Livestock leaders target farm bill
By John O’Connell
National livestock industry leaders have vowed to defeat the compromise farm bill, worried it retains country-of-origin labeling requirements on fresh meats that may result in retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico.
No changes will be allowed when Congress votes Wednesday morning on the conference report of the farm bill, valued at $900 billion over 10 years. A favorable vote would send the bill to President Barack Obama’s desk.
Leaders with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council said during a Tuesday morning conference call a failed farm bill would be returned to committees, where they would push for language to remove country-of-origin labeling before letting the legislation resume its course.
“If we didn’t think we could do it, we wouldn’t be doing it,” NCBA spokesman Colin Woodall said. “We know we’ve already changed a lot of minds.”
The groups would also like to strip out the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration rule, included in the 2008 Farm Bill requiring USDA approval of livestock sales contracts. The final GIPSA rule affected only poultry, but cattle and pork producers worry the underlying language remains in the farm bill and could lead to broader regulations in the future.
If the farm bill becomes law without the changes, the livestock groups plan to pursue their goals through independent legislation and rally the public against lawmakers supportive of the farm bill.
Though the farm bill contains disaster-relief funding to help cattle and other livestock producers, NCBA President Scott George likened them to a Band-Aid, compared with a “runaway freight train” of retaliation from Mexico and Canada threatening a livestock industry “tied to the tracks.”
“This livestock sector, all of us are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and we want this fix,” George said.
The federal government broadened country-of-origin labeling to include fresh meats in 2008, prompting Canada and Mexico to file complaints with the World Trade Organization alleging the policy discounted their U.S. beef prices in violation of trade agreements. After WTO sided with Canada and Mexico, USDA issued an updated country-of-origin label with slightly more information, hoping to resolve their concerns.
WTO will consider the U.S. fix during a Feb. 18 hearing. If the change is deemed insufficient, as livestock industry leaders anticipate, Canada has already prepared a broad list of commodities to target with tariffs in punishment, and Mexico plans to target the top 10 U.S. commodity exports.
“Mexico is our No. 1 volume export market, and if they retaliate against us, it’s going to be harmful to us,” said NPPC President Randy Sprock.
USDA estimates the annual cost of segregating animals and maintaining country-of-origin paperwork at $100 million.
The National Farmers Union has supported both country-of-origin labeling and GIPSA and endorses the Farm Bill. NFU President Roger Johnson noted more than 90 percent of consumers say they want to know where their food comes from.