Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer is denouncing proposed international rules that would unfairly target Kentucky growers and could cripple a substantial portion of Kentucky's economy.
Commissioner Farmer joined members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation and fellow agriculture commissioners from other tobacco-growing states in opposing proposed World Health Organization regulations that would ban ingredients other than tobacco in cigarette production.
Burley tobacco becomes harsh-tasting during the curing process, so manufacturers add flavors to make cigarettes made with burley more palatable to smokers. A global ban on such additives in effect would eliminate the market for Kentucky-grown burley, Commissioner Farmer said.
"We’ve made great strides to diversify Kentucky agriculture in recent years. Yet still today, thousands of Kentucky farmers rely upon burley to provide the income that feeds their children and pays their bills," Commissioner Farmer said. "If the current proposal is adopted as is, many Kentuckians could lose their farms, and many more could lose their jobs."
The Commissioner noted there is little evidence that the proposed rules would reduce cigarette consumption. “Foreign manufacturers would probably just shift to another variety of tobacco,” Commissioner Farmer said. “I do not believe that damaging Kentucky's economy in exchange for a negligible health benefit makes sense."
Commissioner Farmer said the new rules, if enacted, would make Kentucky’s continuing efforts toward diversification more difficult because it would wreck a large share of the Commonwealth’s farm economy, forcing many farms to go out of business before they are able to find a replacement for burley.
Kentucky is the largest burley-producing state in the nation with more than 161 million pounds grown in 2009, according to the Kentucky office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The 2009 burley crop was valued at more than $274 million. The most recent Census of Agriculture said that 8,113 Kentucky farms grew burley tobacco in 2007.
Exports account for about 80 percent of U.S. burley use. Exports of all Kentucky tobacco in 2008 were valued at more than $331 million, according to NASS.