The question, "is 2020 over yet?" is a reoccurring question these days. I would agree with the sentiment and certainly would be the first in line to kick 2020 to the curb. However, I am proud to say that our essential industry has adjusted to our new "normal" in rapid fashion in order to keep our product moving and consumers' refrigerators, both here and abroad, stocked with a variety of pork cuts.
Last week, under normal circumstances, our hog farmers would have flown to Washington, D.C., as part of the National Pork Producers Council's Fall Legislative Action Conference to meet with the Illinois congressional delegation. Though not in-person, hog farmers from Illinois and across the country were still able to address several key issues with legislators via virtual meetings. An additional COVID-relief package that includes much-needed assistance to hog farmers in crisis and foreign animal disease prevention topped the list of critical issues our farmers stressed to lawmakers.
Each morning last week, the NPPC hosted informational meetings for producers. Some of the speakers included House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Chief Veterinary Officer Burke Healey.
Over an online meeting platform, legislators and pork producers were able to share perspective and insights about serious challenges facing hog farmers. Between low commodity prices and unexpected supply chain complications due to COVID-19, farmers continue to call for federal assistance.
The pork industry continues to advocate for a COVID-19 assistance package that includes the following provisions. 1) compensation for euthanized and donated hogs; 2) additional funding for animal health surveillance and laboratories, which have appropriately assisted and shared resources with their public health partners; 3) modification of the Commodity Credit Corp. charter so a pandemic-driven national emergency qualifies for funding; 4) additional funds for direct payments to producers without restriction and; 5) extension of the Paycheck Protection Program with modifications to make it accessible to more producers.
U.S. pork producers continue to suffer considerable losses due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and cannot afford another catastrophic blow should African swine fever or other foreign animal diseases enter our country.
Earlier this month, Germany reported its first case of ASF in a wild boar. The swine-only disease continues to spread in parts of Europe and Asia, and the United States needs to remain vigilant to ensure ASF and other animal and plant diseases do not enter our country.
NPPC is urging Congress to fully fund FAD prevention programs. U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection agriculture inspections at U.S. ports of entry are funded by Agricultural Quarantine Inspection program user fees. Due to the COVID-related economic downturn and significant reductions in travel, collection of these user fees has dropped precipitously.
Hog farmers also addressed the following priorities with lawmakers during last week’s conference.
- A U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement that eliminates all tariff and non-tariff barriers.
- Moving regulatory oversight of gene editing in animals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the USDA.
- Timely reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act, set to expire Sept. 30.
As Dale Weitekamp, Illinois Pork Producers Association president explains, these conversations that Illinois pig farmers had with members of our congressional delegation are critical in expressing what is happening to our industry and our farms. Even though our group could not host these meetings in person, we still had productive conversations with many of our members of Congress.
Although a challenging and unprecedented year thus far, our industry has been able to identify gaps and work quickly to make improvements as the months pass by. We are confident that next year will bring hope and progress to our industry.