House of Representatives
Sponsor: Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN)
The Emergency and Disaster Preparedness for Farm Animals Act—introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)—would require farmers and ranchers to have and implement a preexisting disaster preparedness plan in order to receive federal assistance for the loss of farmed animals during extreme weather events. This legislation would help prevent the suffering and untimely deaths of countless farmed animals, mitigate damage, and save taxpayer money.
Summary of Bill Provisions
The Emergency and Disaster Preparedness for Farm Animals Act would amend federal law related to supplemental agricultural disaster assistance following adverse weather events. It would condition payments dispersed under the USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) for losses related to such events on applicants having fulfilled the following criteria: (1) Prior to the death of the livestock upon which the claim is based, the producer files with the USDA a disaster preparedness plan to prevent livestock injuries and/or deaths. The plan must be specific to the operation’s size and livestock and account for the various adverse weather events that may be expected to impact operations in that region. (2) Within 30 days of the injury and/or death of the livestock, the producer provides the USDA with a description of how the plan was implemented.
With respect to loans issued under the USDA’s Emergency Loan Program to replace livestock, the bill would similarly require producers seeking loans to develop a disaster preparedness plan that is specific to the operation’s size and livestock and accounts for the various adverse weather events that may be expected to impact operations in that region.
Why This Legislation Is Necessary
Each year, hundreds of thousands to millions of farmed animals are killed due to extreme weather. In 2018, for example, approximately 5.5 million poultry and pigs perished from hurricanes Florence and Michael alone, and in 2020, over 100,000 poultry died in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Winter storms resulted in the deaths of 30,000 cattle in Texas and New Mexico in 2016 and more than 37,000 cattle in Montana in 2018. In 2021, a deep freeze in Texas resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of farmed animals.
Congress and the USDA have created various disaster assistance programs over the years—including the Emergency Loan Program and LIP—to compensate producers for such losses. According to federal data, over $500 million has been distributed to farmers and ranchers under LIP alone since 2008. Despite the large price tag associated with these programs, producers are not required to demonstrate they took any steps to protect their animals from extreme weather before receiving compensation.
As extreme weather becomes more common, disaster planning is more important than ever. Disaster preparedness plans are widely supported by major agriculture industry groups and are recommended by both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the USDA. Additionally, under a new rule finalized by the USDA in 2022, all animal housing facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act—which includes laboratories, zoos, aquariums, and breeders—are now required to have emergency plans in place to protect animals; the same common-sense protections should be afforded to animals on farms. Furthermore, reforms made under this legislation would mirror the requirement under the USDA’s avian influenza compensation program that producers maintain biosecurity plans to be eligible to receive reimbursements. To save taxpayer dollars and mitigate losses, the USDA should require producers to develop and implement disaster preparedness plans as a prerequisite for the issuance of payments and loans under LIP and the Emergency Loan Program.