Meet the Congressional Chicken Caucus: The group making sure that the poultry export market is fair and serving as the voice of the U.S. poultry industry on Capitol Hill and around the world.
The caucus, organized in the House of Representatives in 2011 and in the Senate in 2013, is a bi-partisan group of legislators representing chicken-producing states and districts around the country. Like other congressional caucuses, the group exists to help like-minded lawmakers communicate about issues facing the poultry industry and organize legislative actions to promote and protect the industry.
The Congressional Chicken Caucus, the 57-member group in the House, is currently lead by Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., who serve as the co-chairs. In the Senate, the 11-member Senate Chicken Caucus is lead by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. Together, the caucus includes representation from Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma , Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
The group was organized, and continues to operate, with the help of the National Chicken Council (NCC). At October 2015’s Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group’s president, Mike Brown, said the caucus helps the NCC keep key lawmakers informed about political issues affecting the poultry industry.
Brown said the caucus was instrumental in opening the door for the U.S. to export poultry to South Africa – the largest potential market for U.S. poultry in Africa – after being blocked from the nation since 2000. Tom Super, a spokesman for the council, said Isakson and Coons’ efforts helped the U.S. review its trade and foreign aid policies toward South Africa and put pressure on the nation to drop some of its restrictions on importing U.S poultry products.
“In June (2015), we were able to announce that the American and South African poultry industries reached an agreement to end South Africa’s duties on U.S. poultry, thanks to negotiations led by the United States Trade Representative, the Department of State, U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard and trade experts from industry. South Africa must now implement this agreement and end its separate, complete ban on U.S. poultry due to avian flu before U.S. product can enter the market,” Isakson said in a statement provided by his office. “In August (2015), the U.S. Trade Representative announced the start of the out-of-cycle review process to determine whether South Africa should remain eligible to benefit fully from the African Growth and Opportunity Act preference program in light of ongoing trade violations. I am extremely encouraged that the U.S. Trade Representative is taking enforcement of AGOA seriously by quickly conducting the required review of South Africa’s eligibility for benefits.”
Super said South Africa still has a few more steps to take, but the chicken caucus’ actions in Congress will likely allow the U.S. to export 65 metric tons annually, worth about $65 million, to the rainbow nation in the near future. The group is also pushing to ensure scientifically unfounded avian influenza-related bans on chicken imports are reversed to ensure the U.S. can continue to export about 20 percent of its poultry products around the world. Super said the caucus will continue to focus on international trade agreements, including the implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement between the U.S. and Pacific rim nations, in the near future.
“(The caucus has) a funny name that brings a smile to your face, but they do real serious work,” Brown said.