AGRICULTURE SEEN GAINING NEW FRIENDS IN CONGRESS

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Fresh food advocates here view the return of a Republican majority to the House and Senate, along with a few new members with special interest in their industry, as an encouraging sign for the 105th Congress."The election turned out well from our perspective," said John Aguirre, vice president of government affairs for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria,

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Fresh food advocates here view the return of a Republican majority to the House and Senate, along with a few new members with special interest in their industry, as an encouraging sign for the 105th Congress.

"The election turned out well from our perspective," said John Aguirre, vice president of government affairs for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va.

Sara Lilygren, senior vice president of legislation and public affairs for the American Meat Institute, Arlington, Va., said she was relieved the Republicans maintained control.

"The people we work with the best are those we want to see in the majority. We don't want to seem opposed to Democrats, but the Republicans are responsive to food industry concerns," she said.

The House Republican majority was narrowed somewhat, with the new lineup consisting of 223 Republicans and 204 Democrats, two independents and six races still undecided. In the Senate, Republicans added two seats to build a 55-seat majority. Senate Democrats control 45 seats. In the 104th Congress,the House breakdown was 235 Republicans, 198 Democrats and one independent; and in the Senate it was 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats.

A survey of four trade associations, the National Turkey Federation, the American Meat Institute, the National Broiler Council and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, showed that the industry gave $453,864 to political candidates through mid-October. Of that, 81%, or $368,564, went to 373 Republican candidates, and 19%, or $85,300, went to 98 Democrats.

Meanwhile, the food industry welcomes Rep.-elect Bob Smith, R-Ore., who is expected to be the new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Smith, who retired from the House two years ago, was enticed to run again with the promise that he would be given chairmanship of the important committee.

Former chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is moving to the Senate and likely will be given a seat on the Senate Agriculture panel. "Mr. Smith has a demonstrated record of being open-minded and a good friend of agriculture," Aquirre said.

Chairmanship of the House Livestock, Dairy and Poultry subcommittee also will change, with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., in line to be chairman. From one of the leading poultry-producing states, Goodlatte is seen as a friend to industry, said Stuart Proctor, president of the National Turkey Federation, Reston, Va.

On the Senate side, the election of Oregon Republican Gordon Smith is viewed positively by the industry. Smith is president of Smith Frozen Foods and is a former chairman of the board of the American Frozen Food Institute, McLean, Va.

The industry is planning to bring a variety of items to Capitol Hill when the new Congress convenes next year. The International Dairy Foods Association here wants to see a reform of milk marketing orders, said Amy Loy, director of legislative affairs.

The National Turkey Federation is seeking Food and Drug Administration reform of animal drug regulations, Proctor said. Also, reform of a law that requires U.S. grain be shipped on U.S. flag ships is sought. A further reform of the Delaney Clause, in which pesticide provisions were addressed last year, also is planned.

Lilygren foresees proposed legislation on the restructuring of the meatpacking industry as well as continued concern about food safety. The American Meat Institute hopes to work with the Clinton administration on a proposed campaign to educate the public about food safety.

"There really is a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance about food handling," Lilygren said. "Industries have trained employees about safe food handling, but we need to train consumers."

One of the biggest challenges in Clinton's new term for the food industry will be working with the administration on a new meat inspection program, Lilygren said.

Aquirre also said his association is eager to work with a second Clinton administration. "With the return of President Clinton, we can expect a solid, productive relationship between our industry and the administration," he said.