For the Week Ending December 4, 2020

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U.S. agriculture and food workers, essential to maintaining the supply chain that keeps store shelves and pantries stocked, should be included as a priority group to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, directly after healthcare workers and other high-risk individuals, NPPC wrote Thursday in comments submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “America’s hog farmers remain committed to their essential role in supporting the nation’s food security. In anticipation of COVID-19 vaccines being approved and made available, the CDC and other federal and state partners must recognize the vital role that food and agriculture workers” play in keeping food on America’s tables, NPPC wrote. “With COVID cases on the rise in many states, vaccinations will play a key role in protecting essential workers, such as those in the food sector. It is imperative that on-farm and in-plant workers, who are integral to keeping Americans fed, have early access to COVID-19 vaccines,” NPPC added. The full comments are available here

With a must-pass government spending bill on the horizon, there was renewed interest this week in getting agreement on a new COVID relief package. Earlier in the week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a $908 billion package that among other provisions includes $26 billion for nutrition and agriculture and $288 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. While the proposal and overall price tag was a non-starter for many conservatives, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), it did jump-start negotiations which had been essentially moribund for weeks. McConnell told reporters Tuesday that additional COVID relief funding would likely be added to the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund the federal government beyond Dec. 11. By Thursday, McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke about a possible deal, although no details were provided. In remarks Thursday, President Trump said he’d sign a COVID relied package if Congress could complete it by the end of the year. “I want it to happen and I believe they’re getting very close to a deal,” he said. Previously, Pelosi advocated for a broader, $2 trillion measure, while McConnell pushed for a more targeted, $500 billion bill. U.S. hog farmers are facing billions in collective pandemic-related losses and NPPC continues to press for a COVID-relief package that includes assistance for U.S. pork producers. 

USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) recently updated its Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) response plan. The “USDA APHIS FMD Response Plan: The Red Book October 2020” incorporates comments received from previous versions, lessons learned from animal disease response exercises and reflects updates to foreign animal disease preparedness and response plan materials. Among revisions, there is explicit recognition of policy that an FMD vaccine is the likely response tool if there is an outbreak and guidance on managing a national movement standstill prepared for the Agriculture Response Management and Resources 2018 functional exercise. NPPC was instrumental in advocating for establishment of an FMD vaccine bank as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Earlier this year, USDA announced its first significant vaccine purchase and NPPC will continue to work closely with the agency to ensure its FMD vaccine bank remains well stocked. To view the updated FMD response plan, visit here

Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) will be the next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, winning the majority of votes Thursday by the House Democratic Caucus. Current committee chairman Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) lost his re-election race last month. Scott, who will be the first black chairman of the committee, was backed by several high-profile committee members, including Peterson, Filemon Vela (D-Texas) and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who is being considered as USDA secretary under a Biden administration. In related news, Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) will become the committee’s ranking member, replacing Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) who is retiring. Thompson was running against Republican Reps. Austin Scott (Ga.) and Rick Crawford (Ark.) for the panel’s top GOP spot.  

The week of Thanksgiving, NPPC launched its annual “Give-a-Ham” challenge, a national social media campaign encouraging hog farmers and those involved in the industry to donate pork to organizations serving the food insecure, and challenging others to follow suit. “It’s just a way to celebrate and also a way to collectively give back into food pantries, food banks, community shelves, and people who otherwise would have the means to have a holiday celebration,” NPPC President-Elect Jen Sorenson told Brownfield. Throughout the COVID pandemic, U.S. hog farmers and numerous state associations that represent them have donated to local food banks, providing a collective 15.7 million pounds—or 222.8 million servings—of pork through Oct. 31. The “Give-a-Ham” challenge runs through the end of the year. Learn more about the challenge here

On Tuesday, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) extended its COVID-19 emergency declaration for Hours of Service (HOS) waivers for the transportation of livestock and livestock feed through Feb. 28, 2021. HOS governs the amount of time commercial truckers can drive their loads and when they are required to rest between drives. The agency had previously extended the waivers through Dec. 31, 2020. NPPC thanks the administration and FMCSA for ensuring the continuity of the U.S pork supply chain as an essential element of the nation’s food delivery infrastructure.  

In late November, the UK and Canada announced a transitional trade agreement that allows for provisions under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the two countries to remain in effect, while negotiations on a new agreement begin next year. The deal will ensure annual trade between the countries continues after Britain leaves the EU on Jan. 1, 2021. However, details of the agreement remain scarce. This week, Canada’s International Trade Minister Mary Ng said both countries are still working on final text of the agreement and she couldn’t guarantee lawmakers would see a bill to ratify the deal before Parliament breaks for Christmas on Dec. 11. Under CETA, duty-free quotas for Canadian pork exports were established to the EU. Meantime, the U.S. and U.K. recently completed their fifth round of talks aimed at securing a trade deal. NPPC is supportive of U.S.-UK trade negotiations, provided the agreement eliminates tariff and non-tariff trade barriers on pork, the U.K. acknowledges meat industry standards as equivalent and they agree to import product from all federally inspected facilities.