Frank: Agriculture should take a proactive stance on regulations
Denver – “Modern agriculture has become a math problem,” says Anthony Frank. “The world has a finite amount of land that is becoming increasing smaller, demands on ag land are increasing, there is a scarcity of water and increasing costs in terms of mitigation and fertilizer.”
Frank, the president of Colorado State University, adds that as a global industry, agriculture faces challenges that cover the same scope, and each year the world’s food supply becomes more integrated.
“As we are looking at increased density and growing food demands, we try to take advantage of the opportunities,” he comments. “But regulatory environments are going to be a big deal.”
With the global scope of agriculture, producers and consumers are seeing more regulations across the board – from production to preparation and sales.
“We have some ways that we can work effectively to address regulatory problems and understand the etiology of what is causing regulations, rather than fighting them from a distance,” suggests Frank.
He points out that regulations are about addressing consumer needs, mentioning that constituents are no longer satisfied with the agriculture industry self-policing, which has resulted in a demand for third-party regulations.
“As fewer consumers and elected officials understand the industry, elected officials set up regulations that are well-intentioned to respond to the needs of their constituents,” explains Frank. “People within bureaucracies are good people, and they care about what they do – they want to improve safety and accountability.”
The resulting regulatory costs have increased 69 percent, a cost increased that is passed to the consumer. In order to prevent this trend from continuing, he adds that agriculture needs to be proactive.
“We have a negative spiral where people are pulling in opposite directions and the regulators are trapped in the middle,” he notes. “Industry wants less, constituents want more, and we are giving up the common ground.”
“We make the most progress when we identify common ground and spend time making sure we understand that common ground,” Frank explains. “If we can start with trust, we can oftentimes push off from there.”
The common ground between regulatory agencies and agriculture is to produce a safe, high-quality and sustainable product.
“Nobody understands the need for sustainability more than this industry,” says Frank. “Consumers want the same safe, high quality products, and they want to feel good about how it is produced.”
At the same time, he mentions that an affordable product is also important for the consumer base.
“There is middle ground, and there are some regulations that strengthen the global marketplace,” says Frank, “but there are others that place a strangle-hold on it. They can increase costs for producers and consumers, and they can exacerbate, rather than solve what the regulations were designed to fix.”
Solutions in sight?
“We can start to be proactive rather than to wait on regulations,” Frank mentions. “We can start to change the tone of conversations and form an expectation that we want to be an active partner in the regulatory process.”
Right now, he adds, is the best time to sit down and work through the issues, before regulatory burden reaches a crisis point.
He comments, “Collaboration can serve as the best defense against unwise and unwanted regulation.”
“I think we can get there,” Frank says. “If we do more actual talking and focusing on the common ground, I think we can fix the situation and move toward a good regulatory environment.”
Anthony Frank add-ressed the opening session of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture at the end of March 2012. Saige Albert is managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.