There are several positive provisions for pork producers in the Senate Farm Bill approved last Friday, but the measure also includes some that could have a negative impact on the competitiveness and profitability of the U.S. pork industry, according to the National Pork Producers Council.
The bill includes fixes to the Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling law, funds for pseudorabies and swine genome research and authorization for a national trichinae certification program, all of which NPPC supports and all of which it will urge be included in a final Farm Bill. NPPC also will recommend that a final bill include increases in investments in renewable energy, nutrition and conservation programs, which along with changes to the MCOOL law, were included in the House Farm Bill.
Members of the Senate and House agriculture committees are expected to meet in mid-January to reconcile differences in their chambers’ respective Farm Bills.
Among the detrimental provisions included in the Senate Farm Bill are ones that would ban packer ownership of hogs, restrict marketing contracts and establish an Office of Special Counsel to investigate and prosecute livestock-competition issues.
“The Senate Farm Bill is kind of a mixed bag for the U.S. pork industry,” says Jill Appell, NPPC president, a pork producer from Altona , Ill. “When Senate and House lawmakers meet to craft a final Farm Bill, NPPC will work for a measure that does not include restrictions on producers and that protects the pork industry’s competitiveness.”
NPPC kept out of the Senate bill amendments that would have:
Created an Agriculture Competition Task Force with powers to investigate agricultural competition issues and to develop guidelines governing competition.
Required the Department of Justice – under guidelines developed by the Competition Task Force – to challenge livestock mergers and acquisitions under a standard much more restrictive than antitrust reviews conducted of transactions involving any other industry.
Allowed a plaintiff to file a lawsuit alleging “unfair” competition without offering evidence that he or she suffered a competitive injury.
Prohibited packers from paying premiums for value-added livestock, such as “antibiotic-free,” by eliminating “business justification” as a defense against lawsuits alleging unfair competition. The amendment was defeated on a 40 to 55 vote.
The White House has already threatened to veto the Farm Bill based on what it's seen so far. "This legislation is fundamentally flawed. Unless the House and Senate can come together and craft a measure that contains real reform, we are no closer to a good Farm Bill than we were before today's (Friday) passage," Acting USDA Secretary Chuck Conner said in a statement.
The Administration opposes the cost of the $286-billion farm bill, which it says includes $22 billion in unfunded commitments and includes $15 billion in new taxes, as well as the fact that it did not limit subsidies to wealthier farm owners as much as the Administration sought.
"We have a number of concerns with key aspects of that whole competition title," Conner said, when asked whether the Administration would seek changes in the packer livestock ownership provision.
"We're going to be working very closely with the conferees in both the House and Senate to address this issue directly as we go into the conference," Mark Keenum, undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, told reporters, adding that the provision is, "impeding commerce and trade with a specific commodity, in this situation livestock, and that's a slippery slope."