Washington Watch: Mad Cow Sparks Inspections Debate
"Obviously Congress is going to look into this and I think we can expect some increase in oversight of how cattle in the United States are processed," said Chris Galen, Vice-President of the National Milk Producers Federation, a trade group representing dairy farmers.
Galen said the most obvious area of improvement is a better system for tracking the 100 million head of U.S. cattle from the feedlots to the processing plants. He said dairy farmers have long been in favor of better regulatory recordingkeeping in that area.
The Bush Administration quickly came under criticism from Democrats in the wake of the mad cow diagnosis, but even with the election year and the prospect of Congressional hearings, Galen doubts federal regulatory policies will become a political football.
"The current USDA programs were, for the most part, implemented during the Clinton Administration," Galen said. "I doubt it will become a partisan issue."
USDA is conducting a review of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to determine if the food provided under that federal program should be revised to enhance nutrition. Currently, dairy products play a significant role in these food packages, and industry representatives are scurrying to make sure that role continues. In comments filed with USDA, the International Dairy Foods Association said dairy products have helped make WIC's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program a success, and their place in the food package should remain unchanged.
U.S. milk producers are strongly opposed to a proposed bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Australia that industry representatives charge would flood the market with cheaper Australian dairy products. Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, said approval of the agreement by Congress could lead to the loss of 150,000 dairy industry jobs.
"The threat of economic devastation to rural communities across America as a result of Australian dairy imports is real. Australia's products would swamp our markets and wipe out thousands of small- and medium-sized family farms in the process," Kozak said.