By Barbara Olejnik
Poultry Times staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The need for a new year-round agricultural guest worker program as part of an immigration reform package was requested of Congress by the United Egg Producers in their annual Legislative Meeting in Washington, D.C., on May 15-17.
While supporting comprehensive immigration reform, the United Egg Producers stated that Congress must pass legislation that "preserves agriculture's experienced workforce and provides for agriculture's future needs, with an agricultural worker visa program that provides access to a legal and reliable workforce moving forward."
The guest worker program was one of four Position Papers presented to legislators by UEP members in visits to their representatives.
Other initiatives sought by UEP dealt with food labeling, commodity checkoff programs and animal health.
The Position Paper on immigration noted that according to a 2014 report commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation, about half of all hired farm labor re undocumented immigrants, making agriculture particularly sensitive to immigration issues.
Any legislation, the egg association stated, must include assurance of a future workforce both from a flexible and efficient visa program and by retention of current workers. A legislative solution must address:
- The need for access to a current and future agricultural workforce by providing a flexible and efficient agricultural worker visa program. The program must include availability of workers to agricultural producers without regard to the temporary, seasonal or year-round nature of the job, flexibility in the length of visas and the ability to meet future industry production expansion needs.
- Recognition of current experienced workforce. Legislation must provide a mechanism for qualifying workers to continue to work and reside in the U.S. based on their work experience and commitment and a mechanism to protect their immediate family members.
UEP pointed out that farmers face a "critical shortage of legally authorized and experienced workers,' which negatively affects economic competitiveness, local economies and jobs. Farm workers engaged in labor-intensive crop and livestock production sustains two to three off-farm but farm-dependent jobs, UEP stated.
UEP "believer cell-cultured and plant-based products should not be allowed to be labeled as eggs or egg products without the use of a qualifier such as "imitation," to prevent consumer misinformation.
The egg group pointed out that the Food & Drug Administration and USDA have reached an agreement whereby FDA will regulate cell-based products before cell harvest and USDA will be the regulatory agency after cells are harvested and ready to be processed.
UEP noted that without a qualifying term such as "imitation," consumers would not know that what they are being sold "is not really an egg or egg product.
"Otherwise, consumers will be misled about important facts, such as whether the product is produced naturally."
The UEP members ask Congress to support the FDA-USDA agreement on regulatory jurisdiction and to contact the two agencies to oppose the use of "eggs" and "egg products" without a qualifier such as "imitation."
UEP calls on Congress to defeat two legislative issues that "would weaken farmer-funded research and promotion ("checkoff") programs.
S.935, the Voluntary check-Off Program Participation Act, provides that no checkoff program shall be mandatory and participation in a checkoff program shall be voluntary at the point of sale.
UEP notes that farmers have voted to have the checkoffs apply to all farmers equally.
S.935, the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2019 (OFF Act), would impose a number of new requirements on checkoffs, including limitations on their ability to contract for services and additional audits beyond those already required.
"UEP opposes S.934, S.935 and any other legislation to restrict checkoff programs; current USDA oversight is sufficient. Checkoffs have been successful and Congress should not put that success at risk.. All farmers benefit from checkoffs, all farmers have an opportunity to vote and all should contribute."
UEP said "preventing or controlling pests and diseases affecting animal agriculture is among the highest priorities of United Egg Producers."
The egg association notes that to control High Pathogenic Avian Influenza, Newcastle disease (vND) and other diseases, the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service uses fund of the Commodity Credit Corporation with no requirement for advanced congressional appropriations.
"UEP believes the potential for LPAI to mutate into HPAI amply justifies the use of CCC funds for LPAI control."
Last year, Congress approved $7.5 million to help for losses due to low path avian influenza.
UEP requests Congress provide LPAI indemnity funding of at least $7.5 million, the amount provided for 2018, and preferable more.
The egg association stated that the 2018 Farm Bill authorized and funded a new Animal Disease Prevention and Management Program which included a vaccine bank component.
UEP's position notes that "poultry groups would prefer that USDA retain the flexibility to deploy the Farm Bill funding to the pest or disease program of greatest risk and not "lock up" all of the discretionary funding in a vaccine bank and leave USDA without funding to combat outbreaks like AI or vND."