Trips to Washington DC with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and its Pork Leadership Institute (PLI) always offer enlightenment on current issues mixed with a comradery not seen in all industries. This spring’s trip was no exception.
For me, a few of the high points from this years’ experience was gaining an inside look at California Proposition 12, the importance making your voice heard in Washington, meeting the director of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and visiting with congressional representatives.
California Prop 12 was passed in November 2018. The mandate is now in the rule-making stage and is expected to take effect in 2022 when all breeding pigs, defined as females six months of age or older, must be provided a minimum of 24 sq. ft. of useable floor space per animal. It does allow breeding pigs to be moved into stalls five days prior to farrowing and remain there until piglets are weaned. This not only affects producers raising female breeding pigs in California, but also anyone raising pigs outside of California whose pork products are consumed in California. Adding to the confusion is the fact that still more information is needed to define the language around which pork products will actually be affected.
According to Michael Formica, NPPC assistant vice president of domestic affairs and council, the passage of California Prop 12 means a producer affected by this must start now to convert to open-pen gestation, allowing densities adequate to meet the 24 sq. ft. of usable floor space as stipulated in the law. NPPC is developing an opposition strategy and believes the regulation violates the U.S. Constitutions commerce clause.
Getting your voice heard
During the PLI Washington, D.C., visit, the California proposition lead to many discussions about how producers, particularly those from other states, can get their voices heard about matters affecting their livelihoods.
When it comes to national laws, Ken Ackerman from theCapitol.Net points out there are four times when producers can be heard individually or through their representatives. These include:
- During a bill’s early development
Providing a specific message to urge or discourage action.
- During the regulation’s comment period (typically 60 days)
Producers and their representatives can submit comments related to the regulation.
- When Congress is reviewing the final proposed bill
If a flawed bill passes it can be challenged in court; producers can seek congressional action or work with an agency to influence implementation.
- When the bill is finalized
The option then is to comply with the rule and urge for future change if needed.
Federal agencies are responsible for regulations, which require public comment periods. It’s important to note that those comments must be addressed in the final regulation in the Federal Register, found online at www.FederalRegister.gov. The agency that the pork industry primarily works with is USDA and in particular APHIS.
Keeping the U.S. herd safe
During this year’s spring trip, we had the rare occasion to meet a past director of APHIS, Bobby Accord, and the current director, Kevin Shea.
Director Shea started the meeting by emphasizing that among APHIS’ goals is keeping pork producers healthy and profitable. He has held many different roles in APHIS and has a good understanding of the pork industry and the direct effects of current issues on producers’ livelihood.
APHIS has responsibility in so many areas, but the one most top of mind for pork producers today is to keep foreign animal diseases (FAD) out of the U.S. The agency would be responsible for overseeing any FAD emergency response. APHIS also works with border control and other agencies to secure the health of the U.S. herd.
Other topics that we discussed during our visit included the farm bill, specifically the need for a foot and mouth disease (FMD) vaccine bank. Shea urged us, and all pork producers, to respond during the comment periods for the related regulations, outlining whether we agree, disagree or have further suggestions.
Sending pork producers’ message
Other topics that we addressed with lawmakers during our visits included:
- Removing Tariffs: We asked them to lift metal tariffs on Mexico, U.S. pork’s largest export market, which would restore zero-tariff access.
- Trade – Urged lawmakers to quickly complete and deliver a trade deal with Japan, end trade disputes with China and ratify the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement to secure long-term zero-tariff pork trade within North America.
- African swine fever – Requested funding for 600 new U.S. Customs and Border Protection agricultural inspectors, which would increase to full staffing, in order to prevent the spread of FADs to the United States.
- Farm Bill Implementation – We asked them to implement the 2018 Farm Bill as intended by allocating mandatory animal disease funding for the development of an FMD vaccine bank.
- Farm Labor – Outlined the need to support hog farmers and others in agriculture by expanding the H-2A visa program to include year-round agricultural workers, which currently only addresses seasonal workers, and place oversight for the program with the USDA, which best understands the pork industry.
Each year, NPPC’s Spring Legislative Action Conference is an opportunity for producers and allied industry representatives to meet with members of Congress to express their ideas and concerns about topics that need to be addressed, analyze current bills under consideration and even ask for support. I would encourage any and all pork industry representatives to get involved whether it’s at the local, state or national level.