UPDATED: Meat groups 'actively oppose' farm bill

Published on: Jan 27, 2014

*Updated with reaction from National Farmers Union and other groups who support COOL.

U.S. livestock and poultry industries say they'll oppose the farm bill that does not reach a resolve to their liking for GIPSA funding and making mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) compliant under the World Trade Organization.

In a letter to the four farm bill principals, the American Meat Institute, National Catttleman’s Beef Assn., National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, and the North American Meat Assn, said since a sensible resolution was not achieved for the GIPSA and MCOOL issues, "we will actively oppose final passage of the Farm Bill, if these issues are not addressed."

The letter detailed the groups were deeply disappointed the bill does not exclude language that was in the House-passed version of the bill on the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA), the Conaway-Costa amendment. 

If included, the Conaway-Costa amendment would have refocused the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regulation on the five specific areas of contraction, as Congress directed in the 2008 Farm Bill, the letter explained. As well as restoring Congressional intent, this language was included in four appropriations bill (including 2014) and signed by the President. 

Groups also faced disappointment that a WTO-compliant resolution to mandatory Country-of-Origin Labelling (COOL) was not reached, particularly in the face of retaliatory actions by the governments of Mexico and Canada. 

"This retaliation will be crippling to our industries and threaten the long-term relationship with two of our most important export markets," the letter stated. "COOL is a broken program that has only added costs to our industries without any measurable benefit for America’s livestock producers." They added they "offered many solutions and all were rejected."

Those in favor of what appears to be in the final farm bill version said the conference committee made the right choice. Because the bill will likely include several strong positives for livestock, the groups called into question the meat and poultry industry commitment to the livestock sector and motives in attacking the farm bill.

The National Farmers Union said the groups that signed the letter don't represent farmers and ranchers but rather vertically integrated packers.

"It is especially outrageous that on COOL, the outcome these organizations seek was not the subject of a single hearing in either the Senate or the House; it was not even proposed as an amendment on the floor of either chamber, nor was it debated in either committee," NFU president Roger Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson added the farm bill conference includes several strong positives for livestock. Permanent baseline funding for livestock programs is part of the bill, including nearly $5 billion in disaster funds. The Livestock Forage Program is also set to be improved in this farm bill, as are the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and various livestock health initiatives.

According to a statement from cattle groups including NFU and R-CALF USA, "Farm bill conferees must resist the last-ditch counter-attack by the meatpacking and poultry lobbies and stand up for the millions of working farmers and ranchers across the country and the hundreds of millions of consumers that support the country-of-origin labels that were finalized in 2013."

Hill sources state a final farm bill could come before the House Rules Committee Monday evening, which would pave the way for a vote on the House floor Wednesday before the chamber recesses for three days.