U.S.D.A. urged to rescue the pork industry

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — The National Pork Producers Council urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Aug. 17 to lend assistance to U.S. pork producers to help them weather a nearly two-year-old economic crisis.

N.P.P.C. requested, in a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, $250 million in financial assistance and other actions that should help producers, who since September 2007 have lost an average of more than $21 on each hog marketed. N.P.P.C. asked the agency to:

  • Immediately buy an extra $50 million of pork for various federal food programs — other than ones in U.S.D.A.’s Section 32 program — using fiscal 2009 funds. Fiscal 2009 ends Sept. 30. The funds would not come from U.S.D.A.’s Section 32 program. (U.S.D.A. annually buys pork for food programs. It bought $62.6 million worth in 2008, for example.)
  • Urge Congress to lift a spending cap on the Section 32 program, and use $50 million of $300 million available to buy pork for the program, which uses customs receipts to buy non-price-supported commodities for school lunch and other food programs.
  • On Oct. 1, when Fiscal 2010 begins, buy a minimum of $50 million of pork, using fiscal 2010 funds. The purchase would be in addition to U.S.D.A.’s annual buy.
  • Use $100 million of the $1 billion appropriated for addressing the H1N1 virus for the swine industry. This would include $70 million for swine disease surveillance, $10 million for diagnostics and H1N1 vaccine development and$20 million for industry support.
  • Work with the U.S. Trade Representative to open export markets to U.S. pork. Several countries, including China, continue to impose unwarranted bans on U.S. pork because of the H1N1 flu.
  • Study the economic impact on the livestock industry of an expansion of corn-ethanol production and usage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed raising the cap on blending ethanol into gasoline to 15% from its current 10%.

U.S. pork producers are in desperate straits right now, and they need a little help from U.S.D.A., said Don Butler, N.P.P.C. president. "The request N.P.P.C. has made not only will help pork producers and Americans who benefit from government feeding programs but tens of thousands of mostly rural jobs supported by the U.S. pork industry," he added.

In early August, governors from nine states also asked the federal government to help U.S. pork producers, urging U.S.D.A. to make a supplemental $50 million purchase of pork and to lift the Section 32 spending cap to make additional pork buys.

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