WASHINGTON — Board members of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) held a media update call on April 8 before speaking with members of Congress this week on the needed passage of the Farm Bill and various other issues the industry continues to work on.

The first topic the trade association addressed was how it hoped that legislation to reverse Prop 12 would soon pass along with the scheduled Farm Bill.

“We are looking forward to the Farm Bill as finding a federal solution to Prop 12,” said Lori Stevermer, current president of the National Pork Producers Council.

Stevermer mentioned that when she talks with producers across the country, they don’t want a patchwork of regulations in the United States for similar measures like Prop 12; they want a federal answer to avoid this happening in the future.

Since the implementation, numbers from the USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist showed that pork prices for California consumers saw an average increase of 20% since July 1, 2023. Stevermer added that NPPC saw a decline of 8% to 10% in the consumption of fresh pork in California.

Scott Hays, NPPC’s immediate past president and producer from Missouri, pointed out that certainty for producers and for consumers will be necessary for all involved with Prop 12 going forward.

“Consumers are going to have a choice at the meat counter, then producers have to have a choice on the farm,” Hays said. “It’s really a package deal, and we’re trying to do what’s best for consumers to get them a high-quality protein that’s affordable, and this patchwork that’s coming from the states really hits the consumers in the wallet.”

Bryan Humphreys, chief executive officer for NPPC, proposed ideas about how producers and customers can see a more stable pork market ahead in 2024.

“We look forward to continuing the conversations with Congress for a bipartisan solution as we move forward here,” Humphreys said.

Officials highlighted that more than 100 producers from around the United States will attend NPPC’s events during the week in Washington.

Later during the call, NPPC then addressed the higher production costs that many producers faced during 2023 and what resolutions the association will look at for this year.

Humphreys noted an opportunity for optimism due to the increase in domestic consumption and some reduction in input costs. However, he did note that pork producers, like many working in the meat industry, have fixed expenses with labor and continued capital improvements.

Even with Prop 12 concerns, labor remains a major challenge for many farms, according to Stevermer.

Several members of the NPPC board cited that changes in the immigration system would help producers and farmers, especially with steps like making H-2A temporary labor visas more available year-round or providing other types of visas for people interested in working in the industry.

Another important topic for the NPPC board was the recent news that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) moved from US poultry to dairy cows, making it a concern for farmers across the United States.

“Obviously, it’s something that’s on our radar, but we don’t feel like it’s a huge threat to our industry by any stretch of the imagination,” Hays said.

He encouraged producers nationwide to look at biosecurity plans and continue to keep all diseases out of their farms. The importance of a well-prepared traceability program remains vital for pork producers in the United States as well since a portion of the product is exported.

“A good traceability program across the country will help us monitor that situation,” Hays said. “It gives consumers here and across the globe the assurance that we know what’s going on and we have a safe supply of protein for them.”

Another topic NPPC will continue to monitor is the ongoing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs).

Duane Stateler, NPPC president-elect and producer from Ohio, stated that 74 packers and processors would go out of business if even the recommended ELG guidelines are followed by EPA enforcement.

“All that will mean is it will likely affect the smaller and more rural size facilities that we have, and it will have a catastrophic impact on farmers,” Stateler explained about the guidelines.  

Stateler said the EPA has denied a request for additional time on the matter and released additional documents the day before the comment period was due. He noted that if the guidelines went on to pass, it could be $1 billion in annual compliance costs put on the pork industry.

In one of its final topics on the call, NPPC conveyed its plans to monitor the approved New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) establishments and how the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continue to monitor the trial periods going forward.

“As we continue to move forward, maintaining access to that faster line speed is imperative not only for our industry but for consumers,” Humphreys said.