Both houses of Congress have finally passed the 2008 Farm Bill – officially known as the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act. The House vote on Wednesday was 318 to 106, and today the Senate voted to pass the measure 81 to 15. 

Specific to pork producers, the  includes several provisions that are beneficial to the U.S. pork industry, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

“Our goal going into the Farm Bill process was to maintain the competitiveness of the U.S. pork industry, which meant increasing funds for vital programs and keeping out any mischief,” says Bryan Black, NPPC president and Ohio pork producer. “We accomplished that goal, and the 2008 Farm Bill is good for producers.”

Among the provisions that NPPC supported are ones that will:

  • Change the Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling law to include four new label categories for meat, including one to address Canadian feeder pigs by allowing flexibility in labeling so that producers and packers can reduce sorting costs. The law also was changed to ease the recordkeeping required to verify an animal’s country of origin by allowing the use of existing records, such as normal business records, animal-health papers and import or customs documents.
  • Require a study that looks at the costs and impacts on pork producers and consumers of requiring packers to report wholesale pork cut prices and volumes.
  • Authorize a voluntary national trichinae certification program, which will certify that exported pork is trichinae-free, thus further increasing export opportunities.
  • Authorize the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence, which coordinates research, teaching and Extension for the pork industry on a national scale.
  • Authorize research grants for mapping the swine genome.
  • Authorize research and education grants to study antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including the movement of antibiotic-resistant bacteria into ground and surface water, and for the study of judicious use of antibiotics in veterinary and human medicine.
  • Increase funds for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and make it easier for pork producers to qualify for the cost-share conservation program.
  • Increase funds for the Conservation Security Program to allow more acres to be enrolled and restructure the program to provide conservation stewardship payments that encourage producers to implement additional conservation practices.
  • Allow the use of manure and manure biogas for advanced biofuel and renewable biomass production.
  • Provide incentives to expand the production of advanced biofuels made from agricultural and forestry crops and associated waste materials, including animal manure and livestock and food processing waste.
  • Give producers the right to cancel production contracts within three days of signing.
  • Allow producers, at the time of signing a contract, to opt out of using arbitration – and instead use the courts – to settle contract disputes.
  • Give producers the right to settle disputes involving production or marketing contracts in the federal court district in which production occurred.
  • Allow contracts between entities in different states to specify which state’s laws apply when disputes arise unless the laws in the state in which production occurs take precedent.
  • Sense of Congress regarding the pseudorabies eradication program, recognizing the threat of feral swine to the domestic swine population and establishing continued support for the swine surveillance system.
  • Increase funding for the export-promoting Market Access Program and for the Foreign Market Development program.
  • Direct the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration to provide Congress an annual report on the number and resolution of livestock cases brought under the Packers and Stockyards Act.
  • Allow interstate shipment of state-inspected meat and poultry from packing plants that have state inspection programs that are identical to the federal program.
  •  Among the detrimental provisions NPPC opposed and was able to keep out of the legislation were ones that would have:
  • Banned packers from owning livestock.
  • Included various costly and unnecessary definitions and rulemakings that would have greatly expanded the current livestock laws and regulations and dictated what could and could not be in a swine contract. 
  • Established an Office of Special Counsel within USDA to investigate livestock competition matters, replacing the U.S. Department of Justice’s role in enforcing competition and antitrust matters.
  • Allowed the hiring of private attorneys to investigate and prosecute livestock competition cases rather than the U.S. government.
  • Eliminated as a defense against lawsuits over alleged unfair competition “justifiable business practice” for pork producers who make rational business decisions based on cost, quality and efficiency.
  • Dictated onerous on-farm, food-animal handling and production practices.

The bill also lowers the ethanol blender’s credit from 51 cents per gallon to 45 cents and extends the import tariff on ethanol to Dec. 31, 2010, from Dec. 31, 2009.

NPPC, which first raised concerns about the rapid rise of corn-based ethanol production in September 2006, argued that extending the 54-cent import tariff would further inflate the high feed costs currently affecting pork producers.

“NPPC supports ethanol production,” says Black. “But pork producers still have concerns about corn costs and availability, both of which are affected by ethanol production, and about our ability to compete for corn on a level playing field with the subsidized ethanol industry.”

The Farm Bill now heads to the White House, where President Bush is expected to veto the measure because, he says, it does not include reforms to various farm programs and does include budgetary gimmicks and tax increases.

 Source: National Pork Producers Council