Videos & Speeches
Jul 26 2012
Yesterday I was on the Senate floor, and I had the opportunity to highlight a development at the Department of Agriculture. We learned yesterday afternoon that the Department of Agriculture, in an employee newsletter, was promoting something called Meatless Mondays. The Department of Agriculture’s newsletter offered encouragement for its employees and I assume others who might see the newsletter—perhaps even tourists who visit Washington, D.C., and eat at the Department of Agriculture cafeteria-to participate in Meatless Monday. It indicates the desirability of reducing the consumption of meat and dairy products. I found that very startling and surprising. Never in my life would I expect the Department of Agriculture, which I always presumed is the farmers' and ranchers' friend, to be promoting the idea that it is a bad idea to eat the products of farms and ranches across Kansas and our Nation. Yet that is what we saw and read yesterday.
The Department of Agriculture newsletter said that “beef production requires a lot of water, fertilizer, fossil fuels, and pesticides. In addition, there are many health concerns related to excessive consumption of meat.'' Those are the words of the Department of Agriculture’s own newsletter. I am pleased to report that in asking Secretary Vilsack to reconsider what the Department had said and was promoting, they have done that and they have apparently removed the promotion from their newsletter and from their Web site. That is a positive development, and so I appreciate that happening.
It is amazing to me that this, unfortunately, is just one of many circumstances in which we see administration agencies and departments on the side of something that those of us who believe strongly in traditional family agriculture across the country believe is very important. One would expect in this case that the Department of Agriculture would promote the consumption of meat. In fact, within the Department of Agriculture, we have the Secretary saying in his mission statement that he is about increasing and expanding domestic and foreign markets for beef and meat products. We have the U.S. beef board, organized and monitored by the Department of Agriculture, whose job it is to promote agricultural products. We spend lots of effort, many of us in Congress over the past couple of years, to try to encourage the sale of agricultural products, particularly meat and beef products, to South Korea and China. We have debated on the Senate floor the value of trade agreements, most recently with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, because we believe in the sale the opportunity for American producers to sell their products around the globe. Yet we saw at least some at USDA who have the view that we need to be discouraging the consumption of meat for environmental and health reasons.
Particularly troublesome is the fact that the Department of Agriculture was citing the United Nations as a reason that we ought to discourage the consumption of beef for environmental reasons. Our Department of Agriculture positions ought to be based upon sound science, not some U.N. study.
Beef is an important and vital component of the Kansas economy. We are the second largest beef-producing State in the country. The economic impact to our country is around $44 billion. Beef exports in 2011 were over $4.08 billion. This matters to us greatly.
This is happening at a time in which to the cattle producers in Kansas and across the midwest, including in the state of the President today, the drought is so damaging. It’s also happening at a time in which we have been having the debate about the farm bill. My farmers in Kansas will often say: I know we need to do something about reducing spending. We have got to get the deficit under control.
In fact, the farm bill we passed in the Senate is a reduction in the farm bill spending of $23 billion. No one likes to see something that is important to them go away, but as a result if this farm bill becomes legislation and direct payments leave, the safety net for producers across our country will be less. Yet farmers and ranchers say: We have a responsibility as American citizens to give these things up, to reduce the spending that comes our way, but please don't do anything that is damaging to us as far as our ability to earn a living in the free market, in the real world.
So when we see things like this from the Department of Agriculture discouraging the use of meat products-and, again, at a time in which the temperatures across my State have been over 100 degrees for more than a month. 118 degrees record high, in perhaps the globe and certainly in the United States. In Norton, KS, it was 118 degrees. Rain is so scarce, we spend a lot of time in our State down on our knees praying for moisture and we spend a lot of time looking up to the skies hoping for moisture. We need to make sure that what we do in this Congress and what the Obama administration does is not something that diminishes the chances for the survival of family farms in the United States, certainly at home in Kansas and around rural America.
If this was just an isolated instance, perhaps the point has been made and the words have been withdrawn, but I remember we started a year ago with a Department of Labor that concluded we need to regulate the use of 14- and 15-year-olds on family farms, a real misunderstanding of how production agriculture and family farms work. Agriculture is a family operation, and yet we had the Department of Labor suggesting that someone 15 years old perhaps should not be able to work on their own family's farm. I remember just a half a year-6 months or so ago, I was on the Senate floor worried about a Department of Agriculture forum on animal safety that was being organized by the Humane Society. Again, my farmers and ranchers would say-particularly in a time of drought and a time in which the safety net provided by the farm bill was going to become less-please don't do anything that is harmful to us, that reduces the chance for us to succeed.
In this regulatory environment that we find ourselves, we need to take the steps that promote agriculture, not those things that diminish the opportunity for a farmer or rancher to earn a living in the free market. Yesterday we had a debate about estate taxes and the consequences to family agriculture across the country, and again, at a time in which the drought is so prevalent, circumstances so difficult, the Tax Code matters greatly and the ability to pass a family farm from one generation to the next is a critical thing. It is so much about agriculture in States like mine that when our farmers and ranchers don't succeed, the opportunity for the communities in which they live and raise their kids greatly diminishes. This is a way of life for us, and we need to make certain we have a Department of Agriculture that is promoting our farmers and ranchers and their success.
I was on the Senate floor yesterday with the Senator from Wyoming. We had a conversation about the drought, the estate taxes, and the farm bill. I’d be interested knowing, if I could yield to the Senator from Wyoming if he has any further thoughts. I know he is a leader in the Western Caucus members of the Senate, and we are in the process of writing Secretary Vilsack in regard to the promotion of Meatless Monday. I guess I would also add before I yield to the Senator from Wyoming there are those who have a different view about what their menus should be and what they want to see on the menu and that is fine with me. That is a personal decision. But the Department of Agriculture ought to be supportive of the people that produce the food, fiber, and energy for our country each and every day. They get up at sunrise and go to bed after sunset because they are out there trying to make a living on family farms across the country.Madam President, just to conclude my remarks, I would indicate that my family and I will be eating more beef, not less. I would urge Americans to respond in that way. It is an opportunity for us to support the cattlemen and the livestock producers of our country at a time when they are selling their herds because the drought is so severe that there is no grass and no feed to feed the cattle. And so the market is depressed and prices are lower because there are so many sales occurring. We can help our livestock producers, our farm and ranch families of Kansas and in the country, by having a hamburger or steak. Let's go back to that traditional American meal of “let's eat beef.” The front of my truck at home says “Eat Beef,” and I would encourage Kansans and Americans to do so at this point in time when our livestock producers, because of drought, are struggling so greatly.