Recently, Southern Farm Network spent some time with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recapping the series of joint USDA/DOJ meetings taking place across the country this year. The latest meeting, in Madison, Wisconsin focused on the diary industry, and the possibility of making changes so that America’s diary producers can move forward with their operations with some assurances as to price stability.
In August, Fort Collins, Colorado will be the location for the next hearing on the livestock industry. Vilsack says that they’ve already made some changes to the Packers & Stockyards Act, and have other ideas to make food animal production more equitable:
Well, we’ve already taken some steps to try to do what Congress instructed us to do which was to reinforce the Packers & Stockyards Act, to provide more inspectors, to provide stiffer penalties to those that are violating the Packers & Stockyards Act, to create a more level playing field by insuring that folks won’t be retaliated against if they raise questions, greater transparency in contracting and pricing, opportunities to make sure that one deal that is offered to one producer are provided to another producer that’s able to provide the same quality and quantity. So, that there really isn’t an inherent unfairness to the system. There was a lot of concerns about the system, and we proposed a new set of rules recently in an effort to try to rebalance the system both in poultry and pork in particular, giving people a little more right and ability to recoup investments that are required of them by the processors. These are fairly significant, and I think the most significant changes in the Packers & Stockyards Act since the Great Depression.”
The genetically modified seed industry has posed some situations that didn’t exist just a few years ago. Vilsack says they’ve already started working towards the future when biotech patents expire:
“Well, I think first and foremost there’s a question as to what happens when patents expire. We don’t have in place a system for what I’d refer to as a generic seed system, like you have in the pharmaceutical industry, where after a certain drug that has patent protection after that patent expires it can be produced generically, and it often results in a lower price. Well, we don’t have a system that basically helps create that generic industry in seed technology. And so, one of the things that’s already begun to happen as a result of these hearings is that we’ve begun at USDA to think about that, and focus some attention on what kind of proposals need to be made, and what kind of structures need to be in place so that we’ll be ready when these seed patents expire in three or four years, we’ll have a system in place.”
Vilsack says that having a plan in place for when the seed patents do expire is very important:
“In think it’s an evolution that we want to make sure is place. Our fear is that if we don’t address this issue now, it will be addressed in short order as these patents expire, under the pressure of expiring patents and we may not get the best debate and conversation. Or we may not do anything at all, in which case those that have the patent protection will figure out a way to extend those patents which results in significant increases in seed costs for our producers.”
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.