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Thursday April 26, 2018

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!

Kathy Siefken
Executive Director
Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

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