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July 2009 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Horse Slaughter

Jul 24, 2009

I grew up riding horses. I love horses. I also grew up raising 4-H calves and pigs. Yes, to me they were pets, but I also knew that they were property and were to be used for a period of time and would be sold some day.
 
You are already wondering – “so what!” We have 9 million horses in the U.S. The question is – what to do with them? In 2002, the last 3 U.S. horse slaughter plants were closed. Animal rights activists and horse fanatics are to blame. With 100,000 unwanted, perhaps unaffordable horses each year, they must go somewhere. 72,000 are being crammed into trucks and shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. At least that way the owners can get some money for their horses, although not nearly as much as if there was a slaughter plant closer to home. It is costly and cruel and wasteful to ship all those horses out of the country. Now, we have legislation in the Congress to stop the shipment of horses cross the border for slaughter and permanently ban horse slaughter in all states.
 
What are we to do with 100,000 unwanted horses every year? They belong to someone. They are personal property. With hungry people in the world, what right do we have to deny them the meat? Many countries eat horse meat – France, Belgium, Italy, Japan, to name a few. We ate horse meat up until World War II. If our (know-it-all dictatorial) government follows through with this legislation, horse owners will be confronted with some very bad choices.
 
1. Pay $500 to have their horse euthanized.
 
2. Shoot the horse and burry it (no small task since it probably weighs 1,000 pounds).
 
3. Turn it loose along the road and hope it doesn’t get hit by a car.
 
4. And don’t even dream that the public will fund retirement homes for 100,000 horses.
 
This is so wasteful. To just throw away a half ton of meat makes no sense. Those that object to horse slaughter try to make the case that it is inhumane. What do they know?
 
Horses are and always have been property of the agriculture industry. We have too many people living in cities today and they just don’t get it. Our Congress is dominated by liberals and elitists from the cities.
 
If rural America does not stand up and fight, we will continue to see our freedoms and property rights stolen from us.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Trade Opportunities

Jul 17, 2009

How do we breathe some life into the agriculture economy? About 75 percent of what we produce is sold domestically. The other 25 percent is exported. Maybe we can grow the domestic market some, but the real opportunity can be found beyond our borders.
 
In fact, shortly after confirmation in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, our new U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk pointed out that the Obama Administration is working to put its stamp on bilateral trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea that were negotiated by the Bush Administration. He said, “Our success in resolving outstanding issues will determine the pace at which we move forward with our FTAs.”
 
Well, the pace is discouragingly slow. Nothing is happening.
 
Recently, the South Korean President arrived in Washington to meet with President Obama. As close allies, we are standing shoulder to shoulder against the North Korean nuclear threat. It was a perfect time to show solidarity by agreeing to move ahead with the free trade agreement with South Korea. Just think of all the beef we could sell.
 
But no! Nothing was done.
 
The same thing happened to the President of Colombia, who visited a couple of weeks ago. President Obama sent him home empty-handed. No deal! Colombia is a friend of ours in opposition to Venezuela dictator Hugo Chavez. The trade pact would end duties on tons of our farm products, expanding sales dramatically.
 
I thought the President was moving on the Panama deal, but now, apparently that sits in limbo.
 
I credit the President for his modest move to lift some of the financial obstacles in trade with Cuba, but even there we simply need to do more – faster.
 
We are in a recession that is pushing unemployment up. We need jobs and economic activity. The most effective and easy way to improve the situation is to open the trade channels.
 
Our trade problems are not being addressed. Improperly naming our new flu “Swine Flu” has hammered pork exports. The House spending bill has a provision that bars the imports of Chinese chicken. Now, they won’t buy our chicken.
 
There are market opportunities within our reach and we aren’t doing anything.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Down On The Farm

Jul 09, 2009

Down on the farm in Illinois. That’s where I was this week. We celebrated the 4th of July with a cake decorated like an American flag and watched the fireworks show. That was only part of the fun.
 
We checked the corn fields. It sure isn’t as “high as an elephant’s eye” but all of it made the real test – “knee high by the 4th of July.” We wrapped up planting about one month later than normal this spring. This year’s planting season was one for the record books.
 
As I drove across the state of Illinois, I thought the corn, although late, looked reasonably good. And as it gets taller, the end rows will hide the wet spots and bad patches out in the field from the roadside observer. The U.S. corn crop sets the price for the world because we produce one half of the world’s corn. We are also the biggest producer of soybeans, although Brazil and Argentina together can beat us sometimes. Grain prices have taken a hit, but it is too soon to know what the future holds.
 
Our hogs are healthy and happy. That is in spite of the fact that prices are still mired in red ink. I’ve always considered hogs to be the “mortgage lifter,” but they have been a real drag for more than a year and a half. We had enough problems with an excess supply of pork and then along came swine flu and exports collapsed. Next year should be better as we liquidate more of our breeding stock.
 
Livestock producers, just like grain farmers, ride the market roller coaster year after year. Just hang in there. It will shake out in the end. That’s the way a market economy works.
 
When I pick up and hold one of our baby pigs (so cute), I can’t help but register the concern about all the animal rights people that want to tell us how to raise our pigs, calves, and chickens. We are on the defensive with livestock care standards bills being proposed in different states. They have campaigns to eliminate certain animal health products that prevent disease in farm animals. There are loud voices out there telling us what we can do and can’t do, as if they really know anything.
 
One farmer today produces enough food to feed 140 people. That is 100 more than jut 50 years ago. That releases those 100 people to do all the other jobs in our economy.
 
I’m proud of the American farmer and rancher and our whole industry.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Tax and Spend

Jul 07, 2009

We have a long list of serious problems that the President and Congress need to address. Pointing fingers and blaming President Bush won’t fix anything. If the politicians would spend more time doing their job and less time passing the blame, we might be able to find some answers. The American public is smart enough to know that we got in the mess we are in today because of many mistakes made by many politicians – Members of Congress and former Presidents – both parties.
 
Here is how I see the situation. We have an economy in recession with unemployment over 9 percent. We are providing a big shot of stimulus. Will it help? We all hope so.
 
At the same time, we have a budget deficit of more than a trillion dollars. It’s twice as large as any President Bush ever had. Most economists would say deficits of that size are not sustainable.
 
A side bar problem is that our entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are going broke, and that just makes the deficit situation much worse.
 
Under these dire conditions, wouldn’t it be wise to not dream up some new big spending plans – like wild new healthcare spending? Sure, we do need to control the costs associated with healthcare. I don’t think most Members of Congress are really serious. Since they are beholden to the trial lawyers, they are unwilling to cap health-related lawsuits. How much do you think doctors have to pay for insurance? Try 100,000 dollars. Try 300,000 dollars. Doctors are so afraid of being sued that they order all kinds of extra tests for their patients, running up the costs. We do need to cut the escalating cost of healthcare, but spending another trillion dollars is going in the wrong direction.
 
Another priority for Congress and the President is the Cap and Trade bill. Everyone has to acknowledge that it is effectively a big tax increase. A big tax increase will serve as a heavy drag on our weakened economy.
 
I would like to remind everyone that in the early 80s, we experienced unemployment of 10.8 percent. The unemployment rate in my home county of Knox County, Illinois was 15.8 percent.
 
President Reagan didn’t raise taxes. He cut taxes. President Reagan didn’t announce big spending entitlement programs. He cut spending. He cut regulation. He expanded trade.
 
For some reason, the Reagan policies worked to lift us out of recession. Why do we think doing the opposite is the best idea today?
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.
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