Vilsack talks trade, death tax, environment and antibiotics with NCBA producers

News
Sep 17, 2010
by WLJ

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed U.S. cattle producers from across the country in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday as part of the 2010 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Legislative Conference. Vilsack reinforced the importance of U.S. agriculture to eradicating global hunger and providing one out of every 12 jobs in the U.S. The secretary quickly illustrated the importance the export marketplace plays in sustaining U.S. agriculture in terms of profitability and jobs. USDA projects a $31 billion trade surplus next year, compared to a current $27 billion surplus. He said every $1 billion in surplus is equivalent to 8,000 to 9,000 jobs. Vilsack said many new opportunities for U.S. exports need to be identified and existing trade barriers need to be resolved.

“We are focused on developing new markets, especially where the middle class population is expanding. We also need to break down unscientific trade barriers,” he said. “We also need to finalize these pending free trade agreements [Colombia,

South Korea and Panama]. Hopefully, South Korea will be approved quickly.”

Many cattle producers expressed concern to the secretary about the fact that less than 16 legislative days are left on the congressional calendar until the estate tax reverts back to its staggering pre-2001 levels. If Congress doesn’t act, starting Jan. 1, 2011, farm estates worth $1 million will be taxed at a rate of 55 percent.

“We have to make sure the vast majority of agriculture is not impacted by the estate tax,” said Vilsack. “I believe that is the intent of Congress, although they haven’t done it yet. We will continue to push for that.”

The issue of unprecedented environmental regulations on dust proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was also an issue of concern for cattle producers. The secretary said he accepts full responsibility for USDA, but can’t speak for EPA. He said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is doing a tour of rural America and meeting with producers at his request.

“I told her you’ve got to get out and talk to producers. A lot of folks in this town have never been on a farm but assume they know the impact of regulations on agri culture.

They really don’t know … They have to get out in the country,” said Vilsack. “They have to visit farms and ranches to understand modern agriculture. They have to make decisions that make sense.”

Perhaps the boldest statements made by the secretary were in regards to antibiotics. The Food and Drug Administration’s draft guidance document, The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals, concerns cattle producers due to the lack of science. Cattle producers also expressed concerns over U.S.

Rep. Louise Slaughter’s, D- NY, Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would phase out the use of some antibiotics in the livestock industry. The secretary also expressed concerns.

“I’ve communicated to Rep. Slaughter my support of the judicious use of antibiotics. The vast majority of producers do not abuse the use of antibiotics in livestock production. I told her you cannot ban this. It doesn’t make sense,” Visack said. “USDA’s public position is, and always has been, that antibiotics need to be used judiciously and we believe they already are.” — WLJ

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