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January 10, 2011

AFBF Files Lawsuit Opposing EPA Rule / Food Safety is Everyone's Responsibility

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.



The nation’s largest farm organization is taking the Environmental Protection Agency to court concerning a new rule that goes too far.

AFBF’s Johnna Miller reports.

Miller: The American Farm Bureau Federation has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution regulatory plan for the Chesapeake Bay.  EPA calls the plan a “pollution diet” which will dictate how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment can be allowed into the Bay from different areas and sources.
Ellen Steen (AFBF General Counsel): We’re not opposing the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. What we are doing is opposing this particular diet as unlawful. There are two fundamental problems.  EPA is micromanaging in excess of its authority under the Clean Water Act and its numbers are scientifically invalid.  
Miller: AFBF’s General Counsel, Ellen Steen, says the rule will affect everyone living in the 64,000 square mile watershed, because it forces the affected states to choose between development or agriculture. 
Steen: EPA itself estimated that within the watershed roughly 20 percent of currently cropped land might need to be taken out of production and put into grass or trees in order to help achieve these limits. 
Miller: AFBF’s lawsuit contends that EPA does not have the legal authority to do that and is using flawed data to create its “pollution diet”.  Steen offers one example.
Steen: EPA assumed that conservation measures were in place only where farmers were participating in certain programs that pay them to use conservation practices.  That’s an incorrect assumption.  They came up with something less than 50 percent, I believe, for how many acres had conservation measures in place.  USDA figures show that that’s closer to 90 percent.  
Miller: Johnna Miller, Atlanta.
Miller: We have two extra actualities with AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen.  In the first extra actuality describes the organizations lawsuit filed against the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay pollution rule. The cut runs 1:07 in 3-2-1.
Steen: We’ve got two basic claims. One is that EPA has overstepped the limits of its federal authority.  Anything that EPA does has to be authorized by federal law. The Clean Water Act allows the states the power to decide how they achieve their water quality goals, to set those goals and then to decide how to achieve them.  Here EPA has taken the states’ Clean Water Act goals and imposed its own plan for how the states have to get there.  Essentially EPA has taken, if you view the available pollution that can go into the Chesapeake Bay as a pie, and told the states how they have to slice it.  That’s something that only the states have the power by law to do.  So we’re challenging EPA’s act as unlawful under the Clean Water Act.  We’re also challenging EPA’s inadequate science.  Basically EPA’s action, the “diet” that it has imposed on the people, the businesses, the counties within this huge watershed is irrational because EPA’s science is bad.  It used wrong assumptions and it used incorrect scientific modeling to come up with numbers that we think are meaningless. 
Miller: In the second extra actuality Steen says this EPA rule would affect more than the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The cut runs :28 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Steen: The basic provisions of law that EPA claims to be relying on here apply nationally.  So if EPA can take this action in the Chesapeake, we can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t take it in other areas.   And, in fact, EPA has sent very strong signals that it intends to follow a similar approach in areas like the Mississippi River watershed.  We’re very concerned about this spreading and I think that that’s a realistic expectation if EPA is able to do it here. 
Miller: Standby for our second story.
Congressional action has established new responsibilities for federal agencies in overseeing food safety, but safe food will require an effort from everyone.  Tom Steever reports from the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Atlanta.
Steever: Speaking at the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Atlanta, USDA Food Safety Undersecretary Elizabeth Hagen says that in spite of new food safety regulations passed by Congress, it will still take cooperation to prevent food borne illness.
Hagen: I think that if industry and food safety regulators make that shift to prevention by developing policies that trace contamination to the source, by staying ahead of emerging threats, by raising food safety awareness for consumers, I think we can make a real impact on public health. 
Steever: On the same program, FDA Deputy Commissioner Mike Taylor praised passage of the widely supported food safety bill saying that food safety depends on everyone.
Taylor: Congress has really recognized in this law that everybody is responsible for food safety; everybody has a role in preventing the problems that could lead to people potentially getting sick.
Steever: In spite of the expanded reach granted to the FDA by the legislation, Hagen stresses that her agency, the Food Safety and Inspection Service is fully aware of where their jurisdiction begins and where it ends.
Hagen: Make no mistake, we are not looking to expand that jurisdiction.  Let me just say that one more time for emphasis, FSIS is not looking to expand its jurisdiction. 
Steever: I’m Tom Steever at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Atlanta.
Steever: We have two extra actualities.  In the first, Elizabeth Hagen says the Food Safety and Inspection Service has a big job of keeping food safe.  The cut runs 13 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Hagen: So we’re insuring people’s health, that’s a pretty big deal, that’s a pretty big mandate.  We serve families, friends, neighbors; these are real people and we have a singular goal, and that’s to make sure that they don’t get sick from the food that they eat. 
Steever: In the second extra actuality Mike Taylor explains that the law allows FDA greater reach to ensure foods are safe.  The cut runs 31 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Taylor: What we know is that most of the people in the food system, producing food, processing food, marketing food are committed to food safety; they make the effort, they invest and they do a good job.  Not everybody does and when there’s a breakdown, when there’s a failure anywhere in the system, it can not only affect consumers very adversely, but it can affect the whole food system and the economy as well and so Congress is saying let’s have a level playing field of standards, let’s clarify responsibilities and let’s increase accountability in the system for doing those things that can prevent food borne illness. 
Steever: Newsline will be updated daily through Tuesday from Atlanta . Thank you for listening.

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