Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What a difference four months makes.

In September, in a step hailed as revolutionary, Los Angeles schools yanked chocolate milk, chicken nuggets and other foods high in fat, sugar and sodium from their cafeterias. In their place were healthier and more exotic options, like black been burgers.  Praise flooded in from the U.S. Agriculture Department and elsewhere.

But that was then.

Today, according to the Los Angeles Times, much of the healthier fare is being rejected by students, food waste is rampant and participation in the school lunch program is plummeting. Some students are skipping lunch altogether and suffering health consequences. Others bring soda and chips to school in their backpacks and say they are eating more junk food than ever.

Acknowledging the problems, school food services director Dennis Barrett announced that cafeteria menus will be revised—again! Out will be some of the more exotic dishes, like vegetable curry and lentil-and-brown-rice cutlets, while hamburgers and pizza—albeit with whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese—will be back in.
Well, at least their intentions were good.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From The ‘What’s Good for the Goose …’ Department

Here’s a switch. The Humane Society of the United States says it’s being unfairly attacked.

HSUS, notorious for its undercover videos and policy assaults on animal agriculture, is up in arms over a new group that could siphon off some of its charitable contributions.  The new group, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, says it’s dedicated to fostering support for local pet shelters. 

HSUS accuses the new group of “hijacking” its name and of being a front group for the food industry.

At the core of the controversy is confusion over what HSUS does. While many think HSUS supports local humane societies, most of its funds are used for other purposes, including extensive attacks on modern livestock farming. Critics, including many in the food industry, accuse HSUS of being a radical vegetarian group, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 

The Humane Society for Shelter Pets concedes that part of its mission, in addition to encouraging support for local shelters, is to “address the misperception that national animal charities work locally.”  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Now, THIS Takes Chutzpah!

In 2006, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which makes it a federal crime to interfere with livestock farms or other “animal enterprises.” The idea was to protect pork producers and others from attacks by members of militant animal rights groups. Federal authorities consider these attacks acts of domestic terrorism.

So along comes a group of animal rights activists, who challenged the law in court on Thursday because, they said, it treats them like … terrorists!

The law can be used to prosecute anyone who “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property used by an animal enterprise.” The Associated Press quoted one longtime activist saying he no longer does undercover filming of livestock farms because he is concerned about being prosecuted.

HOTH thinks the law is working just as intended.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Modern Farming: The Way Forward

Need more evidence that modern farming techniques—criticized by some for polluting waterways, scarring the land and mistreating animals—are the way forward for the environment and an exploding world population? A new report from the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service offers it up in spades.

Today’s crop and livestock farms, the report found, are much larger and rely more on marketing and production contracts than those 25 years ago. They use 6 percent less land and 30 percent to 40 percent less labor than their predecessors—and are nearly 50 percent more productive. All those factors have combined to keep food prices in check and to limit impacts on the environment, the report said.

And productivity must continue to improve if U.S. agriculture is to meet energy and population demands, the report added. “Future innovations will be necessary to maintain, or boost, productivity gains in order to meet the growing global demands that will be placed upon U.S. agriculture,” it concluded.

The 77-page report is ERS Bulletin No. 88, titled The Changing Organization of U.S. Farming.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

‘GIPSA-Lite’ Just Days Away

Look for a scaled-back version of the Agriculture Department’s controversial GIPSA rule to be issued by Friday. The farm policy newsletter Agri-Pulse said Wednesday that the Office of Management and Budget has signed off on the regulation, clearing the way for publication in the Federal Register “by the end of the week.”

The first draft of the regulation, made public in mid-2010, triggered an avalanche of criticism from livestock groups, including NPPC, and their congressional allies. In reaction, USDA last month jettisoned some of the regulation’s key provisions, including a ban on packer-to-packer livestock sales. A week or two later Congress blocked the department from spending money to implement much of the regulation. The restrictions were included in the House-Senate conference report on an annual spending bill for USDA and other agencies, which has now been signed into law.

The scaled-back regulation is expected to include four of the five mandates that Congress put in the 2008 farm bill. Two of those apply only to poultry production; the other two deal with requiring a capital investment under a contract and determining what constitutes fair use of arbitration. Expected to be left out of the new rule is a provision setting criteria for what constitutes an “undue” preference or advantage for producers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And The Award Goes To …

… Lisa Jackson, Energy Policymaker of the Year. Or so an influential inside-the-beltway tabloid decreed on Tuesday.

But the decision by Politico, a publication started by ex-Washington Post reporters but sometimes accused of leaning right, was not without logic. Jackson was singled out largely for simply surviving as Environmental Protection Agency administrator over the last 12 months. That’s a period in which she reportedly contemplated treating spilled milk the same as spilled oil and considered imposing tough new regulations on farm dust.
Politico said Jackson “had her hands full in 2011” between attacks from House Republicans and a White House that didn’t always have her back. When President Obama shelved a major EPA smog rule in September, there was talk she would resign. Still, Jackson managed to hang on.
Any bets on whether Jackson—the regulator farmers love to loathe—will be around to receive the award again next year?  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Antibiotics, Revisited

No matter how often it is corrected or rebuffed, The New York Times simply won’t throw in the towel on animal antibiotics.

On Thursday, The Times published yet another editorial on the subject, urging limits on the use of these drugs despite Congress’ clear lack of interest in passing legislation and continuing regulatory caution from the Food and Drug Administration.

Specifically, The Times editorial lamented FDA’s decision to deny requests from animal welfare groups that it ban the use of medically important antibiotics in feed for purposes other than treating disease.

Of course, FDA’s decision was eminently reasonable, given that there’s no proof that curtailing the use of these drugs will slow the growth of antibiotic resistance in humans. In fact, the best science suggests the risk of human antibiotic resistance problems developing from farm use is negligible.

Still, The Times has never let facts get in the way of opinion on this topic.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Want Salt On Those Fries?

The government’s updated diet advice—unveiled with great fanfare early this year—urged Americans to limit salt to 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 milligrams if they are in a high-risk group.

That’s a tall order for many of us, given that average salt consumption for Americans is about 3,400 milligrams a day.

Not to worry, though. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that following the government’s advice could be … wait for it! ... dangerous to your health.

The study, made public last week, found the lowest risk of hospitalization and death from strokes or heart attacks was associated with a daily sodium intake of 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Those who consumed more than 7,000 milligrams daily were more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event, but so were those who consumed less than 3,000 milligrams per day.
In a news story, the lead author said he hoped the study would clear up confusion over the role of sodium in the diet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Need A Solution To 'Global Warming'? Try Intensive Farming

Researchers at the universities of Minnesota and California have provided fresh evidence that modern farming practices are good for the environment.

In a study published November 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers concluded that less-intensive farming in poor countries could combine with rising world food demand to double agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Their solution? Teach those in developing countries to farm more like we do—the high-yield, more intensive way.

The researchers said the problem is land clearing for food production—up to 2.5 billion acres by 2050—combined with inefficient fertilizer use. The result is the release of two harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Adopting nitrogen-efficient, intensive farming practices, the researchers said, can meet demand for food with much lower environmental impacts.

Now, who’s going to explain that to those bastions of anti-modern agriculture Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The Agriculture Department’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration spent most of 2011 pushing a controversial draft regulation curtailing livestock producers’ ability to sign long-term contacts with meat packers.

So, HOTH was a bit surprised to see analysts from another USDA agency extol the virtues of those same contracts in a new article.

In the article in the December issue of USDA’s Amber Waves magazine, four researchers from the Economic Research Service conclude that producers enjoy “multiple benefits” from packer contracts. Among them are reduced risk, better access to capital and the ability to increase the size of their farms—all benefits cited by pork producers and others in consistently opposing the draft GIPSA regulation.
But perhaps the article wasn’t that untimely, since it surfaced after the regulation suffered two serious setbacks in as many weeks. First, USDA jettisoned some of the regulation’s key provisions. Then Congress limited the department’s ability to implement the regulation in the annual USDA spending bill.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rising From The Supercommittee Rubble

The congressional "Super Committee" appears deadlocked in its effort to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions. (In reality, it's only being asked to "cut" from the projected increases in future federal spending.) Nonetheless, draft reductions in farm programs prepared for the committee by the House and Senate agriculture panels include some good news for pork producers.

Under the draft, made public Friday by the Environmental Working Group, the acreage cap on the Conservation Reserve Program would be reduced over time from 32 million to 25 million. Reducing the cap would free land for crop production and ease pressure on feed prices, something livestock producers have long been pushing

In the energy area, the draft recommends several cutbacks in government subsidies for ethanol, including elimination of subsidies for installing fuel pumps that can dispense a mixture of ethanol and gasoline. Livestock producers have been seeking a level playing field with subsidized ethanol producers as they compete for corn.

With the supercommittee’s work in limbo, the farm program recommendations seem moot in the short run. However, Congress still must write a new farm bill next year. And Friday’s recommendations are a logical place for the agriculture committees to start.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reacting To A Congressional Circus Act

Some call Washington the epicenter of inaction. But a scathing indictment last week of the animal rights movement from former Texas congressman and friend-of-agriculture Charlie Stenholm prompted anything but inactivity in the capital.

Stenholm was responding to the Nov. 2 introduction of the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act by Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, a Democratic darling of the animal welfare folks.

In an op-ed in the Washington Times, Stenholm called Moran’s bill “the latest example of animal rights extremists pushing their radical agenda under the guise of helping animals.” The goal of these groups, he said, is not just an end to animal agriculture but “complete abolishment of animal ownership … they do not even want you to own pets.”  

Almost more interesting than the article, however, was the reaction from readers. Over the next three days, the article generated upward of 80 Website comments, the overwhelming majority of them favorable. A typical example: “Thank you Mr. Stenholm for a wonderful accurate depiction of the situation with regard to animal rights activities in the U.S. … ”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Remember those tough new nutrition requirements the Agriculture Department unveiled for school meals in January? They were supposed to keep our kids from getting too fat.

But, apparently, USDA forgot to figure Congress into its planning. First the Senate voted to block the department from putting limits on servings of potatoes—that is, French fries—and other starchy vegetables in school meals. And now a House-Senate conference committee has rolled back three more USDA provisions. The conference reportedly delayed requirements for more whole grains in school meals and tough proposed limits on salt, scheduled to be phased in over time. In addition, the conference report keeps pizza on school lunch menus by continuing to allow tomato paste to be counted as a vegetable.  

The conference committee said its actions “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of (school) meals.”

No word yet from the Agriculture Department, which was set to give final approval to its version of the nutrition standards before the end of the year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dissed at the Supreme Court

Apparently, the Humane Society of the United States didn’t fare well in its Wednesday showdown with the meat industry at the Supreme Court.

The Washington Post reported that, at oral arguments before the court, “a clear majority of the justices seemed to agree with the National Meat Association” that an HSUS-backed law in California barring meatpackers from slaughtering non-ambulatory livestock violates the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

The law was enacted in the wake of a HSUS hidden video of downer cows being mistreated at slaughter plant. However, the law also affects pigs that arrive at packing plants healthy but temporarily unable to stand. There is nothing wrong with these animals that can’t be corrected by simply letting them rest for a short period. Yet the California law requires these “fatigued” hogs to be euthanized.

The Post said the state official trying to defend the California law “had a much harder time with the justices” than the NMA lawyer. NPPC joined in a brief in support of the NMA, arguing that euthanizing fatigued pigs prevents proper testing of the animals for disease and that the California law would cause serious income losses to the pork industry.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Physicians Committee for Reprehensible Misinformation

Here’s a classic example of biting off more than you can chew.

The anti-meat group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine  announced Tuesday it will put up a huge billboard in Des Moines warning of colon cancer risks from eating bacon. Timed to correspond with a November meeting of the National Pork Board, the billboard features bacon strips sticking out of a pack of cigarettes.

PCRM—notorious for distorting science and misstating facts—picked the wrong place to take a stand against bacon. Not only is Iowa the largest pork-producing state and home to the largest pork trade show, but it has an officially declared Bacon Day and an annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival.

According to the Des Moines Register, the man behind the festival responded to the billboard by inviting the animal right group to next year’s gathering.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Skepticism On Organics

Perhaps organic farmers’ free ride on food safety is coming to an end.

An Associated Press story prompted by last week’s organic egg recall noted there have been more than 20 recalls of organic food products in the last two years. It questioned the exemption given to small and local farmers in this year’s Food Safety Modernization Act and even added this dose of reality concerning chickens: “While many people like to buy cage-free eggs, those chickens may be exposed to bacteria on the grounds where they are roaming.”

But not everything in the article was positive. The reporter claimed that smaller farms have “obvious food safety advantages,” including more control over what is produced, reduced shipping distances, inspectors checking a farm’s organic certification and customer oversight of a farm’s operation.

HOTH thinks hog farmers will get a chuckle out of some of those “advantages.” 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mark Your Calendars!

Here’s your chance to hear the Supreme Court discuss … fatigued pigs.

Two weeks from today—Wednesday, November 9—the high court will hear arguments in the National Meat Association’s challenge to a California law barring meatpackers from slaughtering non-ambulatory animals.

The California law was enacted in the wake of a highly publicized incident involving downer cows, but the law also affects pigs that arrive at packing plants healthy but temporarily unable to stand. There is nothing wrong with these animals that can’t be corrected by simply letting them rest for a short period. Yet the California law requires these so-called fatigued hogs to be euthanized.

The National Meat Association challenged the law on the grounds that it is preempted by federal statutes. NPPC, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and the National Farmers Union sided with the NMA, arguing that euthanizing fatigued pigs prevents proper testing of the animals for disease and that the California law would cause serious income losses to the pork industry.

According to one estimate, banning fatigued pigs from slaughter nationwide would remove up to 60 million pounds of pork from the food supply.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy This

For the past month or so, HOTH has watched in amusement the "Occupy Wall Street" ... uh ... movement, bashing corporate America. But now the anarchists, socialists and professional hippies who make up 99 percent of the protesters will turn their ire on farmers.

The same people who think jobs and economic activity magically appear apparently want food to be raised in idyllic community gardens where everything is grown organically and animals roam free, and the lion lies down with the lamb and ... (But we digress.)

How such collectives would feed this country -- ask the old Soviet Union how that system worked! -- not to mention the world hasn't been articulated.

Actually, the OWSers do have one thing correct: They do represent the 99 percent of people who do not produce food in this country. For the hard-working family farmers -- and most farms are run by families -- who do, though, a little appreciation rather than patchouli-scented blather is in order.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Putting Farmers’ Best Face Forward

Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan helped the Animal Agriculture Alliance launch a Website Tuesday, showcasing the work and contributions of American agriculture, including hog farmers. corrects misconceptions about modern agriculture and features video tours of beef, poultry, dairy and hog farms. It also includes a pledge visitors can sign to support “the dedicated, hard-working farmers and ranchers of America.”

Scanlan, a Nebraska native who has made support of agriculture a feature of her year as Miss America, has a video on the site, highlighting the role of farms in Americans’ lives and the nation’s economy. 

The launch of comes a few days before Food Day, an event organized by liberal groups that criticize modern agriculture and downplay its importance. The National Pork Producers Council is a sponsor of

Monday, October 17, 2011

EPA: We Won’t Crack Down on Farm Dust … Cross Our Hearts!

Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson swears she has no plans to increase regulation of farm dust. Really!

In a letter to two senators last week, Jackson said she plans “no revisions” in air quality standards for dust on country roads. In a subsequent statement, EPA said it hopes the letter “puts an end to the myth that the agency is planning to expand regulations of farm dust.”

Talk of increasing farm dust regulation has been Exhibit A for those arguing that EPA is “out of control.” One of those most vocal on the issue, Nebraska Republican Senator Mike Johanns, praised EPA’s latest statements, saying it provided “clarity to ambiguous and sometimes conflicting comments previously made by the agency.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Revenge of the ag nerds: FFA jackets are now hip

The vintage mecca known as Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversial products. They have outdone themselves this time, adding a very un-urban clothing item to their arsenal…an FFA jacket. Known for catering to the hipster culture, Urban Outfitters is not one to design clothes for country folk, which leaves me wondering how many of their shoppers “believe in the future of agriculture”.

On its Facebook page, Urban Outfitters claims they are “the biggest small retailer in the world”. How’s that for a contradiction? What’s more, arguably the most rural fashion statement, besides pearl snaps, is an FFA jacket. Am I the only one who sees the irony?

The cost of a new FFA jacket is $52, about a third of the Urban Outfitter price. Check out the Urban Outfitters jacket here. How do you feel about it? Disgusted? Proud? Want to sell yours on eBay?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Time to ‘Eat Real’?

Have you heard of Food Day? Coming up October 24, it’s the left’s attempt to do for food what Earth Day did for the planet. Which is, exactly … what? The organizers are expecting thousands of observances around the country, including major events in Washington, New York and other cities. The goal is to encourage Americans to “eat real,” whatever that means.

Food Day is supported by a long list of anti-meat advocates, including HSUS President Wayne Pacelle and author Michael Pollan. One of its six guiding principles is to “protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms,” which it says are “degrading our quality of life.”

The Food Day Website also repeats the liberal line that livestock production represents a “huge carbon footprint.” How huge? For the record, U.S. animal feeding operations account for about 5 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide—much less than livestock production elsewhere. Why the difference? U.S. confinement operations are more efficient, and the worldwide figure includes emissions from deforestation to support grass-fed cattle.

Grass-fed cattle, of course, are something Food Day organizers like. But, as the saying goes, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Call It the Anti-HSUS Amendment

Here’s a switch: The North Dakota Farm Bureau is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would ban laws restricting the use of modern agriculture practices, including gestation stalls and battery cages.

The amendment is a clear reaction to efforts by the Humane Society of the United States to enact laws banning specific industry practices. For example, two years ago California enacted Assembly Bill 1437, ending the sale of eggs from facilities using battery cages. A year earlier, HSUS was successful in passing California Proposition 2, which makes it a criminal offense to confine hens in cages, pigs in gestation stalls and calves in veal crates.

The North Dakota Farm Bureau’s amendment would add two sentences to the state constitution: “The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.”

Said NDFB President Eric Aasmundstad, “We are looking to prevent damage from being done to the industry to prevent it from thriving … It’s that simple … There are groups that would have it otherwise.” NDFB has been cleared by the state to begin gathering the needed 27,000 signatures to put its amendment on the ballot in 2012.

NPPC agrees with the American Veterinary Medical Association on sow housing. The AVMA supports housing that minimizes aggression between sows, protects them from environmental extremes, reduces exposure to hazards, provides access to food and water and facilitates observation by caretakers. The AVMA notes that gestation stalls meet all these criteria.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Surprise! Larger Farms are ‘Better’

A University of Wisconsin study has concluded that large dairy farms—that is, CAFOs—produce higher quality milk than smaller ones.

Researcher Steve Ingham said he wanted to test the common belief that smaller farms are “better” than larger ones. So he looked at data from more than 15,000 Wisconsin dairy farms, divided into three categories by size. He used two measurements—standard plate counts and somatic cell counts—to rate milk quality. The first measures bacteria and the second infection in cows.

Milk from the CAFOs, Ingham found, had the lowest scores for both bacteria and infection levels. Large farms came in second and the small farms ranked third, or highest in both bacteria and infections.

“It could be that (CAFOs) have more money to spend on good equipment,” said Ingham, who is now with the state agriculture department. “It could be that they have the ability to cull out cows with mastitis more quickly.” Regardless, he said, “the numbers speak for themselves. They give a good snapshot of the industry right now.”

The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Genetically Inferior Thinking

With the first genetically engineered (GE) crops planted 15 years ago, and with from 65 to 94 percent of the corn, cotton and soybeans being GE, you’d think safety concerns would have been put to rest.

Not so, of course. Starting Oct. 1 and continuing for 16 days, something called the GMO Right2Know March will snake its way from New York City to Washington, D.C. According to the organizers, GMOs -- genetically modified organisms -- “endanger our health, the environment, and our farmers’ livelihoods.” Their goal? “GMO Labeling Now!”

The march will feature daily events along the route, with a finale at the White House. The anti-GMO Website claims that “80 percent of the packaged foods in America contain Genetically Engineered Ingredients that have not been proven safe …” If these foods are so dangerous, wouldn’t someone somewhere have gotten sick by now? Just asking.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Conventional Farming: The Green Alternative!

A thoughtful blog post on the Scientific American Website destroys the argument that organic farming is better for the environment than conventional farming. Ecologist and grad student Christie Wilcox first calls organic advocates hypocrites for refusing to endorse GMOs that could reduce the use of synthetic chemicals. Then she turns to what she calls the “real reason” organic farming is less green than conventional: drastically reduced crop yields.

“Right now, roughly 800 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition …,” writes Wilcox. “If we were to switch to entirely organic farming, the number of people suffering would jump by 1.3 billion, assuming we use the same amount of land that we’re using now. Unfortunately, what’s far more likely is that switches to organic farming will result in the creation of new farms via the destruction of currently untouched habitats, thus plowing over the little wild habitat left for many threatened and endangered species.”

Wilcox adds: “The unfortunate truth is that until organic farming can rival the production output of conventional farming, its ecological cost due to the need for space is devastating. As bad as any of the pesticides and fertilizers polluting the world’s waterways from conventional agriculture are, it’s a far better ecological situation than destroying those key habitats altogether.”

In her 3,200-word, footnoted post, Wilcox also debunks “myths” that organic farms don’t use pesticides and that organic food is healthier than conventionally produced food.

[Editor's Note: Biochemist and molecular biologist Bruce N. Ames, of the University of California, Berkeley, says, "99.9 percent of the toxic chemicals we're exposed to are completely natural -- you consume about 50 toxic chemicals whenever you eat a plant."]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Modern Ag Needs Love, Too!

Veteran farm policy observer William Lesher has spent most of a long Washington career dealing with agricultural surpluses and the need to idle farm land. So it was hard, he admits, to convince him the era of oversupply has ended and the future is more likely to be defined by the need to ramp up production.

But now, says the former USDA official under President Ronald Reagan, “The undeniable fact is that we are going to have to double output. You are going to be constrained in bringing in land and water.”

Lesher added that modern farming techniques will produce most of what’s needed to feed a global population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050 -- it's nearly 7 billion now. While some in developing countries favor less scientific methods, Lesher said, “You’ve got to give modern agriculture some love and attention, too.”

An economist, Lesher now addresses the challenge of feeding an expanding world as head of the Global Harvest Initiative. He made his comments in a mid-July speech to the American Soybean Association.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dubious Distinction

Last week’s grain supply and demand forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture included a dubious distinction: This year, for the first time, more corn will be used for fuel than for livestock feed. That can only mean one thing for pork producers and consumers: even higher feed costs contributing to even greater increases in food costs.

The July 12 World Agricultural Supply Demand Estimates report estimated that 5 billion bushels of corn will used for animal feed in 2010-2011, while 5.05 billion bushels will be devoted to ethanol. In projections for 2011-2012, the gap widens to a full 100 million bushels.

Animal agriculture groups have long argued that, by diverting corn to fuel, government support for ethanol is largely to blame for today’s rising prices for feed and food. And, while Congress finally is talking about repealing ethanol subsidies, there's also talk that the "savings" will be diverted to ethanol infrastructure such as pumps and pipelines. And so far Congress hasn’t even discussed the idea of repealing the all-important Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates the annual amount of ethanol -- and other biofuels -- that must be produced.

Testifying before Congress earlier this year, NPPC President Doug Wolf said support for renewable fuels is laudable but should not “come at the expense of the U.S. livestock industry.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is ‘Help’?

Outgoing antitrust chief Christine Varney says the Justice Department is helping chart a course forward for the Agriculture Department’s controversial rule for buying and selling livestock and poultry.

Speaking to the liberal Center for American Progress, Varney said Justice will help USDA “think through the next steps of where they want to be” on the regulation, according to media reports.

Known as the GIPSA rule, the embattled draft regulation has been a lightning rod for criticism since it was unveiled last year. Most recently, it took a beating at a late-June hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Rather than listening to Justice Department lawyers, USDA might serve the interests of producers better by focusing on the 60,000 public comments it received on the rule. NPPC has said repeatedly the draft regulation is bad for producers, consumers and rural America and will lead to, among other things, thousands of job losses.

Monday, June 20, 2011

One Fine Day

After lots of bad news out of Washington, pork producers had several things to cheer about last Thursday.

First, the House voted to keep the Agriculture Department from finishing its costly rewrite of regulations governing how livestock are bought and sold. NPPC has said the draft regulation is bad for producers, consumers and rural America alike and will lead, among other things, to thousands of job losses.

Meanwhile, the Senate was voting overwhelmingly to kill the 45-cent-per gallon ethanol tax credit and a companion 54-cent-per-gallon ethanol import tariff. Together the subsidies drive up corn prices, reduce supplies and threaten livestock feed shortages.

And to top things off, media reports said the Obama administration and congressional leaders are close to a deal on three long-pending free trade agreements that will generate nearly $800 billion in additional pork exports.

Of course, the provisions blocking the livestock regulation and killing the ethanol subsidies face additional hurdles on Capitol Hill. But the ethanol vote suggested that the corn-based fuel’s long stranglehold on Congress has finally been broken. And the action on the livestock regulation sends a clear message that USDA went way too far in drafting the massive and unwelcome rule.

All in all, one good day for pork producers!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Challenging Conventional Wisdom On Ethanol

Is it suddenly fashionable to be against ethanol?

First, Minnesota Republican Tim Pawlenty defied conventional wisdom by proclaiming his opposition to ethanol subsidies while announcing his candidacy for president—in Iowa.

And now, a trio of prominent Republican senators—Tom Coburn, Okla., John McCain, Ariz., and Jim DeMint, S.C.—is targeting ethanol as well.

Coburn is forcing a Senate vote—perhaps as early as today—on eliminating the 45-cent-per-gallon ethanol tax credit, and DeMint says he will offer a separate amendment to repeal the renewable fuel standard (RFS), which mandates ethanol’s production. Not to be outdone, McCain says he wants to bar the Agriculture Department from making grants to install ethanol pumps at filling stations.

If that sounds like a political sea-change, it is. Until recently, the livestock industry was largely alone in questioning federal subsidies for ethanol production. The subsidies drive up corn prices, and the RFS affects corn supplies, threatening livestock feed shortages, which would be disastrous for pork and cattle producers alike. NPPC repeatedly has said that support for renewable fuels should not come at the expense of the livestock industry.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This is News?

Here’s a bulletin from Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.: Most antibiotics given to livestock are administered through feed and water, with only a small fraction administered by injection.

Slaughter revealed these unstartling “facts” in a Friday press release. Incredibly, she jumped from this information to the totally unsupported claim that livestock farmers are “rampantly misusing antibiotics in an attempt to cover up filthy, unsanitary living conditions among animals” and that this leads to antibiotic resistance.

It seems obvious Ms. Slaughter never has been in a modern hog barn, which is biosecure and temperature-controlled. Such housing protects pigs from parasites and disease, which reduces animals' need for antibiotics. Barns are cleaned and disinfected after each lot of hogs is sent to market.

Furthermore, no scientific study ever has linked antibiotic use in food animals with antibiotic resistance in humans, a point that top government scientists conceded to Congress. Slaughter routinely has ignored these kinds of unhelpful facts—along with the reality that antibiotics help keep animals healthy and ensure safe food in the meat case—in her years-long quest to severely curtail antibiotics use in livestock.

So far her effort has been unsuccessful, and with Republicans firmly in control of the House of Representatives it is likely to remain so.