R-CALF: Producers' Interests Represented At Obama-Biden Agriculture Transition Team Meeting
Washington, D.C. – R-CALF USA was one of about 25 agricultural organizations invited to participate in a meeting here Monday in which the goal was to recommend to the Agriculture Secretary-designee reforms to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) once President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January 2009.
“The Obama-Biden Transition Team is putting together a briefing paper to give to whomever Obama selects to be the next Secretary of Agriculture, and that person will use the briefing paper as a starting point with regard to what needs to be changed within USDA first,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard, who represented the group at the meeting. “Besides the necessary changes to USDA, the focus of the meeting also was to discuss what the new Agriculture Secretary will need to do immediately to begin to implement and accomplish what Obama said he would do during his election campaign.”
Bullard pointed out that the recommendations by R-CALF USA would allow the largest segment of U.S. agriculture – the U.S. live cattle industry – to help rebuild rural economies in the U.S. because profitable U.S. cattle operations equate to economic growth and stability for those rural communities.
“R-CALF was the only organization participating at the meeting that exclusively represents the U.S. live cattle industry,” Bullard concluded. “We are pleased that R-CALF is recognized as an agricultural leader in Washington by the new Administration, and we think that’s going to help us considerably in achieving the membership directives of our organization.”
R-CALF USA recommended that the new USDA make the following changes within the four USDA departments that impact the U.S. live cattle industry:
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
Immediately rescind APHIS’ over-30-month rule (OTM Rule) that allows the importation of cattle and beef from Canadian cattle that have a higher risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In R-CALF USA et al, vs. USDA, the U.S. District Court ordered USDA to reopen its OTM Rule, and the public comment period for the court-ordered rulemaking closed on Nov. 17, 2008.
Immediately halt APHIS’ efforts to impose a one-size-fits-all National Animal Identification System (NAIS) program on U.S. livestock producers and redirect all funds presently used for this purpose to encourage state animal health officials and Tribes to improve their livestock traceback capabilities by improving existing disease control systems, such as the brucellosis surveillance program.
Promulgate regulations to require APHIS to assist private persons to voluntarily test for diseases such as BSE.
Reaffirm, by regulatory action, APHIS’ congressional mandate to prevent the “introduction” of foreign animal diseases like BSE and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) into the United States. APHIS has defied this mandate in its OTM Rule by establishing a much weaker standard – that of preventing the “establishment” of foreign animal diseases in the United States after they are allowed to be introduced.
Require APHIS to conduct both quantitative and qualitative risk assessments when determining the risk of introducing foreign animal diseases into the United States from foreign countries.
Require countries with ongoing BSE outbreaks to test all animals over 30 months of age as a precondition to allowing trade in cattle and beef.
Reverse APHIS’ relatively recent “regionalization” regulations that would conceivably allow the importation of animals and meat from countries with ongoing disease outbreaks by regionalizing, or carving out, specific areas within the disease-affected country. Regionalization would greatly increase the risk of introducing foreign animal diseases into the United States.
Reaffirm, by regulatory action, the policy that the United States will only import animals and meat products from countries that are free of foreign animal diseases not indigenous to the United States, or that have been effectively controlled or eradicated within the United States.
Immediately rescind APHIS’ policy of requiring mandatory premises registration and NAIS participation for any livestock producer involved in a federal disease program and/or who also ships livestock in interstate commerce.
Rescind APHIS’ recent rule that relaxed the requirement that live animals imported from countries with ongoing disease problems be permanently branded with a brand denoting the animal’s country-of-origin. APHIS has relaxed this requirement and now allows the use of tattoos, which makes it difficult to distinguish cattle imported from countries with ongoing disease problems.
Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS)
Fully restore the regulatory requirement that foreign meatpacking establishments maintain food safety and food safety inspection standards identical to or equal to United States’ standards, thus reversing the relatively recent revision that requires only a standard of equivalency for foreign meatpacking plants.
Fully restore the regulatory requirement that foreign meatpacking establishments receive food safety inspections on a monthly basis, thus reversing the relatively recent revision that requires only periodic inspections of foreign meatpacking plants.
Amend regulations to require traceability of pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 back to the slaughterhouse where the contaminated meat was fabricated, thus enabling the identification of the source of the contaminant, not just the processing plant that subsequently and unknowingly further distributed the contaminated product.
Amend the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) regulations to strengthen FSIS’ control, oversight, and enforcement of food safety standards in U.S. slaughtering plants. The self-enforcement policy underpinning the current HACCP program is inadequate to ensure compliance with food safety requirements.
Promulgate rules to implement the 2008 Farm Bill language that allows state-inspected meat plants to engage in interstate commerce. The rules should be written both to facilitate and to simplify access to interstate commerce by state-inspected plants, while ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of meat products produced by such plants.
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
Modify the interim final rule for country-of-origin labeling (COOL) to prohibit the use of a mixed-origin label on meat from animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States; amend the definition of processed foods to include cooked products under the labeling requirements; shorten the time period to one week that a country’s name may be included on ground meat labels after the packer or processor ceases sourcing raw product from that country; disallow a mixed-origin sign on meat cases that also contain USA meat; and, disallow the retention of the USA label for products that are exported and then re-imported prior to sale to the final consumer.
Require all imported livestock to bear a permanent mark of origin as a condition of entry into the United States, which can be accomplished by removing livestock from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s so-called “J-list.”
Amend the regulations for mandatory price reporting to achieve greater transparency of livestock market prices as recommended by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA)
Promulgate rules to define “undue or unreasonable preference or advantage” as required by the 2008 Farm Bill.
Adopt the 2006 recommendations of the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) that found GIPSA had not properly enforced the Packers and Stockyards Act for many years.
Promulgate rules, or encourage through statute, a prohibition on packer ownership of livestock more than 14 days prior to slaughter.
Prohibit packers from procuring cattle through formula-type contracts that currently allow meatpackers to procure cattle prior to slaughter without negotiating a fixed base price for cattle.