NCBA President Todd Wilkinson testifies before Congress
On March 17, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Todd Wilkinson testified before the House Agriculture Committeeʼs Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry to discuss the state of the cattle industry and review animal agriculture stakeholder priorities.
2023 Farm Bill
To begin, Wilkinson explained one of NCBA’s top priorities for the 118th Congress is the passage of an effective farm bill, and as Congress moves toward this, he encouraged lawmakers to consider some key areas of importance.
The first is to protect animal health.
“Animal disease poses one of the greatest threats to the U.S. livestock industry,” he stated. “Since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, highly pathogenic avian influenza has wreaked havoc upon the domestic poultry industry, African swine fever has spread closer to U.S. shores, and foot and mouth disease continues to run rampant across the globe.”
“These diseases, and others like them, will cause tremendous economic devastation if not properly responded to in a timely manner,” he added. “Simply put, Congress cannot afford to cut corners on animal disease prevention and preparedness programs.”
Therefore, Wilkinson shared NCBA has called upon Congress to support mandatory funding for three critical animal health components in the upcoming farm bill, including $153 million per year for the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank, $70 million per year for the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program and $10 million per year for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.
NCBA also urges Congress to promote voluntary conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Conservation Reserve Program; reinforce disaster programs such as the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Livestock Forage Program; support risk management programs and oppose a standalone livestock title.
As previously mentioned, animal disease is one of the largest threats to the U.S. cattle industry.
Wilkinson noted, because of this, NCBA urges Congress to swiftly reauthorize the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) by Sept. 30.
ADUFA was established in Congress in 2003 as an amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to collect fees from animal health companies to enable FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine to meet performance standards for the timely approval of new animal drugs.
“An efficient new animal drug review process is essential to the approval of safe and effective new animal drugs which protect animal and public health,” Wilkinson stated.
He also noted, equally as important, is USDA’s proposed rule to require electronic identification for interstate movement of cattle.
“NCBA recognizes animal disease traceability (ADT) is an essential component of protecting the U.S. cattle herd during an animal disease outbreak,” he said.
“While NCBA would have preferred industry take the lead on this issue rather than the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, we support the development and implementation of a nationally significant ADT system,” he added.
Climate and conservation
Another priority of NCBA, according to Wilkinson, is to correct the record on the climate and conservation benefits of cattle production.
“The U.S. is home to the most sustainable beef production system in the world, thanks to decades of and continual improvement by American farmers and ranchers,” he stated. “Thanks to investments in cattle genetics, technologies and management practices, the same nutritious protein today takes significantly less land, water and feed to produce.”
He noted greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per pound of beef have decreased nearly 40 percent since 1960, and direct emissions from beef account for only two percent of overall U.S. GHG emissions.
Additionally, he shared cattle play an integral role in the carbon cycle of grasslands, are able to upcycle 90 percent of forage that is otherwise inedible to humans and can graze diverse ecosystems, resulting in significant contributions to soil health, forage growth and wildfire mitigation.
“On both private and public lands, cattle ranchers’ conservation work supports some of our nation’s most iconic wildlife species, generates billions of dollars through recreation and tourism and keeps millions of acres healthy, green and free of development sprawl,” he said.
“NCBA urges Congress to continue to incentivize voluntary conservation work on private lands, encourage cross-boundary collaboration on private and public lands and reduce the regulatory burden on ranchers so they can continue stewarding our nation’s open landscapes,” he added.
Developing export markets
Since trade is also vital to the success of the U.S. cattle industry, Wilkinson noted NCBA has made it a priority to expand export opportunities for U.S. beef by removing tariff and non-tariff barriers through trade agreements.
He explained NCBA’s trade goals include reauthorizing trade promotion authority; prioritizing trade with U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom and encouraging the U.S. government to hold Brazil accountable for reporting animal disease outbreaks in a timely manner.
“Cattle producers navigate an immensely bloated body of regulations each day in the course of running their businesses and caring for the land,” said Wilkinson. “One of the most impactful and burdensome regulations, on both private- and public-land operators, is the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”
“This well-meaning law was intended to create a framework for identifying at-risk species, evaluating status, listing, recovery and delisting when goals are met,” he added. “In the half century since its inception, only two percent of listed species have ever met the recovery and delisting thresholds. Improvements are urgently needed.”
Therefore, Wilkinson said NCBA encourages Congress to work with cattle producers in an effort to voluntarily conserve species habitat. He nodded at the issue of the lesser prairie chicken, which relies almost exclusively on private landowners for habitat.
Wilkinson asked Congress to consider closing ESA loopholes and delisting species in a timely manner after recovery goals have been met.
Additionally, on public lands, he noted the greatest regulatory burden cattle producers face is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“Cattle ranchers understand and support federal land management agencies making decisions based on the best available science. However, NEPA has evolved from a decision-guiding tool into a barrier which is exploited to obstruct projects,” he stated.
“In its current form, the NEPA administrative process is completely unable to keep pace with the needs of the livestock industry, infrastructure projects, renewable and conventional energy development and overdue environmental management actions,” he added.
Wilkinson continued, “NCBA urges Congress to expand agencies’ ability to use categorical exclusions for grazing permit renewals and wildfire mitigation actions. We also request Congress require agencies to consider the full impacts of a proposed action, including socioeconomic factors, in addition to environmental criteria.”
Lastly, Wilkinson shared NCBA has been supportive of USDA’s investment in expanding the U.S. meat and poultry processing capacity for the most part, since it has the opportunity to improve producer leverage in cattle negotiations, increase resiliency in the beef supply chain and provide producers with more service options.
He explained NCBA has shown support for programs such as the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, which awarded over $130 million in grants to eligible processors to expand capacity; the Direct Interstate Retail Exemption for Certain Transactions Act, which would increase access to marketing channels for state inspected meat and poultry and the Amplifying Processing of Livestock in the U.S. Act, which would modernize regulations to allow auction markets to invest in local beef processing.
On the other hand, NCBA has opposed the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act, which would allow uninspected meat and poultry to be sold in retail channels.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send coments on this article to email@example.com.