FROM an immigration bill in Washington, D.C., to managing sows in the country to opening markets on the other side of the world, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has a lot of challenges on its plate to ensure the healthfulness and safety of pork and to protect the U.S. pork industry.
Heading into the 25th anniversary of NPPC's World Pork Expo, NPPC chief executive officer Neil Dierks took some time last month to discuss key parts of that full plate with Feedstuffs.
Farm bill. Dierks said NPPC is seeking to make sure the farm bill "supports" the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) sufficiently enough so that the agency can continue to protect the swine herd — and all livestock and poultry — from foreign animal diseases.
In particular, Dierks said there are proposals, in response to budget pressures, to combine operations and/or staff at APHIS, such as combining livestock with zoo animals or the veterinary staff with the wildlife staff. This could potentially be harmful to livestock health, he said.
NPPC also has called for a study that would be sponsored by the farm bill to evaluate "a catastrophic disease insurance program" that would help producers recover from a disease event that closes export markets.
Dierks noted that the pork industry exports 25% of pork production, which means that if all export markets were to close, there would immediately be 25% more pork on the domestic market.
He said the market would collapse under the sudden increase in supplies, thus driving substantial losses across the industry and forcing a "rush for the exit" scenario. The rush would consolidate production, which would hit not only producers but other parts of rural America, including feed mills, packing plants, employment and downtowns, he said.
However, Dierks said if an insurance program were to kick in, it could offset those losses and stop that rush. "We're not asking for producers to be bestowed," he said. "We just need a way to right-size the industry."
Animal drug legislation. Dierks said NPPC supports reauthorization of the Animal Drug User Fee Act, under which drug companies would compensate the Food & Drug Administration for its review of the efficacy and safety of animal health products, allowing companies to get new drugs to producers faster.
However, he said the legislation needs to be reauthorized as written, not with provisions such as a limitation on the use of antibiotics that some interests have suggested.
Immigration legislation. Dierks said NPPC supports the "evolution of immigration law" to determine a better means for identifying the immigration status of people seeking work on farms and in plants. He said this is important to all of agriculture.
EPA. Dierks said the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to collect private data from producers but then release that information to activist groups and the agency's decision not to waive production requirements within the renewable fuel standard (RFS) were "disappointing."
Producers asked EPA for help in a short crop year, and "we did not get a good answer," he said, adding that the RFS needs to be reformed.
Trade. Dierks said a solution to the U.S. country-of-origin labeling law (COOL) is needed.
The World Trade Organization, on a petition submitted by the governments of Canada and Mexico, ruled that COOL violates WTO rules. The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsequently published a revision that it believes brings COOL into compliance but that Canada and Mexico already have said doesn't meet international rules.
WTO began considering the revision May 23 and has 90 days to determine the status of the COOL rule. If it determines that the law remains non-compliant, Canada and Mexico likely will begin a process to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products, including pork.
Noting that Canada said COOL has done more than $1 billion in damage to the Canadian beef and pork sectors, Dierks said the retaliation could be significant.
Canada and Mexico are the fourth- and second-largest export markets for U.S. pork.
"The clock is running," he said.
Dierks also said NPPC will work to help negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and is particularly pleased that Japan asked to be and will be included in the partnership talks.
He noted that the U.S. doesn't have a free trade agreement with Japan, which is the largest export market for U.S. pork, and he said Japan represents 180 million consumers.
The TPP will allow the U.S. — and industries like the pork sector — "to put more importance into our Pacific relationships," he said.
Dierks also said NPPC supports negotiations to cover an EU/U.S. free trade agreement, noting that the EU represents 300 million consumers.
Animal welfare. Dierks commended the National Pork Board for its effort to communicate "real issues" about animal welfare to foodservice and retail customers, with an important part of that message being that "production practices should be left to the people who are closest to the animals, and they're the producers."
He explained that many of those customers are making announcements about production practices, especially sow housing, that are more about differentiating themselves in a competitive marketplace than animal welfare.
"We have to take care of our animals, and we do," Dierks said. However, NPPC's position is that there are many ways to produce pigs, what's most important is management and producers are the ones to exercise that management, he said.
Pork demand. Dierks said he's optimistic that demand for pork will increase this summer because pork prices will be at such "a value point" that pork will be competitive in both the domestic and export markets.
There are headwinds, he acknowledged, including China and Russia's positions on ractopamine use and slow U.S. and world economies.
However, he said, "it's well documented" that beef supplies will be extremely tight, and poultry supplies will be similar to last year.
"So, we're going to see a lot of pork move this summer," Dierks said, and there could be some profitability if the corn situation plays out as forecasted.