The Ill-Regulatory USDA
Jul 11, 2013
By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa
Shortly before last week’s long U.S. Independence Day weekend, the Obama administration announced that it would delay the employer-mandate portion of the new health-care law for another year.
Some pundits suggested a political motive, saying that the White House wants to suspend the unpopular requirement until after next year’s congressional elections.
Yet almost nobody pointed out that the postponement is part of a troubling pattern: This administration can’t get its regulatory house in order.
I feel the frustration every day as an American farmer. To grow crops, I’m always on the lookout for safe technologies that will help me make better use of the land, whether it’s with improved water conservation or advanced pest control. The government needs to help out; through an efficient and effective regulatory system that makes science-based decisions in a timely fashion.
Unfortunately, our regulatory system is broken. And farmers increasingly see the Department of Agriculture not as a partner committed to helping us grow food, but as an obstacle that simply gets in the way of responsible production.
Two cases in point involve new trait technologies that use time-tested herbicides: one with a technical name, 2,4-D and the other, dicamba. The herbicide 2, 4-D was first developed in the 1940s. My father started using it on our farm in the 1950s. Dicamba was introduced in the 1950s and I’ve been using that tool on our farm since 1967.Today, they are two of the best understood and most widely accepted herbicides on the planet.
They’re also key ingredients in two important new crop-protection tools. Having access to 2,4-D and dicamba technologies will help farmers get the yield we need to compete while easily killing weeds that have become difficult to control.
Sensationalist accounts in the media have dubbed these "superweeds," a silly word that makes ordinary vegetation sound like something out of "Little Shop of Horrors," the humorous musical about plants that eat people. Whatever we label them, we need new tools to fight them—and I’ve been eager to get my hands on these new products, as are many other farmers.
But USDA won’t let us have this new technology. To make matters worse, it won’t explain why and its failure to do so violates federal law.
USDA is required by law to respond to regulatory petitions within 180 days. With 2,4-D-tolerant crops, the waiting has now lasted three and a half years—seven times the period required by federal law.
A USDA announcement in May that it is extending the review of these technologies suggests that the waiting will continue for more than a year. For how long will USDA dawdle? Nine times the requirement under federal law? Ten times? Forever?
I should be using this product on my fields right now, during the growing season of 2013. It’s too late for that, of course. Right now, I’ll be lucky if this product is available before President Obama leaves office.
This is ridiculous. The 2, 4-D trait technology is already approved in Canada. Approvals are imminent for it in other countries that are key competitors. Yet, here in the United States, farmers must rely on existing technology to compete with the rest of the world.
If our regulatory system slips into sclerosis, we’ll surrender our great competitive advantage, in which the United States has led the way on technology and innovation. Very soon, Brazil and China will approve novel technologies before we do.
This is how we become a second-world country—not because others are beating us fair and square, but because we’re bogging ourselves down in red tape and broken rules.
I’ve seen what happens to farmers when governments ignore the rule of law. For six years, I invested in a farm in Ukraine, where my partners and I grew corn, soybeans, and several other crops. The venture ultimately ended because it was impossible to do business without paying massive bribes.
American farmers aren’t asking for no regulations at all, or even a phony "rubber stamp" procedure. We want predictable rules that help us grow safe and nutritious food, which is exactly what we’ve had for many years.
Now we risk losing it. USDA thinks it can flout federal law, apparently hoping that no one will notice or care.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack must lead and get the USDA regulatory train back on track.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.