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RMFU barred from meeting with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU), a general farm organization representing 20,000 producers and rural citizens, is shocked by U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard’s (R-Colo) efforts at a recent meeting to prevent groups from gaining access to what, by law, is a public meeting.

“The farm bill will affect millions of Americans,” said John Stencel, RMFU president. “Public policy decisions debated in the presence of multiple public officials and media, deserve consideration with all major stakeholders at the table.”

“Clearly, Allard’s desire to keep RMFU from the table represents a violation of that fundamental requirement to hear from all sides in policy debate,” added Stencel. “It seems apparent that Sen. Allard did not want the Secretary of Agriculture, who was present at the meeting, to hear the concerns of a significant portion of the farm sector.”

Not only do Allard’s staff’s actions to bar RMFU from entry to the meeting, at which the press, legislators and public officials were present, constitute an affront to the open, democratic process, but they also represent a clear violation of the Colorado open meetings law (C.R.S. 24-6-402), according to RMFU.

Many agricultural organizations and agribusiness interests from around the state were invited to the farm bill meeting, but when Stencel tried to enter, assuming it was a public meeting, he was barred from doing so.

“I was under the distinct impression that meetings with two or more members from a state public body were by law public,” said Stencel. “It did not even occur to me that they would try to discriminate against major stakeholders in the farm bill debate.”

The farm bill, an omnibus package of commodity supports, rural development, nutrition and conservation programs, will affect millions of Americans. To keep major stakeholders from voicing their views on important legislation is disturbing.
RMFU, which has been very involved in the farm bill process, wanted to visit with Allard about several ideas for improvements on the farm bill:
• Address issues of concentration that have decimated open, competitive agricultural markets
• Bolster the safety net and reduce direct payments so producers can earn more money from the marketplace
• Enact tough, mandatory country-of-origin labeling for fresh meat and produce
• Enforce strict payment limitations so the largest corporate farmers do not receive the greatest percentage of subsidies
• Support a ban on packer ownership of livestock
• Support conservation measures, funding for rural development, and alternative energy

“Our democratic institutions are founded upon, and designed to foster, open dialogue between discordant interests. From the wide array of viewpoints, carefully crafted compromises are then hammered out,” said Stencel. “I suggest that Sen. Allard revisit his 8th grade civics textbook if he needs a refresher.”