North Carolina Farm Bureau - Larry B. Wooten, 3/12/01 11:12AM  

March 8, 2001

Tobacco Commission
STOP 0574
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-0574

Dear Tobacco Commission Members:

On behalf of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, I am pleased to submit the following comments on the Preliminary Report of the Presidentís Tobacco Commission.

The Commission has made an excellent attempt of identifying the magnitude and the scope of the challenges facing the tobacco industry.

Protecting family farmers, minority farmers and preserving the tobacco infrastructure for economic viability in communities will take a substantial effort by all. This report raises a number of issues on which Farm Bureau would like to address.

We would like to see the Commission explore effective methods to diversify communities for economic redevelopment. This is an area that needs extensive and exhaustive analysis. The infrastructure in which tobacco farmers currently operate needs more evaluation before supporting that tobacco farmers implement skills into other specialized new markets. The potential for high failure rates of moving into a new market area which potentially will flood the market with oversupply can destroy a healthy niche market in a rural community. The report has suggestions for reducing the dependence of farmers on tobacco while offering no new ideas on how to accomplish this task. North Carolina has worked for 40 years to successfully diversify its agricultural economy. We are now among the most diversified agriculture economies in the country while still being very dependent on tobacco income. No long term sustainable alternative to tobacco production has been addressed by this report.

Another opportunity for the Commission is to develop and research methods to deliver economic assistance to tobacco farmers. Retooling and transitioning into other commodities would probably require significant monetary inputs that would not be covered by traditional funding sources. This is an opportunity to involve the entire communityís resources to ensure success of the farmer.

The preliminary report recommendations for expanding the export of tobacco leaf does not adequately address the U.S. Government credit program for tobacco exports. Under current legislation our farmers are penalized with no access to agricultural commodity export promotion programs. The final report should investigate and address this problem facing our farmers.

Additional federal excise taxes will NOT improve economic opportunities for tobacco farmers. This will only cause division in the tobacco industry. We have experience in raising excise taxes; this destroys the coalition needed for successful changes in the tobacco program. Any progressive changes in the tobacco industry must have the support of the farmers, manufacturers, dealers, Congress, and the public health groups.

We are concerned that the preliminary report suggests that new federal labeling requirements could make U.S. tobacco leaf more competitive. Our North Carolina Farm Bureau policy states that efforts by the FDA to classify and regulate nicotine as an addictive drug could exceed their authority and could be imposed at the farm level. The federal government already heavily regulates the tobacco industry. The Commission should not support any new proposals to increase bureaucratic oversight, which may potentially mandate changes in the tobacco leaf itself. New FDA regulations supported by this Commission could have adverse economic impact in our tobacco communities. If manufacturers decide to reach some agreement with FDA officials, any FDA decisions that have the potential to impact farmers and the growing of tobacco must have farmers at the table when these discussions are held.

The Commission has made an initial effort to balance economic opportunities for tobacco growers while considering the impact of such recommendations on public health. However, we believe that the recommendations on public health will have a tremendous cost for tobacco growers. We would prefer the Commission would further study and develop the costs to the farmer of implementing the public health recommendations of this report.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment as we look forward to receiving your final report.



Larry B. Wooten