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"If USDA seriously
believes the pork checkoff must be reinstated to save
91 jobs at the National Pork Board, exactly what does
USDA believe should be done for the more than 200,000
pork producers who lost their jobs since the pork checkoff
was imposed in the mid-1980s?"
Election fallout continues
In the first of many chain reactions caused by the Nov.
5 Republican win, Capitol Hill leadership showed some new
faces this week.
First, as expected, Democratic House Minority Leader Dick
Gephardt relinquished his post after eight years of fighting--and
mostly losing to--Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.
Gephardt was quickly replaced by Californian Congresswoman
Nancy Pelosi, a clear-eyed, unapologetic liberal.
As presumed as Pelosi’s rise to Minority Leader was,
she didn’t claim the title unopposed. The day before
the Thursday, Nov. 13 caucus election, Rep. Marcy Kaptur announced
a challenge to shoo-in Pelosi.
Kaptur, a 10-term representative from Toledo, Ohio and the
longest-serving Democratic women in Congress, is an outspoken
proponent of family farm agriculture who fiercely opposes
the North American Free Trade Agreement, Fast Track Trade
Authority and permanent tax cuts contained in the 10-year
tax bill passed by Congress in 2001.
Alas, Pelosi won and the Democrats now confront a Republican
juggernaut for two years. That juggernaut will be piloted
by Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, a former bug exterminator
from Houston. DeLay moved up to Majority Leader, replacing
Dick Armey who retired, second in command to Speaker Denny
As his nickname implies, DeLay is not known for his light
touch. He is a fierce partisan known mostly for hyperbole
and hyperventilating. Don’t be surprised if the Bush
Administration uses him as its exterminator on the Hill.
Truly surprising was Tuesday’s announcement by House
Ag Committee Larry Combest that he would resign from Congress
in May. The news stunned friends and colleagues just a week
after re-election to his 10th term with 91 percent of the
Combest has held the Ag Committee gavel only four years, but
the short stay belies his record. With help of his Democratic
counterpart, Ranking Minority Member (and fellow Texan farmboy
and neighbor) Charles Stenholm, Combest rejiggered 1996’s
dysfunctional Freedom to Farm law into the 2002 Farm Bill.
Combest, who Texas pundit Molly Ivans might say “has
hair all Texans can be proud of,” made two large contributions
to the 2002 Bill: counter cyclical payments -- whose complex
payment schemes promise to confuse farmers for at least six
years -- and flat-out, Texas-mule stubbornness.
On the stubbornness front, Combest steadfastly held the line
against Senate proposals to add a competition title and a
packer ban on livestock ownership to the 2002 law. In final
House-Senate negotiations, Combest told Senators there would
be no Farm Bill if they persisted in either or both ideas.
In the end, neither was adopted.
But Combest was not a wrecker. He made honest efforts to keep
the House Ag Committee a bipartisan oasis amid the hot, airless
desert of debate that is a hallmark of Congress today.
In announcing his departure, Combest said he’s retiring
to spend more time with wife Sharon “while we still
have our health.” It was an illusion to the passing
of his 88-year-old father earlier this year and the tragic
death of the couple’s daughter, Tonya, after emergency
surgery in 1999.
His impending departure puts the Ag Committee Chair in play
and Republican hopefuls are sharpening their elbows for the
John Boehner from Ohio currently serves as the Committee’s
vice chairman and is the heir apparent. Boehner, however,
chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee. Since
House rules do not permit members to hold more than one chairmanship,
few suspect Boehner will give up the Education Committee to
That means some junior Republicans have a shot if they can
get the ear and the nod of Speaker Hastert who will name Combest’s
successor. Virginian Robert Goodlatte, Californian Richard
Pombo, Terry Everett of Alabama and Nick Smith of Michigan
all have expressed interest in the job.
USDA appeals pork checkoff loss
File this one under the heading “If you live long
enough, you’ll see everything.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 13, USDA filed an emergency motion in the
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to “stay” an Oct.
25 federal court ruling that declared the nationwide mandatory
pork checkoff unconstitutional.
First Amendment notwithstanding, USDA wants the ruling overturned
and the pork checkoff kept in place.
Because, as USDA notes in the second paragraph of its 20-page
filing, killing the checkoff “will end a Congressionally
enacted program and result in the dissolution of the National
Pork Board, causing the immediate loss of at least 91 jobs,
the breach of existing contracts, and the loss of assets and
employee expertise that cannot be replaced.”
Hmm, let’s see if we understand this logic.
First, pork producers succeeded in their petition drive to
force USDA to hold a vote on the pork checkoff.
Next pork producers succeeded in winning the vote to end the
Finally, pork producers succeeded in defending both victories
in federal court. (Remember, they didn’t go to court;
they were named as defendants by checkoff backers who brought
the suit to keep the checkoff.)
Now, after years of struggle and victory after victory, pork
producers are told by USDA that the checkoff really exists
so 91 people--“with expertise that cannot be replaced”--can
keep their jobs?
And we thought lawyers lacked a sense a humor.
But USDA is not joking; it’s deadly serious.
So let’s be serious, too.
If USDA seriously believes the checkoff must be reinstated
to save 91 jobs at the National Pork Board--most of which
are held by former National Pork Producer Council employees
who simply moved to the Board after the NPPC lost the 2000
checkoff vote--exactly what does USDA believe should be done
for the more than 200,000 pork producers who lost their jobs
since the pork checkoff was imposed in the mid-1980s?
And one more question while we’re at it: What has USDA’s
rigorous court defense of all checkoffs in the last three
years cost U.S. taxpayers? We know what’s its costs
U.S. farmers--$1.3 billion per year.
GMO headlines, headaches
GMOs again made headlines this week and again the headlines
gave American farmers headaches and heartburn.
On Nov. 13 and 14, USDA revealed that experimental bioengineered
corn twice had threatened to contaminate the U.S. food and
export markets in recent months with pharmaceutical varieties
of corn unapproved for human consumption.
In the first incident, about 500 bu. of soybeans containing
trace residual amounts of an unapproved GMO corn from a 2001
test plot were present in soybeans grown and harvested in
the same field in 2002. A truckload of beans from that field
were later mixed with 500,000 bu. of soybeans at an Aurora,
USDA ordered all 500,000 bu. to be destroyed or used in non-food--such
According to USDA, ProdiGene, Inc., a biotech firm based in
College Station, TX, hired Stauffer Seed Co. to contract with
farmers to grow experimental varieties of pharmaceutical corn
During the 2002 growing season, however, government inspectors
monitoring the soybean field where the one acre of GMO corn
had been grown in 2001 noticed volunteer corn in the beans.
The inspectors ordered the volunteer corn removed from the
field before the 2002 harvest.
According to USDA, though, the farmer failed to remove the
volunteer GMO corn and harvested it with the beans. Later,
the beans were mixed with other beans at the Aurora elevator
to contaminate about $2.7 million worth 2002 crops.
On Nov. 14, USDA acknowledged that ProdiGene also had been
ordered to burn 155 acres of conventional, non-GMO corn in
Iowa earlier this fall after government inspectors suspected
some of the firm’s experimental pharmaceutical corn
may have cross-pollinated nearby conventional corn.
USDA said ProdiGene will pay for the costs of containing both
non-approved GMO varieties.
What USDA did not say--and what ProdiGene has yet to disclose--is
what types of “pharm” corn the company was testing
to cause USDA to impose such draconian measures. USDA records
indicate the ProdiGene received 85 test permits that allowed
open-air trials of GMO and pharmaceutical corn in at least
96 different locations.
GMO opponent GEFood Alert suspects the pharmacological corn
may have been one of four experimental varieties ProdiGene
is attempting to develop: corn that contains either an AIDS
vaccine, the blood-clotting agent Aprotinin, a digestive enzyme
call Trypsin or an industrial glue called Laccase.
Matt Rand, the Biotechnology Campaign Manager for the National
Environmental Trust, suggested the latest incidents only confirm
that “it is just a matter of time before one of these
experimental crops ends up on our dinner plates.”
GEFood Alert said it will petition USDA to halt all GMO pharmaceutical
testing. Also, The Center for Food Safety announced it will
file a Freedom of Information request with USDA to review
all ProdiGene GMO test requests.
An earlier FOI on ProdiGene tests by Friends of the Earth
was denied by USDA.
Despite the latest GMO headaches, some farm groups are using
the incidents to claim USDA oversight of GMO testing is working.
Stephan Censky, ceo of the American Soybean Assoc., noted
USDA “did take action” before the ProdiGene non-approved
corn entered the food chain.
But, he added, “pharmaceutical or industrial crops have
to (be grown) under very strict and very meticulous protocols.”
Food sellers, however, say more assurances are necessary.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America told the Des Moines Register
Nov. 14 that the “biotech industry should ‘give
serious consideration’ to using plants other than food
crops like corn to develop pharmaceutical compounds.”
The American Corn Growers Assoc. agrees, saying the latest
GMO scares only reinforce its long-advocated “cautionary
approach” to GMO adoption and testing by American farmers.
“The last thing American farmers need is to have a lack
of food processor confidence or erosion of consumer faith
over the safety of corn, the nation’s largest crop,”
offers ACGA’s Dan McGuire.
THE FINAL WORD
© 2002 ag comm
The Final Word comes to you each Friday by special arrangement.
Alan Guebert's regular column, the Farm and Food File, is
published weekly in more than 70 newspapers around the US
and Canada. Contact him at AGuebert@worldnet.att.net.