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Policy Matters

3 key sustainable business policy battles to watch

Election season may be upon those in the U.S., but several important policy battles over food and climate are going on that demand business attention.

As the election season kicks into high gear, sustainability policy cannot take a back seat to the many other issues on the table. Whoever takes the reins in January will face an array of ongoing economic challenges, but without sustainability, all other issues will be increasingly difficult to remedy.

The same might be said of food safety and supply. Pretty basic.

Companies of all sizes and in all sectors are looking for policy action on these issues, and thousands of these firms have joined with the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) to make their voices heard. Working with many other organizations, ASBC brings the views of responsible corporate citizens to policymakers’ attention.

We encourage businesses to keep an eye out for three issues in particular when they come before Congress, and make their views known to lawmakers.

1. Support climate policies such as carbon taxes

Last month, the House of Representatives took up two resolutions against two potential climate change policies. One resolution attacked the idea of a carbon tax as bad for the economy; the other was targeted at the White House’s proposed $10-per-barrel oil tax, which would be used to fund transportation projects.

No one likes higher taxes, but it is cheaper in the long run to stop climate change than to pay for the damage it will cause.

While those were nonbinding resolutions and would not prohibit either policy from being implemented, resolutions such as these are often used as messaging and indicate where the legislative majority stands on various issues. With a vote mostly along party lines, both resolutions against climate change policy passed.

What’s at stake

ASBC criticized the House of Representatives vote for taking a shortsighted view of a carbon tax’s potential benefit to the economy.

"No one likes higher taxes, but it is cheaper in the long run to stop climate change than to pay for the damage it will cause," said Richard Eidlin, vice president of policy and campaigns at ASBC. "A carbon tax is the most economical way to stop climate change, and the one which best taps the power of market forces."

What you can do

A carbon tax would be the most efficient way to cut greenhouse gas emissions while bringing in significant revenue that could be used to boost economic growth, perhaps through tax cuts, incentives for lower-income communities, infrastructure repair or other proposals. One option is to show your support for this key policy here.

2. Support accurate GMO food labeling

Last month, leaders on the Senate Agriculture Committee reached a compromise on labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

Under the plan, food companies would be required to disclose products containing GMOs, but would be able to choose between placing text on food packaging, providing a QR (Quick Response) code or printing a phone number or a website where consumers must go to find the information.

The bill passed both houses of Congress and now goes to the president, who is expected to sign it into law.

What’s at stake

While there was concern about federal legislation overriding states such as Vermont that have passed their own GMO labeling laws, this bill would at least provide a mandatory national standard for labeling, something many groups (including ASBC) have been calling for.

A weakness in the bill, as some have pointed out, is that the law could force consumers to rely on smartphones to scan a QR code or visit a website for GMO information, instead of simply requiring companies to put an image on their packaging. This could be a barrier for consumers without access to a smartphone or a sufficient data plan.

What you can do

Consumers are demanding more information about where their food comes from and what’s in it, and more and more companies are stepping up to meet that demand.

We need a strong labeling law that guarantees consumers’ right to know, protects consumer confidence and creates a fair marketplace for businesses to grow. Show your support for clear GMO labeling.

3. Help young farmers enter the food business

Earlier this month, ASBC hosted a webinar with the co-sponsors of the bipartisan Young Farmer Success Act, Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Joe Courtney (D-CT).

The bill would add farmers to the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, allowing qualifying farmers to have the balance of their student loans forgiven after making 10 years of income-based student loan payments. This would in turn free up capital for farmers to acquire land and equipment, grow their operations and feed our country.

What’s at stake

The average farmer is 58 years old; less than 6 percent of farmers are under age 35. Between 2007 and 2012, only 1,220 new young farmers joined the agricultural workforce.

According to a survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), 30 percent of young farmers cited student loans as a deterrent to starting or expanding their farms, and 20 percent said they were unable to obtain credit because of their student loans.

If this continues, fewer and fewer farmers will be available to produce food or inputs for other products, depressing economic growth and putting our food supply at risk.

What you can do

Farming, while essential, never has been a risk-free business, and today’s operations require higher levels of education and technology. We need to ensure that our agricultural sector keeps growing, and that aspiring farmers aren’t deterred by worries about whether they can pay off their student loans.

The Young Farmer Success Act would help ensure potential new farmers won’t have to choose between getting the education they need to succeed and joining the farming business. Add your voice in support of this bill here.

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