Ag Secretary Addresses Cattlemen

By Troy Smith   |  

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue understands how important export markets are to U.S. agriculture, and he’s made sure that President Donald Trump understands it, too. Perdue offered that assurance in a media conference and during a speech delivered to cattle folk attending the recent 2019 Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, La. The Secretary also commented on issues such as so-called “fake meat,” the new federal farm bill, and the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, but devoted a majority of his time to what he called three priorities for agricultural producers, “trade, trade and trade.”

Referring to trade talks with China, Perdue said he believes negotiations are re-entering a phase of cooperation. He cited a serious desire, on both sides, to arrive at a trade agreement. He added, however, that any agreement made on paper must be accompanied by a willingness to comply with its rules.

Perdue said trading partners must act like “good neighbors.” Likening past behavior to that of a cattleman that purposely and repeatedly lets his stock get into a neighbor’s pasture, Perdue referred to China’s forced transfer or theft of intellectual property as unneighborly.

“You’ve got to respect that what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine. You’ve got to respect the rules,” said Perdue. “That’s how trade is supposed to work.”

Perdue also warned against the folly of becoming too dependent on any one customer, neglecting other markets. He noted ongoing efforts to open and expand trade in Southeast Asia, Europe and Japan by trying to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to U.S. beef and other agricultural products.

Regarding the development and expected commercialization of cell-cultured meat, Perdue acknowledged tension between the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerning which agency should have oversight of production, packaging and labeling. He said both agencies are in the “food safety business” and need to get along, so jurisdiction will be shared.

“In the case of cell-cultured proteins, the FDA does have some expertise, and it’s probably appropriate that it be involved. But when it comes to (cell) harvest, packaging and labeling, I want you to know that USDA is going to be there,” stated Perdue.

Commenting on the new farm bill, Perdue credited cattle industry efforts in advocating for its National Animal Disease Preparedness Program and National Animal Vaccine Bank. This measure secures $120 million in funding for programs including a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine bank. Perdue said the bill includes “other good things,” such as enhancements to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other conservation programs. The legislation also maintains funding for USDA’s Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, which aid development of global markets for U.S. beef, pork and lamb.

“I know the ELD mandate has been a thorn in your flesh,” said Perdue, referring to the federal Electronic Logging Device mandate and its limits on truckers’ hours of service. While livestock hauler compliance has been delayed temporarily, Perdue said the rule needs to be amended for haulers of perishable cargo.

“The mandate doesn’t make sense for cattle transporters and drivers hauling other perishable goods,” Perdue allowed. “I do think Congress is starting to listen and may come to understand the need for consideration of perishables.”

In closing, Perdue lamented how government is hindered by political posturing, among both republicans and democrats, and how Congress often seems determined to keep the administration from succeeding with anything.

“We really shouldn’t let the good of the country suffer because we don’t want the other part to have a victory,” stated Perdue. “We ought to stop the silly politics and make decisions that are good [for] the people of this country.”