09.25.19

Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on the Livestock and Poultry Sectors

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled Perspectives on the Livestock and Poultry Sectors.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing. Welcome to our witnesses and thank you for being here.

We all know that farming is the riskiest business there is. From unexpected weather and market conditions, to destructive pests and diseases – these challenges can have devastating effects on farm families.

We have seen bomb cyclones, wildfires, and flooding destroy herds that have taken years – and even generations – to build. That’s why we made the livestock disaster programs permanent in the 2014 Farm Bill, and further expanded them in the Bipartisan Budget Act last year. 

Mr. Chairman, you may also recall that after the Kansas wildfires in 2017, a group of Michigan farmers came together to donate hay and other supplies to ranchers in your state. After we met with them at our Michigan field hearing, they formed a nonprofit to provide relief all across the country.

In addition to weather, livestock producers also face threats from animal diseases. The 2015 avian influenza epidemic was one of the worst animal disease outbreaks in our history, claiming nearly 50 million birds, and driving up the cost of food for consumers.

Today, the outbreak of Newcastle Disease domestically, the threat of African Swine Fever abroad, and the persistence of Bovine TB in Michigan, underscore the need for robust investment in preparation, coordination, and research.

The 2018 Farm Bill took an important step by investing $300 million over the next 10 years in mandatory funding for animal disease prevention. This permanent funding will create a new National Animal Vaccine Bank, and a Disease Preparedness and Response Program to improve our ability to prevent and respond to the next outbreak. We also bolstered the National Animal Health Lab Network of diagnostic labs. 

Mr. Chairman, in order to further safeguard our agricultural economy, you and I worked with our colleagues Senators Cornyn and Peters to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors at our borders. The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act authorizes Customs and Border Protection to hire additional inspectors, who serve as our first line of defense against threats to our agricultural economy. 

Despite the risks facing our farmers, there are also some promising opportunities in the livestock sector. For example, two years ago, the Clemens Food Group opened Michigan’s first new pork processing facility in decades. The state-of-the-art plant in Coldwater, Michigan employs around 800 people. 

New opportunities like this help create markets and provide stability for Michigan producers. However, this Administration’s chaotic and unpredictable trade agenda has overshadowed the progress we’ve made. Farmers are seeing very real impacts on their bottom lines. I am concerned that American farmers will endure long-term loss in market share in some of our biggest markets.  

I agree that we need to hold countries accountable when they break the rules, but this Administration’s reckless approach does not provide farmers certainty. To that end, I understand the urgency among many agricultural stakeholders to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement because they believe it will  restore stability to those markets. Two things are important to remember as we work on getting the best agreement possible, with strong, meaningful enforcement provisions. 

First, NAFTA is in place now and producers need to know that the Administration will keep NAFTA in place until there is a new agreement – holding the devastating threat of withdrawal over the heads of farmers and other businesses is irresponsible and it only adds to the instability.

Second, even with the USMCA in place, President Trump can still use tariffs as his enforcement tool of choice, meaning that instability, unfortunately, will still exist

Finally, one of the first bipartisan bills we worked on together when you became Chairman was the reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting Act in 2015. Mandatory Price Reporting is a critical tool that provides information on current market conditions.

I look forward to working with you again to reauthorize this law and ensure continued transparency in livestock markets.

Thank you. 

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