COLUMBIA — Sen. Claire McCaskill talked about the wholesome lunches she eats with her fellow senators. Salmon, soup and salads top the menu. Then one day, McCaskill said, the senators decided to have a “food stamp lunch.” They ate macaroni and cheese, potato chips and bologna sandwiches cut in half. No fruits. No vegetables.
Nutrition, health care and animal identification were among the 2007 Farm Bill issues discussed at the Boone County Fairgrounds Thursday with McCaskill.
Farmers, researchers and others interested in agriculture met with McCaskill in Boone and Randolph counties to ask the senator to support their needs and opinions about the 2007 Farm Bill.
McCaskill, a Democrat, embarked on a 13-county tour Tuesday in her ethanol-powered sport utility vehicle as the Senate prepares to address the 2007 Farm Bill in September. The tour ends on Friday after visits to Portageville, Malden and Dexter. McCaskill said the tour provides an opportunity for her to hear directly from Missouri farmers.
“I’m trying to learn as well as I possibly can about Missouri farmers,” she said. “I could either take the lobbyist’s word or talk to Missouri producers.”
A farmer and member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Rhonda Perry said affordable health care is an obstacle to farmers. McCaskill responded with an anecdote of two 20-something farmers she met earlier on her tour. The young men explained that they needed help obtaining affordable health care.
“It really drove home to me that we tackle the big one,” McCaskill said. She advised the crowd to not support a presidential candidate that they did not believe had a good solution for the health-care dilemma.
“I think people are about to take up pitch forks for health care,” she said.
McCaskill also spoke of the need for improved nutrition.
“We’re saying to low-income people, ‘You need to stay healthy,’ but we’re not giving them enough,” she said.
The Food Stamp program needs to include money to buy vegetables, fruits and proteins, she said. The money not spent for healthy eating now is later used in paying health costs associated with illnesses like diabetes, McCaskill said.
Several attendees also said they supported the farm-to-school initiative aimed at improving children’s eating habits. Mary Hendrickson, an MU Extension assistant professor of rural sociology and coordinator of the Food Circles Networking Project, said that she agrees on the need for child nutrition in schools.
Hendrickson also pressed for improved rural infrastructure to aid farmers. “Consistently we find that infrastructure is the bigger need,” she said.
McCaskill said she supported improved infrastructure but opposed the Farm Bill proposal for a mandatory animal identification program. Now voluntary, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web site states that the animal identification program protects farmers and consumers from “the impact of a disease outbreak or other animal health event.”
McCaskill said the government cannot keep track of some people who have come to the United States legally and then disappeared.
“The government can’t tag every single bunny in the country.”
After her fairground appearance, McCaskill drove to Huntsville in Randolph County just north of Moberly. She visited Circle A Feeders, where they keep about 2,500 cattle.
Circle A owner Dave Gust Sr. and General Manager Mark Akin, along with Jeff Windett of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, told the senator that they support local farmers. Circle A Feeders, in Missouri for 17 years, sells seed stock to smaller farmers for breeding. The farmers can then later sell back some of their calves to Circle A Feeders. Those smaller farmers can also sell grain to Circle A Feeders for use as feed for the calves raised.
Don Wyatt, one of the farmers that sells calves and grain to Circle A Feeders, said that the government should provide more help to small farmers like himself. Although he receives subsidies from the government, he said he’s “not big on government subsidies for anything.” He said he’d much rather have lower taxes and eased regulations. Some regulations put a financial burden on small farmers and limit the farmer’s ability to expand or even to start, he said.
“It’s real important to support farmers,” he said. “If for some reason we would lose our producers, this country would be a mess.