|ASI Discourages Meat Imports from Argentina
(May 1, 2008) 2008 has provided plenty of work for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) to represent the sheep producers in our industry, from the work we have been doing on the Farm Bill legislation and predator control to wildlife conflicts and, most recently, the legislative trip to Washington, D.C.
Part of our efforts has revolved around the proposed federal rule to regionalize trade with Argentina, which would allow import of meat and meat products from this country. This is a serious issue, folks, and I know I have heard from several producers who feel that this rule could have a significant impact on our domestic market and possible national livestock health.
A dozen U.S. Senators have opposed this proposal on the grounds of animal health issues. Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal, meat products and live animals from designated areas in Argentina that are deemed free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) could be imported. However, the Senators expressed concern over the animal disease control and tracking systems in Argentina. A weak system could mean devastation for our livestock industry; we need to look no further than this past summer’s FMD outbreak in Great Britain to understand that.
The USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposal for this regional trade included an entirely inaccurate assessment of the U.S. sheep industry. My point to all leaders is given the main livestock production of Argentina is sheep, and since the USDA failed to accurately assess the U.S. sheep industry, we absolutely have no confidence that they accurately assessed the risks of a foreign sheep industry. If the department couldn’t properly analyze domestic sheep, then it’s a sure bet they missed the analysis of Argentina sheep.
This analysis, in short terms, said that the impact of sheep meat imports from Argentina would only cause the U.S. sheep market price to decline by a few percent, and that estimate would be lessened because the agency claimed U.S. producers raise sheep primarily for wool. In essence, the analysis is claiming that lamb production is a byproduct of wool production.
With a lamb market that brings in more than $400 million in sales compared to $40 million in wool sales, it is easy to see the flaw in that data.
ASI has stated before, and continues to maintain, that it has no confidence in the agency’s analysis on the impact this will have on the domestic markets, or in its analysis of the foreign market either. And because of this, it casts some serious doubts on the analysis of FMD risk from the proposed areas in Argentina.
If this proposal goes forward, I certainly hope the secretary of agriculture will ask the hard questions of APHIS to find out how they arrived at their conclusion in this analysis, and strongly urge APHIS go further in depth to determine the actual economic and disease risk to our nation’s sheep producers.
I am pleased to once again be able to report that I was in contact with the Secretary of Agriculture Shaffer in April by telephone, and I was able to again discuss the need for the lamb roast purchase program. As you know, the ASI board voted this winter to request stand-by authority of the department for $5 million in meat purchases in case market conditions warrant government purchases so we don’t have to wait months for the authority to be approved.
I feel that the Argentina issue and the lamb roast purchase program are current issues at the forefront of keeping our industry healthy. Another major challenge revolves around labor.
Sheep herding has been a time honored vocation in the Western United States, and for 50 years, a sheep herder program under the H-2A temporary agriculture provisions has been an effective source of skilled herders.
Today, the hundreds of sheep ranches that use herders under this program provide at least 25 percent of the entire nation’s lamb and wool production, bringing home the point that the herder program is so important to our industry and its infrastructure.
However, recent proposed legislation changes threaten that. The Department of Homeland Security has proposed a rule that changes the H-2A program, which could potentially adversely affect the herder program.
The current program requires that agricultural workers under the H-2A program must adhere to a six-month, out-of-country stay (they must return home for six months) between contracts. However, as sheep herding is a year-long occupation and considered under a special procedure, the program has long exempted sheep herders from this requirement.
The proposed changes, would reduce the out-of-country stay to three months, but does not acknowledge the special needs of sheep ranches, and therefore, sheep herders would lose their exemption from the rule. This has the potential to increase labor costs by 25 percent because of the need for additional herders to cover others’ three-month absences from the job.
ASI submitted comments to both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor urging both to support the sheep-herder provisions of the H-2A program, as was established in the 1950s, since it has been a well-run and effective program. In addition to the out-of-the country stay, there are several items within the proposed rule that we are also concerned with.
In addition, ASI commented that the proposed increase in time required by employers to advertise a job is excessive and dramatically raises the expense of the employer and should not be the only method allowed. Also, the proposed change that increases the cost of the H-2A application is also excessive and not supported by our association.
Finally, ASI addressed the proposed changes in the permit to revoke a labor certification by the certifying officer. The immediate effect is the temporary worker must return to the worker’s home country even though the employer has not yet exhausted the employer’s appeal rights. Therefore, even if the labor certification revocation is overturned on appeal, the visa revocation based on the certifying officer’s original decision remains in effect and the agricultural employer has lost the worker. Because the appeal-process time is relatively short for temporary workers, ASI requests that the department allow them to stay during that period.
Given the serious, negative impact of the above described changes on our sheep operations using the H-2A program, and the resulting impact on our national production, we are strongly urging these proposed changes not be included in any final rule.
The Argentina and H-2A issue, to me, just reiterates that we, as an association and as an industry, must continue to stay on top of federal action that would affect our markets and production.