2012 — a year of lawsuits, surprises, delays
WCN FILE PHOTO
Agricultural dust is common in Texas as farmers prepare the land during the drought-like conditions of 2011.
The following words from western songwriter/singer Brenn Hill’s song, “Into the
Wind,” could easily sum up the reactions of those involved in the production
of our nation’s food supply. As U.S. farmers and ranchers continued to contend with the worst drought
in 50 years, other storms brewed during 2012 from unlikely
It’s times like these
The cowboys from the men
Hard times have come before
And they’re gonna come again
So you can turn that horse and ride back home
And wait until it ends
Or just grit your teeth,
Bow your head
And ride into the wind.
--Brenn Hill, from “Into the Wind”
Cattlemen united to stand up and fight for their industry when controversial “investigative” news reports surfaced in late March. Some media outlets labeled the processed lean, finely textured beef as “pink slime.” The hype forced three plants in the nation to close, with more than 650 jobs lost. AFA, a ground beef processor, filed for bankruptcy. A change in the National School Lunch Program also resulted.
Meat versus meatless
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Operations slipped when a July interoffice memo endorsed “Meatless Monday.” In response, U.S. Sens. John
Cornyn of Texas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa celebrated “Meat Monday,” with assorted barbecue.
While these men showed their support for the beef industry, a different surprise befell the cattle industry when a lawsuit was filed against the USDA, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the Cattlemen’s
Beef Board, and the Beef Promotion Operating Commission by the Organization
for Competitive Markets. The lawsuit was in retaliation to alleged mismanagement of the national beef check-off program by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association -- the check-off’s main contractor -- after audit reports were released in 2010. The biggest surprise was the involvement of the Humane Society of the United States, not identified in the lawsuit.
This development occurred while industry-wide meetings were held, led by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union, to enhance the check-off program.
Even the U.S. Senate addressed the check-off program when U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint proposed an amendment to the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill that would prohibit mandatory or compulsory check-off programs, including the beef check-off.
While the DeMint amendment was defeated, amendments surfaced within the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill.
In early February, a resolution approved during the winter conference of the National
Cattlemen’s Beef Association was circulating. The association made its intents known against the “Livestock Title” within the proposed House version of the Farm Bill. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was opposed to the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) livestock marketing, as well as the
Country-of-Origin Labeling. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association voiced its opposition to the proposed Title amendment.
While provisions for both of these programs were included in the 2008 Farm Bill, it is uncertain what will be contained in the 2012 version; the U.S. Senate approved its version, but the U.S. House balked, with the Farm Bill set to expire Sept. 30. This led to a Sept. 17 rally on Capitol Hill, with more than 500 people in attendance.
What will be contained in the final House version is unknown, since the full House did not meet to discuss this before the year’s end.
In a last-ditch effort, Congress approved an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill until September 2013. No provisions for disaster assistance for livestock and fruit producers were included in the extension.
The Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) program that was part of the 2002 Farm Bill Act and made mandatory in the 2008 Farm Bill was watched closely by North American ag leaders throughout 2012.
In November 2011, a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel found the United States violated certain provisions of the COOL program. On March 23, 2012, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative appealed the November decision, while Canada and Mexico filed cross-appeals. The World Trade Organization Appellate ruling was released June 29, which:
•“Affirmed the U.S. consumers’ right to require truthful meat labeling and the panel found that the U.S. meat labeling law fulfills a legitimate business objective.
•“Ruled that the segregation of foreign and domestic cattle at the point of harvest imposes a burden on Canadian and Mexican imported cattle.”
The case, first filed in 2008, may be finalized in 2013, since the United States’ compliance deadline, according to the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, is set for May 23.
Cattlemen again made headlines in the fall, this time with the debate regarding the
use of feed corn in the production of ethanol, and whether the added competition aided in the increase of corn prices.
A coalition, consisting of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and six other governors,
180 members of Congress, and livestock groups, sent letters asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to waive the Renewable Fuels Standard. The groups contended that the ethanol industry’s effort to meet its production, as stated in the Energy Policy Act
of 2005, was the source for the price increase.
The EPA on Nov. 16 denied the waiver, stating that the drought, not
ethanol production, was the cause of the price increase. A government report
stated that if the waiver was granted, corn prices would be reduced by
approximately 1 percent. This marked the second time a waiver was denied.
Perry also filed for the state in 2008, to no avail.
The ag sector also carefully watched issues that would greatly impact the
industry -- labor and the environment.
The Department of Labor on April 26 withdrew the proposed youth labor
regulations suggested in October 2011. This was due, in part, to a mass campaign opposing the proposed regulations.
The EPA also withdrew a Clean Water Act Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Reporting Rule in July that would
require ranchers to provide information that would be placed on a website
for review. Opponents, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, feared extremists could use the data to harm the nation’s food system.
The EPA’s five-year review of the coarse particulate matter standard,
commonly known as the dust standard, did not change. The EPA announced
Dec. 14 that it would retain the current level of the dust standard. If the rules were tightened, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association estimated fines of up to $37,500 per day could be imposed on producers for not being in compliance with the Clean Air Act.
If approved, farmers could be prohibited from harvesting or tilling their lands on certain days.
As 2012 closed, the state and nation were set to begin implementation of animal health traceability programs. See related article page 2D for more.
The estate tax, or “death tax,” was voted on by the U.S. Congress during the fiscal cliff package vote Jan. 1, 2013. Congress increased the previous tax rate from 35 percent to 40 percent. The current exemption of $5 million per individual or $10 million per couple remained. If no action had been taken, the estate tax exemption would have dropped to $1 million per individual. Values exceeding the exemption level would have been taxed at 55 percent.
The existence of traditional family farms hinged on the outcome of this issue. The exemption now becomes permanent, at least until this tax comes under scrutiny again.