SCRUTINY FOCUSES ON COST OF NEW LIVESTOCK FEEDING REGS
(March 23, 1999)
Concerned that the financial hardships of livestock producers will worsen under new regulations announced by the vice president, 52 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives — including Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Joe Skeen and Majority Leader Richard Armey — have asked Vice President Al Gore for a detailed breakdown of expenses to producers and the taxpayers.
The letter to the vice president requests details of how the Clinton Administration intends to monitor and implement the voluntary and regulatory programs within the Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations, known as "the Strategy." Chairman Combest has expressed concern about the added expense and workload for USDA to oversee the new regulatory burdens, and the diversion of time and money that should instead be spent on the needs of all producers served by the Department of Agriculture.
"Any program that is mandated by the EPA should be paid for by reductions in the EPA's budget and should not come at the expense of any current programs under the budget of the Agriculture Department," the letter stated. "Implementation of these voluntary incentive programs referred to in the Strategy would require funding for assistance directly to livestock operations as well as to cover the administrative costs of the increased workload of their administration. Can you assure us that these costs will be paid for from the EPA's budget? If not, would you support delaying any action that would affect livestock operations or agency workloads until such funding is provided?"
The letter also puts the Administration on notice that imposing additional user fees — such as meat inspection fees — is an unrealistic proposal that will be opposed. Congress has consistently rejected shifting these costs because they are an additional tax on the private sector, paid for in large part by livestock producers.
During a February 10, 1999 hearing before the House Agriculture Committee regarding livestock prices, witnesses testified that regulatory burdens — whether in food safety, environmental protection or price reporting — add to the costs of staying in business. With no recourse other than to sell meat at the price offered by the market, producers often bear the extra costs of regulations, without increasing their own prices.