For the Week Ending March 31, 2017

March 31, 2017

EPA NOW LIMITED ON FARM DATA IT CAN RELEASE

A federal judge Monday approved a settlement agreement between NPPC and the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, limiting EPA’s release of information on livestock farmers. Under the agreement, the agency only may provide under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request the city, county, zip code and Clean Water Act permit status of a concentrated animal feeding operation. It also requires EPA to conduct training for its employees on FOIA, personal information and the federal Privacy Act. The settlement stems from the February 2013 release by EPA’s Office of Water to several activist groups, which filed a FOIA request, of extensive private and personal information the agency collected on farmers in 29 states. (EPA gathered the information despite being forced in 2012 to drop a proposed data reporting rule for large farms because of concerns about the privacy and biosecurity of family farms.) Following the 2013 release and after objections from NPPC, the Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups, EPA requested that the activist organizations return the data, but the agency subsequently was prepared to release additional farm information it collected from seven other states. NPPC and the Farm Bureau also objected to the additional release, and in July 2014 filed suit against EPA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. That court in late 2015 dismissed the lawsuit, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis reinstated it, and last September it ruled that EPA “abused its discretion in deciding that the information at issue was not exempt from mandatory disclosure under Exemption 6 [personal privacy interests] of FOIA.”

 

HOUSE RESOLUTION URGES TRUMP TO BEGIN TRADE TALKS WITH JAPAN

Reps. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Thursday introduced House Resolution 236, urging the Trump administration to start the process of establishing a free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan. NPPC, which thanked Smith and Yoho for the resolution, strongly supports an FTA with the Asian nation, the No. 1 export market for U.S. pork. In 2016, the U.S. pork industry shipped nearly $1.6 billion of pork to Japan.

 

NPPC, OTHER AGRICULTURE GROUPS CALL FOR ESTATE TAX REPEAL

NPPC this week joined a coalition of 31 other agricultural groups on a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Richard Neal, D-Mass., asking that any tax reform package include permanent repeal of the estate tax. Sometimes referred to as the “death tax,” the levy is imposed on the net value – less an exemption – of an owner’s assets transferred at death to an heir or heirs. For the 2016 tax year, the exemptions for the estate tax are $5.45 million for an individual and $10.9 million for couples. Transferred estates valued at more than those figures are subject to a maximum tax rate of 40 percent on the amount of assets above those levels. “Family farmers and ranchers are not the only caretakers of our nation’s rural lands, but they are also small businesses. The estate tax is especially damaging to agriculture because we are a land-based, capital-intensive industry with few options for paying estate taxes when they come due,” the groups wrote. The coalition also asked lawmakers to ensure the benefits of estate tax repeal are not cancelled by eliminating or restricting the use of the step-up in basis, which limits the amount of property value appreciation that is subject to capital gains tax if inherited assets are sold. “Because farmland typically is held by one owner for several decades,” said the groups, “setting the basis on the value of the farm on the date of the owner’s death under stepped-up basis is an important tax provision for surviving family members.” (Click here to read the letter.)

 

NPPC OPPOSES CALIFORNIA CONTAINER TAX PROPOSALS

NPPC this week joined a coalition of nearly 80 other agriculture and business organizations in voicing opposition to state container taxes proposed by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to pay for environmental programs covering the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. In a letter to its governing board chairman, William Burke, the Ports Coalition urged the SCAQMD to reconsider a tax of $35 per Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) – approximately equal to a standard 20-foot shipping container – and a $100 per TEU tax. The coalition pointed out that the proposals don’t include how the taxes would be collected and what programs they would fund. They also lack any analysis of the taxes’ impact on local businesses and California’s ports. “It is our strong belief that the container tax proposals sought by the SCAQMD present significant legal issues and were drafted without any consideration as to the impact that the tax[es] would have on jobs or port competitiveness,” said the coalition in its letter.

 

NAFTA RE-NEGOTATION TRIGGER STILL PENDING

Widespread media reports say the White House has circulated a draft letter to Congress outlining its approach to re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The timing of formal notification, which triggers a 90-day consultation period before negotiations can begin, is uncertain and won’t likely happen until U.S. Trade Representative nominee Robert Lighthizer advances further in his confirmation process. In the meantime, the U.S. agriculture sector has turned up the volume on the importance of maintaining and expanding market access to Mexico. Members of Congress have been very vocal about the importance of NAFTA for U.S. food and agriculture. NPPC has made it clear that any re-negotiated NAFTA deal must not disrupt U.S. pork exports to the industry’s No. 2 and No. 4 markets. Last year, the U.S. pork industry shipped nearly $1.4 billion of pork to Mexico and almost $800 million to Canada. The organization will insist that tariffs on North American pork trade remain at zero.

 

TRUMP SIGNS ORDER REPEALING OBAMA CLIMATE CHANGE POLICIES

President Trump this week signed an executive order at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nullifying former President Obama’s efforts on climate change. Trump told EPA to begin the processing of withdrawing and revising the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which forced hundreds of coal-powered plants to close and halted construction on new ones. According to Trump, his order will “eliminate federal overreach” and “start a new era of production and job creation.” It rescinds six of Obama’s executive orders aimed at addressing the scientifically-unsettled issue of climate change and at minimizing carbon emissions. The president’s executive order is receiving pushback from environmental advocacy groups and is likely to be subjected to legal challenge.

 

NPPC SUPPORTS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION EFFORTS IN VIETNAM

Following this week’s two-day meeting in Hanoi, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative urged Vietnam to address trade restrictions affecting U.S. exports to the Southeast Asian nation, including ones related to agriculture and food safety. Many of the issues discussed were addressed in the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but that trade deal no longer is operable since the United States withdrew from it in late January. NPPC, which supported the TPP, backs the Trump administration’s trade efforts and has urged the president’s trade team to negotiate bilateral free trade agreements with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan and Vietnam.

 

NOT IF, BUT WHEN IS THE BIG QUESTION ON PERDUE CONFIRMATION

Positive sentiment continues to surround former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s nomination to become Secretary of Agriculture. Following his well-received appearance at last week’s confirmation hearing, the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday voted in favor of advancing Perdue’s nomination to a Senate floor vote. Because of a busy docket, the timing of a floor vote is unclear and may take a backseat to other proceedings, including deliberations surrounding the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Congress goes on a two-week recess starting April 7.

 

USDA’S HOGS AND PIGS REPORT SHOWS INVENTORIES UP

All pork industry eyes were on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Thursday as it released the Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report, which presents data on the U.S. pig crop for major states and the country, including inventory numbers by class, weight group, farrowings and farrowing intentions. Overall, the report was relatively neutral, falling in line with pre-report analyst expectations. Inventory of all hogs and pigs on March 1 was 71 million head, a record for the time period and a 4 percent increase from March 1, 2016. Likewise, breeding inventory was 1.5 percent higher year-over-year at 6.07 million head, and market hog inventory was record large at 64.9 million head, up 4.4 percent year-over-year. Looking at production moving forward, the December-February pig crop was 4 percent higher from a year ago, and the average pigs saved per litter was 10.43, a record high for the December-February timeframe. Meanwhile, farrowing intentions indicate a 1 percent increase from last year for the March-May time period and a marginal year-over-year decrease in farrowing intentions for the June-August period (this slight decrease is the only major estimate that fell outside of pre-report trade analyst estimates).

 

WHAT’S AHEAD

SENATE COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER NOMINEE FOR FDA COMMISSIONER

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next Wednesday will hold a hearing on Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s nomination to be the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Gottlieb, a physician who works as a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and an internist at Tisch Hospital in New York, was deputy commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs at FDA during the George W. Bush administration.

 

NPPC MEMBERS TO LOBBY CONGRESS ON PORK INDUSTRY ISSUES

NPPC next week will host its spring Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C. The biannual fly-in draws from around the country about 125 pork producers, including 15 who will be attending NPPC’s Pork Leadership Institute, a grassroots leadership development program. Producers will lobby congressional lawmakers on issues of importance to the U.S. pork industry, including asking them to urge the Trump administration to pursue bilateral trade agreements, to ask the administration to rescind regulations detrimental to agriculture and to support establishing and funding a Foot-and-Mouth Disease vaccine bank. The organization’s Capitol Hill-famous congressional reception, renamed the Congressional Bacon Fest, will be held next Wednesday night, with large crowds of bacon-loving patrons expected.