For the Week Ending March 27, 2009

March 27, 2009

Washington, March 27, 2009 


In a victory for U.S. pork producers, the Philippine government indicated this week that it will maintain current rules for the administration of its tariff rate quota (TRQ) for pork, preserving U.S. access to a fast-growing market for U.S. pork exports. It had threatened in recent months to severely restrict pork imports by denying to legitimate Philippine importers the licenses they need to import pork within the country’s 54,210 metric ton pork TRQ. (Amounts of imported pork below the TRQ are subject to a lower, or in-quota, tariff rate. Once imports reach the TRQ threshold a higher tariff rate kicks in.) In response to that threat, NPPC filed a petition with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in December 2008, requesting removal of the Philippines from the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). In filing the petition, NPPC noted that the Philippine action would have violated World Trade Organization rules and a 1999 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and the Philippines. GSP is a program designed to provide developing countries such as the Philippines with preferential duty access to the U.S. market. In 2007, the Philippines exported $1.1 billion worth of products to the United States under the GSP program. The Philippine decision to maintain its current TRQ administration rules preserves a growing market for U.S. pork exports. U.S. pork sales to the Philippines in 2008 surged by 360 percent to 25,300 metric tons valued at $46 million.


The House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee this week held a hearing on food safety oversight. Testifying were Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services; Craig Henry, senior vice president for science and regulatory affairs with Grocery Manufacturers Association; and Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association. Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said the nation’s food-safety system must be able to trace contamination from “store to source” or “farm to fork.” Levinson told the panel that his office was successful in tracing back through each stage of production only five of 40 food products. In a report on food safety, the IG recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

–  Be given statutory authority to strengthen the existing records requirements imposed on food companies. Food processors, packers and manufacturers should be required to create lot-specific information and maintain it. FDA also should extend the requirement to include facilities that are currently not required to maintain such information.
–  Be given statutory authority to conduct activities to ensure that facilities are complying with its records requirements.
–  Be given additional statutory authority to improve traceability of products.
–  Work with the food industry to develop additional guidance to strengthen traceability.
–  Address issues related to mixing raw food products from a large number of farms.
–  Conduct education and outreach activities to inform the food industry about its records requirements.

NPPC, which is monitoring the food-safety issue, supports a strong, well-funded FDA and backs policies and programs that help ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply. It also supports improvements to FDA’s food-safety operations, particularly with regard to imports, and a targeted approach to food safety plans and inspections based on a scientific assessment of risk.

NPPC and the National Pork Board took issue with a study released March 23 by the National Cancer Institute that concludes red meat consumption increases the risk of death. The study claims that “high intake of red or processed meat may increase the risk of mortality.” Researchers, using data collected from food frequency questionnaires – participants were asked to remember what they ate over the previous 12 months – looked at people who said they ate, on average, 4.8 ounces of red meat every day. NPPC and the Pork Board pointed out that government data show the actual average daily red meat intake for men is 2.7 ounces and for women 1.5 ounces, and frequency questionnaires are considered unreliable. In a March 2009 Journal of the National Cancer Institute editorial, Drs. Alan Kristal and Scott Lippman say that “… almost all past cohort studies have relied upon a very poor tool for measuring diet, the food frequency questionnaire, which has proven to be so inaccurate that drawing conclusions about diet and cancer from studies using it is unwise.” Despite its flaws, the study’s results are expected to be used in an effort to change public policy related to healthy diets. One vehicle for making such modifications is the Child Nutrition Act, which Congress must reauthorize this year.


The White House this week sought to fill a number of vacancies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The nominees and appointees include:

–   Kathleen Merrigan for Deputy Secretary. Merrigan currently is director of the Center for Agriculture, Food and Environment at Tufts University in Boston and previously was administrator of the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
–   Dallas Tonsager as Under Secretary for Rural Development. Tonsager was South Dakota State Rural Development director and executive director of the South Dakota Value-Added Agriculture Development Center.
–   John Berge was appointed White House liaison for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Berge was executive director of the Western Nebraska Community College Foundation. He previously was state director in Nebraska for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama and served as state executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Nebraska. He also worked for the late Sen. Jim Exon, D-Neb., former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
–   Max Holtzman was named a senior adviser to Vilsack. Holtzman was a principal at Holtzman Group, a consulting firm in Florida, and founding chairman of Adopt-A-Classroom.
–   David Lazarus was appointed a senior advisers to Vilsack. Lazarus was a legislative assistant to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. He was also a rural vote deputy director for Obama’s presidential campaign.
–   Grant Leslie was named a senior advisers to Vilsack. Leslie was legislative director to former Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and worked for former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
–   Chris Mather was hired as director of the Office of Communications at the Agriculture Department. Mather most recently was a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Before that, she was press secretary to then-Sen. Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, during the 2008 presidential campaign.



The House Energy and Commerce Committee April 2 will hold the first of two hearings on food safety. Among the witnesses scheduled to testify are Carole Tucker Foreman, a distinguished fellow with the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute, who oversaw food safety and nutrition programs for the Agriculture Department in the Carter administration; and former U.S. Food and Drug Administrator Dr. David Kessler, former USDA Food Safety Inspection Service Administrator Dr. Elsa Murano; and Michael Taylor, a former FDA staff attorney and research professor in The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services. An as-yet unscheduled second hearing is expected to include witnesses from trade associations and livestock and poultry organizations. NPPC is monitoring the food-safety issue.


NPPC’s Spring Legislative Conference will be held April 1-2 in Washington, D.C. Pork producers will travel to Capitol Hill to meet with their congressional representatives to discuss key issues currently affecting the U.S. pork industry. Attendees will hear from political prognosticator Charlie Cook and from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. The highlight of the two-day conference is the Washington-famous NPPC “Rack of Pork” congressional reception April 1. For more information, click here. [[[[NPPC]]]]