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Monday December 11, 2017

Kathy's Commentary: Look for common groundAs you know, our state senators convened last week to begin introducing a flurry of bills and taking up carryover bills for the second session of the 104th Legislature. Our unicameral system is famous for working together to find solutions that will improve our great quality of life. Over the course of the next 60-day session lasting until mid April, we will continue to work on legislative issues along with programs that benefit the members of NGIA.

But this session is going to make for a particularly challenging time for all of us in the system that provides food to Nebraska citizens. We may find the relationship between grocer retailers and farmers strained at times this session, due to some inherent potential conflicts that will arise. But we have to keep in mind that we have more in common than we do in opposition, and that we must be wary of some of the ideas that are popping up as “potential solutions” that threaten to divide us further:

No. 1: A "shift" in taxation, rather than a reduction, in order to provide property tax relief.  Farmers and ranchers need property tax relief--those of us near to the issue know that's a truth. However, simply shifting that burden off the farmer and onto the other small businesses like the community grocer is neither right nor a sustainable solution in the long-run. With a lack of any extra funding to go around, it's likely there will be little or no relief. But we must fight the temptation to turn that lack of funding an opportunity to stick it to our fellow business. It may be an old saying, but it's true: If we've allowed the system to create pain by failing to address fiscal problems, then it's time we all share the pain so the ultimate solution benefits us all.

No. 2: Cottage industries seeking special exemption from food-safety oversight. Attempts to change statutes to allow food sales to third parties rather than strictly face-to-face--as has been the accepted norm--not only poses a potential threat to the health of consumers, but also defeats the purpose of such protective legislation in the first place. If we're really going to ensure food safety, we have to make sure the playing field is level for all participants, and that special exemptions are not simply mechanisms to short-cut the protective process.

No. 3: Unscientic, politically driven attacks on food technology. Issues like genetically modified organisms and animal-welfare restrictions at the farm may sometimes seem far removed from the grocer's day-to-day concerns, but if we do not stay united on the idea that regulation should be done based on fact and rationality rather than emotion and prejudice, I guarantee all of us are going to pay at the end of the day. We must remain united against political interest seeking to limit the farmer's and rancher's ability to do their jobs for a host of reasons that have little or nothing to do with food safety or reasonable animal protection.

This has been the underlying premise of the Farmer Goes to Market program from its beginning, that Nebraska's community grocers and Nebraska's farmers had much more in common than they did in conflict, and that a healthy, vibrant food system that rewards hard work and creative innovation benefits us all. That's the vision I hope you help us keep alive as we take part in the legislative process. If you have questions regarding any of our events, issues that impact your business, or general questions regarding the industry, please feel free to contact our office – we are here to provide assistance!

Sincerely,
Kathy Siefken
Executive Director
Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

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Why technology-driven food production is critical

Kathy's Commentary: The good and bad of the legislative session

While the lead story in this issue is very important – because it points out the common sense reasons for antibiotic use – there is another story I’d like to focus on.  That is the story as outlined by former US Senator, Secretary of Ag, and Nebraska Governor, Mike Johanns.  I would encourage all readers to listen to his presentation all the way to the end.  It is about 30 minutes, but the points he makes are so important.  Farmers feed not only America, but also the world.  Many obstacles, challenges and issues must be dealt with if we are to realize success in the area of food production in to the future. He discusses the value of water, the need for technology and, most importantly, the need for an increase in food production. There will be 11 billion people to feed by 2100. Population growth will occur in countries that will need our food the most. By 2050 we will need 60 percent more food to feed the world. Future food needs must be met by American farmers and ranchers, and their success will dictate what our world will look like 35, 50 or even 100 years from now. We need better genetics and better science, better equipment with efficiencies that allow for the best weed management and crop production.  More importantly, we need better water management to conserve a valuable natural resource.

Sincerely,
Kathy Siefken
Executive Director
Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

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Kathy's Commentary: The good and bad of the legislative session

The World Herald and Journal Star report hundreds of Nebraska food safety inspections are running late.

As one of the industries that is inspected by the Nebraska Dept. of Ag, I would like to reassure the general public that food in Nebraska is safe. Inspections are done in a timely fashion and violations in the Food Code are, in many instances, corrected while the inspector is on sight. Violations that are not able to be corrected immediately must be corrected when the second inspection is conducted – usually within a very short time frame. In the event of equipment malfunction, the equipment is not used until repaired or replaced. To truly understand the system, one would have to realize that many inspection results are “in the pipeline” between the actual inspection and entering the data into the database. This would make it appear as if the inspections were late when in reality they are completed but not recorded. Regarding inspections that are 11 and 23 years late: closed facilities do not require inspections. The error was that the facilities were not removed from the list of locations to be inspected. The audit should have discovered that fact. The report is in error because new food establishments are not allowed to open until they are inspected, yet the report stated that there were 94 newly licensed food establishments that had never been inspected. Again, the audit did not consider those locations that had been inspected but the inspection results were not entered into the permanent record prior to the opening of the new location. Are there some locations that have not been inspected within the timeframe set out in state law? Of course there are. But the problem is not near as deep or as wide as this audit indicates. My question is, what good is an audit that does not consider reality?

George Hanssen recently retired and while he held the position of Program Manager, he ran a tight ship and held everyone accountable. Melva Ball has stepped into this position and is continuing to practice the same high standards. These are individuals who care about food safety in Nebraska and they do so by educating those they inspect, to prevent repeat violations. Our food is safe, and to infer otherwise is just plain irresponsible.

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Fall harvest in Nebraska

Kathy's Commentary: The good and bad of the legislative session

It is now officially fall, and harvest has begun. For those readers who did not grow up on a farm, this edition will help to understand the long hours and back-to-back days of unending labor that takes over a farmer’s life during harvest. I remember the days during both planting and harvest, when we drove out to the field with lunch. Back in those days we ate breakfast, dinner, lunch and supper. Those long days required four meals! Breakfast was enough to get you moving, dinner was a quick meal at the house, lunch was a sandwich, cookie and a Pepsi, and supper was a nice hot meal of meat and potatoes. Livestock (pigs, cattle, horses and chickens) had to be fed in addition to bringing in the crops. We worked off the calories, so excess weight wasn’t a problem!

We should be thankful that farmers and ranchers care enough about feeding the world and keeping the environment clean. Without them, we would have to depend on our own back yard gardens to supply food to feed us throughout the year. So our hats are off to farmers for the hard work and hours of labor they put in during the harvest season!

Sincerely,
Kathy Siefken
Executive Director
Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

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Kathy's Commentary: The good and bad of the legislative session

This issue of Farmer Goes To Market takes on the validity of a recent report that was put out by Consumer Reports regarding the safety of the beef we eat. Part of the objective of our publication is to call people out on misinformation that is published - and that is exactly what we are doing in our lead story. We want our readers to know the truth about the food farmers grow, grocers sell and our customers consume. Misleading information causes confusion and distrust of the entire “farm-to-table” industry.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Farmer Goes to Market, and we encourage you to share this publication with your friends and associates. We have published other articles in the past that share the truth about the food we eat and the misconceptions that are spread through the Internet and other published articles, along with items of interest to explain why things are done a specific way. All issues of Farmer Goes to Market can be found under the “Publications” tab on our website www.nebgrocery.com

Sincerely,
Kathy Siefken
Executive Director
Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

 

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