Vilsack: Congress may want to address piglet disaster
April 10, 2014
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday that his ability to provide assistance to farmers who have lost 5 million piglets from porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus is limited, and he suggested that Congress might want to adjust a disaster program in order to provide that aid.
In the question and answer section of a speech to the North American Agricultural Journalists, Vilsack noted that PED was prevalent in Europe and China before it arrived in the United States.
He said the disaster programs that were renewed in the farm bill "are not geared" to deal with disease. The livestock indemnity program covers losses from weather disasters and forage disaster program covers forage when it is unavailable.
But he added that a third program — Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bee, & Farm-raised Fish, known as ELAP — might be adjusted to include losses from disease.
According to the Farm Service Agency website, ELAP "covers losses from disaster such as adverse weather or other conditions, such as blizzards and wildfires not adequately covered by any other disaster program" but that does not include death from disease.
"Congress may want to take a look at the ELAP program and rethink that," Vilsack said, but he added that they would also have to think "carefully" about the costs because other diseases "could crop up and it could become quite a costly thing."
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"It is time for USDA to work with livestock groups on the challenges we face in a global economy," he said. There are great benefits to the global economy, he noted, but also risks.
Vilsack said he had met with the National Pork Producers Council about global risks and that he will meet with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Livestock groups, he said, need to be "proactive" on these issues in order to reassure the American people about the global economy and the risks involved.
Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., sent Vilsack a letter today urging him to help pig farmers detect PED in their herds and to develop countermeasures such as drugs and vaccines to battle the virus. He also pressed for USDA to provide relief to producers already hit by the virus and to work with other federal agencies who may be able to bring resources to effectively address the PED crisis.
"Minnesota ranks third in nationwide pork production, so we have a large stake in moving quickly before the PED virus further devastates our producers' herds," Franken said. "Millions of pigs have already been hit by the deadly virus, so I want the USDA and any other federal agency that can help stop the spread of this virus to take action now and help safeguard our producers' livelihood."
Franken noted that although there is no vaccine to prevent infection, earlier this year the University of Minnesota developed a test of pig's immunity to PED.
–The Hagstrom Report