Poultry industry readies for Obama administration

As President Obama steps into office, the turkey industry is bracing for change.

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The turkey industry, along with everyone in animal agriculture, is gearing up for changes in Washington, especially with President Obama's Cabinet selections.

Changes at USDAEPAFDA and the Department of Labor could have an effect on the industry's ability to produce safe, affordable, nutritious turkey products.

Vilsack appointment is key

One of the most important to the poultry industry is Obama's pick of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for agriculture secretary. Vilsack led an important agricultural state, one that has significant turkey production and processing. Although animal agriculture was not Vilsack's top priority as governor, that is not necessarily a predictor of how he will prioritize as agriculture secretary. Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns was not known for an excessive emphasis on animal agriculture as governor of Nebraska, but he proved capable during his tenure at USDA.

Coming from the largest ethanol state in the country, some assume Vilsack is supportive of corn-based ethanol. However, Vilsack was quoted in the December 17 edition of Rolling Stone as saying, " frankly, corn-based ethanol is not necessarily the wave of the future. Ethanol may be but corn is not. There's not enough corn." One can expect the new administration to be supportive of corn-based ethanol, but Obama's campaign made promises about second-generation biofuels. Key will be the administration's response to the ethanol industry's call for a financial bailout.

NTF is hopeful that Vilsack's background will give him a solid understanding of the dynamics of the turkey industry. This will be significant, given the challenges facing animal agriculture.

Solis supports unions

Another key appointment is Rep. Hilda Solis, D-California, as labor secretary. Solis is a strong supporter of organized labor. Her appointment could be a signal that the administration will make a strong push for "card-check" legislation. This measure would replace most secret-ballot elections to organize a labor union and is likely to be addressed early in the next Congress.

NTF supports an employee's right to a secret ballot and opposes any bill that removes such protections. The future debate on "card-check" legislation is directly linked to the Democrats' increased majority in the Senate, which sits at 58 seats and could grow to 59 if Democratic challenger Al Franken wins a recount against incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota.

Trio to influence environmental actions

Lisa Jackson, who served as director of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, has been tapped as EPA administrator. Jackson could push for an expansion of EPA's regulatory authority. NTF hopes she lets sound science govern the process. Jackson might not be Obama's biggest environmental appointment, as he is bringing back President Clinton's EPA administrator, Carol Browner, to serve as "climate change czar."

Besides Solis, Obama also picked another Californian in his selection for energy secretary. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, director of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is known for praising California's approach to energy conservation and has called for aggressive steps on climate change.

Although Obama selected former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle for HHS secretary, at the time this article was written, the next FDA commissioner was not named. This appointment is critical for the turkey industry, as it is for the entire food chain, because of the anticipating discussions about a single food agency. NTF believes to unilaterally dismantle the existing food safety inspection infrastructure without acknowledging the professional expertise of the agencies would be counterproductive.

NTF work will continue

NTF is actively involved in defining the strategy on issues that will surface or resurface for animal agriculture with the new administration and the 111th Congress. NTF and the entire turkey industry looks forward to working with these key Cabinet appointments to continue to build a fair and invaluable relationship that will benefit all of U.S. agriculture.

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