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Farm Bill; Trade; Competition; and Climate Change

Farm Bill: Hearings

The House Agriculture Committee continues to review U.S. farm policy in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill at a field hearing this morning in North Carolina.

The Committee has been exploring issues regarding the next Farm Bill in a series of hearings that have taken place since late April.

Most recently, on Thursday, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management heard from a number of commodity organizations regarding perspectives on U.S. farm safety net programs, an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of this hearing is available here.

Recall that the Senate Agriculture Committee will also hold the first of four hearings regarding Farm Bill reauthorization on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Farm Bill: Dairy

With respect to dairy policy proposals and the next Farm Bill, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) released an “Analysis of NMPF’s Foundation for the Future Program” on Friday.

According to the FAPRI webpage, “There are four major policy changes considered in this analysis: 1) Elimination of the Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPSP), 2) Elimination of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, 3) Introduction of the Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program (DPMPP) and 4) Introduction of the Dairy Market Stabilization Program (DMSP).”

Farm Bill: Nutrition Issues

Melissa Healy reported today at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “The U.S. government has just served up a heaping mouthful to people who eat — the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.

“It not only squarely addresses the undeniable — that two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese and that our children are on a similar trajectory — it also recasts some advice we have heard before: urging Americans, for instance, to shift their diets away from meat and animal protein and fats — foods such as red meat, cheese and butter — toward a more ‘plant-based diet,’ a term that includes not just fresh fruits and vegetables but also foods such as nuts and lentils and olive or canola oil.

“Then the report goes further. It recommends that we slash our salt intake by almost a third. It makes clear that people put their health at risk when they, on a weekly basis, do less than 21/2 hours of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise. And it discusses at length the social and economic forces at work that have made good diets and adequate exercise easy for Americans to achieve.”

The article noted that, “The report — 677 pages long and two years in the drafting — is the first step in the federal government’s effort to (again) shape what, and how, Americans should eat to optimize their well-being. It has embarked on this effort every five years since 1980.”

“Released June 15, the report (available online at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov) will be open for public comment until July 15. It’s a joint product of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

The Los Angeles Times editorial board noted on Saturday that, “Avoid excessive fat, sugar and salt. Boil and bake, rather than frying foods. Eat the good carbohydrates, such as beans and whole grains. Maintain your ideal weight. That’s the advice the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued in 1980, in their first Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And it’s not much different from the 2010 guidelines offered for public comment this month. In between the two reports, however, most Americans have grown overweight or obese on fats and sugar, while lacking key nutrients such as calcium and potassium. We’ve consumed too much salt, and suffered higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases that are aggravated by our poor diets. In short, we have been told what to do for 30 years and have done the opposite.”

“The new guidelines recommend that government, business and food experts develop strategies for persuading Americans to eat more moderate portions, exercise and improve their cooking skills, which may encourage them to eat more healthful foods at home. That’s the right prescription, but it still doesn’t address where they’re supposed to find the time. Until that gets figured out, Americans are likely to ignore the USDA’s advice once again,” the LA Times said.

And a USDA news release from Saturday stated that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook. The handbook provides the managers of farmers markets with a step-by-step guide to installing Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) machines and accepting SNAP benefits. Agriculture Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Edward M. Avalos made the national announcement at the Asheville City Market.

“‘It is important for people throughout the country to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and by promoting SNAP EBT’s at farmers markets, we are accomplishing that goal while providing more economic opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers,’ said Avalos. ‘This new handbook provides critical information to farmers market managers and spurs economic opportunities for local producers and I encourage more markets to take advantage of using EBT machines.’”

In related news, the AP reported today that, “At Wisconsin farmers markets, vendors no longer need licenses to sell pickles, jams and other canned foods, while small farmers in Maine can sell slaughtered chickens without worrying about inspections.

Federal and state laws require that most food sold to the public be made in licensed facilities open to government inspectors. But as more people become interested in buying local food, a few states have created exemptions for amateur chefs who sell homemade goods at farmers markets and on small farms.

“The exemptions have touched off a debate about how to balance the need for food safety with a dose of regulatory common sense. Supporters say they recognize food safety regulations designed for big commercial food handlers can be a burden for small-time cooks who just want to make a few extra bucks selling canned goods or other specialty products. Opponents say that without regulation, the public is at risk for food-borne illnesses.”

Trade

Sewell Chan and Jackie Calmes reported on Saturday at The New York Times Online that, “The Obama administration announced Saturday that it would ask Congress to ratify a long-stalled free-trade agreement with South Korea after the midterm elections in November.

“The decision, which risks angering labor unions and their Congressional supporters, was announced as the Group of 20 economies began a two-day summit meeting here [Toronto], following a smaller meeting by the Group of 8 powers.

“After the meeting with the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, Mr. Obama’s aides said they would try to resolve lingering issues by the time of the next G-20 leaders’ talks, to be held in Seoul, South Korea, in November, and present the deal to Congress shortly after the November elections.”

The article noted that, “Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he would support ratification as long as ‘the unscientific barriers Korea has erected against American beef’ were removed.”

The Washington Post editorial board opined today that, “What lingering opposition there is focuses on the agreement’s alleged failure to open the Korean market sufficiently to U.S. autos and beef. On autos, the objections reflect the concerns of the United Auto Workers and U.S. automakers — except for General Motors. The fact is, however, that the agreement offers U.S. carmakers far better access to the Korean market than they have known and allows the United States to reinstate tariffs on South Korean vehicles if Seoul creates new nontariff barriers on American vehicles. The beef issue is complicated, reflecting the South’s exaggerated response to a 2003 outbreak of mad-cow disease in the United States. But Korean concerns over the issue have calmed recently and — after the North Korean attack — Korean appreciation for good relations with the United States has grown. That should make it possible for U.S. and Korean negotiators to paper over their remaining differences in this regard.

“To be sure, congressional opponents of the deal remain wary and determined. But Mr. Obama’s wise decision vastly increases the chances for success. If he devotes even a fraction of the energy to passing this agreement that he dedicated to health care and financial regulation, it should win a large, bipartisan majority.”

A news release issued on Friday by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) indicated that, “Congressman Jerry Moran continued to make the case this week for passage of three pending trade agreements to open new markets for Kansas wheat farmers, who are facing increasing domestic supplies and falling local cash prices, as harvest progresses across the state. Moran made his support clearly known during debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, discussion within a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing, and in a bipartisan letter sent to President Obama. The pending trade agreements include the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, United States-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement, and the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

“‘New market access is critical for Kansas wheat farmers who are encountering growing wheat supplies and declining prices. Unable to move wheat on the world market, grain elevators are dropping the cash price paid to local farmers. If these trade agreements were approved, duties on U.S. wheat in these three countries would immediately be eliminated, creating new opportunities for wheat exports,’ said Moran.”

A news release on Friday from Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Nebraska) stated that, “Congressman Adrian Smith today welcomed the announcement Russia has reached an agreement with the United States to lift its ban on American poultry product exports, which has been in place since January 1, 2010.”

“‘This is great news for Nebraska’s poultry producers as well as poultry exporters nationwide. Russia represents a valuable market, and when this ban is lifted we will immediately see the economic benefits. America’s ag products are the safest in the world, and I am glad to see Russia will allow our poultry products once again,’ Smith said.”

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., announced Friday that on Wednesday his committee will formally consider a bill that would lift the ban on American travel to Cuba and ease the export of U.S. agricultural products to the island nation.

The scheduling of the markup session indicates Peterson feels confident he has the votes to pass the bill out of committee. Peterson and Reps. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., are the main sponsors of the Cuba legislation. The bill has 62 co-sponsors, but supporters had said Peterson was having trouble getting a majority of his committee to vote for it. Some members had accepted campaign donations that oppose the bill on the grounds that it would aid Fidel Castro’s government.”

In other trade developments, Reuters writer David Ljunggren reported on Saturday that, “World leaders dropped a commitment on Saturday to complete the troubled Doha trade round this year and vowed to push forward on bilateral and regional trade talks until a global deal could be done.

“Leaders from the Group of Eight rich nations, meeting north of Toronto, renewed a pledge to finish the World Trade Organization’s Doha round, which was launched nearly nine years ago, but they included no target date for completion.”

Reuters writer Jonathan Lynn reported yesterday that, “China has dismissed U.S. comments that Beijing is blocking a new trade agreement, saying that it was the United States that was stalling progress in the World Trade Organization’s long-running Doha round.

“The angry comments, by China’s ambassador to the WTO, indicate how difficult it now is to bridge the gaps in the Doha talks, launched in late 2001, because of differences between the United States and big emerging economies, foremost China.”

And Reuters writers Brian Love and Caren Bohan reported yesterday that, “President Barack Obama on Sunday called for significant changes to the long-delayed Doha round of world trade talks, telling Group of 20 leaders that offers on the table were inadequate.

“Obama, who spoke at a lunch with G20 leaders, emphasized that he remained committed to the World Trade Organization’s Doha round and was not trying to start it from scratch, according to sources who heard the remarks.

“The United States and China, at diplomat level, have traded barbs over the Doha stalemate in recent days.”

Competition

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Following questions about just who sets the price for dairy producers, federal officials said Friday they plan to take a closer look at the contracts traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for products such as cheese.

“Dairy producers and industry officials packed an auditorium on the University of Wisconsin campus Friday as Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Department of Justice Antitrust Chief Christine Varney held their third workshop on competition in agriculture. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who attended the first two meetings, was absent at this meeting focused on the dairy industry because of the funeral of a close friend.

“As with earlier workshops, there was testimony about processors and retailers becoming too large, but the dairy meeting held additional significance because of a global price collapse in 2008 that wreaked havoc on producers. The dairy industry also has a large cooperative presence, which prompted worries among the cooperatives that they were being targeted by federal officials.”

The DTN article noted that, “But as Friday morning’s discussion progressed, officials raised more concerns over just how the national milk price is set and the actual trade of cheese contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

“Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., started the criticism of the CME, saying the CFTC has reported that the volume of cheese traded on the CME generally represents less than 1 percent of all cheese produced in the U.S., but effectively sets the price for almost all milk and cheese in the country.

“‘This is a situation where the tail, controlled by a few traders in Chicago, can wag the dog of the market for milk across the country,’ Kohl said. ‘At a time when Americans’ trust in financial markets is so low, relying on a market that can be easily manipulated should worry all of us.’”

Rick Barrett reported on Friday at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online that, “In the past 10 years, the number of U.S. dairy farms has fallen from 111,000 to fewer than 65,000, [Ag. Sec. Tom] Vilsack said.

“Some of that has come from farm consolidations and voluntary retirements. But much of the loss has come from farmers who have been forced out of business, especially in the past two years.

‘I have a growing concern about rural America’ and the nation’s food supply, Vilsack said.”

And the AP reported on Friday that, “Someone between the farmer and the consumer is making money, but given the complexity of the milk market it’s difficult to target a specific culprit, said U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. [related news release].

“Much of the focus has fallen on large co-ops and milk processors that have taken a larger portion of the market share in recent decades.”

In other news, Reuters writer Carey Gillam reported on Friday that, “West Virginia officials have notified global seed giant Monsanto Co. that they are probing whether or not the company engaged in unfair or deceptive practices in marketing its new genetically altered soybean seeds.

“The West Virginia Office of the Attorney General said in a letter to Monsanto dated June 24 that it wants to meet with officials from the St. Louis-based company to discuss investigators’ concerns that Monsanto has violated consumer protection laws.”

Climate Change

Michael O’Brien reported on Friday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “President Barack Obama will meet with a bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday on energy and climate change legislation.

“Obama rescheduled the meeting that had been set for last Wednesday at the White House but had to be canceled in the wake of the controversy sparked by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.”

Lisa Mascaro and Richard Simon reported yesterday at the LA Times Online that, “With the gulf oil spill creating political opportunity, Senate Democrats will begin crafting a sweeping energy bill this week that could include a first-ever, though more modest, cap on global-warming pollution, believing they must act now despite differences within their ranks and political jitters in an election year.

“Instead of regulating all sources of greenhouse gas emissions as originally proposed, lawmakers are considering placing a carbon cap initially only on utility companies. That idea was once dismissed by environmentalists as too incremental, but now is seen by some as better than no cap at all.”

The article explained that, “A group of senators is expected to meet this week to begin crafting legislation that could come to the floor in mid-July.”

The bill is likely to be a broad collection of provisions, including some in response to the gulf spill that would increase the liability caps on oil companies and impose tougher environmental and safety rules on offshore drilling.

“The legislation is also expected to include new requirements that utilities generate more electricity from wind, solar or other renewable sources, as well as stricter efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.

“Key will be whether the bill includes a cap on carbon emissions — a long-sought Democratic goal.”

Jordan Fabian reported on Friday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that he won’t negotiate an energy bill between now and November because the politics of the oil spill does not ‘favor what [he] wants.’”

The South Carolina senator candidly said the ongoing Gulf oil spill precludes him from rejoining any such negotiation for months.”

Meanwhile, a USDA Daily Radio Newsline item from Friday indicated that, “While lawmakers continue to debate a possible carbon trading system, others are working on a so called ‘environmental’ trading or market system.” To listen to this one-minute audio report, just click here.

Keith Good