The House Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing concerning the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report on USDA actions need to strengthen enforcement of Human Methods of Slaughter Act. The report indicates that USDA inspectors have been inconsistent in their reporting of humane handling violations. GAO recommends stronger enforcement of the act, including establishing “clear and specific” criteria for suspending plant operations, improving standards for compliance, and more closely examining noncompliance reports.” An inspector with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) testified that USDA officials not only overturned his recommendations in enforcing the act, but agreed with slaughter plants.

House Bill Sets Requirements for Federal Meat Purchases — Congressmen Diane Watson (D-CA) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) have introduced H.R. 4733, the “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act,” which would require federal agencies to purchase meat from sources that raised the animals free from cruelty and abuse. The legislation requires that food purchased for federal programs (school breakfast and lunch, military, federal prisons, etc.) come from animals raised with enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around and stretch their limbs. Congressman Watson said, “Americans are increasingly demanding that we move away from abusive confinement in tiny cages on factory farms. The federal government has a responsibility to help lead the way on this important issue.” The Humane Society of the United States has endorsed the legislation.

Russia Opens Market to U.S. Pork — The United States and Russia reached an agreement to reopen the Russian market to U.S. pork and pork products. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “Exports are extremely important to the U.S. pork industry. Reopening the market with Russia – our fifth largest market last year – is excellent news for American hog producers.” Russia imported $257 million of U.S. pork and pork variety meats in 2009, representing 6% of U.S. pork exports.

Vilsack’s New Agricultural Trade Strategy — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack outlined a new strategy to boost agriculture exports at the 2010 Commodity Classic. He stated: “USDA’s continued work to expand trade opportunities for America’s hard-working farmers and ranchers will play an important role in our effort to rebuild rural communities across the country. Increased trade will not only create important income opportunities for producers, but also the off-farm jobs that are so critical for revitalizing rural America.” Vilsack noted that USDA has traditionally looked at agricultural trading partners by geographic region. Under the new trade strategy, USDA will look at countries based on their position on an agricultural market continuum, which enables tailored strategies to increase exports to individual markets. The continuum goes from fragile markets/food security states, to potential growth markets, to restricted access markets, to rapid growth markets, to developed consumer markets. The new strategy will improve collaboration among USDA agencies and guide priorities for international staffing, foreign assistance and agricultural research. For example, in potential growth markets, USDA programs will now emphasize building the institutional and human capacity needed to support increased trade, while in restricted access markets, USDA efforts are designed to remove trade barriers. In rapid growth markets, USDA will now emphasize using a full range of programs to build trade capacity, remove trade barriers and develop new markets for U.S. products.

USDA Crop Estimates Lowered — USDA released its latest crop estimates in which it lowered corn production estimates 20 million bushels. Even with the revised estimate the 2009/10 corn crop remains a record 13.1 billion bushels. USDA lowered corn exports by 100 million bushels as larger foreign supplies increase world competition. The ending stocks are projected to be 80 million bushels higher at 1.799 billion bushels. U.S. soybean production was lowered to 3.359 billion bushels. This is still a record crop. Soybean ending stocks are estimated at 190 million bushels, down 20 million from last month’s projection.

Ban For-Profit Earmarks — The House Appropriations Committee announced that it will not approve earmarks that are directed to for-profit entities. If this rule had been in effect last year, it would have resulted in 1,000 fewer earmarks. This move will have a key impact on defense earmark requests. Businesses will be able to apply, but the Department of Defense, not Congress, will choose which for-profit projects will be funded. According to the committee, this will ensure that any for-profit entity applying for federal funding will earn that funding in a competitive process based on merits.

P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.