For the Week Ending January 22, 2021
BIDEN SWORN IN AS PRESIDENT; NAMES ACTING CABINET SECRETARIES
On Wednesday, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. On his first day in office, he announced acting cabinet secretaries and agency heads until the Senate confirms his nominees. At USDA, Kevin Shea will serve as acting head, while nominee Tom Vilsack awaits confirmation. Shea most recently served as administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). In related news, NPPC joined nearly 130 agricultural and food groups on Wednesday, urging for Vilsack to be confirmed. A copy of the letter is here. Earlier in the week, Biden nominated Jewel Bronaugh as deputy USDA secretary. She is currently Virginia’s agriculture commissioner and previously was the Virginia state executive director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Among other USDA appointments, Robert Bonnie was named deputy chief of staff for policy and senior advisor on climate in the office of the secretary. He most recently led the Biden transition team for USDA.
NPPC SPEARHEADS LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR EPA NOMINEE REGAN
On Wednesday, a letter spearheaded by NPPC and signed by 22 other national agriculture organizations was sent to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, supporting the nomination of Michael Regan as EPA administrator. “Farmers and ranchers are the nation’s original environmental stewards, ensuring that natural resources are preserved and protected for future generations,” the letter explained. “As secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Michael Regan has an established record of listening to all stakeholders, including farmers and ranchers….We believe the same qualities that Secretary Regan has exhibited in his current position will be carried over to his leadership at EPA,” they wrote. A copy of the letter is available here. Last month, NPPC issued a release in support of Regan’s nomination, which can be viewed here. While Regan awaits a Senate confirmation vote, President Biden has named Jane Nishida as acting EPA administrator.
USDA APPROVES DOMESTIC FMD VACCINE PETITION
USDA recently approved a petition for the production of a Foot-and-Mouth (FMD) disease vaccine on the United States mainland. Currently, all FMD vaccines are produced overseas. If this vaccine were to complete development and become licensed, it would provide a domestic option for production in the event of an outbreak. The establishment of a robust FMD vaccine bank has been a top, long-term priority for NPPC, which submitted comments on the vaccine petition. Currently, the USDA, which has prescribed vaccination for dealing with an FMD outbreak, does not have access to enough vaccine should an outbreak occur. FMD is an infectious viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals, including cattle, pigs and sheep; it is not a food safety or human health threat. The disease is endemic in many parts of the world and would have widespread, long-term fallout for livestock and crop agriculture, including the immediate loss of export markets.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DECLINES TO IMPOSE TARIFFS ON VIETNAMESE IMPORTS
In one of the Trump administration’s last trade acts, it announced last week it would not impose tariffs on Vietnamese imports, despite a Section 301 investigation into allegations of currency manipulation. NPPC had recently testified that tariffs on Vietnamese imports would have left U.S. hog farmers vulnerable to further retaliation. NPPC had worked with the Trump administration on efforts to expand market access to Vietnam. From 2015-2019, U.S. pork exports to Vietnam increased 370 percent, and in the first ten months of 2020, exports increased 246 percent, to $50 million from the same period a year ago. Meantime, in July 2020, Vietnam announced it was reducing its Most Favored Nation tariff rates for U.S. frozen pork products from 15 percent to 10 percent, through the end of 2020.
USDA, HHS SIGN MOU ON GENE-EDITED LIVESTOCK
On Tuesday, then-USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Assistant Secretary for Health and Head of the Public Health Service Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., establishing USDA as having primary regulatory jurisdiction over the development of gene-edited livestock. The MOU follows a recently issued USDA proposal on the issue. NPPC submitted comments last week and the proposal remains open for public comment. NPPC has been calling for this decision for more than three years to ensure that U.S. agriculture maintains its competitive edge globally. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to implement a technology that has the potential to improve animal health, further reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint and improve production efficiency.