NASDA conference addresses mRNA vaccines, ag labor shortages

Members also emphasized need for federal cost-share for state meat inspection programs, consistency and transparency on pet food labels.

February 8, 2024

5 Min Read
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During this week’s 2024 Winter Policy Conference, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture members adopted 11 policy amendments and four action items, addressing issues such as mRNA vaccines, agricultural labor shortages and meat and poultry inspection programs.

Access approved vaccine technologies

NASDA approved a policy amendment supporting farmers and ranchers’ ability to safeguard animal health through the responsible use of vaccines. Members also emphasized the importance of utilizing vaccines that have undergone a thorough approval and licensing process by the USDA and FDA, ensuring a robust foundation of scientific and peer-reviewed research.

“Our farmers and ranchers must have the ability to safeguard animal health against foreign and emerging disease. Vaccines developed and researched through an approved, scientific and regulatory process are a tool helping producers to accomplish that,” NASDA CEO Ted McKinney said. “NASDA prioritizes the wellbeing of livestock and public health, and we must ensure farmers and ranchers have access to approved mRNA vaccines to ensure the health of their animals and provide a safe and resilient food supply.”

NASDA supports a robust federal approval and review process for any new vaccine or other animal health tool that can be used to protect the domestic livestock industry from existing or emerging foreign or domestic animal disease outbreaks, safeguarding livestock and public health. Currently, no mRNA vaccines are approved for administration to animals in the U.S. even though one RNA vaccine has been licensed for use in swine. Research and scientific review of mRNA vaccines in livestock is crucial to provide livestock producers with access to all approved and available technologies.

Address labor shortages

NASDA members encouraged federal agencies to develop strategies that address agricultural labor shortages across the country. The action item urges the USDA, the United States Department of Labor and the United States Department of Homeland Security to immediately collaborate on a strategy to secure the labor force and ensure the success of the nation’s agricultural industry. NASDA simultaneously urges Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to ease agricultural workforce challenges.

 “Labor shortages in the agricultural industry affect the entire supply chain, making it more difficult for the country to compete in the global marketplace and threatening our overall food and national security,” McKinney said. “With many changes in wage rates and proposed regulations in the past few months and years, NASDA members are navigating this issue in their states as farmers and ranchers operate in a complex regulatory environment. Our producers need federal agencies who oversee the H-2A and H-2B process, specifically the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security, to work collaboratively with USDA to develop a long-term strategy for addressing these challenges.” 

Stabilize costs, maintain processing capacity

NASDA members also passed an action item emphasizing the need to resume full federal cost-share for state meat and poultry inspection programs.

“To continue supporting and expanding the meat processing industry and the livestock sector, Congress and USDA must ensure consistent and reliable funding is available to sustain state meat and poultry inspection programs,” NASDA President Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur said. "State meat inspection programs provide services necessary for meat processors in many states. Recent funding shortfalls are detrimental to the resilience of state programs and must be immediately addressed.”

With the new action item, NASDA members will urge Congress to require USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service to provide at least 50% funding match to state departments of agriculture to ensure the viability of state meat and poultry inspection programs. NASDA will likewise advocate for an increase in federal appropriations to the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service to ensure the agency can adequately fund these important state programs.

State departments of agriculture play a central role in leading outreach to local processors and hold regulatory authority over state inspected meat processing facilities. Twenty-nine state departments of agriculture operate state meat and poultry inspection programs and NASDA emphasizes the essential collaboration between state and federal meat inspection programs in both intrastate and interstate commerce, as outlined in NASDA’s policy.

Enforce pet food label regulations

NASDA voted to support consistency and transparency on pet food labels. This action item encourages state feed regulatory programs with authority over pet food to adopt the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ Model Regulations for Pet Food and Specialty Pet Food swiftly and uniformly while respecting individual state legal authorities and regulatory processes.

“Pet food labels, like any other food label, should be clear and easy to understand so pet owners can make informed decisions about what they feed their pets,” Arthur said. “State feed regulatory programs agree to utilize enforcement discretion in the review of pet food labels. This action item showcases NASDA members’ commitment to transparent and consistent pet food labels across the United States. It prioritizes a seamless transition to the AAFCO model regulations adopted by its membership and agreed to by the pet food industry. NASDA looks forward to working with AAFCO and industry representatives.”

Since 2015, AAFCO has been working collaboratively with stakeholders to modernize regulations for pet food labeling, seeking to provide consumers and regulators with labeling information that is easy to understand and in a format familiar to consumers. AAFCO recently approved its new Model Regulations for Pet Food and Specialty Pet Food, and the next step is for states to implement regulations according to their own rulemaking process.

AAFCO and the pet food industry have agreed to a grace period of six years, during which state regulatory programs are urged to exercise enforcement discretion in reviewing pet food labels. NASDA supports this effort to achieve a seamless transition to the new labels. The Association of American Feed Control Officials is an affiliate of NASDA.

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