A review of trends and events in 2010 provides some indication of how 2011 will play out. Of the seven major topics which will influence profitability for intensive livestock and poultry production and hence the feed industry during the year, five are either directly or indirectly influenced by Congress and the policies of the current Administration.
Putting aside the wider issues of finance and taxation, international trade, and development of infrastructure, there are a number of specific items of concern to agribusiness:
The price of corn according to agro-economists trades at least 50 cents per bushel above what it would otherwise be if it were not for diversion of 30% of the annual corn harvest to ethanol. The so-called renewable fuels policy of the current and the previous administrations is nothing but a hidden tax on our citizens. Without subsidies, mandates and other forms of protection based on self-interest and lobbying, the ethanol industry would collapse as a non-viable enterprise. How long will it take to penetrate the rhetoric of “self-sufficiency” and “reliance on foreign tyrants and adversaries” in order that we can establish a rational energy policy using domestic natural gas, oxymoronic “clean coal” and contributions from wind and solar sources?
Comrades Vilsack and Holder have been active in trying to fix a system that ain’t broke. Looking for hidden conspiracies to deprive contractors of their justifiable income through a series of hearings with more emphasis on emotion than substance was unproductive. The proposed rule changes analyzed on behalf of the AFIA and the NCC have disclosed potentially devastating impacts on employment and GDP. The latest news is that Secretary Vilsack has adopted the position of Fagin in Oliver who sang “I think I better think it out again.”
The EPA has been extremely aggressive under the Obama Administration. Setting pollution limits for the Chesapeake Watershed was advanced as cornerstone of the proactive EPA program. Unfortunately, the figures on which EPA policy are based are disputed by a report commissioned by a consortium of producer and farming organizations under the umbrella of the Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council.
The expert reviewers found inconsistencies in EPA data and assumptions regarding CAFOs and farming practices which markedly influenced conclusions from the derived models on which regulations are to be based. Are the feed and livestock industries now obliged to continually verify work performed by government personnel who are employed at our expense? Are these “errors” if shown to be valid, attributable to either bias or incompetence of EPA scientists and administrators?
Food and Drug Administration
The history of the Final Rule on salmonella suggests a lack of sincerity on the part of the Agency in framing realistic and practical regulations which will benefit consumers and other stakeholders.
There was a disinclination by the FDA to consult with sister agencies or to establish a dialogue with disinterested and knowledgeable academics and poultry health professionals. The premature and inflammatory press releases at the time of the August recall displayed a lack of restraint and judgment. Statements during the early days of the event depressed consumption by creating an unjustified concern as to the wholesomeness of eggs. The FDA and now the USDA-FSIS appear intent on moving back into the production chain in their misguided attempts to suppress coliform infections, salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis.
Funding for applied research
Appropriations and funding for research at Land Grant institutions is being diverted to “feel good” projects to support and encourage subsistence, “family” and organic farms which are inherently inefficient and non-sustainable, making a minimal contribution to our food supply. A concentration on molecular biology by the USDA and committing vast sums to prestige projects by the Department of Homeland Security to combat agro-bioterrorism, deprives researchers of the funds required to investigate real world problems. The proposed National Poultry Disease Laboratory has languished for years as an unfunded entity.
It is evident that many of the problems facing our industry devolve from well meaning but misguided policies of our current administration. It may be said that the previous administration was too lax in enforcement of environmental, labor and food safety regulations.
We should all hope that we are witnessing a pendulum which has reached the limit of its arc. We need a good strong infusion of reason and commonsense to restore an equilibrium between extremes. Secretaries Vilsack and Holden please understand that intensive agriculture is not inherently bad. Please be temperate and judicious in your actions and the guidance of your more radical appointed subordinates. We do not want you to throw out the baby with the bath water. Policies to stimulate and support small-scale farming can be developed without destroying the most productive agricultural system the world has ever seen.