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Animal Agriculture: 2007 Farm Bill Issues

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Abstract:

With a few exceptions (such as milk), the products of animal agriculture are not eligible for the price and income supports that Congress historically has written into farm bills for major row crops such as grains, cotton, and oilseeds. However, the meat and poultry industries do look to the federal government for leadership and support in promoting their exports, resolving trade disputes, and reassuring markets that their products are safe, of high quality, and disease-free. Farm bills can contain policy guidance and resources to help achieve these objectives.

Also, animal producers closely follow the development of a new farm bill because of its potential impact on their production marketing costs. For example, policies promoting crop-based alternative fuels like ethanol already have raised the prices of corn and soybeans, both important animal feedstuffs. Where additional biofuels policy incentives are being considered for inclusion in a 2007 farm bill, cattle, hog, and poultry producers have been urging restraint and/or encouraging more use of non-feed crops like grasses and field wastes. Other potential farm bill issues of interest include proposals from animal welfare groups to regulate on-farm care of animals; and from some farmer-rancher coalitions to address perceived anticompetitive market behavior by large meat and poultry processing companies.

The market value of animal production on U.S. dairy, livestock, and poultry farms was more than $105 billion in 2002, more than half the total value of all U.S. agricultural production (2002 Census of Agriculture). Producers continue to face intense pressures to become larger, more specialized, and more cost-efficient in an increasingly global marketplace.

In the 110th Congress, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee has introduced wide-ranging legislation (S. 622) to be the basis for a new "competition" title in the next farm bill; it would strengthen producer rights when contracting with meat and poultry processors; expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) responsibilities to enforce competitive behavior; and extend to many crop markets some of the antitrust rules that now apply to meat packers. S. 305, S. 221, and S. 786 also propose new regulations for various farm animal buyers and/or processors.

Other bills would require USDA to implement mandatory country-of-origin labeling on meats by September 30, 2007, instead of the currently set deadline of September 30, 2008 (H.R. 357; S. 404); prohibit USDA from carrying out a mandatory animal identification program (H.R. 1018); ban the slaughter of horses for food (H.R. 503, S. 311); require that nonambulatory livestock be euthanized and not used for food (H.R. 661, S. 394); and impose animal care standards on suppliers of food to the federal government (H.R. 1726). Some of these also might be offered for consideration in a new farm bill.

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