This should be a good year for egg producers, with egg prices 50 cents per dozen higher this year than last, the export system working, as well as many other good things that are happening, Dolph Baker, chairman of the United Egg Producers (UEP) said in opening the annual UEP legislative meeting in Washington, D.C.
Government Relation Committee Chairman Ron Truex and the UEP Washington staff presented the issue papers that attendees would be taking to Capitol Hill in the afternoon. Five papers were discussed and left with legislators:
Alternative Fuels: The egg industry's perspective. Congress should consider expanding research in producing ethanol from cellulose and make incentives for alternate fuel production more equitable.
Immigration Reform: Congress should pass legislation to secure borders. Agriculture plays a big role in this issue as food is a strategic resource for the country.
Animal Welfare: Oppose bills that would harm U.S. egg producers. The egg industry is dealing with the issues from a scientific standpoint. Congress should resist calls to legislate harmful, so-called solutions.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): Exempt animal agriculture. These two environmental statues relate to cleaning up hazardous waste. Attempts are being made to add animal manure to these regulations. UEP's position is that Congress should clarify that manure should still be exempt.
Expand Agricultural Research Funding. Although the economy grew 293 percent in 35 years, agricultural, food and natural resource funding has only grown 2 percent. The 2007 farm bill needs to increase this commitment.
UEP attorney Mike McLeod said that he fears efforts by animal rights activists with the U.S. government could be successful. He said that with the new leadership and Democratic majority in Congress, the activists may stand a better chance of being heard. McLeod referenced a recent hearing in the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee on animal welfare that was very aggressive from the activists' standpoint.
The activists accused the legislators of not doing their job and stated they wanted something on this issue in the 2007 Farm Bill. If the ag committee does nothing, the activists threatened to visit other committees on the subject. Also cause for alarm for egg producers is that there have been statements made on the floor of the House and Senate on the issue. McLeod warned that this is a very serious issue that makes the visits to the Hill by producers even more important. He advised that this is the most important issue to discuss now and in the future with lawmakers.
Randy Green, senior government relations representative and a member of the UEP Washington group said that the team has been continually meeting with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Congressional members regarding the increase in feed costs. They have met with over 50 members of Congress and their staffs since January. He emphasized the position paper that addresses this issue and reminded the attendees that Congress must be made aware of the reasons for the increase. He stated that an energy bill will probably be discussed in Congress very shortly and lawmakers must be reminded that the industry cannot support more increases in feed costs.
Ron Truex, chairman of the Government Relations Committee is leading UEP's efforts in working on this issue. Truex has testified in both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and has called for an emphasis on non-corn ethanol production.
Comments were also made in this committee report regarding the immigration concerns Congress is working on, and will soon complete a comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill. Some additional UEP positions on this issue include a provision that says employers are not to be held responsible for hiring illegal immigrants and that there be a phase-in time for implementation of immigration legislation. In addition, a motion was made and passed regarding the movement of eggs in the event of an Avian Influenza (AI) outbreak. It was also stated that many states have plans already in place.
Chad Gregory, UEP vice president, and Tom Hebert, UEP's environmental consultant, presented details and comments on the various rules and regulations plus pending actions that are currently being considered by USDA, EPA and FDA. Relative to the Clean Water ruling, the date of issuance has been pushed back until late 2007 and the final deadline for permits will be February 2009. Hebert said this is a good thing for producers.
Other rules and regulations relating to the environment were discussed such as CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Recovery, Compensation & Liability Act) and whether or not manure should included. The entire environmental issue is very complicated when it comes to animal agriculture, including poultry. There are many areas that continually need clarification in both air and water effects on the environment in and around farms.
In order to allow producers to cope with all of the changes that may or may not occur, UEP has recommended a new service that will help coordinate the necessary actions they will need to take to comply. Most producers do not have staff in place to coordinate all of the necessary activities. The service will consist of a rule readiness evaluation and follow-up that producers can subscribe to through Validus Services, LLC. By working in partnership with UEP members, Validus will provide planning services to ensure they meet all rule requirements.
Validus has expertise in developing and delivering audits, assessments, comprehensive nutrient management planning and many other qualifications related to the agricultural industry. A test of the service was performed at the Amon Baer farm in Minnesota with positive results. The proposal to retain Validus and make them available to egg producers was passed unanimously by the UEP Board of Directors. Following passage, Hebert said that by implementing this service by members, communication on the various issues will become universal throughout the country, which will benefit all producers.
Roger Deffner, chairman of the Marketing Committee, reported on the committee meeting, and said comments were made regarding a proposed USDA Weekly Shell Egg Demand Indicator (SEDI). It is a calculated estimate of demand for shell eggs based on current production and inventory clearance.
Other factors from the committee report included a discussion of the upcoming export restrictions to the European Union. The EU is implementing new certification requirements for egg products.
Export sales activity since December 2000 has been over 1,800 loads of shell eggs, with over 800 this year alone. Comments regarding feed costs, including soybeans, were also given. It was stated that over one-quarter of the corn grown this year will be going to ethanol. In addition, a summary of the Processing, Cartoning & Transportation (PCT ) survey was discussed. Members are encouraged to use this survey when determining their costs.
In addition to comments regarding animal rights concerns was a presentation from the Animal Welfare Scientific Committee of a draft document on guidelines for non-cage layers. After much discussion, the draft was accepted by the board, which stated that it was certainly a starting point and feedback would be welcomed from members.
Mitch Held and his staff from Golin Harris reported on efforts to promote the animal welfare activities of UEP. A draft edition of the training video on the subject is now available. He also mentioned that seven states are now considering, or have considered, legislation banning the use of cages for laying hens. An interesting event occurred in Arizona regarding this subject.
To demonstrate the successes of the UEP guideline program and show state legislators that layers are indeed treated humanely, producer Glenn Hickman invited them to his farm for a tour. By opening his doors to lawmakers that might be influenced by activists, Hickman averted action that could have been a major problem. Other states have come up with grassroots efforts and have succeeded in holding off legislation to ban cages.
In further comments, communication between UEP and USDA regarding the USDA Process Verified Program (PVP) was discussed. Some producers have contacted USDA regarding this program and UEP has suggested that, as in the UEP Certified Program, 100 percent of the production be included. USDA countered that this is not possible and a portion of production in a given operation can be accepted. UEP also emphasized the need for scientific-based guidelines as part of the process in either case. USDA agreed that science-based guidelines are a must and that their PVP program conforms.
A brief discussion was had concerning H.R. 1726. This proposed bill in the House would effectively ban all cage eggs from the federal procurement programs. More discussion on this will occur later as it is deliberated. Several times during the meeting there was mention of UEP's "The Egg Industry and Animal Welfare" booklet and how useful it is in explaining the programs. It was recommended that producers present a copy of the publication to all legislators on the visit to the Hill. This would apply also when working with state lawmakers that are being influenced by the activists.
Don McNamara, executive director of the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC) said now that cholesterol is no longer a major issue, the ENC is concentrating on weight loss, benefits of eggs for pregnant women and the fetus, and other dietary gains. It is being said today that a reduction in eggs in the diet could be harmful. An ongoing research project at Tufts University is showing that school performance is enhanced when eggs are included in children's diets. This is part of the overall findings that eggs are important in brain development and functions.
McNamara also stated that it seems young students are increasing their interest in eggs as he now has seven applications for the grant program. The ENC is working closely with the Canadian egg industry in the sharing of information between the countries. Hilary Thesmar, director of the Egg Safety Center, continues her work with the National Chicken Council and the Turkey Federation on the Avian Influenza issue. More details will be forthcoming at the fall meeting.
American Egg Board (AEB) President Joanne Ivy updated the board on AEB activities. AEB has hired a new marketing professional with experience in marketing, advertising and promotion. Ivy said AEB is working to bring the positive results of the ENC finding to the public, and is looking at alternate ways to promote and advertise all egg products. Ivy spoke of the success of the National Accounts Program, which works with fast food companies to promote breakfast in restaurants. In addition, AEB continues to work with the 10-top retailers with workshops and seminars.
UEP long range planning activities in the future will include a review of the Capper-Volstead Act and the assurance that all members comply, plus the ongoing need for a coordinated effort for the states to deal with the cage-free situation, according to Roger Deffner, chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee.
UEP must continue to work with agricultural groups and producers in the states affected by potential cage-free legislation, said Gene Gregory, UEP president and CEO. Gregory said that the activists will continue to push the industry and egg producers must continue to fight back with science-based data to defend their position.
Speakers Address AI, Ethanol, Nutrition
Chuck Conners, USDA deputy secretary, spoke on behalf of Secretary Mike Jonanns, who was not able to attend. Conners complimented UEP for recognizing the concerns that are presented to the industry and doing something about them. He discussed the recent contamination that has occurred, how it has been contained and has represented little hazard to health. Consumer confidence is high and needs to be maintained this way, he said.
In discussing the worldwide AI situation, Conners said USDA provides funds for training and equipment to 100 countries. In this country, backyard flock owners as well as the general public need to be informed about the problem, he said.
Regarding ethanol production, the increase is worthwhile due to our dependence on foreign oil, Conners said. He noted that corn production is being increased by 15 percent and the USDA is working on alternate sources. There will be $500 million for research in this area.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., also spoke to the group. DeLauro is the chairperson of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. Her comments included that she wants to be sure all people get good nutrition in the country. She said there is a new environment in Washington, D.C.
She briefly explained bills now pending on Iraq and Agricultural Disaster Relief. DeLauro said that although the new farm bill will affect the entire nation, emphasis will be on the Northeast and Midwest. She said she is looking forward to having a dialogue with the industry regarding the legislation.
DeLauro also said that ethanol is really not the final answer to the energy problem and in a reference to animal welfare, the industry must be sure to monitor public sentiment.
She said trade does not trump public health. DeLauro assured the crowd that she does not have pre-conceived notions about animal rights and cage versus non-cage or, in response to another question, about environmental issues. She said she will listen to what makes sense and wants science-based factors. She also indicated a concern for imported food products, stating that only 1 percent of imported food is inspected properly. More dollars need to be found to correct this situation, she said.