Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Dan Maes, the embattled GOP candidate for governor in Colorado, recently compounded a campaign-finance snafu by stating, "If people want a seat at the table, what's the first thing they've got to do? Write a check." As uncomfortable as this observation may make us with the political process, ag-industry groups seem to subscribe to the same theory. According to Agri-Pulse, political action committees (PACs) representing food and agricultural industry groups have increased contributions to candidates in congressional races this year, compared to the 2008 election.

As it turns out, this may be a prudent strategy. At least two issues with regard to the federal government and its relationship with agricultural producers are in the news this week. First, Progressive Farmer Senior Editor Victoria Myers reports on concerns from farm groups such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) about what she calls an "impending train wreck" with the return of the estate tax. As I mentioned here, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack thinks exemptions will be created that cover most farmers and ranchers, but Myers quotes the NCBA's executive director of legislative affairs as saying that, "as things stand today the estate tax, or death tax, will revert to pre-2001 levels January 2011. Those tax rates are graduated, with 55% being the top bracket..." As Myers points out, many farms and ranches are asset-rich (especially with today's high land values), but cash poor. If heirs in this situation are forced to pay 55% of the value of their inheritance in taxes, farms may have to be broken up and sold in order to do so.

Another story involving federal policy appeared in The New York Times under the headline, "U.S. Meat Farmers Brace for Limits on Antibiotics." The Times links the timing of expected FDA guidelines intended to prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the recent salmonella outbreak and egg recall (even though, as the reporter adds parenthetically, no drug resistant strains of salmonella have been implicated in the egg cases). According to the article, many medical and health experts are calling for action that would prohibit most uses of antibiotics on healthy animals, either for disease prevention or for speeding growth (the latter of which appears to be the scope of the the forthcoming guidelines). Opposing these experts are meat producers and many veterinary scientists, who cite Denmark's experience with similar regulations as evidence that they may be counterproductive.

As a cattle feeder, I can attest that overly restrictive guidelines would probably result in many more treatment expenses for our operation, as well as a likely increase in the number of animal deaths. We give chlortetracycline (CTC), a broad-spectrum antibiotic, to pens that seem to be experiencing a large number of sick cattle at once. The most efficient way of distributing CTC is to mix it with the feed for the entire pen, which of course includes some currently healthy cattle. If we were to wait until the cattle are visibly sick, however, some of them would already be too far gone to save. Those that do survive generally have lower weight gain. This in turn makes the beef at your supermarket more expensive. As such, I concur with what one pork producer told The Times for this article: "In the end, the producers will do what is right... My only concern is that we make decisions in a scientific fashion, not a political fashion."

Of course, many of these kinds of decisions will be made by politicians, who almost by definition will be making them in "a political fashion." So, it might not be such a bad idea to figure out how to "get a seat at the table."


  1. "many medical and health experts are calling for action that would prohibit most uses of antibiotics on healthy animals, either for disease prevention or for speeding growth"

    Does that mean that it would be wrong to get a flu vaccine this winter? I know one's a virus and one's a bacteria, but it would seem that a vaccine that's so widespread to prevent the disease would only serve to increase the availability of hosts for a different, un-vaccinated strain of the disease.

  2. No, you can only get a vaccine when you're actually sick with what you're getting vaccinated for... oh, wait: they won't give you a flu shot if you're sick. Anyway...

    I actually talked about this with our veterinary products guy today, and he didn't think this would really impact the way we use CTC on one pen at a time for a 5-day course; his impression is that the people pushing this (not necessarily the FDA) are basically out to make confinement farming of poultry and swine impossible. Right or wrong, the close quarters those animals share would result in pretty massive death losses if they didn't use preventative antibiotics.

  3. Good luck to the future chicken and pig herders, then.