Ag Policy Blog

The Brief War on Pork

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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From DTN's Washington Insider:

Amid all the saber rattling over debt ceilings and budgets and such like, there was a little “prison menu dance” last week that pretty much amazed everybody. The Washington Post said that the federal Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for over 200,000 inmates, was outed by the Fort Worth Star Telegram for its plan to pull roast pork from its menus, the sole remaining pork item offered. The reason given was “surveys of prisoners’ food preferences [that] showed it wasn’t a very popular menu item.” Plus, they blamed the rising cost of pork.

You might think that pulling a more costly menu item in favor of a less costly one would please Congressional budget hawks but that would be wrong, of course, because the hog industry has many strong supporters across the Midwest that watch very carefully for its interests. The Federal Bureau of Prisons was criticized by the National Pork Producers Council and also by individual Congressional supporters who saw the federal decision as a threat to pork markets.

These complaints seemed surprising to the Feds who caved almost immediately with promises to return pork to their menus. Not a word, though, about the prisoner’s preferences in the response.

Senator Grassley provided an example of “Senatorial outrage” at the bureaucrats’ proposal. Not only could he not imagine that anyone would reject pork, but he also asked the Bureau to “corroborate the validity of the claim that prisoners indicated a lack of interest in pork products.” He wants copies of the prisoner surveys and responses.

He took the opportunity provided by the menu issue to lecture the feds on the economic importance of pork in America. The pork products are highly likely to be home grown, he said, while “alternative products may be more likely to be imported. The pork industry is responsible for 547,800 jobs, which creates $22.3 billion in personal incomes and contributes $39 billion to the gross domestic product,” he wrote.”

Overall, the political events radar hardly gave the prison pork issue a blip as it went by, probably because it flamed out so quickly--but also because it is hard to understand how it could have happened. Anyone who has been exposed to even a glimmer of American politics surely knows the difficulty of pushing an important commodity from an established position in a federal program, especially without an overriding reason. Saving a little money or pleasing prisoners seems so unlikely to qualify. As can be seen.

So, in any event, the fully chastened bureaucrats are likely to be much more firmly focused on reality this week than they were only a few days ago. They also may have a new appreciation for the unreliability of local advice for their menu planners, Washington Insider believes.

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Mr. Brandy
10/20/2015 | 3:35 PM CDT
You can buy most any cut of pork for less money than ground beef. The national pork producers may need to conduct cooking lessons to the prison cooks, because roast pork is about as easy to cook as any meat.
Bonnie Dukowitz
10/19/2015 | 7:20 AM CDT
Didn't realize, in prison, you get a menu. Feed-em pork, might solve the high population of inmate problem.