Farm Women United (FWU) submitted a series of farm, dairy crisis, and food related questions to the two candidates running in the special election for the 12th Congressional district seat vacated by the resignation of former Congressman Tom Marino (R-PA). FWU had originally invited both candidates, Fred Keller (R) and Marc Friedenberg (D), to attend a "Farm-Food Forum: Meet the Candidates" event scheduled to be held at the Montoursville Area High School, on April 27, 2019, so that the public could attend the event to hear directly from the candidates how they responded to the FWU questions that Mr. Keller and Mr. Friedenberg were to receive in advance. The public "Farm-Food Forum" would also have allowed the audience some time to ask the candidates some of their own questions about federal farm, dairy, and food policies affecting farmers, consumers, and the rural communities in the 12th Congressional district. Mr. Friedenberg accepted FWU's invitation to participate in the "Forum," but Mr. Keller declined to attend the event even though there was no scheduling conflict. FWU elected to send the questions to the candidates directly and is now publishing their responses for public scrutiny so the citizens can see where these candidates stand on vital federal agricultural policies that threaten the viability of rural communities and the consumers' fresh, local, food supply.
Democratic Candidate Marc Friedenberg's Answers
Farm and Food Forum Questionnaire
Including responses from Marc Friedenberg
1) Pennsylvania lost 370 dairy farms in 2018. In the US overall, 2,731 dairy farms went out of business. Do you believe that small to midsize family farms and associated small businesses are worth saving?
Family farms, particularly dairy farms, are the heart and soul of rural communities in the 12th District. Small and midsize family farms are worth saving not only because they provide a livelihood for thousands of Pennsylvanians, but because they keep alive a set of values and traditions that go back generations. I’ve listened to farmers as I’ve traveled throughout the district, and I know that many of our family farms are struggling against the headwinds of low prices, competition from out-of-state conglomerates and milk substitute products, and bad policies that keep milk products out of schools and hospitals. Our farmers need a champion in Congress who can push through common-sense policies that make our farms profitable and help our rural communities thrive again, and I will be that champion when I’m in Washington.
2) Whole milk has been taken out of the School Lunch Program and replaced with skim milk and up to 1% flavored milk. Do you support putting whole milk back into the School Lunch Program?
Whole milk has proven health benefits for children and should be at the core of the School Lunch Program. Whole milk has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and childhood obesity. Our children deserve the best nutrition available, and I’m proud that the dairy farmers of the 12th District provide such a needed product in our schools.
3) There are hundreds of millions of dollars being invested to grow milk and meat in laboratories from genetic material sourced from cows and other animals. These "products," which some call "Fake Food,” are, or soon will be, on the market. Do you support clear, transparent labeling to indicate that these "products" are lab-grown?
When people go to the grocery store to buy a 16 oz. ribeye they expect it to actually be a 16 oz. ribeye. Consumers have a right to know what they are eating. In Washington, I will support a label on lab-grown products and let consumers decide if they’d rather eat real meat made here in the 12th District or some product that came from a test-tube.
4) The average net farm income in the United States was negative in 2017 and will likely be negative again for 2018, when all data is reported. How would you address this crisis?
The stories I heard and the facts I learned from farmers across the 12 District about the deepening, severe economic emergency that dairy farmers and rural communities face cannot be ignored any longer. As a Congressman, I would fight to enact the following policies:
- Set an emergency floor price of $20 per hundredweight under all milk used for manufacturing
- Implement long-term corrections in the methods used to price farmers’ milk, which must accurately reflect the cost of production
- Investigate corruption in the dairy co-op system
- Investigate the role that MPC plays in undermining the consumer retail milk and dairy product market
- Explore the role that Dodd-Frank regulations may play in freezing the credit market for dairy farmers.
5) Currently the World Trade Organization (WTO) opposes "Country of Origin Labeling" ("COOL") for food, calling it “trade distorting.” What will you do to ensure that consumers are informed about where their food comes from?
Clothing products must be labeled with their country of origin, so why shouldn’t food be labeled too? Food packaging should include a country of origin label just like many other products sold in the United States. Consumers deserve to know where they are getting their food.
6) Pennsylvania milk production dropped considerably last year, yet most dairy farmers still pay high fees to get their milk to market. Some are even losing their markets as add on fees squeeze out small and medium sized farmers. How would you address this issue?
With low milk prices, dairy farmers cannot endure additional fees to market their milk. A similar problem occurs too often with slotting fees that stop small and medium sized farmers from competing with the big guys. We need to regulate the ability of retailers to charge fees to put their product on shelves.
7) Concentration in agriculture has resulted in farmers having no economic power in the marketplace. The “Ag Industry” beyond the farm, including unaccountable dairy co-ops, has all the economic power. The “Industry” is making record profits, while the farmers are enduring record losses. How would you address this problem?
We need to use our antitrust laws to break up the big agriculture companies who are ruining the market for small farmers. Not only has Big Ag stifled competition in the marketplace, they’ve been manipulating politicians in Washington to do their bidding. Once we break up Big Ag, we need democratic reforms like overturning Citizens United to make sure that Big Ag can’t rise again.
8) Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) is a dehydrated and ultra-processed compound widely used in dairy products to extend yields and boost profits, while compromising quality, misleading consumers and replacing traditional, healthy dairy products. These practices often violate Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) "Standards of Identity." The FDA exercises “discretionary enforcement” which to farmers means the government looks the other way as industrial agriculture unfairly competes with family-owned farms. What action would you take to restrain these violations?
I support holding public hearings to investigate how MPC undermines the retail dairy market and its nutritional value. If the FDA won’t do their job, then it is up to Congress to get to the bottom of the effects of MPC.
9) The price farmers receive for milk has collapsed far below the "cost of production" as determined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in the testimony presented to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB), for Pennsylvania dairy farmers? Do you support a farm milk "Emergency Floor Price" of $20 per hundredweight on all milk used for manufacturing?
I am a strong supporter of an emergency floor price of $20 per hundredweight on milk used for manufacturing. Additionally, we must implement long-term corrections in the methods used to price farmers’ milk so that prices accurately reflect the cost of production.
10) Many dairy farmers believe dairy co-operatives no longer serve the needs of farmers as defined by the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 which allowed farmers and ranchers to work together to market their products. Do you support Congressional hearings to investigate Capper-Volstead abuses, anti-trust violations, farmer free speech and association issues, excessive milk check deductions, and any other abuses and violations of current laws and standards?
We must look into dairy co-operatives for their potentially monopolistic and corrupt behavior. Congress has not taken an active enough role in investigating Capper-Volstead abuses, and I support holding hearings to get to the bottom of dairy co-operatives’ disturbing behavior.
11) Do you believe that the EPA is abusing its authority with regulations forcing small and medium sized dairy and livestock operations out of business? If yes, what would you do about it?
I believe that most regulations are created by people with good intentions, but that many aren’t scalable to small farms. Very small farming operations are often held to the same bureaucratic standards as very large ones, which means additional and unnecessary meetings, reports, logs, fees, etc. Congress should mandate that EPA regulations be reviewed with an eye toward how they may disproportionately impact small farms.
12) Working farming, ranching and fishing operations do not have any say in international trade agreements. Do you believe that food should continue to be part of “Free Trade Agreements”?
Trade is a good thing, but only if it is fair. However, it is impossible for trade deals to be fair without the input of farming, ranching, and fishing operations. Food should be a part of every free trade agreement only if the operations that are impacted have a say.
13) Do you support "opening" the 2018 Farm Bill to implement a temporary emergency $20 per hundredweight (cwt) Floor Price to stabilize the current government-caused humanitarian crisis on dairy farms? How will you address flawed federal dairy provisions and fix them once and for all?
I absolutely support implementing an emergency $20 per hundredweight floor price however we can get it done, including opening the 2018 Farm Bill. To address the federal dairy provisions we need to hold hearings on Capitol Hill to give dairy farmers a chance to have their voices heard, and then legislate based on their testimony.
14) Low milk prices, now moving into the 5th year, prevent dairy farmers from cash flowing, forcing many out of business. These low milk prices also threaten our local, rural infrastructure. The federal government controls the milk pricing formula but does not include the farmers' "cost of production" in the milk price they are paid. No other business enterprise is expected to operate with the government preventing them from covering legitimate costs. Will you support a temporary "Emergency $20 cwt. Floor Price" for farm milk so farmers can pay bills while federal hearings are held to investigate the dairy crisis issues and to seek long-term remedies to fix defective and inadequate dairy provisions?
Through no fault of their own, dairy farmers across the district have been put in a perilous situation because of government’s unwillingness to set a fair price for milk. I support a temporary emergency $20 per hundredweight floor price and will demand to hold hearings on fair milk pricing.
15) The 2018 Farm Bill dairy "safety net" is woefully inadequate to address the low farm milk prices. Will you support "opening" the Farm Bill to implement remedies for the injustice inherent in the current federal milk pricing formula?
As I’ve traveled throughout the 12th District, I’ve heard time and again that the 2018 Farm Bill was a disaster. We must open the Farm Bill and change the federal milk pricing formula and the price floor so small and midsize dairy farmers aren’t left behind.
16) The current 2018 Farm Bill dairy "safety net" does not make any difference for struggling dairy farmers. Would you support raising the "safety net" payments to meet the dairy farmers' financial shortfalls stemming from the federal formula?
The 2018 Farm’s Bill’s safety net is totally inadequate for the challenges farmers face today. We must increase payments to make up for dairy farmers’ financial shortfalls and revisit the federal milk pricing formula to ensure that is fair to everyone.
17) As is typical with government involvement, the people negatively impacted by low milk prices, the farmers, have no say in determining the value of their cows' milk. Would you support milk pricing reform measures to develop a viable way for local farmers themselves to be involved in setting the prices for their milk to include what it costs to produce milk?
It makes no sense that local farmers don’t have a say in determining the price of their products. We must create a clear and transparent milk pricing process that includes everybody’s input, especially local farmers.
18) Farmers are currently shipping their milk under monopoly marketing conditions along with intimidation tactics. Would you support investigations of the milk market to make sure farmers can move their milk in a transparent, competitive market without fear, intimidation, and unfair practices?
Markets only work if produces are free to compete without fear of intimidation and monopolistic behavior. We must investigate the current state of the milk market and enact reforms to ensure that these anti-competitive obstacles never happen again.
19) Dairy cooperatives organized under the federal Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 have consolidated power in the milk marketplace that has created monopoly conditions limiting dairy farmers' marketing options. Will you support federal hearings to address current antitrust conditions in the milk markets controlled by the co-ops?
Dairy co-operatives have undoubtedly had a harmful effect on the dairy market. I support enforcing our antitrust laws where necessary and pledge to hold hearings on the current state of the dairy market.
20) If Congress refuses to fulfill their duties in the public interest by conducting the necessary investigative hearings to bring transparency and solutions to problems affecting dairy farmers, will you conduct the necessary investigative hearings in the 12th Congressional District on behalf of our citizens?
I will not only conduct hearings on Capitol Hill on the problems facing dairy farmers, but I will also travel across the 12th District to ensure that dairy farmers are being treated fairly. As your representative, I will fight for you and not for big industrial agriculture and other monied interests.
21) The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law on July 21, 2010, overhauled the nation’s financial regulations. These regulations have resulted in local banks not having the authority or capability to offer loans to farms and small businesses. What would you do to restore more local control over farm and small business loans?
Regulations are usually created with good intentions, but they can have negative unintended consequences. I will explore the role that Dodd-Frank regulations may play in freezing the credit market for dairy farmers.
Republican Candidate Fred Keller's Response
After meeting with farmers across Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, including the members of Farm Women United during our hour and a half meeting on March 26, I have had the opportunity to understand the concerns about the dairy industry and milk prices. A possible way to address the price of milk should deal with creating more demand for milk. Some examples include the government allowing whole milk in school lunches and SNAP benefits, as well as labeling of other products that are not milk. Additionally, there was a suggestion regarding some kind of insurance, similar to crop insurance, to guarantee farmers’ predictability in their milk price based upon their production costs and the futures market. And the idea was that this could be done for several cents per hundred weight. This allows for free market competition, rather than setting an arbitrary price/floor of $20 per hundred weight. We do not want to revisit the same problems created by the PA Milk Marketing Board, whose over order premium may not always get back to the producer. We need to pursue solutions that come from the free market, not the government.