By Barbara Olejnik
Poultry Times Staff
WASHINGTON — The need for a reliable labor force, the promotion of egg exports in international trade and revision of organic poultry production rules were among the issues contained in Position Papers presented to members of Congress by the United Egg Producers in their annual legislative meeting here May 16-19.
The Position Papers outline UEP’s requests for congressional action on issues affecting the egg industry.
Additional issues included tax reform, checkoff legislation, the Farm Bill and USDA and Food & Drug Administration budgets.
UEP notes that the egg industry produces a perishable product that must go to market regularly and egg producers “need a reliable labor force to provide safe, affordable, high-quality, nutritious eggs to the public.” According to a recent study, the U.S. egg industry accounts for 128,000 jobs
Egg farmers employ some immigrant labor and comply with all requirements to verify the legal status of their employees, UEP stated.
The UEP position “supports a solution to provide a stable supply of workers for agriculture and connected ag businesses.
“Like other agricultural groups, we believe that mandating particular enforcement actions without addressing legal status, guest worker programs and other issues will simply place a disproportionate burden on farmers and other employers.”
The egg group also stated that the current H-2A temporary agricultural workers program “is unworkable due to the paperwork burden on producers. Also, seasonal or temporary labor programs are not practical for animal agriculture which needs reliable labor year-round.”
Additionally, UEP said it “opposes mandatory E-Verify” until Congress addresses the agricultural workforce issues to provide a sufficient and secure workforce.
The Trump administration should “prioritize U.S. agricultural exports, including eggs and egg products” in pursuing or renegotiating trade agreements, UEP stated.
The egg industry sees exports as a growth area for coming years, particularly in developing countries where the demand for high-quality protein is growing — a demand met by eggs and egg products.
USDA foresees about 300 million dozen eggs will be exported in 2017, amounting to 3.4 percent of projected 2017 production.
Among export markets for eggs, the top two destinations are Canada and Mexico, the U.S. partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Number three is Japan and these three nations were signatories to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The administration has withdrawn from TPP and is seeking to renegotiate NAFTA.
The UEP position paper “encourages the administration to promote open access for U.S. agricultural products in international markets.”
In opening up existing trade agreements such as NAFTA, UEP states the administration “should be extremely cautious about actions that would jeopardize American farm exports. Today’s weak farm economy cannot afford the loss of export markets.”
UEP requests Congress to urge the administration promote U.S. agricultural export market access as a top priority in NAFTA talks and pursue ways of attaining the agricultural gains in Japan and other markets that would have occurred if TPP had been approved.
UEP says it “strongly opposes a regulation that would ban production systems for organic eggs that have long enjoyed USDA approval” — a move which would restrict consumer choice and harm farmers.
The Organic Trade Association estimates that organic shell egg sales were $514 million in 2014, up 17 percent from the previous year. USDA estimates the nation’s organic egg-laying flock at 10.8 million birds.
In 2002, USDA approved covered porches as a legitimate way to grant outdoor access to hens while also protecting them from predators or contact with wild birds which can spread disease. However, in January 2017, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service proposed a final rule which placed a ban on “porch” systems and required “outdoor space that equates to about 2 square feet per bird.”
UEP notes that farmers have made major capital investments in buildings, land and other assets, relying on USDA’s previous allowance of these production systems.
USDA’s own analysis states that farms accounting for 45 percent of current organic egg production would be forced out of the organic business if the new rules are required.
“UEP strongly opposes the rule that would ban currently compliant systems of organic egg production, disrupt the organic feed supply, drastically reduce the supply of organic eggs available to consumers, make it more difficult for farms to comply with the FDA’s Egg Safety Rule and put birds outdoors and at risk of avian flu and other diseases.”
UEP also requests a 60-day extension of the effective date of the new ruling until July 18, 2017, to allow time for the new USDA leadership to review the final rule before it takes effect.
Proposals for tax reform include creating three tax brackets in place of the current seven with the top individual tax rate falling from 39.5 percent to 33 percent. In addition, the corporate tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 20 percent with businesses such as partnerships and limited liability corporations taxed at no more than 25 percent.
UEP “generally supports the lower tax rates being discussed, supports the elimination of the estate tax and supports the ability for egg farmers to immediately write off capital investments.”
The egg group also said it is concerned about preserving the ability to deduct net interest and net operating losses.
“Agriculture is a capital intensive industry with income that fluctuates substantially from year to year, so eliminating the interest and net operation loss deductions would differentially harm farmers and ranchers at a time when farm income is already low,” UEP stated.
UEP states that Congress should oppose recently introduced legislation that would harm farmer-funded research and promotion programs, the “checkoff” programs.
One proposed bill would make all checkoffs “voluntary,” meaning the producer would have to opt in at every sale of a commodity. Currently checkoffs are automatic ensuring all growers share fairly in the costs.
The other proposal would enact a number of prohibitions on activities by checkoffs, activities which “are already prohibited by the laws Congress has previously enacted or the regulations USDA uses to administer the programs,” UEP noted.
UEP pointed out that since no net public funds are used in checkoffs, “the introduced bills do not save taxpayer money, but only impose new costs on farmers.”
Congress is asked to vote against the bills, whether offered as stand-alone bills or as amendments to other legislation.
The current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2018.
UEP supports the reauthorization of the Farm Bill and believes that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition programs should remain part of the bill.
The egg association also supports the Animal Ag Coalition animal health proposal for a livestock, poultry and egg pest and disease program and a Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine bank.
USDA, FDA budgets
UEP’s position is that Congress “should fully fund all operations of USDA and FDA, maintaining the ability of the agencies to hire and retain highly-qualified personnel and conduct their programming. Congress should reject proposals for disproportionate cuts to these agencies.
“Those operations currently funded through appropriations should continue on that basis, as opposed to the imposition of new user fees.”