Rickey Cole campaigns in Tupelo

TUPELO • Rickey Cole, the Democratic candidate for commissioner of agriculture and commerce, spoke to Lee County voters on Friday and campaigned on increasing access to local meat by removing current inspection regulations.

Cole, the former chairman of the state’s Democratic party, said he thought it was “ridiculous” that he couldn’t sell a steak out of his own freezer from processed cattle at his own farm.

“In four years time, I want to see the people of Northeast Mississippi buying much more of what they eat from Northeast Mississippi producers,” Cole said. “And, this office can and should take the lead role in the development of food systems.”

State law currently forbids private farmers from selling beef, pork and poultry to anyone without the meat having been inspected first. Cole said at one point this regulation was a good thing for health concerns. Now, however, he believes the regulation needs to be repealed because of the modern market.

He also denounced President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs on agricultural products, saying the tariffs wind up being a “tax on producers and consumers.”

“I know these tariffs are already negatively impacting Mississippi farmers,” Cole said. “They need to be cancelled. Mississippi producers are highly competitive in the open market. They deserve a level playing field for sure, but tariffs are not the way to go. I think it’s a mistake.”

Cole, who brought an array of produce grown by farmers from around the state with him, said he isn’t opposed to subsidies for farmers, but he doesn’t want subsidies to be the main source of income for producers.

“We also need to find creative ways to help these producers have different income streams, because just getting a check from Washington is not going to make it for these guys,” Cole said. “They need relief, but they also need opportunity, too.”

He recognized that there is a problem with a lack of access to grocery stores and fresh produce in the Mississippi Delta, and said the solution is to send children home with seeds to plant to grow their own garden.

“I think the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce should have a presence in every school system,” he said.

If elected, Cole would likely have to cooperate with a Republican controlled House and Senate in the Mississippi Legislature, but said he doesn’t intend to operate the office “on a partisan fashion.”

“I think most of the members of the legislature on both sides are Mississippians first,” he said. “I’ll work with anyone and everyone who is willing to work on Mississippi’s food economy.”

Cole is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face Republican incumbent Andy Gipson on Nov. 5.

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