Swift and Company is the world's second largest processor if fresh beef and pork, so it's a major player in the meatpacking industry. And although Swift is quick to point out that no civil or criminal charges have been filed against the company, the feds have made it clear their work on the case is not finished.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the nation's policy-makers are beginning to talk in earnest about the next farm bill. There's no shortage of opinions on what the next farm law should include. But with international trade rules bound to impact the debate, it's becoming clear the legislation will include conservation measures at its core.
Sec. Mike Johanns: "Philosophically, we share many of the same goals. So we will work together and it will be a good working relationship."
A pair of agriculture policy heavyweights discussed the next farm bill in Washington this week. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and the newly reappointed chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, Democrat Tom Harkin, met in closed door discussions. The talks ranged from conservation programs and world trade to the "mantle-piece" of future farm legislation – biofuels.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D – Iowa: "Energy may actually be the engine that pulls this farm bill or pushes it….one way or the other."
In a solution aimed at marrying the goals of biofuels and conservation, the Iowa Democrat suggested the use of ethanol crops as a conservation tool. Harkin's plan would involve promoting switchgrass for cellulosic ethanol while still using the same ground as habitat for wildlife.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D – Iowa: "So you've got your cake and can eat it too. You've got CRP, you've got conservation land, and you're building an energy crop."
While the farm economy has seen a boost from growing ethanol demand, Secretary Johanns fielded questions about the drop in net farm income.
Sec. Mike Johanns: "The net farm income numbers are less this year but I would point out that's coming off record highs. We had two record breaking years prior to that."
Lawmakers aren't the only ones sharing their thoughts on the next farm bill. At a separate press conference last week, the National Family Farm Coalition addressed concerns that ulterior motives are guiding the next farm bill.
George Naylor, President – National Family Farm Coalition: "What we need is a farm bill that works for all kinds of farmers that will produce all kinds of crops. And intends to support family farm agriculture not corporate agriculture."
NFFC President George Naylor also argued for strong conservation programs in agriculture legislation.
George Naylor, President – National Family Farm Coalition: "Despite all the talk about the 2007 farm bill being such a farm bill that is focused on conservation…that simply isn't possible if either farmers are producing out of the motivation of greed because they think they're going to make whole lots of money or fear of survival because prices are low."
Farm interest groups and policymakers likely will increase their rhetoric once the 110th U.S. Senate and House of Representatives convene in early January.