D.C. update: Woodall briefs WSGA on Washington affairsWritten by Christy Martinez
Laramie – “You have a fantastic delegation in Wyoming,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall at the June 1-4 Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in Laramie.
Woodall spoke to the group about what’s going on in Washington, D.C., which included a host of issues ranging from regulatory and legislative changes to the upcoming set of elections in 2012.
“We’ve had a lot of wins, and wins we didn’t expect with the change in the administration and Congress,” said Woodall. “We’ve done what NCBA does best – good, old-fashioned retail lobbying, working with members of Congress and their staff to make sure they understand the impacts of the decisions they make.”
Woodall listed one of those wins as the success in Death Tax reform, although he said a more permanent fix is needed by December 2012.
“Once again there’s talk of full repeal, which I don’t think is doable, but we could increase the cap to $10 million per person from $5 million today, or include a flat-out ag exemption,” he explained.
The second issue he listed is antibiotic use in livestock, and the perception of many in Congress that it’s harmful to public health.
“In 2009 we’d just about lost this issue, so we came up with a program called Beef 101 in cooperation with drug companies, producers, feedlot operators and veterinarians. We brought in members of Congress and their staff and talked about our products and how we use them, and that they go through a more stringent review and approval process than human products. As a result, we kept the bill from moving forward as an amendment to the food safety and health care bills,” said Woodall.
The Clean Water Restoration Act was introduced in several Congresses to allow the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to redefine their jurisdiction by omitting the word “navigable” from “waters of the United States.”
“The problem is that it actually passed the environment and public works committee in the last Congress, and was on the verge of getting a floor vote when we were able to use a hold – and all that takes is one member,” said Woodall. “We were able to run out the clock.”
However, Woodall says that Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, has found another way around through a guidance document she’s issued on how she thinks the Clean Water Act should be interpreted.
Another provision in the last Congress would have allowed the FDA to come on-farm to dictate management practices in effort to further scale back on E. coli contamination.
“We all know our product goes through too many other steps that impact food safety – the biggest being what our customer does in preparation. We asked why they’d put FDA inspectors on-farm when they should be working to educate consumers, and we were able to win that argument,” said Woodall.
Several events took place to avoid cap and trade and climate change legislation, the first of which was that the House passed cap and trade, then went home for recess to face a beating from their constituents.
Also, in December 2009 “Climategate” took place, where hidden emails revealed that numbers and “facts” may not have been correctly interpreted. Again, Woodall said that Jackson decided she’d do something herself, so she released an endangerment finding saying that greenhouse gases are harmful to human health.
“We’re watching to see what the EPA does with that, because out of the six greenhouse gases, they can point a finger at the cattle industry for many of them,” he added.
NCBA partnered with the beef checkoff on the new USDA dietary guidelines, which were just released June 1.
“The initial draft said they wanted a shift toward plant-based protein, and the checkoff can’t lobby, so we as NCBA were able to take the information from the checkoff and lobby against that draft,” said Woodall. “We were able to pull that provision out, and the guidelines maintain meat protein, and lean beef, as part of a healthy diet.”
The new guidelines do away with the food pyramid, and the new graphic can be found at choosemyplate.gov.
Woodall said the EPA is the biggest challenge facing the U.S. ag industry in the 112th Congress. In an ag industry survey asking which is their biggest hindrance to profitability and productivity, Woodall said the EPA eclipsed the IRS.
“That shows you what we’re up against,” he said.
“Much of that is because of the attitude of the administrator, Lisa Jackson. She goes in the countryside and says she doesn’t want to hurt ag, but then the fine print comes at us with things like dust. She wants to make dust a violation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” he explained. “If she brings it down to the level she wants, walking down the road to check the mail will kick up more than 65 micrograms per cubic meter. We have a huge fight to make sure she doesn’t bring this forward and put our entire food and fiber production system in violation of the EPA.”
Regarding trade, Woodall said he’s optimistic the U.S. can get the South Korean, Panama and Columbian deals done.
“Ninety-six percent of our consumers live outside the borders of the U.S., but we have to have access to those markets through trade agreements,” he noted. “Right now we have a 40 percent tariff in South Korea, but the race is on. Our global competitors, especially Australia, are working on a similar deal, and they’ll have a 15-year advantage over us if they get there first.”
Woodall said Columbia currently has an 80 percent tariff on U.S. products.
“There’s a huge opportunity to quit paying these governments and build a greater consumer base. Hopefully we get these done by the August recess, because in 2012 the only thing people will talk about is a new President and a new Congress,” he stated.