For the Week Ending September 3, 2021

September 3, 2021

AGRICULTURE, BUSINESS GROUPS FILE COMMENTS ON NEW ‘WOTUS’ RULE
NPPC today joined 14 agricultural organizations and, separately, 49 business and agricultural groups in filing comments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal for new regulations for determining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. The Biden administration announced in July that it was ditching the Navigable Waters Protection Rule promulgated in June 2020 by the Trump administration to replace the Obama-era WOTUS Rule. That 2015 regulation gave EPA broad jurisdiction over U.S. waters to include, among other water bodies, upstream waters and intermittent and ephemeral streams such as the kind farmers use for drainage and irrigation. It also covered lands adjacent to such waters. Prior to that rule, EPA’s jurisdiction over waterways – based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions – included “navigable” waters and waters with a significant hydrologic connection to navigable waters. Among other recommendations, both sets of comments urge EPA to adhere to those Supreme Court rulings in defining WOTUS and to ensure, as the clean water law requires, that states have the primary responsibility for protecting waterways. Of particular concern, the organizations said the definition of WOTUS should include “clear” terms that are easily applied in the field. “Farmers and ranchers need a rule that draws clear lines of jurisdiction that they can understand without hiring consultants and lawyers,” said the agricultural groups.

NPPC, STATE ASSOCIATIONS VOICE CONCERNS ON BIDEN TAX PROPOSAL
NPPC and state pork producer associations on Wednesday sent a letter to Senate and House leaders of the tax writing, agriculture and budget committees, expressing concerns with a proposal in the Biden administration’s American Families Plan to eliminate for inherited assets the stepped-up basis and to consider the transfer of wealth at death as a capital gains tax event. Without step-up in basis – a rule that has been part of the Internal Revenue Code since 1954 – inherited assets would be subject to capital gains taxes on the difference between the original (and usually significantly lower) price and the value when the assets are passed to an heir or heirs. The administration did state its intent to exempt from the new tax farms that are family owned and operated. The producer letter, cosigned by more than 25 state associations, outlined the potential ramifications to hog farmers of being subjected to such a tax and detailed the provisions necessary to exempt them. It also recommended broad definitions for “family,” “owned” and “operated” for determining eligibility for such an exemption. To read the House letter, click here. To read the Senate letter, click here.

DOT EXTENDS HOURS OF SERVICE WAIVERS FOR LIVESTOCK, FEED
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Tuesday extended through November 30 its COVID-19 emergency declaration for Hours of Service (HOS) waivers for the transportation of livestock and livestock feed. HOS governs the amount of time commercial truckers can drive their loads before they are required to rest. At the outset of the COVID pandemic and prompted by NPPC’s efforts to ensure pork producers could continue shipping hogs, the FMCSA included livestock haulers in its initial emergency waiver, which was subsequently expanded to cover delivery of livestock feed. One change in the most recent extension is a request that livestock haulers who use the waiver report that within five days of the end of each month on their FMCSA portal. NPPC thanked the Biden 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. For more information, click here.

NPPC COMMENTS ON USDA INITIATIVE TO EXPAND MEATPACKING CAPACITY
NPPC this week submitted comments on the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s request for information on how the agency can spend $500 million to expand meatpacking capacity nationwide. The initiative is part of the Biden administration’s effort to increase competition in the livestock and poultry industries. NPPC noted that, while access to capital is a major hurdle to potential investors in meatpacking facilities, other important factors include labor availability, the recent ruling on USDA’s New Swine Inspection System line speeds policy, limitations on state-inspected meat and a shortage of USDA Food Safety Inspection Service inspectors. Although NPPC made no recommendations on what type of recipients should be eligible for the funds, the association reiterated the benefits and efficiencies of larger operations and the need for any new facilities to be federally inspected, which allows pork to be exported and shipped interstate. To read NPPC’s comments, click here.

CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION ADDS AGRICULTURE INSPECTION STAFF
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has increased the number of agricultural inspectors significantly since the Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act (PAFAA) of 2019 was signed into law in March 2020. NPPC led the effort to pass PAFAA, which authorized CBP to fill its staffing shortfall by hiring and training additional agriculture specialists, agriculture technicians and canine teams. In an update on staffing levels given this week, CBP reported it has added a net (above attrition, including retirements) of 199 agriculture specialists – bring its total to 2,662 – with an additional 174 specialists selected but not yet trained, and a net of 131 new technicians. The agency also now has approximately 170 canine teams on board or in training, up from about 119 teams prior to passage of the PAFAA. In addition to championing the PAFAA, NPPC also worked to get $635 million in emergency appropriations to fund the additional staff since user fees that help pay for CBP inspectors decreased significantly because of COVID-related travel and trade disruptions.

AUDIO OF COMMENTS ON PROPOSED REGULATIONS IMPLEMENTING PROP. 12 RELEASED
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has released audio of the oral public comments on the proposed regulations implementing the state’s Proposition 12. Approved by California voters in November 2018, Prop. 12 will ban the sale in the state of pork from hogs born to sows housed in pens raised anywhere in the country that do not meet California’s prescribed sow housing standards. It also will prohibit the use of breeding stalls, which let sows recover after delivering and nursing piglets. Michael Formica, NPPC’s assistant vice president and general counsel, last Friday presented the organization’s comments to the CDFA, pointing out that the proposed regulations would require unworkable annual certification of hog farms’ compliance with Prop. 12’s requirements, create a complex accreditation process for entities allowed to conduct such certifications, impose burdensome and unnecessary recordkeeping requirements on farmers, meat packers and others throughout the pork supply chain and impose unnecessary and problematic labeling requirements for pork. Formica reiterated NPPC’s request – made in written comments submitted in July – that the Jan. 1, 2022, effective date for Prop. 12 be delayed at least two years from the date regulations are finally promulgated.

WEBINARS ON ASF TO BE HELD OVER NEXT TWO WEEKS
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University and the Iowa Pork Producers Association the next two Fridays will host webinars on African swine fever (ASF). To register for the Sept. 10 webinar, which will give an Iowa perspective, click here; to register for the Sept. 17 one, which will look at next steps in the fight against ASF, click here. Also, USDA’s Animal and Health Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) will hold webinars each day of its ASF Action Week Sept. 13-17 to highlight prevention and preparedness efforts. To register or learn more about those webinars, click here. For additional information on ASF biosecurity, visit here.