More than 125 pork producers will converge on Washington, D.C., for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) biannual legislative action fly-in this Wednesday and Thursday. The event gives producers an opportunity to lobby members of Congress to address a variety of industry issues. The event is timely, given that Congress returned to Washington and work on Monday.
At the top of producers’ priority list this fall is an “ask” for Congress to move forward with ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), says Jim Monroe, NPPC assistant vice president, communications.
“Mexico and Canada represented about 40% of total U.S. pork exports last year,” he says. “We want to see 0% tariffs pork trade secured in North America for the long-term.”
Mexico is the largest-volume export market for U.S. pork, while Canada ranks as one the top five pork export markets each year. The two countries are valuable export markets for other agricultural commodities as well.
“We're focused on making sure that those who represent our pork producers understand how critical the agreement is to our producers,” Monroe adds.
President Donald Trump has pushed for the approval for USMCA, his replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement. Overall, Republicans want a vote on USMCA, according to Jim Wiesemeyer, ProFarmer analyst, but House Democrats are not satisfied their concerns have been met. Those concerns include labor rights, environmental protection, a 10-year guarantee of monopoly pricing for biologic drugs and strong measures to enforce provisions in the proposed USMCA. A working group is expected to negotiate with U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer in September or October to go through proposed changes.
Foreign Animal Disease Concerns
While in D.C., producers will be asking Congress to support appropriations funding for 600 more agriculture inspectors at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to further strengthen biosecurity for the U.S.
Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee co-sponsored a bill in late July that would authorize CBP to hire the additional inspectors. CBP estimates it is short nearly 700 agricultural inspectors across the country. In a news release, senators stated that besides inspecting 1 million people a day at U.S. ports, CBP and USDA inspectors also examine 78,000 trucks, rail cars and cargo containers daily.
Monroe says pork producers are asking for the increased number of inspectors to strengthen U.S. biosecurity, given the increased global risk of African swine fever.
“I think the latest outbreak in Vietnam reinforces that need,” he says. “There is no vaccine for the disease. More inspectors at our seaports, airports and landports (would help) keep it out of the U.S.”
Another foreign disease-related matter pork producers will address with Congress this week has to do with foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). The 2018 Farm Bill provided for mandatory funding for animal disease prevention, specifically the funding for an FMD vaccine bank, Monroe notes.
“There is a vaccine, we just don’t have access to enough of it that we could deal with an outbreak quickly and eradicate it if it were to occur here,” he says. “So we are urging members of Congress to urge the USDA to implement the Farm Bill, as intended by Congress.”
Oversight For New Technology
In the race to adopt technology to improve hog management and pork production, Monroe says a number of countries are ahead of the U.S. in terms of using gene-editing practices.
“It has tremendous potential to decrease antibiotic use, reduce environmental impact and increase production efficiencies,” he notes.
Monroe says the current regulatory framework is very convoluted, costly and slow, so producers are asking lawmakers to move regulatory oversight from the Food & Drug Administration to USDA.
“We think USDA is in a much better position to apply a regulatory framework that will attract investment and allow this technology to be developed and for its potential to be realized,” Monroe says.