January 25, 2020

Flu Issues; Food Security; Climate Change; and ACRE

Flu Issues

Andrew Martin and Clifford Krauss reported in today’s New York Times that, “The swine flu is producing global hesitation over eating pork.

“As more cases of the new influenza emerged on Tuesday, deepening worries about a possible pandemic, several nations slammed their borders shut to pork from the United States and Mexico. Wall Street analysts predicted a sharp decline of pork sales in grocery stores, and some consumers began steering clear of pork chops.

The pork industry reacted with frustration. Medical authorities say that people cannot contract the swine flu from eating properly cooked pork. There is no evidence so far that the people who are becoming sick were in contact with pigs. In fact, authorities are not even sure how susceptible pigs are to infection with the new flu.”

The Times article added that, “The assurances from medical authorities have not forestalled a pork panic.

“Several countries on Tuesday announced that they were banning some or all pork products from the United States, angering trade negotiators and hog farmers. To date, countries including the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Ecuador have banned pork from the United States, with Mexican pork exports also covered by most of those bans.

China banned pork from certain states, and Russia banned all meat imports, not just pork, from certain states.”

The Times writers also noted that, “The challenge, the officials say, is persuading those countries to reverse the restrictions so they do not become permanent.

“‘If you don’t reverse bad policy quickly, people get used to it,’ said Allen F. Johnson, a former chief agriculture trade negotiator for the United States trade representative and now a consultant.

“On Tuesday, the Obama administration’s chief trade representative, Ron Kirk, urged trading partners to base their decisions on science and international trade obligations, and he suggested that bans on American pork ‘may result in serious trade disruptions without cause.’”

Scott Kilman and Lauren Etter
reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Since the flu outbreak made headlines last week, the National Pork Producers Council has pestered health officials to stop calling it swine flu. ‘The whole industry is talking to the USDA and the White House,’ an industry lobbyist said. The American Farm Bureau Federation issued a statement Tuesday suggesting ‘hybrid influenza’ is a more accurate term than swine flu.

“Smithfield Foods Inc., the biggest U.S. pork concern, prefers to call the disease ‘North American influenza.’ Swine flu ‘just has the wrong name,’ said C. Larry Pope, Smithfield chief executive officer.

“Whether the rebranding effort works is far from clear. U.S. hog prices have slumped for two days in a row in large part because countries such as Russia and China are moving to restrict their imports of U.S. pork until the situation becomes clearer. Ukraine, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Thailand and United Arab Emirates are also moving to limit U.S. pork imports, according to industry officials.”

Keith Bradsher added in today’s New York Times that, “Janet Napolitano, the secretary for homeland security, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack went out of their way at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday to refer to the virus by its scientific name, as the ‘H1N1 virus.’

“‘This is not a food-borne illness, virus — it is not correct to refer to it as swine flu because really that’s not what this is about,’ Mr. Vilsack said.”

A news release issued by the National Farmers Union yesterday indicated that, “‘The American pork supply is safe,’ [National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson] said. ‘News coverage of the influenza virus including pictures of pigs implies the virus and our hog herd are connected.’”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) noted in a statement from yesterday that, “People should continue preparing and thoroughly cooking pork just as they always have. Additionally, I urge our trading partners to pay attention to the science and not ban imports of U.S. pork.”

Dan Piller reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Fears that consumers will eat less pork because of the swine flu scare caused more anxiety Monday and Tuesday for farmers already struggling with falling prices.

“The price of futures contracts for lean hogs on the Chicago Board of Trade fell by 3 cents per pound – the allowable daily limit – Monday to 66 cents and dropped another 2 cents per pound in trading Tuesday.”

And Brian Baskin reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The spread of the swine-flu virus is putting more weight on already-rickety support for oil prices, which are struggling to hold at $50 a barrel.

“Light, sweet crude for June delivery settled 22 cents lower, or 0.4%, at $49.92 a barrel Tuesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil futures have declined 3.2% over the past two days, after U.S. health officials first expressed concerns about the virus over the weekend.”

Food Security

Michiyo Nakamoto and Javier Blas reported yesterday at the Financial Times Online that, “The Japanese government is drawing up plans to finance investments in agricultural production in developing countries, in the latest sign of nervousness about food security among countries that import agricultural commodities.

“Tokyo is looking to identify regions that could benefit from Japanese investment and assistance to increase food production, according to the country’s agriculture ministry.”

The FT article explained that, “Countries are seeking to boost food security after last year’s spike in agricultural commodities prices and trade restrictions.

“So-called land grabbing has alarmed some diplomats, particularly because some countries aim to secure agricultural supplies to feed their own populations regardless of the food situation in the host country.”

On this issue, the FT article stated that, “The International Food Policy Research Institute, a government-backed body, will call on Wednesday for a ‘code of conduct’ to regulate investments in overseas farmland, particularly asking that foreign investors ‘should not have a right to export’ during a food crisis in the host country.

“Joachim von Braun, Ifpri director, told the Financial Times that current investments in farmland, including those pending a final agreement, could amount to 15m to 20m hectares – more than twice the cropland area of Germany.”

As global food security issues garner attention, an update posted on Monday at a Los Angeles Times news blog reported that, “The California Senate bill to phase out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in animals raised for food has passed a major hurdle. The bill, SB 416, passed the California Senate Food and Agriculture Committee by a 3-1 vote.

“SB 416 was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter), who also notably introduced a bill to ban the docking of dairy cows’ tails this year. Our colleague Mary MacVean at the Daily Dish blog explains the bill’s implications: ‘Florez made school meal programs the initial target of the bill, which would forbid schools from serving meat or poultry treated with non-therapeutic antibiotics after Jan. 1, 2012. By 2015, the ban would apply to all animals raised for human consumption in the state.’”

And an update posted yesterday at Hoosier Ag Today stated that, “Tuesday U.S. farm broadcasters, meeting in Washington, D.C., heard from the President of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle. Pacelle says he believes his organization is a voice nationally to speak for dignity of animals to make sure that all animals are treated humanely and that they have a chance to live a decent life. He adds that his group is being unfairly portrayed by agricultural groups and the ag media.”

Yesterday’s update noted that, “Pacelle promised that HSUS was not going away and they would continue to pursue an agenda on the confinement of livestock across the country.

“The HSUS President cited the case of Colorado, where livestock interests in that state sat down with the HSUS with the two sides compromising on what they wanted animal confinement issues to look like in that state, and then took that compromise to the Legislature to be put into law. Similar discussions are underway in Ohio.”

Meanwhile, a recent announcement from the Farm Foundation stated that, “Animal welfare as it relates to production agriculture will be the subject of the Farm Foundation Forum on Tuesday, May 5.” For complete details on this Forum, see this Farm Foundation webpage.

Climate Change

A news release issued yesterday by Senator Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska) stated that, “U.S. Senator Mike Johanns today expressed concern that the door has been reopened to pass sweeping climate change legislation using budget reconciliation. His bipartisan amendment that would have prevented such a move was dropped from the budget conference report. In its place is language that carries no force of law which indicates that conferees ‘assume’ budget reconciliation will not be used for climate change legislation.

“‘A considerable majority of the Senate has made clear that using budget reconciliation to stifle debate on climate change legislation is unacceptable and I am baffled that the conferees disregarded the will of the Senate,’ Johanns said. ‘I am deeply disappointed that bipartisanship has been snubbed in favor of political convenience, with regards not only to climate change legislation, but also for reforming our health care system. This could literally result in trillions of dollars in spending and new taxes passed with minimal debate, no amendments, and a simple majority vote.’”

However, Keith Johnson pointed out yesterday at The Environmental Capital Blog (The Wall Street Journal) that, “Now that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties, Democrats can almost taste the filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, pending (still) Al Franken’s eventual victory in Minnesota.

Getting 60 votes is crucial for all sorts of big-ticket legislation—especially climate change. But Sen. Specter’s support won’t come free.

“Hailing from a coal-rich manufacturing state, Sen. Specter is especially sensitive to two issues when it comes to energy and environmental policy: American jobs and the future of coal.”

Mr. Johnson added that, “Then there are jobs, already a bone of contention with the current Waxman-Markey climate bill under discussion in the House. Adding sweeteners to protect vulnerable industries, from handing out emissions permits to slapping carbon tariffs on ‘dirty’ imports, aren’t just options. Their absence could be a deal-breaker for Sen. Specter.

“Last year, Sen. Specter laid out his biggest concerns with the Senate climate bills then under discussion: ‘At the end of the day, I do not believe there will be (nor should there be) support in Congress or the country for climate change legislation that does not effectively address the competitiveness challenge and environmental risks of exporting U.S. jobs.’

Sen. Specter’s defection might make it easier for the Senate to pass contentious legislation like a climate-change bill. That doesn’t mean the bill will be any toothier.”

Paul Kane, Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Although he said he ‘will not be an automatic 60th vote’ for Democrats, Specter’s decision left Democratic Party leaders jubilant. The addition of Specter to their ranks, coupled with the likelihood that the Minnesota Supreme Court will name Al Franken the winner of that state’s disputed Senate race in the coming months, means that Democrats are all but certain to control a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the chamber for the first time in about 30 years.”

Alexander Bolton reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Specter’s move shocked and angered Republicans, while Democrats rejoiced and contemplated a Congress where Republicans could no longer block their agenda…[S]pecter said he will switch his registration to Democrat in May and could join Democrats for their weekly caucus lunch as soon as next Tuesday. He gives Democrats control of 59 seats, one short of the 60 needed to quash Republican filibusters. They will get 60 if comedian Al Franken is seated as a senator from Minnesota.”

In other climate change developments, Reuters writer Tom Doggett reported yesterday that, “The Obama administration’s plan to impose a cap-and-trade system to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would result in 1.9 million job losses and cost the average household $1,400 a year by 2020, according to a new study released on Tuesday.

“The analysis comes as Congress debates the cost on the U.S. economy of passing legislation that would implement a emissions-reduction plan similar to what the White House wants.

“‘All consumers and businesses would face steep increases in energy costs, leading to a spike in the cost of goods and services throughout the U.S. economy,’ said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

And with respect to more specifics on potential climate trade legislation, a news release issued yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans stated that, “U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Fred Upton, ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, today asked committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey, R-Mass., for the ‘specific and final language on emissions permit allocations.’

In response to a Republican request, Democrats have set Friday for a further hearing on the Waxman-Markey global warming legislation.

“‘It is our intention to use the opportunity you are providing for us this Friday to carefully examine the one element of the legislation that has so far escaped examination in 38 hearings stretching over 40 days – its cost – by calling witnesses who can professionally examine this element just as soon as we are able to provide them the specific and final language on emissions permit allocations that you plan on marking up in a business meeting,’ the lawmakers said.”

More specifically with respect to agriculture and climate change, an Oxford Analytica item posted yesterday at stated that, “Democratic Party control of the House of Representatives, Senate and White House means that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is likely–perhaps as early as this year. Agricultural producers and agribusinesses are concerned about the impact of new regulations on their industry, because it appears increasingly unlikely that it will be exempt from new rules. However, instead of resisting climate change reforms, many agricultural lobby groups have shifted their emphasis to a pro-active examination of how to position the sector to benefit from climate change legislation.

Climate change and farm policy. The farm sector’s new approach has been given a boost by Secretary of Agriculture (and former Iowa governor) Tom Vilsack, who has suggested that agriculture would be wise to agree to the tying of ‘direct payments’ (federal cash subsidies) to climate change mitigation efforts. At present, these direct payments lack any rationale other than maintaining income flows to producers of a handful of crops. Although the idea has not yet attracted much visible support from the agricultural community, the underlying message has been absorbed.”


An update posted yesterday at the DTN “Minding Ag’s Business” Blog, reported that, “The Farm Service Agency filled in some of the blanks on how it intends to administer the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program last week, but left room to elaborate on more details later.

“When it issued the telephone-book sized handbook to field offices on Thursday, FSA included hundreds pages of rules and examples. Key among them is how to handle proof for individual farms missing five years of actual yield records, which are used to establish individual farm revenue guarantees. This was one of the most troublesome areas for growers who have recently rented or purchased farms, or who use countywide insurance coverage like GRIP which doesn’t require bulletproof yield records.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “At FSA’s discretion, the handbook allows growers to submit crop insurance history which may include loss records or take actual yields from the APH database. Growers can also submit:

*Commercial receipts, settlement sheets, warehouse ledger sheets or load summaries of a crop sold through commercial channels.

* Truck scales or contemporaneous diaries, as is necessary to verify if the crop has been fed to livestock.

* Loan and LDP records.

“Where there is no production history, FSA will also allow yield plugs at 95 percent of the county average NASS yield.”

Keith Good

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