WASHINGTON – Bryan Burns, vice president and associate general counsel for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) recently testified at a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry.
The May 17 hearing titled, “A Review of Animal Agriculture Stakeholder Priorities,” was chaired by Representative Tracey Mann (R-Kan.), the subcommittee chairman and Representative Jim Costa (D-Cal.), the subcommittee ranking member.
Burns said meat industry was challenged by recent economic headwinds, challenges in the courts and hurdles with new regulations but has remained successful with record production.
“I want to emphasize that the industry is incredibly resilient, despite claims to the contrary,” Burns said. “Against challenges such as COVID, supply chain disruptions, labor availability, and the impact of drought, beef production set new records for four consecutive years from 2019 through 2022. Pork production has seen its highest four-year totals over the same period.”
Burns provided insight on various topics, including the recent decision by the US Supreme Court to uphold California’s Proposition 12.
“It will embolden anti-animal ag groups to pursue burdensome laws elsewhere and will open the door to chaos in interstate commerce through state-by-state trade barriers, not just for meat and poultry products, but for any products not meeting the standards set by another state,” Burns said of Prop 12. “Industry needs certainty. But any federal solution requires careful drafting to ensure it is legally sufficient yet not vulnerable to challenges in the courts.”
Burns discussed NAMI’s outlook on the impact of proposed rules by the Biden Administration under the Packers and Stockyards Act.
“The Administration claims the proposals are needed because the injury to competition standard is an insurmountable bar for plaintiffs and eliminating it will help rein in the big companies,” Burns said. “However, the small, family-owned poultry company I once worked for suffered a $14.5 million verdict in a Packers and Stockyards case decided under the injury to competition standard, an amount large enough to drive it to the verge of bankruptcy. The result was that the company was acquired by an owner outside the United States.”
Labor shortages remain an important topic for agriculture to address in the short and long term. NAMI said it was pleased with the House Agriculture Committee establishing a workforce working group on the issue. Burns added that meat packing and processing facilities are not eligible to employ workers under the H-2A visa program for agricultural guest workers.
“We urge the working group to consider the workforce needs of our industry as it deliberates,” Burns said of the visa program. “We are essential to the food supply. We would welcome the opportunity to be part of the discussions so that a solution can be found that works for all of agriculture.”
Other important policies covered included the reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) Act. Congress extended the LMR since 2020 with five-year authorization annually in appropriations legislation. The Meat Institute said it supports a clean, five-year reauthorization that will not be tied to the upcoming Farm Bill.
Data by the US Census Bureau highlighted by NAMI stated that meat and poultry processing is a nearly $267 billion industry that employs 526,849 people in the United States.
The entire testimony by Burns can be found here.