Largest U.S. farm group rallies against climate bill

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The largest U.S. farm group will oppose aggressively “misguided” climate legislation pending in Congress and fight animal rights activists, said American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman on Sunday.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, speaks at a news conference in Havana, in this November 22, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Rafael Perez AB/HK

In a speech opening the four-day AFBF convention, Stallman said American farmers and ranchers “must aggressively respond to extremists” and “misguided, activist-driven regulation ... The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”

Stallman’s remarks held a sharper edge than usual for the 6 million-member AFBF, the largest U.S. farm group and often described as the most influential. Its convention opens a string of wintertime meetings where farm groups take positions on public issues.

Climate legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives aims for a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. Senators are expected to draft a similar bill this year. Both envision a cap-and-trade system to curb emissions from factories and power plants and to allow the purchase of offsets.

Vast amounts of farmland could become carbon-capturing woodlands under cap-and-trade, “eliminating about 130,000 farms and ranches,” said Stallman. One federal analysis says 8 percent of crop and pasture land could be turned into trees by 2050 because trees would be more profitable than crops.

Four dozen climate scientists wrote Stallman last week to argue AFBF divorce itself from “climate change deniers.” AFBF opposed the House bill.

Animal rights activists would “destroy our ability to produce the meat that Americans want to eat,” Stallman said, by barring modern production methods.

The Ohio Farm Bureau led a successful referendum last fall to create a 13-member state board, with strong farm representation, to set livestock handling rules. The vote pre-empted an expected drive this year to ban practices that activists regard as cruel.

Seven states have moved to ban sow gestation crates, including Michigan in 2009. Action against the cages began in Florida with a referendum in 2002. Five states have acted against veal crates and two bar “battery” cages for hens.

“Ohio’s Ballot Issue 2 was a big win and one we must duplicate far and wide,” said Stallman.

Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing Bernard Orr