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H1N1 Flu Issues; Climate Change, EPA and Production Agriculture; and USDA- First 100 Days

H1N1 Flu Issues

Jared Allen reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Farm-state lawmakers added their voices to those looking to protect the pork industry from bad press about the swine flu.

“And the first offensive they launched was against their own colleagues.

On Wednesday morning the House Agriculture Committee majority staff sent an e-mail out to all Democratic press secretaries asking them to stop referring to the Mexican-born flu as the ‘swine flu’ and imploring them to stop using pig graphics on their webpages.”

The Hill article added that, “‘If I could make a request, please avoid using a pig in any graphics for the current flu outbreak that you are creating for your website and other media,’ House Agriculture Committee communications director April Demert Slayton wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by The Hill.

“‘As President Obama and other Administration officials have explained, the current flu outbreak is most properly called ‘H1N1 flu.’ The moniker ‘swine flu’ suggests that people are getting sick through consumption of pork products, which is not correct,’ Slayton continued. ‘If you could please try to refrain from using ‘swine flu’ to refer to the outbreak (and please no pig graphics), this would be extremely helpful as the U.S. tries to maintain international trade and consumer confidence in our nation’s swine industry.’”

The article indicated that, “‘It shouldn’t be called the ‘swine flu,’ Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said, blaming the media for running with a story before it had the necessary facts. ‘But I don’t think it’ll do much good now. It’s too late.’

“Despite the insistence of the Department of Agriculture and farm-state lawmakers on changing the flu’s name in an effort to undo the damage and prevent any more from being piled on, many were not playing along.

“The websites of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, among other major news organizations, were still calling it the swine flu in their reports that the World Health Organization on Wednesday had raised the flu’s pandemic threat level to the second-highest degree.”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “No cases of the flu in hogs have been reported in this nation, nor in Mexico, one of the government’s top veterinarians told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“‘To their knowledge thus far, they have no pigs with this virus,’ said John Clifford, deputy administrator for veterinary services at the Agriculture Department.

He told a Senate appropriations subcommittee that the flu’s name was causing ‘undue alarm’ among countries that import U.S. pork.”

Regarding this point, Javier Blas reported yesterday at the Financial Times Online that, “Pork commodities prices fell for a third successive day on Wednesday, extending their drop to almost 10 per cent since the outbreak of swine flu as traders anticipated lower meat demand and countries banned imports of US pork.”

The FT article added that, “In spite of its name, swine flu is not transmitted by eating pig meat but several countries, including South Korea on Wednesday, have banned imports of US live pigs.

Egypt on Wednesday ordered the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of pigs as a precautionary measure as swine flu neared its border,” the article said.

And Curt Thacker reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Declining hog prices amid the swine-flu outbreak could spawn losses of more than a quarter of a billion dollars and be the last straw for some U.S. pork producers.

“Cash hog prices have fallen $3 to $5 per hundredweight this week. Nearby May lean-hog futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange have fallen about 8.55 cents since Friday, a 12% drop, on fears that consumers will shun pork, even though the disease hasn’t been found in pigs. On Wednesday, May lean hogs settled at 60.45 cents a pound, down 2.85 cents, or 4.5%.”

Today’s Journal article explained that, “For some of the nation’s hog producers, the market disruption and price damage could be too much to overcome, analysts and livestock buyers said.

“Chris Hurt, agricultural economist at Purdue University, estimated that from 25% to 33% of the nation’s hog producers may be forced to reconsider their positions in the industry. He also said the effects of such events on the market can linger for several weeks or longer.

Based on market conditions in the first few days since the virus was identified, the U.S. pork industry may face losses of about $270 million in income during the second quarter, said Ron Plain, agricultural economist at the University of Missouri.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed the H1N1 flu issue and hog prices yesterday in a Bloomberg video and news segment, entitled, “Vilsack Says Hog Prices Will Rebound as Flu Understood.”

To listen to a brief audio clip from Sec. Vilsack from this Bloomberg interview, just click here (MP3, 30 seconds).

Meanwhile, Bloomberg news reported yesterday that, “Corn and soybeans rose the most this month on speculation that the swine-flu outbreak will be less disruptive to demand for food, animal feed and fuel made from the biggest U.S. crops than initially expected.”

Yesterday’s article indicated that, “Corn futures for July delivery rose 17.75 cents, or 4.6 percent, to $4.0125 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, [while] soybean futures for July delivery rose 42 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $10.25 a bushel in Chicago. The price fell 4.9 percent in the previous two days on speculation that swine flu would cut demand…[T]oday’s gains for both soybeans and corn were the biggest since March 31.”

And Ana Campoy and Lauren Etter reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Mexico’s top government epidemiologist said Wednesday that it is ‘highly improbable’ that a farm in the Mexican state of Veracruz operated by Smithfield Foods Inc. is responsible for the nation’s swine-flu outbreak.

Miguel Ángel Lezana, the government’s chief epidemiologist, said in an interview that pigs at the farm are from North America, while the genetic material in the virus is from Europe and Asia.”

The Journal article noted that, “Smithfield’s Mr. Pope [C. Larry Pope, president and chief executive of Smithfield] says he thinks the events in Mexico have become ‘politicized,’ and that that ‘we know of no pigs that are sick, no people on those farms that are sick and no people in our plants’ who are sick.”

Climate Change, EPA and Production Agriculture

Yesterday, the House Small Business Committee held a hearing entitled, “Climate Change Solutions for Small Businesses and Family Farmers.”

A list of witnesses who testified at yesterday’s hearing, along with their opening statements, can be found here; while the opening statement from Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, the Chair of the Committee, can be found here. In addition, highlighted clips from yesterday’s hearing can be viewed here.

A National Farmers Union (NFU) news release from yesterday regarding the climate change hearing stated that, “In testimony before the House Committee on Small Business today National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said farmers and ranchers have a significant role to play in addressing the energy and environmental challenges facing our nation.

“‘NFU believes the flexibility of a cap and trade program holds the most promise in making actual greenhouse gas emissions reductions while mitigating the overall energy cost increases that would result from such a program,’ Johnson said.

“NFU policy supports a national, mandatory carbon emission cap and trade system, with an optional agricultural offset program, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. ‘The income potential from an agriculture offset program is a real opportunity for our farmers and ranchers who will be faced with increased input costs,’ Johnson said.”

The NFU news item added that, “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a proposed endangerment finding which reported greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to public health. Johnson said NFU believes a purely regulatory approach will increase energy input costs without the benefits of carbon offset opportunities and urged a comprehensive legislative approach be taken when addressing climate change.”

A National Corn Growers news release from yesterday stated that, “National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Past President and Climate Change Task Force member Fred Yoder testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Small Business today about climate change legislation, stressing how agriculture can play a positive role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“‘Greenhouse gas reductions from livestock and agricultural conservation practices are the easiest and most readily available means of reducing greenhouse gas on a large scale,’ Yoder said. ‘The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agricultural and forestry lands can sequester at least 20 percent of all annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.’”

In other news on the climate change issue, a news release issued yesterday by the House Agriculture Committee Republicans stated that, “Today, Ranking Member Frank Lucas issued the following statement to members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting at their annual Washington Watch event.

“The Obama administration, Nancy Pelosi, and the Democratic majority have made it clear they plan to pass climate change legislation this year. The Waxman/Markey proposal is the front runner to be considered by the House and a major component of this legislation is cap and trade.”

Yesterday’s release added that, “Agriculture is a bull’s-eye industry for cap and trade because it is an energy-intensive industry. Whether it’s the fuel in the tractor, the fertilizer for the crops, or the delivery of food to the grocery store, agriculture uses a great deal of energy throughout production.”

The release went on to quote Rep. Lucas, as saying, “My good friend Chairman Collin Peterson has indicated that he will possibly produce legislation related to agriculture and cap and trade. And, because I know that he will have the best interests of our farmers and ranchers in mind as he moves forward, I have told him that I am happy to play a role in that process. But, I have very grave concerns about where those outside our committee are taking this process and the impact cap and trade could have on our farmers and ranchers. I am very skeptical that agriculture could ever be a net-winner under cap and trade. And I think that it is imperative that we go through regular order, conduct hearings, and study this issue and its implications for production agriculture carefully.

In its first 100 days, the Obama administration has proven to be the most unfriendly administration to farmers and ranchers in recent history. There have been more efforts to undermine the 2008 Farm Bill, than to fully implement it starting with efforts to eliminate direct payments and to force all farmers to release their tax returns before receiving support payments.

“Now, the EPA is issuing endangerment findings formally declaring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as methane, as a pollutant. This paves the way for the EPA to regulate anything and everything that emits carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases including livestock. The very real possibility of this administration proposing a ‘cow tax’ is why I proposed legislation to protect our livestock producers. With this in mind, I have great concerns leaving the details of a national cap and trade program to this administration. It is clear the Obama administration is no friend to agriculture,” Rep. Lucas said.

Along these same lines, a news release issued yesterday by Representative Adrian Smith (R-Nebraska) stated that, “Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE) today, in a letter to House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), requested a House Agriculture Committee hearing on environmental burdens on Rural America, including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases under the Clean Air Act.

“Recently, the EPA formally declared carbon dioxide, methane and four other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants, a move which could have a devastating impact on agriculture producers.

“‘This shift in policy could result in a direct compliance tax on producers, which is disappointing for those like me who support finding viable economic and environmental solutions without burdening our nation’s already struggling producers.

“‘Our diverse communities need a common sense approach to agriculture, energy, and other rural industries. Over the past decade, improved agricultural practices such as no-till cropping, targeted chemical applications through global positioning satellite technology, and methane digesters have reduced emissions from the agricultural sector. Federal policy should reward – not punish – our producers who are responsible stewards of the land,’ Smith, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, stated in the letter.”

Moreover, in an interview on Tuesday’s AgriTalk Radio program with Mike Adams, former Secretary of Agriculture and current Senator from Nebraska, Mike Johanns (R) expressed significant concern regarding recent executive branch activities that will likely have a negative impact on production agriculture.

Senator Johanns stated that, “Production agriculture, in my judgment, is under attack from a number of different fronts…[I] just think it is a very, very challenging time and you need an administration…that stands up for production agriculture and quite honestly these days I am seeing them side with other elements that would be very, very difficult for agriculture.”

To listen to an extended audio excerpt with Senator Johanns and Mike Adams from Tuesday’s AgriTalk Program, just click here (MP3-6:30); and to listen to Tuesday’s entire AgriTalk Program, just click here.

Similarly, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R) expressed concern regarding executive branch activities and agriculture in a Tuesday tele-conference with reporters. Sen. Grassley indicated that, “On Wednesday, I’m meeting with Carol Sutley, chairman of the Council of Environment Equality. As you can guess, I’ve got plenty of topics to talk to her about.

The Obama administration has a lot of farmers worried just exactly how they’re going to handle agricultural issues through EPA. So I’ll be asking her about how they plan to implement the permits after EPA decided not to appeal the court decision in which exempted pesticides from the Clean Water Act would work.

“Also, I’ll ask about the advance notice proposed rule making on agriculture greenhouse gases and whether this could translate into some type of fee on livestock producers down the road like what you’ve been hearing $178 on the methane that cows emit. Then I’m going to be talk about fugitive dust as well.”

To listen to a clip from Sen. Grassley from Tuesday’s tele-news conference, just click here (MP3, 0:30).

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With respect to the budget and climate change, Lori Montgomery reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The Democratically controlled Congress yesterday easily approved a $3.4 trillion spending plan, setting the stage for President Obama to pursue the first major overhaul of the nation’s health-care system in a generation along with other far-reaching domestic initiatives.

“Despite a persistent recession and soaring budget deficits, Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed the president’s request for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending over the next decade for college loans, early childhood education programs, veterans’ benefits and investments in renewable energy aimed at reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

The Post article added that, “Approval of the budget blueprint marked a huge victory for Obama on his 100th day in office, but it was not a slam-dunk for him. Lawmakers trimmed his tax-cutting plans, refusing to extend his signature tax credit for working families past 2010 unless it is paid for. They sliced $10 billion from his spending request for non-defense programs in the fiscal year that begins in October and jettisoned his suggestion that another $250 billion would be needed to stabilize the banking system. They also refused to authorize the use of reconciliation for his plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, a news release issued yesterday by Sen. Johanns stated that, “Senator Mike Johanns today spoke on the Senate floor to discuss the possibility of budget reconciliation being used to slip sweeping climate change legislation into law, which the Senate has twice rejected with a strong bipartisan majority vote. After stripping Senator Johanns’ amendment from the final report, Senate Budget conferees produced a final budget resolution, to be voted on in the House and Senate today.

“‘I am disappointed by this blatant disregard of the clear will of the U.S. Senate, which has twice expressed its desire for full and robust debate on this complex legislation,’ Johanns said. ‘We made it clear that climate change legislation, which will have such significant economic impact on America, deserves thorough and thoughtful consideration. Congress is now one step closer to putting partisan strategizing above the will of the Senate and the interests of the American people.’”

In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Johanns stated that, “The Budget Committee leadership did include report language about climate change, but it has little or no meaning. The sentence in the conference report states, ‘It is assumed that reconciliation will not be used for changes in legislation related to global climate change.’ Unfortunately, this statement is not worth the paper it is written on. This assumption is made by people who don’t even control the process.

Frankly, the Budget Committee can assume whatever it wants, but the truth is the majority leadership can roll them at any time. And then what will be our recourse? There is none. This Budget Committee assumption has no teeth at all…It is simply a nice platitude to lull us to sleep. Surely you understand my skepticism.”

USDA, First 100 Days

A news release issued yesterday by USDA stated that, “On the 100th day of the Obama administration, USDA reflected on the new course it has set to promote a sustainable, safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply, to ensure that America leads the global fight against climate change, and to revitalize rural communities by expanding economic opportunities. Today, USDA released a progress report on its actions during the first 100 days and also launched a new web tool to allow Americans to learn where and how USDA is spending funds provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.”

Keith Good