Farm Bureau Wraps Up Annual Meeting

Energy bill and mad cow top convention's discussions. Holly Spangler

Published on: Jan 15, 2004

The annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) concluded this week, where some 7,000 Farm Bureau members gathered to debate policy and take in some of the fun and sun of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Among other measures, delegates reaffirmed their strong support for passage of the energy bill with a renewable fuels standard.

"We were two votes short last year on the energy bill, so the AFBF resolution, like the one Illinois Farm Bureau delegates passed in Chicago, helps once again stress the urgency that we all feel about this high priority issue," says Illinois Farm Bureau president Philip Nelson, who was elected to a two-year term on the AFBF board of directors.

A renewable fuels standard would double the nation's demand for ethanol and establish tax breaks to help spur production of soy-based biodiesel. Nelson added that a bill's provision for a natural gas pipeline also addresses the high cost of natural gas for farmers.

Mad cow talk

The recent find of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a Washington dairy cow of Canadian origin generated plenty of discussion and policy action on animal identification, treatment of non-ambulatory animals for food purposes, and animal feeding practices.

In response to the Washington incident, USDA announced that it would speed up the development of a national animal identification program that will permit the government to track an animal for disease control purposes within 48 hours.

Delegates called for a voluntary "cost effective national system of identification that shares costs among government, industry, and producers," as well as a system that protects the privacy rights of farmers.

AFBF delegates rejected a complete ban on feeding ruminant meat and bone meal to all livestock, including poultry. Supporters of the ban argued that it would bolster consumer confidence and reduce any possibility that ruminant feed might end up in cattle feed rations.

A week after the discovery of BSE, USDA moved "out of an abundance of caution" to ban all downers from the food chain. But delegates expressed concern that the action goes too far and improperly bans injured animals.

Delegates stopped short of approving a new policy to push for USDA to loosen downer rules. Instead, delegates directed the AFBF board of directors to consider working with USDA to loosen the ban and permit injured livestock into the human food chain. Any animal suspected of being "neurologically impaired or sick" would still not be allowed into the food supply.

The proposal also calls for a new incentive program that "will encourage the active monitoring, testing, and holding of all non-ambulatory animals for BSE and other neurological diseases."

Further policy

Delegates threw their conditional support behind "the concept of country-of-origin labeling" and rejected - by a slim six vote margin - a ban on packer ownership of cattle.

In a policy rewrite, AFBF delegates formally expressed concerns that the current proposed rule for COOL does not adequately address producers concerns about program costs, record keeping, and liability. COOL should not be implemented for livestock and meat until AFBF is satisfied with the proposed rule and a national animal identification program is in place, delegates say.

In other business, Stallman, a cattle and rice producer from Columbus, Texas, was unanimously elected to a third two-year term as president. Delegates also re-elected Washington Farm Bureau president Steve Appel to a second two-year term as AFBF vice president.