Written by M. Sean High
On November 5, 2015, ten U.S. senators issued a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding USDA’s development of its Fall 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) Preparedness and Response Plan. The ten senators signing onto the letter were: Thad Cochran (R-MS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), David Vitter (R-LA), John Boozman (R-AR), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and David Purdue (R-GA).
According to the senators’ letter, three matters are of particular importance and should be addressed in the regulatory development process being conducted by USDA through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
First, the senators stated that current APHIS regulations “do not allow for the splitting of indemnity payments between owners and growers.” As a result, the senators argue that many contract growers are left “vulnerable in the event of [an HPAI] outbreak.” In an effort to provide protection for these contract growers, the senators “request[ed] that [APHIS] allocate any future indemnity equitably so that producers can maintain access to financing in the short-term and the future.”
Second, the senators stated that current APIHS regulations only permit indemnity for losses associated with bird mortality and not for losses associated with disruptions in the supply chain. Specifically, the senators stated that “[e]ven if the birds in a particular facility do not contract HPAI, that producer could be affected by a hatchery outbreak.” Accordingly, the senators requested that APHIS consider providing producers with “downtime compensation.”
Third, the senators stated that “it is important for growers to have expanded financial flexibility” to avoid the possibility of HPAI induced foreclosures. To accomplish this goal, the senators requested that USDA “direct the Farm Service Agency to begin developing guidelines for its direct and guaranteed loan programs that would enable existing loans to be restructured to provide flexibility for borrowers severely affected by HPAI.”