As my summer communications internship with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) draws to a close, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the perspectives on the pork industry I’ve acquired while in DC. As a student at Iowa State University, I’ve spent the previous two years in close proximity to hog production, celebrating pork through ISU’s Bacon Expo, and various Block & Bridle Club events. An appreciation for all things swine seems to permeate local culture, as the pork sector is critical to Iowa’s economy. I know the positive impact that pork producers contribute to their communities echoes across the United States, with the National Pork Board announcing in June that American pig farmers donated 3.2 million servings of pork in 2018. Unfortunately, the producers who provide pork chops on a stick for summer fairgoers and hams for food pantries have truly struggled by myriad barriers to their success.
Trade disputes, regulatory hurdles, animal disease threats, and a labor shortage all offer unique and serious threats to our status as the world’s lowest-cost producer and leading exporter of pork. African swine fever (ASF) has ravaged herds in Europe and Asia, with the Chinese swine inventory being markedly crippled. The virus’ effect on the world’s largest consumer of pork should provide a tremendous opportunity for American hog farmers to compensate for stifled Chinese pork production. However, the current trade dispute with China has escalated to a 62% retaliatory duty being levied on U.S. pork products. As Iowa State economist Dermot Hayes noted, the 62% tariff rate has contributed to a loss of $8 per head, or over $1 billion on an annualized basis.
Additionally, Congress has yet to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement to ensure that American agricultural goods can be exported tariff-free to Canada and Mexico.
In addition to these trade struggles, action is needed concerning the Food and Drug Administration’s handling of the approval process for gene-edited livestock, technology which can improve animal welfare and reduce the need to use antimicrobials. NPPC will continue to apply pressure through its recently launched “Keep America First in Agriculture” campaign to promote the adoption of an appropriate approval process for gene-edited livestock.
As producers also grapple with a shortage of labor, and a current visa program that fails to address their needs, it is evident that U.S. hog farmers have every right to be concerned for the state of their industry.
I have great hope though that these challenges can be overcome and that pork producers will be able to weather the storm. There is potential for a United States-Japan trade deal, which would provide an exciting opportunity to level the playing field as our share in our largest export market by value has been eroding due to competition from countries which have already secured trade agreements. The Trump administration has continued a dialogue with China, and has announced that it will be sending the USMCA agreement to Congress for approval after Sept. 1. Meanwhile, a Senate bill which would allocate funding for 600 more agriculture inspectors at our borders would further bolster the security of our domestic swineherd. This in conjunction with more localized efforts at fairs and swine shows will help greatly in handling the threat of ASF. Finally, NPPC will continue to advocate for visa reform.
Living in DC was very exciting as a young professional, but it was not without some bumps in the road, including a visit to the ER, my rented room flooding and more than a few encounters with sudden torrential downpours on my way to and from work. But if there’s a primary takeaway I’ve garnered from the minor obstacles I’ve experienced, it’s resilience. From what I have seen, no matter what has come their way, farmers have stood resolute. As producers take on these challenges with the help of NPPC, they have continued to fight for their livelihood in spite of these extraordinary issues. I am so grateful to the NPPC staff for providing such a close-up look at this spirit of resilience, in addition to a fantastic professional experience.
The U.S. pork producer represents a set of values centered on perseverance, stewardship, and a will to do good. Beyond the wonderful friendships, experiences, and memories gained as an intern, I will carry those tenets with me. As I continue along in my professional journey, the time I’ve had at NPPC will stand out as being notably formative and special. I’ll be sure to keep the resilience and values of hog farmers in mind. And I will be sure to keep buying pork chops, and always grab an extra piece of piece of bacon!