For the Week Ending July 10, 2009

July 10, 2009

Washington, July 10, 2009 


Russia this week lifted its ban on uncooked imported pork products from Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas. A prohibition on pork imports still exists for Florida, New York, Utah and Wisconsin. Russia banned the importation of U.S. pork products in response to the H1N1 flu outbreak even though flu viruses cannot be transmitted through handling or consuming pork. NPPC is continuing to work with USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to get Russia and a number of other countries to rescind their bans on imported U.S. pork products. The timing of Russia’s latest move coincided with President Obama’s Tuesday meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Wednesday U.S. Commerce Sec. Gary Locke, who accompanied Obama on his trip to Moscow, urged Russia to remove its ban on pork and poultry, linking that action to the U.S. Congress repealing a Cold War-era provision that limits trade from the country. The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 Trade Act denies unconditional normal trade relations to countries that have non-market economies and that restrict emigration rights. Russia imported more than $476 million of U.S. pork in 2008, making it the No. 5 destination for U.S. pork last year. But the country has been trying to curtail imports to help build and protect its domestic pork industry, which recently established an association – the National Union of Pig Producers – to help make Russia a world leader in high-quality pork production.



The House Thursday approved its agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal 2010, and the Senate Appropriations Committee this week passed its agriculture spending measure. The House legislation, which focuses on child nutrition, bio-energy and food safety, does not include funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which would help animal health officials trace animals to their farm of origin in the event of an animal disease outbreak. It also cut funding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Senate bill includes $14.6 million for the NAIS and $350,000 for a national trichinae certification program, which will be used to confirm to U.S. trading partners that U.S. pork is trichinae-free. NPPC strongly supports the NAIS and the trichinae program. The Senate legislation also cuts funds for EQIP, and it authorizes a Government Accountability Office study on the effects of banning horse slaughter. The full Senate is expected to vote on the appropriations measure before Congress begins its August recess. House and Senate lawmakers will need to reconcile differences in their respective bills in a conference committee.



Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week announced the Obama administration’s new food-safety agenda, which is based on findings from the White House Food Safety Working Group. The working group focused on three main principles: improving prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement and improving response and recovery. The findings call for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to develop new standards for reducing the “prevalence of Salmonella in turkeys and poultry.” As part of the new standard, FSIS will be developing a Salmonella verification program with the goal of having 90 percent of poultry operations meeting the standards by 2010. FSIS also is working on a new baseline for Salmonella on pork. Another measure included in the new agenda calls for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue within three months draft guidance on steps the food industry can take to establish product tracing systems for improving the national capacity for detecting the origins of food-borne illnesses. Federal agencies would need to implement a new incident command system to address illness outbreaks. The approach is to link all relevant agencies, as well as state and local governments, to facilitate communication during an emergency. NPPC will continue to closely monitor the Obama administration’s food-safety efforts. To read the full list of the White House Food Safety Working Group’s findings, click here.



Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has offered an amendment to the fiscal 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill that would require federal contractors to verify the legal residence status of their employees, using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) E-Verify system, an online tool that allows employers to check the Social Security number and immigration status of workers. The Obama administration has delayed until Sept. 8 implementation of a federal rule originally proposed by the Bush administration that will require contractors to use E-Verify. Sessions’ amendment also would permanently authorize E-Verify; the DHS appropriations bill would reauthorize E-Verify for three years. Currently, employers must file I-9 Forms for each employee, using various identifying documents, such as a driver’s license or Social Security card. The E-Verify program allows employers to check I-9 data through an automated system linked to the databases of the Social Security Administration and DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.



At the 32nd session of the U.N. Codex Alimentarius, which sets international food-safety standards, the commission held at Step 8 – the final step before approval of an international standard – adoption of a maximum residue level (MRL) for ractopamine, a feed additive used widely in pork production. The commission agreed to review additional information on ractopamine submitted by China. It will consider the MRL for ractopamine following the outcome of the evaluation. The U.S. delegation to the session held last week in Rome expressed disappointment in the commission’s decision to delay adoption of a ractopamine MRL and urged, along with a majority of the other delegations, that the review of the information from China be completed by the next commission meeting in July 2010. NPPC attended the Rome meeting and has been pushing for the Codex commission to adopt an MRL for ractopamine.



The House Agriculture and Financial Services committees today held a joint hearing on the regulation of derivatives, which are financial contracts used to mitigate the risk of economic loss arising from changes in the value of an asset. The Obama administration wants to regulate derivatives, requiring that they be cleared through regulated exchanges or regulated electronic trade execution systems. The plan would also increase capital requirements on customized derivatives so that market participants do not attempt to use those instruments to evade regulation.



U.S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack this week made several appointments to his department. Jonathan Coppess was named administrator for the Farm Service Agency, Jerold Mande was appointed deputy under secretary for food safety, and William J. Murphy was named administrator of the Risk Management Agency (RMA). Coppess previously worked for Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., as legislative assistant for agriculture, energy and environmental policy. Mande, who will be responsible for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, most recently served as associate director for public policy at the Yale Cancer Center, Yale University School of Medicine, where he developed a national model to increase support for cancer prevention and control, including diet, exercise and obesity. Murphy served as RMA acting administrator during the transition to the Obama administration. Before that, he served RMA as the deputy administrator for insurance services; director of the regional office in Davis, Calif., overseeing crop insurance operations in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii; and director of the Western Region Compliance Office.





The House Rules Committee Monday will hold a hearing on the “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009” (H.R. 1549), which would ban from use in livestock certain animal health products. The bill – and a companion measure (S. 619) in the Senate – calls for all “critical antimicrobial animal drugs” to go through another U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process within two years of enactment of the legislation. Currently to win approval, an animal drug maker must demonstrate that a product is effective and safe for animals and for the environment. FDA also must determine that new antibiotics for food animals will not harm human health. The legislation also would create the term “non-therapeutic use,” essentially banning antibiotics used to prevent or control diseases. NPPC strongly opposes restrictions on livestock antibiotics and is urging lawmakers to vote against H.R. 1549 and S. 619.



The House Committee on Agriculture will hold a hearing July 16 to review current food-safety issues.