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Climate Legislation; Animal Agriculture; Food Editorial; Doha; and The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (Analysis)

Climate Legislation

Jim Tankersley reported in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “As the battle over healthcare unfolds, its attack ads, spin-doctoring and town hall rhetoric are being watched with special attention by the combatants in Washington’s next big fight — President Obama’s energy and climate plan.”

Yesterday’s article explained that, “Groups on both sides ‘are not just watching healthcare closely, but calibrating how we go about doing this based on what we see happening out there,’ said Matt Bennett, vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank engaged in both the healthcare and climate fights.

Supporters of the climate bill are particularly intent on avoiding what some see as the Obama administration’s biggest stumble in the healthcare debate: its failure to convince voters, particularly middle-class workers, that the legislation would tangibly improve their lives.”

Mr. Tankersley pointed out that, “Analysts say that the energy debate will probably not play out as a rerun of the healthcare fight. Medical care is among the most personal issues for Americans that Congress deals with; energy is one of the least.

As with the healthcare debate, though, the energy bill is so complicated that it’s hard to explain to voters and easy to demonize.

“Polls suggest that voters are less passionate about energy than healthcare. But that hasn’t stopped both opponents and supporters of the energy bill from mobilizing troops for public displays of fervor.”

ClimateWire writer Darren Samuelsohn reported on Friday at The New York Times Online that, “While a handful of Senate staffers spent the August recess sequestered on Capitol Hill writing a giant energy and climate bill, senators who will debate the legislation were speaking at town halls and in the media in efforts to strengthen support — or opposition — to the sweeping package.

Perhaps more than any other, South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson stands out for his message.”

The article pointed to an editorial written by Sen. Johnson earlier this month, where he indicated that, “Soon the Senate will consider climate change legislation that could finally help South Dakota to live up to its wind generating potential and capture the benefits of a cash crop that is just blowing across our landscape.”

Sen. Johnson added that, “This fall, the Senate is likely going to take a fresh look at a comprehensive energy bill focused on clean energy incentives. I am optimistic we can turn energy potential into reality and help create new job opportunities at home by producing more clean energy in the United States.”

Mr. Samuelsohn added in his article from Friday that, “Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Bloomberg Television on Aug. 10 that the U.N. climate conference was one driver for fall or winter action on the climate bill.

“‘The president has urged us to do this so that we’ll have credibility at Copenhagen,’ Durbin said. ‘And we can move forward on this important issue about clean energy and a clean environment. But I have to be honest with you. As a whip, I count the votes and I count the days in the week, and I look at this rule book in the Senate and think this is not an easy lift. I think we can still do it, but it’s a question of timing.’”

The article indicated that, “As for the lead Democratic authors of the climate bill, both Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and John Kerry (Mass.) have largely stayed out of the spotlight this month. Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has been in her home state promoting her new novel and getting ready for a 2010 re-election campaign that likely will feature a top-tier GOP candidate in Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

“Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been home in Boston recovering from hip surgery.”

And with respect to swing votes on climate legislation in the Senate, Mr. Samuelsohn stated that, “Senate Democrats must convince many of their own if they want a shot at passing the climate bill. That means persuading colleagues like Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad of North Dakota. All have said they would prefer taking up a package of energy issues — minus climate change — and moving those first on their own.”

“A top aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said his boss had no plans to vote for the Senate climate bill.”

And on the possibility of getting GOP support for climate legislation, Friday’s ClimateWire piece explained that, “Boxer and Kerry hope they can convince Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to sign up for the draft bill they plan to introduce around Sept. 8, the first week back from the summer break. Both have co-sponsored past cap-and-trade bills — but both also have been under pressure from Republican leaders to oppose large pieces of the Obama administration’s agenda.

“Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, also remains in play.”

David A. Fahrenthold reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Next month, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that would cap greenhouse-gas emissions. That fight began in blazing earnest last week, with a blitz of TV ads and public events in the Midwest and Mountain West.

“It seems that environmentalists are struggling in a fight they have spent years setting up. They are making slow progress adapting a movement built for other goals — building alarm over climate change, encouraging people to ‘green’ their lives — into a political hammer, pushing a complex proposal the last mile through a skeptical Senate.

Even now, these groups differ on whether to scare the public with predictions of heat waves or woo it with promises of green jobs. And they are facing an opposition with tycoon money and a gift for political stagecraft.”

More specifically with respect to agriculture and climate legislation, Cass Rains reported on Friday at the Enid News Online (Oklahoma) that, “U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas said Friday so-called ‘cap and trade’ legislation being debated in Congress will hurt American companies and farmers.”

The article stated that, “Lucas said the legislation was a ‘baseball bat’ being used to beat producers into using cleaner forms of energy and reducing pollution. He said instead, a ‘stick and carrot approach’ should be used to enact more environmentally sound changes.

“‘I’m a farmer by trade. Farmers and ranchers are the first environmentalists. I want the cleanest forms of energy possible,’ he said. ‘Cap and trade is a 12-ton baseball bat, and we need to be using 20 tons of carrots instead.’”

Meanwhile, The Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier recently focused on some agricultural aspects of potential cap and trade legislation in a brief segment- to view this report, just click here.

A news release issued on Friday by the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) indicated that, “NAWG President Karl Scronce wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack late last week requesting USDA to provide further analysis of the effects of pending climate change legislation, including a comparison of studies that have been published by other sources.”

In other news regarding analysis of climate legislation and agriculture, Dow Jones news reported on Friday (article posted at DTN, link requires subscription) that, “The Obama administration’s attempt to force the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. would make farming in the U.S. more expensive, but failure could be an even costlier proposition, according to a report released by Iowa State University’s Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

“Climate change legislation, set to be considered by the U.S. Senate in September, would cause energy prices to rise, reducing net farm income by about 1 percent over the next ten years, but the alternative of doing nothing would be much worse for farmers, said the Resource Center’s Don Hofstrand in the report.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday that, “Some agricultural opponents of climate change legislation argue the U.S. could lose significant crop acres to forestry, but others worry about cleaner energy demanding more cropland to grow biofuels and renewable electricity.

One of the key battles on climate legislation right now is just how much land shifting would occur. Groups with opposing policy agendas are making different claims about how climate policies will affect crop acres in the U.S.

“The Nature Conservancy released a report this week stating that climate policies will lead to more land being used for biofuels, wind energy, solar panels and other renewable resources. The Nature Conservancy expressed reservations about the impact of those developments on wildlife habitat, calling it ‘energy sprawl.’”

Mr. Clayton indicated that, “Professor Bruce McCarl, a climate-change expert at Texas A&M University, showed data earlier this week that modeled potential acreage shifts in the United States under climate legislation. McCarl forecasts 27.1 million acres would convert from cropland to forestry, but another 7.5 million acres would swing the other direction, converting from forestry to crops. McCarl’s model also shows 15.8 million acres switching from pasture to crops. Overall, it shows a net acreage loss of cropland of about 3.8 million acres in the U.S.”

From an international perspective, the AP reported on Friday that, “The U.N. chief is urging the world to ‘seal the deal’ on climate change ahead of a major conference on global warming in December.

“U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions underscores how the world’s nations must all take action. Ban says the outcome of the Copenhagen conference ‘will impact the planet for generations to come.’”

And James Kanter reported on Friday at the Green Inc. Blog (The New York Times) that, “There is widespread agreement among policymakers that cold, hard cash will be an essential element in persuading nations vulnerable to climate change to sign up to a global agreement in Copenhagen in December.

“Far less clear: how much cash is needed to do the job.

“European ministers have discussed sums up to about $140 billion to be paid each year by more affluent countries to developing countries. Meanwhile, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has estimated the annual global costs of adapting to climate change to be up to $170 billion each year.”

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In other environmental developments that could impact agricultural production, Philip Brasher reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “Nitrous oxide, a gas emitted by the application of nitrogen fertilizer to cornfields, already has been blamed for making the Earth hotter by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, government scientists have said nitrous oxide is the biggest threat to the Earth’s ozone layer.

“In an article in the journal Science, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said nitrous oxide surpassed chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, as the leading ozone-depleting compounds. CFCs once were widely used as refrigerants and propellants in spray cans but are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement. Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is not regulated under the deal.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “Most nitrous oxide enters the atmosphere naturally from such sources as estuaries and forests, but about one-third of emissions are human-generated, including nitrogen from fertilized cornfields.

“The scientists don’t offer any recommendations in the study, but they said it may be more desirable to reduce nitrous-oxide emissions when their ozone impact is added to their affect on global warming.”

National Public Radio also featured a report on this development on Friday’s Morning Edition program, noting in part that, “Scientists are surprised to discover that a gas produced mainly in agriculture is doing more to damage the Earth’s ozone layer than synthetic chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons.”

Animal Agriculture

Freddy Hunt reported on Friday at the Kalamazoo Gazette Online (Michigan) that, “Michigan agribusiness leaders are discussing compromises to pending state legislation dealing with standards for farm animals in an effort to avoid a ballot initiative from animal-rights advocates.

“Michigan swine and poultry industry leaders met with the Humane Society of the United States Thursday to discuss changes to Michigan House bills 5127 and 5128, which were introduced to the house last month.”

The article noted that, “The two bills, which would codify current farm animal industry standards, are being opposed by the animal-activist group because they fail to address animal-confinement issues.

“The ballot initiative being pursued by the Humane Society of the United states would be identical to one passed in California last year, providing caged animals with more space to stand up, lie down, turn around freely and fully extend their limbs.”

Mr. Hunt indicated that, “According to the proposed legislation, the state Department of Agriculture and the Commission of Agriculture would be in charge of enforcing and setting the animal-welfare standards at the recommendation of a 12-member animal care advisory council. Three of the seats would be filled by representatives from the food processing, restaurant and retail food industries.”

Anne Schroeder Mullins reported on Saturday at Poltico.com that, “Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is using his first congressional summer break for an ambitious goodwill tour of his home state. The 14-day road trip — so far — has taken Minnesota’s newest senator to 22 different towns, where he’s held ‘complicated’ town hall-style forums on health care reform, hit the local hog farms and set up a meet-and-greet booth at the Minnesota State Fair around the corner from the all-you-can-drink-milk display.”

The article stated that, “Among the folks Franken has met along the way is hog farmer Reuben Bode, who runs his ‘2,400-sow operation’ near New Ulm, Minn.

“Bode was surprised to receive a phone call from the state office saying that Franken wanted to visit his thousand-acre farm. Franken, a few aides, a state senator and state representative later arrived the farm and stayed for about 90 minutes.

“‘Al said he didn’t know that much about agriculture and wanted to see a hog operation …and that he wanted to understand the industry a little better,’ Bode recalled. ‘He asked a number of questions, and we tried to inform him as much as we could.’ Bode, who declined to say if he voted for Franken, was impressed and didn’t seem concerned that his senator admitted he didn’t know much about agriculture, a lynchpin of the local economy. ‘He really enjoyed learning about agriculture, and he seemed sincere about everything. …The things he didn’t know, he wasn’t afraid to ask,’ Bode said.”

Food Editorial

In an opinion item published in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Charlotte Allen indicated that, “Just in time for the worst economic downturn since the Depression, here comes a new crop of social critics to inform us that we’re actually spending too little for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on and the gasoline that runs our automobiles.”

After additional analysis, the opinion piece stated that, “The most zealous of the spend-more crowd, however, are the food intellectuals who salivated, as it were, at a steep rise in the cost of groceries earlier this year, including such basics as milk and eggs. Some people might worry about the effect on recession-hit families of a 17% increase in the price of milk, but not Alice Waters, the food-activist owner of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant, who shudders at the thought of sampling so much as a strawberry that hasn’t been nourished by organic compost and picked that morning at a nearby farm — and thinks everyone else in America should shudder too. ‘Make a sacrifice on the cellphone or the third pair of Nike shoes,’ Waters airily informed the New York Times in April.

“Echoing Waters was her fellow Berkeley food guru, Michael Pollan, professor of science journalism (a hot field for social critics, obviously) at UC Berkeley. Pollan (no relation to Robert Pollin) is the author of the best-selling ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and coiner of the mantra ‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants’ that is on the lips of every foodie from Bainbridge Island to Martha’s Vineyard. Pollan too rejoiced at the idea of skyrocketing prices for groceries, hoping they might ‘level the playing field for sustainable food that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.’”

The piece added that, “Pollan also hoped that rising prices might constitute another weapon in his ongoing war against his agribusiness villain of choice: corn. Corn is a plant, of course, and thus should theoretically rank high on Pollan’s list of permissible edibles. But it is also the basis of such dubious items as snack chips, Coca-Cola (high-fructose corn syrup, godfather of obesity) and suspiciously plentiful beef (corn-fed).

“Pollan is a ‘locavore,’ one of those people who believe that in order to be truly ethical, you should eat only foods grown or killed within your line of sight (for me, that would be my neighbor’s cat). He once described a meal he made consisting of a wild boar shot by him in the hills near his Bay Area home and laboriously turned into pate, plus bread leavened by yeast spores foraged from his backyard.

“Lately, Pollan has set his sights on Häagen-Dazs ice cream, not because it contains corn syrup (it doesn’t) but because it’s a commercially made product, and if there’s one thing Pollan hates, it’s commerce. His latest pronunciamento: ‘Don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised.’”

Doha

Reuters writer Jonathan Lynn reported yesterday that, “Trade ministers will meet in New Delhi this week to inject new impetus into the faltering Doha round trade talks in the run-up to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

“The aim, according to host India, is to ‘re-energize’ the Doha talks, now in their eighth year, and set a timetable for completion, rather than engaging in substantive negotiations.”

Mr. Lynn explained that, “India’s new trade minister, Anand Sharma, a former diplomat, has stressed his determination to get trade partners around the negotiating table to secure an agreement, in contrast with the common Western perception of India as the spoiler in the talks.

But top Indian trade official Rahul Khullar told reporters last week that India would not compromise on food and livelihood security for the poor — reinforcing a stance of defending the subcontinent’s millions of subsistence farmers at all costs.”

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (Analysis)

Roger Waite, the editor of AGRA FACTS, the Brussels-based newsletter on EU agriculture policy, has provided an update and analysis regarding the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy entitled, “New Protagonists for CAP Reform Taking the Stage.”

This updated analysis has been posted exclusively at FarmPolicy.com and is available here.

Keith Good