Vilsack lauded for U.S.D.A.'s bonus meat purchases

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was commended on March 31 by National Pork Producers Council for U.S.D.A.’s plan to make an additional purchase of up to $25 million of pork products, which will be donated to child nutrition and other domestic food-assistance programs. Mr. Vilsack’s announcement that U.S.D.A. will be making up to a $60 million bonus purchase of turkey meat to help stabilize falling turkey prices was also applauded by the National Turkey Federation.

"The action by U.S.D.A. to buy additional pork will benefit America’s pork producers, the U.S. economy and the people who rely on the government’s various food programs," said Don Butler, N.P.P.C. president. Secretary Vilsack’s decision to purchase more pork will also help the turkey industry bring supply and demand closer into balance, he added.

N.P.P.C. asked Mr. Vilsack to take action to address a crisis that over the past 18 months has cost the pork industry more than $3 billion in equity. Since October 2007 producers have lost an average of $20 on each hog marketed, due mostly to higher feed costs.

The association urged U.S.D.A. in a Jan. 30 letter to buy pork products from market hogs for emergency food programs, food pantries, senior and elderly feeding programs, hunger programs or other non-commercial food channels. N.P.P.C. suggested that the agency purchase cooked sausage patties, pork crumbles, trimmings, picnics (shoulders) and boneless picnic meat.

In its most-recent request, N.P.P.C. also asked Mr. Vilsack to use U.S.D.A. resources, including the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, to support pork exports, which in 2008 were at record levels and helped temper pork producers’ losses.

Mr. Vilsack said U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s intends to expedite a major bonus purchase of turkey meat within the next six weeks to help turkey growers and processors who have been hurt in the current recession.

"The turkey industry thanks Secretary Vilsack and the poultry division at A.M.S. for their favorable response to our recent request for a bonus purchase," said Joel Brandenberger, N.T.F. president. "This purchase hopefully will help reverse a downward trend in turkey prices. It also will be helpful as U.S.D.A. strives to meet its nutrition goals by providing this nutrient rich protein for the department’s feeding programs."

In January, N.T.F. had asked Mr. Vilsack for a bonus purchase of approximately 50 million lbs. of boneless, skinless turkey-breast meat. The association said economists estimate that a 50-million lb purchase would not restore breast-meat prices to where they were before the recession began, but would begin the process of returning them to their historical average of the last four years.

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