Vilsack sides with ranchers on EPA regs, estate tax, trade & animal antibiotics

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Sept. 15 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a USDA auditorium filled with ranchers upset by run-away EPA regulation that he takes full responsibility for USDA actions but that “I am not in position today to accept responsibility for EPA . . . I don't want that job.” That was part of a wide-ranging exchange of views Wednesday at the 2010 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Legislative Conference.

Vilsack reassured the cattlemen that he's conducting an on-going “conversation” with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson “to make that she is as well educated as possible” about how EPA regulations affect production agriculture. He said the problem at EPA and elsewhere “is that there are folks in this town that have never been on a farm. And they assume that they know what they're doing when it comes to impacts on agriculture. Now they are good people, good folks, good hearted people. They think they're doing the right thing. They think they're doing what either a court or Congress has told them to do. But they really don't know how modernized agriculture is.”

On the touchy issue of estate taxes, a Texas rancher pointed out that if Congress doesn’t act, starting next January, farm estates worth $1 million will be taxed at a rate of 55 percent forcing ranch families in effect “to buy their ranch back from the government.” In response, Vilsack said “We have to figure out a way to provide an exemption large enough that the vast, vast, vast majority of farms and ranches would be not subject to [estate] taxes.”

As part of revitalizing rural America, Vilsack stressed the importance of U.S. agriculture's role in combatting global hunger and providing one out of every 12 jobs in the United States. He noted that USDA projects a $31 billion trade surplus next year, compared to a current $27 billion surplus. He said every $1 billion in surplus is equivalent to 8,000 to 9,000 jobs and that to create these jobs, new opportunities for U.S. exports need to be identified and existing trade barriers need to be removed.

Vilsack said USDA is determined to develop new markets especially in countries with growing middle class populations, break down unscientific trade barriers, and finalize the three pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Regarding antibiotics, ranchers charged that the Food and Drug Administration's draft guidance document, “The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals,” is not based on sound science. Cattle producers also expressed concerns over the proposed Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to phase out non-therapeutic use of livestock antibiotics. “I’ve communicated to Rep. Slaughter my support of the judicious use of antibiotics. The vast majority of producers do not abuse the use of antibiotics in livestock production. I told her you cannot ban this. It doesn’t make sense,” Visack said. “USDA's public position is, and always has been, that antibiotics need to be used judiciously and we believe they already are.”

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