Letter demands close examination of 'draconian requirements'
By TIM HEARDEN
A dozen U.S. senators are urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to keep his recent pledge to undertake a detailed economic review of a proposed new meat marketing rule.
The senators, including Idaho Republicans Mike Crapo and James Risch, want Vilsack to ensure a "thorough, comprehensive" cost-benefit analysis of the rule the U.S. Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration proposed last June.
The analysis should answer several questions, such as whether the rule could actually lead to decreased competition and fewer markets for American producers to market their livestock, the senators wrote in a letter to Vilsack.
"We understand that many commenters on the rule are concerned that draconian requirements of the rule, never envisioned in the 2008 farm bill, will lead to fewer buyers, fewer auction barns and lower producer prices," the senators wrote.
The lawmakers also urged the Office of the Chief Economist be involved in the study and that it be subject to external peer review.
"We want to make sure any well-intentioned remedy doesn't have unintended consequences which could end up harming the very farm and ranch families that the rule is intended to protect," said Susan Wheeler, Crapo's communications director.
The Dec. 21 letter was sent by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and was also signed by Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Richard Burr of North Carolina, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Dick Lugar of Indiana.
The letter came after Vilsack promised an "exhaustive" cost-benefit analysis of the GIPSA rule during a conference call with industry leaders Dec. 15. Vilsack indicated the review would be done within the Office of Management and Budget and involve USDA chief economist Joe Glauber, according to an industry newsletter.
USDA spokesman Tom Fazzini has declined to comment about Vilsack's remarks, referring instead to a letter Vilsack sent to members of Congress in October. In the letter, Vilsack said the USDA's process "will include serious consideration of the public comments and further cost-benefit analysis based on these comments."
Livestock and poultry groups were guardedly pleased with Vilsack's call for an extensive review of the rule, which aims to assure fairness in the prices that producers are paid for their animals.
Janet Riley, a spokesman for the American Meat Institute, said the senators' letter shows that Capitol Hill is engaged on the issue.
"I do think that there has been a strong recognition on Capitol Hill of some of the weaknesses in the rule and the need for a comprehensive economic impact analysis," Riley said. "Earlier we had 115 members of the House write to Vilsack, and he responded they will be doing an economic analysis. ... Now senators are following up.
"I think there's strong interest on Capitol Hill as there should be, because so many of their constituents are concerned," she said.
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration livestock rule: www.gipsa.usda.gov
Senators' letter to Secretary Vilsack: http://johanns.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=da8faeb9-39a0-4500-a6c2-77cc49a48aed