A new coalition of Minnesota food and farm groups is asking state legislative candidates to pledge their support for agriculture.
The coalition, known as A Greater Minnesota, developed its five-point Minnesota Farm and Food Pledge. The goal is raising awareness, particularly among legislative candidates, of farming, food production and their economic impact in the state, coalition officials say.
"We're looking at the lack of understanding, at times, with legislators involving the agriculture and food sectors in the state," says Perry Aasness, executive director of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, which represents members from all areas of the state's food and ag sectors.
"We need champions. We need people who understand these issues. It's not something we can take for granted," he says.
Other groups in the coalition include the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota and the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.
All the organizations "have our own mission. But these issues are bigger than just one organization. We're all in this together," Aasness says.
The pledge is aimed at legislators from both rural and metro areas, he says.
People in rural Minnesota don't always understand the needs and contributions of agriculture, he says.
Aasness is uncertain if ag groups in any other state have used or are using a similar pledge.
Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, says she's already received and signed the pledge.
Kiel, a farmer, as well as a state legislator, says the pledge is a tool that can help raise public awareness of agriculture.
It's vital for people to understand that "we really want to produce food that's safe," she says.
She says it's difficult to predict how many legislative candidates will sign the pledge.
Aasness says there's too often a disconnect between agriculture and the general public.
Margaret Hart, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, was asked by Agweek if her department sees signs of that.
"Today's citizens don't have as many opportunities to spend time on a working farm, so we believe there is good reason to promote better understanding of farm production and processing practice," she says. "Consumers have high expectations for a safe, ample and affordable food supply, so it's important to provide them every opportunity to learn how our food is grown and how it gets to their tables."
The 5 points
Here are the pledge's five points:
• "Support all good farms." It calls for supporting "responsible" farmers, big or small, traditional or organic.
• "Environmental stewardship." It calls for supporting environmental policies based on "sound science best practices" and that don't put Minnesota farmers at a competitive disadvantage.
• "Caring for farm animals." It calls for supporting the use of best practices as established by farm animal veterinarians.
• "Food labeling." It supports nutritional and allergy-sensitive labeling, but also to avoid "pseudo-science labeling" regarding genetically modified organisms.
• "Food safety." It calls for supporting "responsible regulation" and voluntary practices to continue to protect the quality of food.
Aasness says A Greater Minnesota encourages state residents to visit www.farmandfoodmn.org to learn more about ag and how to encourage state legislative candidates to support it.