Capital Update – For the Week Ending February 23, 2024

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In this week’s National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Friday recap: NPPC meets with Tennessee lawmakers on mRNA vaccines; NPPC says there’s ‘no legitimate reason’ for farm emissions reporting rule; coalition backs Bentzel for Federal Maritime Commission; and U.S. agriculture had trade deficit in fiscal 2023. Take a deeper dive below.

NPPC Meets with Tennessee Lawmakers on mRNA Vaccines

What happened: NPPC staff met with members of the Tennessee Legislature on issues related to the use of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine technology in animal agriculture. Currently, there are nearly two dozen bills in 10 states that would either require labels for meat from vaccinated animals, allow “mRNA-free” labels for unvaccinated animals, or ban the use of mRNA vaccines entirely.

In meetings with leadership of Tennessee Senate and House committees, NPPC’s Director of Food Policy Dr. Ashley Johnson and Director of State Policy Drew Beardslee, as well as NPPC member Dr. Seth Krantz, veterinarian for Tosh Farms, affirmed the safety and efficacy of mRNA technology and raised concerns about labeling. Also in attendance were Tennessee Pork Producers Association Executive Director Phyllis Ferguson and representatives from Tennessee’s Department of Agriculture, the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Tennessee Farm Bureau.

NPPC’s take: NPPC supports using vaccine technologies, such as mRNA vaccines, as a tool for combating endemic and foreign animal diseases. Recently, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture approved policies supporting mRNA vaccine technology in livestock.

Why it matters: Vaccines are critical to preserving animal health and well-being, keeping the food supply safe, and protecting U.S. livestock from emerging and foreign animal diseases. Additionally, mRNA vaccines, unlike traditional vaccines, can be designed swiftly, manufactured quickly at a lower cost, and produced in a more standardized manner – with fewer production errors – which can improve responsiveness to pathogen outbreaks.

NPPC: There’s ‘No Legitimate Reason’ for Farm Emissions Reporting Rule

What happened: NPPC led a coalition of 48 state and national agricultural organizations in submitting comments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to require livestock and poultry farmers to report routine air emissions from animal waste. EPA is attempting to reinstate the reporting requirements under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

EPCRA requires certain entities to notify state and local authorities about accidental spills and releases of hazardous materials and chemicals. Initially, EPA exempted agricultural producers from reporting routine farm emissions from the natural breakdown of animal manure, but in 2017 a federal Appeals court rejected the regulatory exemption. NPPC, along with partners in animal agriculture, immediately sought relief from Congress, which passed the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act of 2018. The FARM Act once again exempted reporting of emissions. However, following EPA’s implementation, activist groups filed suit against EPA, which agreed to again examine the impact of routine farm emissions and whether new rules are necessary.

NPPC’s position: “There is no legitimate reason for requiring [farmers] to report to state and local emergency response authorities estimates of the amount of air emissions from their animals’ manure,” the agricultural organizations said in their comments.

NPPC and other agricultural groups repeatedly have cited EPA’s own reasoning for exempting agriculture from the reporting requirements, noting that while farm emissions might exceed thresholds that would trigger responses under the reporting law, such responses would be “unnecessary, impractical and unlikely.” Agitating a manure pit, for example, could result in the release of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, but the gases would dissipate quickly, and it would not constitute an emergency requiring the attention of first responders.

Why it matters: Under EPCRA, livestock farmers would be required to estimate the emissions of certain gases. However, EPA has yet to finalize reliable, scientifically sound estimating methodologies that accurately represent the air emissions from animal manure at modern livestock farms using best management practices. Additionally, farmers could be subject to liabilities resulting from differing interpretations of the information called for in the reports, exposing them to potential civil penalties or litigation.

Coalition Backs Bentzel for Federal Maritime Commission

What happened: In a letter to President Biden, a coalition of agriculture and business organizations, including NPPC, expressed strong support for the nomination of Carl Bentzel for another term on the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), which regulates ocean shipping for U.S. ports and has jurisdiction over shipping practices. It has been involved in resolving recent labor issues between port dockworkers and port owners and addressing excessive fees.

The five-member commission also must finish implementing the rules of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022, which addresses some of the most egregious practices threatening U.S. agriculture exports, such as unfair and onerous detention and demurrage charges, fees for using shipping containers.

“We need consistency at the Commission, [and] Commissioner Bentzel provides that consistency to ensure proper implementation of the required regulations,” wrote the coalition.

Why it matters: U.S. agricultural exports are vital to America’s farmers and the overall U.S. economy, supporting about 1 million U.S. jobs. Problems at shipping ports, including dockworker strikes and congestion, can jeopardize the delivery of perishable commodities, costing agricultural producers millions of dollars and, potentially, foreign customers. It is important to have a strong FMC given the significant role U.S. shipping ports play in getting American products overseas. Approximately 60% of U.S. pork exports are transported by ocean freight.

U.S. Agriculture Had Trade Deficit in Fiscal 2023

What happened: While exports of U.S. pork set a new value record in 2023 at $8.16 billion, other sectors of U.S. agriculture didn’t fare as well last year. Still, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai recently downplayed the “slight trade deficit” in U.S. farm goods in remarks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 100th annual Outlook Forum.

USDA estimated a fiscal 2023 – Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023 – agricultural trade deficit of $16.6 billion, only the fourth time over the past 55 years the balance of trade in farm goods has been in the red. The agency is forecasting a bigger deficit for fiscal 2024 before the agricultural trade gap begins narrowing.

While Tai said the deficits “should not be cause for alarm,” Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, said the Biden administration’s lack of a trade agenda has hurt U.S. farmers. He pointed out in a Feb. 12 weekly column that the administration has “no new trade deals under negotiation.”

NPPC’s take: NPPC has been urging USTR to open new and expand existing markets for U.S. pork through comprehensive trade agreements that eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers to American products.

What it means for producers: U.S. agricultural trade is vital to America’s farmers and the overall U.S. economy. Over the past three and a half decades – particularly since it began negotiating free trade agreements – the United States has had agricultural trade surpluses almost every year. For the U.S. pork industry, exports contribute significantly to producers’ bottom line. Last year, when producers shipped a record $8.16 billion of product to foreign destinations, those exports added the equivalent of $63.76 to the price producers received for each hog marketed and accounted for 25% of total production.