Members of Congress are turning different directions to try to provide some indemnity for pork producers forced to depopulate their herds.
A bipartisan group of 14 senators on Monday sent a letter to the top four congressional leaders, asking them to consider funding programs at USDA that would help pork producers. As packing plants closed over the past month, more than 40% of pork-processing capacity went with them, leading to a growing crisis of swine “that have nowhere to go,” the senators wrote.
The senators wrote: “The crisis is immediate. Pork producers send to market over 2 million pigs each week. If 20% of processing is idle, that means somewhere around 400,000 animals per week must be disposed of in some manner other than processing.”
USDA had stated to DTN on Friday that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is helping with some guidance on depopulation and disposal, but USDA is not providing livestock farmers with indemnities.
Right now, USDA does have a $16 billion aid package to help a broad range of livestock and crop losses that is now at the White House awaiting final approval, but that package does not deal with the specific challenge or cost of euthanizing livestock.
USDA maintains the department does not have authorization or funding to pay for the indemnity and costs of euthanizing healthy animals. The senators state in their letter that authorization needs to be spelled out for the department.
“Given these significant social and economic consequences, we must prioritize funding to indemnify producers who are depopulating herds due to processing plant closures. Assistance is needed for humane euthanization and disposal, which will require the coordination of the human, animal and environmental health communities,” the senators wrote.
The senators wrote the House and Senate leaders of each party. The letter comes as the Trump administration and Congress are increasingly divided over whether there will be another aid package from Congress and concerns about the costs.
Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to President Donald Trump, said on a Sunday morning news show there may need to be a “pause” before another aid program is considered.
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In the House, some lawmakers are calling on the president to engage the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help pay for depopulation and disposal of animal remains.
In a letter sent Friday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and House Agriculture Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa, D-Calif., led a bipartisan group of 15 House members asking the president to provide guidance on how FEMA could help livestock producers following the closure of meatpacking plants due to coronavirus outbreaks and worker safety concerns.
“Even as plants begin to reopen, meat and poultry plants are expected to operate below maximum capacity for the foreseeable future in order to maintain appropriate public health and worker safety precautions meaning that, unfortunately, depopulation will continue,” wrote the lawmakers in the letter, pointing out that plant closures and backups have left producers with little to no alternative options.
Specifically, the lawmakers requested that the administration allow for expenses related to livestock depopulation and disposal to be reimbursed under Category B of FEMA’s Public Assistance program.
The House members pointed out that, right now, at least 10,000 pigs a day are being depopulated in Minnesota alone as pork producers have no other option to deliver hogs to market.
Five Republican House members from Illinois had earlier asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help compensate farmers for euthanization and disposal. Those lawmakers included Reps. John Shimkus, Rodney Davis, Mike Bost, Darin LaHood and Adam Kinzinger.
The National Pork Producers Council noted in a newsletter that for a state to be eligible for emergency support from FEMA, the governor must make the request.
Senate letter to congressional leaders: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/…
House Ag letter to President Trump: https://agriculture.house.gov/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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