|“Expect the Unexpected”
By Judy Malone
Director of Industry Information
(March 1, 2012) Fran Boyd, Meyers and Associates, Washington, D.C., representative for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), kicked off the 2012 Legislative Action Council meeting at the annual convention by discussing the next Farm Bill. The sheep industry worked all fall to include sheep industry priorities in the supercommittee effort so, though the bill wasn’t produced, a good share of the Farm Bill preparation has already taken place. For the sheep industry, risk management for severe weather conditions is a goal prompting the need to establish a permanent disaster trust fund including livestock indemnity and the livestock forage programs. Continuation of the wool loan deficiency program for market-price risk and general industry support provided by the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center are also priorities. Farm bills as we have known them are gone. Future farm bills, particularly given the current budgetary climate, will continue to move away from traditional agricultural price-support packages and move toward disaster programs and income protection.
“We must move forward making the assumption that there will be a Farm Bill done this year,” said Boyd. “It is the only assumption one can make and still be prepared for whatever happens with the first round of hearings scheduled in February.”
War on Rural America
Jeff Freeman, National Rifle Association (NRA), began his remarks to the council by expressing his delight with the success of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) vote this summer in the House that defeated an attempt to slash $11 million from the program.
“In a 2-1 margin, this was one of the largest defeats the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has ever been handed,” voiced Freeman. “The NRA and other sportsman’s organizations were pleased to actively join with the livestock organizations in this fight to maintain funding for Wildlife Services.” He also pledged that NRA would continue to oppose any efforts to reduce WS funding.
An animal-rights led amendment by HSUS and Natural Resources Defense Council to cut WS funding was soundly rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives with 287 members voting nay on the amendment and only 132 yea votes. The activists were counting on leveraging the newly seated conservative House members to reduce funding to WS in the name of federal savings but to the detriment of the livestock industry.
“It sends a strong message when fully two-thirds of the House rejects an amendment to reduce funding for WS. We must continue to bring other like-minded groups into the coalition because this fight is not over. We can enjoy this victory while we prepare for the next vote.”
Another rewarding success was the legislation that passed to delist the Rocky Mountain gray wolves in Montana and Idaho, as well as portions of eastern Oregon, Washington and north-central Utah, from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. The language, submitted by U.S. Sen. Mike Simpson (Idaho), also prevents courts from again intervening in the issue.
There is a war on rural America. Freeman explained that the WS and wolf legislation were successful because the coalitions involved were made up of broad bi-partisan membership. It will take coalitions that include friends from non-agriculture related arenas to address the many rules and regulations being brought forward by this administration, such as efforts to lock-up large areas of public lands to prevent multi-use, child labor restrictions and attacks on second amendment gun rights.
Boyd also provided insight into the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills where the theme was to reduce spending. Even though there is the possibility that there will be a continuing resolution for 2013, the industry must be prepared otherwise. The successful inclusion in the 2012 omnibus spending package of language prohibiting the U.S. Forest Service from using funds to reduce domestic sheep grazing because of conflicts with bighorn sheep likely makes it easier for inclusion in the next version.
“No one wants to deal with the agriculture community when we all come together as a single unit,” started Steve Kopperud, political lobbyist for Policy Directions Inc. representing the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, in his presentation about the animal rights movement and its impact on the livestock industry. “Unfortunately, agriculture has become fragmented on less impactful issues than animal rights and, to fight this fight, we need to restore a single front.”
Kopperud touched on a number of pending laws as examples of how the work being done by HSUS could affect agriculture in the future.
The Egg Bill. This would be a precedent setting law, using federal law to prescribe how to produce eggs. If it is good for chickens, then it should also be good for beef, sheep and pork.
Horse Slaughter. The USDA prohibition on funding meat inspection in horse slaughter facilities was defeated this year. Five states are looking to facilitate horse slaughter (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska and Missouri) stating they value the wellbeing of horses and economic worth.
Five states have introduced bills that would make it a felony for individuals to take jobs only to gain access to animals to record their treatment.
In closing, Kopperud stated, “This is a social issue. Put your face in front of the public; they relate to other people and the public wants to be reassured that you are treating your animals in a humane way.”
Sheep industry producers will travel to Washington, D.C., on May 1-3 for the annual visit to USDA and to the Hill.
“We changed the format of this meeting last year allowing us to meet with USDA officials prior to making our Hill visits. Using this sequence, we are able to gather additional information on sheep-related topics before talking to our Congressmen,” stated Bob Benson, co-chair of the Legislative Action Council. “We will follow this same structure again this year so mark your calendars and plan to attend.”