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Homeland Security To Regulate Farm and Ranch Inputs? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Friday, 22 May 2009
AFF Sentinel Vol.6#16

Watching your belt and buckle disappear into airport x-ray in a plastic tub, shuffling sock-footed while fretting the confiscation of a good pocketknife, have you ever mentally railed against the terrorists who made our lives more difficult?

Such are annoyances, but Congress is shortly to consider legislation that could make fertilizer and agricultural chemicals harder to get and more expensive, sidetracking an effort originally designed to keep the chemical manufacturing facilities safe from terrorist attack. While many ag facilities, including feedyards, have been taking steps to tighten security and prevent agri-terrorism, the chemical industry has been doing much more.

Since 2007, the chemical industry, including those manufacturing and distributing ag fertilizers and chemicals, have shelled out billions of dollars and lots of time to comply with new anti-terrorist security regulations. Those regulations were designed to catalog and assess potential risk posed by thousands of facilities that produce and store chemicals necessary for manufacturing and farming, should terrorists attempt destructive attacks.

The regulations laid out a multi-step process by which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would rank the risk for each facility, specify the kind of security and emergency management plans required, approve the plans and eventually inspect and audit facilities. This was mountains of time and money spent by private industry to make their private operations more impervious to terrorist activity. While the chemical industry understood the need, it was still a lot of financial stress and strain in a time when the industry was shuttering plants and losing 1.5 million jobs from the economic downturn.

Now, however, Congress is threatening to change horses in midstream. The law authorizing all these risk and security measures in the chemical industry, the "Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Security Act," (CFATS) expires in September, 2009. But a new bill in Congress, expected to be a simple extension of the old authority, instead proposes to mandate the government to take a large measure of control over products and processes in the chemical industry, much like it has taken over leadership, compensation and control functions at some banks, insurance and auto companies.

A government bureaucracy would be given power to mandate product substitutions, formulation changes and changes in processes based on its ideas of safety, not on the risk and security basis of the original law. Interestingly, it is environmental activist groups, many of whom oppose mainstream agriculture's use of any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fossil fuels to produce America's robust food supply, who are pushing this legislative reach to mandate private industry's products and processes.

Chemical industry associations said they have no problem with regulation based on the risk and security threats from terrorists. The American Chemistry Council reports their members have already invested $5 billion in private funds to put 30,000 facilities in compliance with current CFATS regulations.

But interference with product formulation and the complicated processes worked out scientifically over years of research and experience is not the proper purview of government security regulators or environmental activists. It is a separate issue from security and terrorism. Such interference is more likely to create new manufacturing and worker safety hazards - another issue.

There are literally no known substitutes with the action and affordability of some key ingredients fertilizer manufacturers feel are threatened. Interfering with the supply of certain nutrients farmers need for specific crop and soil requirements is inappropriate, the Fertilizer Institute said. Forcing product substitution could jeopardize the availability of lower- cost plant nutrients farmers and ranchers need.

"There are no viable or safer substitutes for chemicals in fertilizer production processes; this includes anhydrous ammonia, the base product for all nitrogen fertilizers," a Fertilizer Institute statement said.

Congress has moved up the scheduled consideration of the re-authorization bill, the "Chemical Facility Security Authorization Act of 2009," to the week of May 25. Both The Fertilizer Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers, as well as over 30 other trade associations representing farmers, feed and fertilizer suppliers, oil, gas and electricity industries, food processors and chemical manufacturers, are asking Congress to allow them to finish the process specified by the original CFATS law and properly evaluate it, not change tasks now.

Imposing new and, in some cases, conflicting regulations and new costs at this stage would only cost money and jobs the chemical industry can't afford and distract from the original terror risk and security purposes.

The upshot for agriculture could be tighter and more expensive supplies - or the lack of key chemical products - to raise the crops and livestock Americans depend on.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 May 2009 )
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