For the Week Ending February 26, 2021

February 26, 2021

TOM VILSACK CONFIRMED AS USDA SECRETARY
By a 92-7 vote, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved Tom Vilsack as the next USDA secretary. He was sworn in Wednesday evening by Vice President Kamala Harris. NPPC recently joined nearly 130 agricultural and food groups in support of his confirmation. In an interview with RFD-TV the day after Vilsack’s confirmation, NPPC Vice President and Counsel, Global Government Affairs Nick Giordano talked about areas to partner with the new administration. For example, Secretary Vilsack indicated his top priority is ensuring people receive COVID vaccines. Last week, NPPC launched a campaign to encourage essential pork industry workers across the supply chain to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “That’s not just good for this administration, that’s good for hog farmers in our industry,” Giordano said. “We want people vaccinated. We things back to normal as soon as possible,” he added. Learn more here

USTR NOMINEE SAYS TRADE NOT ‘A BACK BURNER’ ISSUE, BUT NO RUSH ON U.S.-UK, CPTPP DEALS
Katherine Tai, President Biden’s nominee as the U.S. Trade Representative, told the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday that she did not anticipate trade to be on the “back burner” as part of this administration. During her confirmation hearing, she vowed to implement former President Trump’s trade deal with China, but also didn’t indicate a rush to finalize a U.S.-U.K. trade deal, or restart negotiations on rejoining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying she would need to review current negotiations. If confirmed, Tai said she’d make it a priority to implement and enforce the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement, which came into force last year. USMCA “represents an important step in reforming our approach to trade. We must all continue to prioritize its implementation and success. We must continue to pursue trade policies that are ambitious in achieving robust, bipartisan support,” she added. Tai is expected to receive committee approval. The full Senate would then vote on her nomination. Last month, NPPC joined more than 100 national and state farm groups in sending a letter to Congress in support of her nomination.  

NPPC URGES MASSACHUSETTS TO DELAY IMPLEMENTATION OF RESTRICTIVE PORK PRODUCTION INITIATIVE
On Tuesday, NPPC Assistant Vice President and General Counsel Michael Formica testified before a public hearing hosted by the Massachusetts’ attorney general’s office on implementation of Question 3, a 2016 ballot initiative which prohibits the sale of pork produced using certain production methods. In many ways, Question 3 is substantially similar to Proposition 12, a California ballot initiative which passed in 2018. The Massachusetts initiative is set to begin on Jan. 1, 2022, but first requires the commonwealth’s attorney general to draft implementation rules—which have not been completed. In comments, Formica urged the attorney general to: 1) involve experts who understand modern livestock and pork production in a collaborative process with impacted stakeholders; and 2) suspend the implementation date to ensure farmers and consumers are afforded the full, two-year window between promulgation of the rules and the effective date. “Regulatory compliance will require the pork industry to divert resources from maintaining a critical food supply and reallocate personnel to prepare for the compliance deadline. Businesses will need to rework operations and supply chains to comply with the forthcoming regulatory requirements. Farmers will need to expend substantial capital costs to build or retrofit housing, which is a decades-long investment. To undertake those significant operational costs before the issuance of final rules and guidance would be impractical, if not impossible,” he added. A full copy of his submitted comments is here.

AG GROUPS URGE ADMINISTRATION TO ADDRESS SHIPPING CONTAINER SHORTAGE
NPPC joined more than 70 agriculture, food and transport groups in sending a letter Wednesday to President Biden, urging the administration to address the ongoing ocean carrier practices which are hampering delivery of U.S. agriculture, food and forestry products to international markets. The letter outlines how carriers are declining to carry cargo and instead opting to return empty containers to Asia. “This is a crisis: unless the Shipping Act and other tools available to our government are applied promptly, agriculture industries will continue to suffer great financial losses; these carrier practices will render U.S. agriculture noncompetitive for years to come,” the letter explained. “According to their own public reports, the ocean carriers are enjoying their most profitable period in decades by controlling capacity and charging unprecedented freight rates, imposing draconian fees on our exporters and importers, and frequently refusing to carry U.S. agricultural exports,” the letter added. The groups are specifically urging the Federal Maritime Commission to prohibit “unreasonable, unjust practices” by the carriers. A copy of the letter is available here

GROUPS URGE CONGRESS TO CORRECT PPP ELIGIBILITY INTERPRETATION FOR AGRICULTURE OPERATIONS
NPPC joined 31 agriculture organizations this week in sending a letter to the House Small Business Committee, urging them to correct how the Small Business Administration (SBA) interprets Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) eligibility requirements for farm and ranch operations structured as partnerships. According to SBA’s interpretation under Section 313, farmers and ranchers who operate their business through a partnership are limited to payroll costs they pay to their non-owner employees, unless they have net income from operations. Therefore, if a farmer is not operating as a sole proprietor but instead as a general partnership, with net losses on their 2019 taxes, they would not be eligible for PPP. “We believe this interpretation is in error and is preventing many farm and ranch families from participating in the PPP,” the letter explained. “We ask that you clarify to SBA that Congress intended to include farm partnerships and LLCs in Section 313,” the letter added. For many U.S. pork producers, 2019 was not profitable as they bore the brunt of trade retaliation in China and Mexico, among two of our largest export markets. NPPC had been advocating to ensure all hog farmers can access the program. In related news, on Monday President Biden announced changes to PPP to help very small companies access the program. As part of the changes, which began Wednesday, the SBA will exclusively accept PPP applications from companies with fewer than 20 employees for 14 days, through March 9.  

USDA’S FSIS DEPLOYING VETERINARIANS TO PROVIDE COVID VACCINES 
Declared essential by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the onset of the COVID pandemic, hog farmers, veterinarians, livestock haulers, harvest facility employees and other workers across the pork supply chain play a vital role in our nation’s food security and rural economies. Earlier this month, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced it was joining other agency divisions in deploying veterinary medical officers to assist in the administration of the COVID vaccine. Currently, 16 FSIS employees from across the country are expected to be deployed in the coming weeks and the agency may provide additional personnel as needed. Last week, NPPC launched a campaign to encourage essential pork industry workers across the supply chain to get the COVID-19 vaccine. NPPC supports prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for essential meat and poultry workers, directly after healthcare workers and other high-risk individuals. For more information, visit here.  

WHAT’S AHEAD?

NATIONAL PORK INDUSTRY FORUM, SENATE EPW CONFIRMATION HEARINGS NEXT WEEK
NPPC is holding its annual business meeting, the National Pork Industry Forum, on Wednesday, March 3. During the virtual event this year, NPPC will elect new officers and members to its board of directors. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing to consider the nominations of Janet McCabe to be deputy administrator of the EPA, and Brenda Mallory to be chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The hearing is scheduled for 10am ET.