems. Have an empty stomach and have just one problem.”

Before imposing another burden on America’s farmers and threatening the safety and availability of food, those behind the EPA proposal to tax livestock should think long and hard about the consequences of their actions.

One day, they may wake up hungry, too.

Aaron Putze serves as executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers and can be reached at (800) 932-2436. He was reared on a grain and livestock farm near West Bend. Prior to his role with CSIF, Putze served nearly 10 years as a member of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s marketing and communications team.

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