Its All About Change
Barbara Young

Many Americans will remember Donald Rumsfeld’s departure from President Bush’s cabinet as Secretary of Defense as the best thing that happened in 2006. Rumsfeld’s December exit from the nation’s top military post ends the six years he spent attempting to reconstruct the U.S. military in the post-Cold War period — the war on terror with Iraq at the center as the most controversial and turbulent conflict during his tenure. If the recommendations of The Iraq Study Group come to fruition, the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in Iraq will happen in 2008.
To be sure, politics and war in Iraq dominated 2006 — at home and abroad. The middle of this decade certainly can be bookmarked as a political turning point in America, given the electoral upheaval that resulted in Democrats gaining majority seats in both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years. Everything changes, nothing stays the same. The political changes of 2006 are expected to pave the way to a new climate for agriculture in 2007, hopefully for the better.
There are plenty of outstanding matters to resolve that will impact meat-industry business plans next year and into the future. Immigration reform for one thing. Of all the matters confronting the 110th Congress in 2007 — many of which will no doubt languish amid partisan politics and other stumbling blocks — immigration reform is expected to move ahead. The hope is for a policy combining stronger border enforcement with a guest-worker program and a passport to citizenship for current undocumented workers.
The industry’s antenna will remain pointed in the direction of international trade and animal health issues — especially BSE and avian influenza. Current trade agreements in large part are predicated on matters related to food safety. Japan — the major destination for U.S. beef overseas — has its own animal-health challenges, and recently confirmed its 31st case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy).
Meanwhile, South Korea continues to grapple with cases of the highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza. On the international trade front, South Korea’s cat-and-mouse game with the United States heated up recently over beef shipments — especially its ban of two shipments from America containing small bone fragments. South Korea had already lifted a three-year import ban it imposed due to U.S. cases of BSE.
In its 2007 Farm Bill Theme Paper, USDA predicted expanded agricultural trade opportunities given the prospect of major changes in the world’s population and economies. Global increases in imports of meats are expected to range from nearly 20 percent for beef and nearly 40 percent for pork. Expanded foreign demand has boosted U.S. food and agricultural exports from $7 billion in 1970 to a projected $68 billion in fiscal 2006, according to USDA. The industry also expects Congress to deliver appropriate regulations governing alternatives to petroleum-based fuel in line with current trends toward increased usage of crops and other organic matter as energy sources.
Change is good in the business world because it often is the only way to survive and prosper. To that end, fair trade provisions are essential for the health of the U.S. meat-protein industry. Although uncertainties abound concerning the accomplishments to be made by the 110th Congress, an agreement on the table clearing the way for Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization is good news. Russia reportedly imports nearly $1 billion in U.S. agricultural products, and is the largest market for U.S. poultry exports.
This is merely a peek into the 2007 window of the new and old business that we expect our politicians to handle with care. If law is a bottomless pit, the need for political reform is infinite. Let us hope that next year’s accomplishments in that regard are bountiful.