Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Republican Glenn "GT" Thompson Full Committee Hearing: "To Review the State of the Livestock Industry"

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Washington, October 7, 2021 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon. On countless occasions, I’ve mentioned the importance of this Committee getting back to holding hearings to explore issues facing production agriculture and conducting oversight of the numerous programs administered by the Department of Agriculture—especially as we gear up for the next Farm Bill. So in that regard, I am thankful, Mr. Chairman, that we are giving the livestock industry the attention it deserves today.

While it is always nice to hear from our Senate colleagues, and I am thankful to finally have an opportunity for open discussion with Secretary Vilsack, this certainly isn’t the setting I would have chosen.

First off, I have a number of questions for the Department that extend far beyond the subject matter of today’s hearing, and I am sure my colleagues on both sides of the aisle do as well. Questions that deserve answers, and that in many cases, have gone ignored for far too long.

These grievances aside, I want to thank both Senator Grassley and Secretary Vilsack for your participation and testimony. I also want to express my gratitude to the industry panelists that have been gracious enough to participate today. I am even more eager to hear directly from you about what is and isn’t working, and what may need to be addressed to ensure our livestock industry can thrive.

I sincerely hope your views are heard and carefully considered before this Administration or Congress take further action on regulations and legislation affecting the livestock industry, and ultimately your livelihoods.

Moving to the substance of today’s hearing, I have said it before and will say it again­—food security is national security. The pandemic made that sensitive linkage abundantly clear as the resilience of our production, processing, and distribution systems was put to the test. While I am impressed with the resolve of our producers and processors in continuing to provide safe, nutritious products tailored to meet an ever-growing array of consumer demands, there are still concerns and lingering frustration across the countryside.

The issues are wide-ranging, from market concentration, price transparency, and processing capacity, to labor shortages, and lingering animal disease threats.

Meanwhile, despite what we may hear from a few, there is a clear lack of consensus on legislative and regulatory proposals intended to address many of these issues.

It seems the forthcoming Packers and Stockyards or “GIPSA” rules we continue to hear so much about have been plucked off the shelf by this Administration, dusted off, and rebranded as the silver bullet to every conceivable marketplace concern.

They were undoubtedly controversial the last time this Secretary tried to push them through. If this Administration is serious about these proposals, rather than pitting one segment of industry against another, they will need to strike a careful balance reflective of the needs and concerns of all segments of industry while avoiding severe unintended consequences. It won’t be an easy task.

It will be equally important for Congress to avoid unintended consequences and keep diverse industry needs in mind as we consider proposals designed to increase price transparency. We will no doubt hear today from those who view government intervention as the only solution.

Others will characterize such intervention as a costly solution in search of a problem guaranteed to disrupt the use of popular marketing tools. Above all, it is imperative producers and industry participants maintain access to the information already available through the Livestock Mandatory Reporting program and that broader policy disputes don’t become the reason for a lapse in program authority.

That said, I am confident this Committee will continue its work to pursue pragmatic solutions all can agree on. I would be remiss if I didn’t commend Congressman Dusty Johnson, Ranking Member of our Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, for his continued leadership on that front.

It is no secret labor shortages continue to plague our economy—the agricultural and processing sectors in particular. Despite innovative efforts to contain the spread of COVID within packing plants and industry efforts to attract employees with bonuses, wage increases, and other benefits, processing facilities across the country remain woefully understaffed.

While directives related to masking requirements at processing plants and vaccine mandates for Federal and private sector employees are assuredly well-intentioned, I am increasingly concerned about the rigid and dogmatic approach to their enforcement and the potential to exacerbate our labor shortage crisis.

I hear these fears as I travel across the country from truck drivers, factory workers, FSIS inspectors, FSA county office staff and county committees, crop insurance agents, and loss adjusters—the list goes on.

Thankfully, there are some areas where everyone seems to be in general agreement, including the support for improving access to processing and increasing overall processing capacity.

So far, I have been pleased to see Congress and the Administration teaming up on this endeavor—from reducing overtime inspection costs for small and very small processors, to providing resources to help existing plants become federally inspected, to the much anticipated $500 million investment in expansion efforts across the nation.

I am certainly behind the idea of giving new small and medium-sized facilities the boost they need to get started, allowing them to find their niche, and hopefully watching them grow to medium and larger sized players, making for a more resilient and competitive marketplace along the way.

But this week’s announcement of an additional $100 million for a related loan guarantee program served as a stark reminder of the lack of detail regarding these programs. Rather than continuing to throw money at the problem, it is time for answers and implementation of the programs already promised.

Finally, no discussion of the livestock industry would be complete without acknowledging the foreign animal diseases threats knocking at our doorstep. The detection of African Swine Fever in Haiti and the Dominican Republic underscores the importance of our disease prevention and preparedness efforts. Unfortunately, politics got in the way of enhancing those efforts during the reconciliation process.

That said, I am confident that industry and the Department will continue to do all they can to keep the disease at bay and am appreciative of the CCC money set aside to do so.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to today’s discussion and yield back.

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