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Senator Ken Salazar hears concerns of ag groups

By Marilyn Bay Wentz

Shortly after being sworn in as Colorado’s U.S. senator, Sen. Ken Salazar returned to the state to meet with agriculture groups about their legislative concerns. The meeting was held Jan. 29, at Denver University.

“I applaud Senator Salazar for making agriculture one of his top priorities and for taking the time to host a meeting that included a broad spectrum of Colorado’s agricultural concerns,” said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) President John Stencel.

At the top of the list of priorities for RMFU was the contentious issue of reopening the border to imports of Canadian cattle and beef following the confirmation the last year of three separate cases of bovine spongiform encephal (BSE) in Canadian-born cattle. RMFU, National Farmers Union and most agricultural groups oppose reopening the border until mandatory country-of-origin food labeling is implemented.

“Most producers feel that reopening the border at this time would be devastating to the U.S. cattle producing industry, and Senator Salazar was very open to hear our concerns,” Stencel said. “We still have not been able to resume beef exports to Japan because of BSE in Canada and the unwillingness of Congress to implement the country-of-origin labeling mandated in the 2002 farm bill.”

Following the meeting, Salazar signed on to a letter asking that the U.S. Department of Agriculture delay its plan to resume beef trade with Canada this month [Editor’s note: see front page headline story for status of border opening].

“We are very concerned with the Bush administration’s proposed cuts to agriculture,” Stencel told Salazar. “While we like the idea of capping the total amount a single producer can collect, we are concerned with cuts to areas such as rural development, research and conservation programs.”

RMFU also expressed to Sen. Salazar its concerns with increasing monopolization (concentration) in the meat packing industry and with allowing meat processors to manipulate market prices by owning slaughter animals.

Other legislative concerns expressed by RMFU included federal crop insurance base issues, a need for better and more affordable health care in rural America, and a desire to continue strong legislative support for renewable energy. At the state level, Stencel sought Salazar’s support for agricultural water rights and adequate funding for the state’s land grant institution, Colorado State University.

Stencel said he is confident Salazar will be an advocate for agricultural producers and rural communities.