FarmPolicy

October 21, 2014

Nutrition; Know Your Farmer; Biofuels; Trade; and Appropriations

Nutrition

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “House, Senate and White House officials are working together to find offsets to reauthorize child nutrition programs before they expire on Sept. 30, according to an aide to House Democratic leaders.

“The House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill Thursday but significant hurdles remain if Congress is to meet the deadline for reauthorizing the programs.

“‘The leadership supports this bill going forward; we are working with the White House and the Senate to find a way to pay for it,’ the aide stated an email after the House Education and Labor Committee approved the measure by a wide bipartisan vote of 32 to 13. First lady Michelle Obama praised the committee for its passage of the measure and said President Obama looks forward to signing the bill this year. The first lady’s statement following passage of a bill out of committee reflects both the importance placed on the bill by the administration.”

The DTN article explained that, “Child-nutrition programs run through USDA’s budget, so as a bill moves ahead there will be more pressure to look for offsets in different areas of USDA programs, which could affect farmers.

“The child nutrition programs, which include school meals, the special nutrition program for low-income women, infants and children known as WIC, and other smaller institutional feeding programs, are popular. First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign has created momentum for improving school meals. The major provisions in the Education-and-Labor-approved bill and a bill approved earlier this year by the Senate Agriculture Committee, including a 6 cent increase in the reimbursement to schools for meals, are similar. But the Senate bill would increase spending by only $4.5 billion over 10 years and the Senate offsets come from a food-stamp education program and a cut in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a conservation program run by USDA. The House bill would increase the cost of the programs by $8 billion over 10 years, but does not say where House leaders expect to find the money.

“President Obama had proposed a $10 billion increase over 10 years for child nutrition, but Congress has declined to provide that much.”

In other nutrition related issues, Steven Malanga indicated in an opinion item published in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services revised their dietary guidelines for Americans, which are intended to set the direction for federal nutrition education programs. The next set of guidelines, published later this year, could prove more controversial than usual, because increasing scientific evidence suggests that some current federal recommendations have simply been wrong. Will a public health establishment that has been slow to admit its mistakes over the years acknowledge the new research and shift direction? Or will it stubbornly stick to its obsolete guidelines?

The crux of the controversy is the quantity of fat and carbohydrates that we consume and how that influences our cardiac health. As a recent review of the latest research in Scientific American magazine noted, ever since the first set of federal guidelines appeared in 1980, Americans have been told to reduce their intake of saturated fat by cutting back on meat and dairy products and replacing them with carbohydrates. Americans have dutifully complied, and the rate of obesity has increased sharply. Meanwhile, the progress that the country has made against heart disease has largely come from medical breakthroughs such as statin drugs, which lower cholesterol, and more effective medications to control blood pressure.”

The item stated that, “Now researchers have started asking hard questions about fat consumption and heart disease, and the answers are startling. In an analysis of the daily food intake of about 350,000 people published in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at the Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland found no link between the amount of saturated fat that a person consumed and the risk of heart disease. One reason, the researchers speculate, is that saturated fat raises levels of so-called good, or HDL, cholesterol, which may offset an accompanying rise in general cholesterol.

A study out of Harvard this spring analyzed data from 20 studies around the world, concluding that those who eat four ounces of fresh (not processed) red meat every day face no increased risk of heart disease.

“According to Scientific American, growing research into carbohydrate-based diets has demonstrated that the medical establishment may have harmed Americans by steering them toward carbs. Research by Meir Stampfer, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, concludes that diets rich in carbohydrates that are quickly digestible — like potatoes, white rice and white bread — increase the risk of diabetes and make people far more likely to contract cardiovascular disease than those who eat moderate amounts of meat and fewer carbs. Though federal guidelines now emphasize eating fiber-rich carbohydrates, which take longer to digest, the incessant message over the last 30 years to substitute carbs for meat may have done significant damage.”

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

A news release from Friday by the National Farmers Union noted that, “National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson issued the following statement, praising the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative:

“‘NFU applauds the efforts Deputy Secretary Merrigan and everyone at USDA have put forth to educate the public on the through the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative. Everyone involved in agriculture has an obligation to educate the public on the hard work that is done each day to produce and distribute safe, healthy and reliable food supply.

“‘USDA and NFU staff met to join forces in the promotion of this valuable project. Many myths have surrounded the program, and we are working together to bring to light accurate information. Contrary to what opponents may have said, this initiative is inclusive of all agriculture, from organic to traditional and small to large producers of all agricultural products and services.’”

Biofuels

The AP reported on Friday that, “The once-popular ethanol industry is scrambling to hold onto billions of dollars in government subsidies, fighting an increasing public skepticism of the corn-based fuel and wariness from lawmakers who may divert the money to other priorities.

“The industry itself can’t agree on how to persuade Congress to keep the subsidies, which now come in the form of tax credits worth about $6 billion annually.

“One industry group, Growth Energy, made the bold move Thursday of calling for the tax credits to be phased out completely in favor of spending the money on more flex-fuel cars and gasoline pumps that support ethanol. A rival group, the Renewable Fuels Association, said it’s too late in the year to make such proposals — the tax credits expire at the end of the year, and legislative days are numbered.”

The AP article noted that, “As the industry bickers over what to do, Congress is signaling it’s growing tired of paying for ethanol. The House Ways and Means Committee is considering slashing the tax credit by 9 cents a gallon, from 45 cents to 36 cents, when it looks at a wide range of energy tax credits as early as next week. That would be the second cut in the credit in as many years.

“A key senator also expressed skepticism this week. Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a longtime supporter of renewable fuels, said Congress should ‘weigh all factors, including the credit’s very high cost to taxpayers,’ when looking to extend the credit. Bingaman noted that the ethanol industry is protected by congressional mandates for its use.”

However, the article stated that, “The tax credits still have strong supporters on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday that the administration remains committed to tax incentives supporting biofuels like ethanol. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., a member of the Ways and Means Committee, is leading the fight in the House to keep the tax credits.

Pomeroy says that the 9-cent cut is a good starting point and that he feels optimistic after discussing the issue with fellow committee members and members of the ethanol industry this week.

He acknowledges that the legislative environment is challenging and says that a simple extension of the credit makes the most sense in the House. ‘Late in the legislative session, simpler is easier,’ he said.”

Ed Tibbetts reported on Friday at the Quad-City Times Online (Iowa) that, “U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, said Friday he is open to changes in the existing ethanol tax credit but only if the money goes to projects that would increase demand for the renewable fuel.

“There is debate in Congress, and even in the ethanol industry, about the future of the tax incentive that has helped grow the corn-based fuel industry. And by the end of the year, Congress must make a decision because the credit expires.”

And Philip Brasher reported on Friday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Meatpackers and livestock producers, meanwhile, aren’t missing an opportunity to weigh in on the [ethanol] issue. They’ve been pushing for a long time to end the subsidy, figuring it promotes the conversion of corn into ethanol, and they’ve sent a letter to Senate leadership urging an end to both the tax credit and the tariff on imported ethanol. The meat industry groups cite in part the Congressional Budget Office study released last week that estimates the cost to taxpayers of the subsidy. However, one finding from the study doesn’t really help the meat industry’s case. The study found that the biofuel usage mandates enacted in 2007 are driving increased ethanol production more than the subsidy.”

Climate Issues

Chris Clayton reported on Friday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Agriculture’s role in the energy policy debate will become hotly contested in coming weeks as Senate leaders search for the right mix to pass energy or climate legislation.

“The difficulty, however, is there is no clear indication of which energy bill may advance in the Senate, whether that bill will have a cap-and-trade plan that sparks agricultural carbon offsets, the support level for renewable energy such as wind, biomass and solar in the bill, or whether biofuels would be added as another carrot for Midwestern senators to back a bill.

“‘What’s going on now apparently with environmental groups and the utilities is the leadership in the Senate is trying to figure out what can get them 60 votes,’ said Paul Schlegel, director of energy and environment for the American Farm Bureau Federation. ‘That seems to be driving everything.’”

After more detailed analysis, the DTN article noted that, “Because [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)] has said he wants to bring up a bill, a lot of senators are getting more engaged. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said this week he doesn’t think a cap-and-trade plan could pass, but he does think there will be an energy bill and will join efforts to push for an extension to the 45-cent-a-gallon ethanol blenders’ credit and the $1-a-gallon biodiesel tax credit in an energy bill. Harkin also wants a mandate on flex-fuel vehicles, more blender pumps and an ethanol pipeline, all items also touted by groups such as Growth Energy. Harkin, however, doesn’t think a Kerry-Lieberman climate bill will be the final proposal.

“‘I don’t think it’s going to be a broad, climate change bill,’ Harkin said. ‘I think it will be more an energy, tax package, that type of thing.’

“But reflecting the partisan divide that exists on climate change, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the Senate’s biggest defenders of ethanol, still said he would not support a ‘climate’ bill even if the biodiesel and ethanol tax credits were added to the bill. ‘If you are talking something along the lines of Kerry-Lieberman, that would be so destructive to agriculture it would undo any good it would have from any expansion for ethanol or any incentives for ethanol,’ Grassley said.”

Meanwhile, Ben Geman reported on Friday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “West Virginia’s newly appointed senator signaled Friday that he’s unlikely to support climate change legislation, dealing a fresh blow to advocates seeking a spot for emissions caps in a broader energy bill.”

(Note that Mr. Geman discussed climate and energy issues at length on yesterday’s C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program, audio clip available here).

And Darren Samuelsohn reported yesterday at Politico that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid played dumb last week when a reporter asked him if the energy and climate bill headed to the floor would come with a ‘cap’ on greenhouse gas emissions.

“‘I don’t use that,’ the Nevada Democrat replied. ‘Those words are not in my vocabulary. We’re going to work on pollution.’

“Moments earlier, Reid had confirmed he was trying to craft legislation targeting the heat-trapping pollution that comes from power plants. But he’s determined to win the war of words when it comes to a carbon cap — and that means losing the lexicon attached to past climate battles.”

Trade

Reuters writer Sam Cage reported on Friday that, “WTO member states must find answers to bilateral squabbles if they want to achieve any global breakthrough in free trade talks, Canada’s trade minister said on Friday.

“In an interview with Reuters, Peter Van Loan said he would not point fingers at which World Trade Organisation members were holding up the Doha round but warned that political populism could slow progress towards any kind of free trade deal.”

Reuters writer Jonathan Lynn reported on Friday that, “Trade is moving back up the U.S. political agenda and there is scope to reach a deal next year in the long-running Doha round and other stalled trade negotiations, industry lobbyists said on Friday.

“But to get the backing of business, a Doha agreement must be more ambitious than what is currently on the table, said Christopher Wenk, senior director for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

The article added that, “‘2011 is going to be a big year for trade in the U.S.,’ Wenk told reporters, saying the year would see action on free-trade deals between the United States and South Korea, Colombia and Panama, as well as a strong push on the Doha negotiations as part of President Barack Obama’s exports initiative.

The comments are the latest in a series of hints that the Doha negotiations — launched in 2001 to help poor countries prosper through trade — are not as deadlocked as they appear.”

In other trade news, Bloomberg writers Jens Erik Gould and Jonathan J. Levin reported on Friday that, “Senator Byron Dorgan, co-sponsor of a bill to lift a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, said both houses of Congress will pass the legislation this year.

“Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who is sponsoring the bill with Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, said in an interview that he plans to move the legislation to the Senate floor by attaching it as an amendment to another bill this month or in September. He plans to include a measure to make it easier for U.S. farmers to sell goods to the communist island.”

Appropriations

An update posted on Thursday at the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Blog stated that, “On Thursday, July 15, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2011 Agricultural Appropriations bill by voice vote. The action on the agriculture bill came after a lengthy partisan debate over the overall discretionary spending levels for the entire government for FY 2011, which concluded with the adoption of Chairman Inouye’s proposed spending allocations.

“The agriculture bill proposes to spend $22.838 billion for all discretionary spending (net of a variety of cuts to mandatory programs) for the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and several smaller government agencies. This is nearly $300 million less than the FY 2010 level and $27 million less than what President Obama requested.”

A news release from Thursday by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) stated that, “Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today praised Committee passage of important funding for agriculture, food, energy and rural projects and initiatives important to Iowa. The next step is consideration by the full Senate. Much of the funding secured in the Fiscal Year 2011 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies spending bill will go to build upon programs Harkin worked to include in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the farm bill, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“‘Agriculture, rural businesses and renewable energy production are at the heart of Iowa’s economy and it is important that we fund initiatives that will boost and strengthen these sectors,’ said Harkin. ‘The projects announced today will help spur economic growth, increase farm income, create jobs, improve quality of life and protect our natural resources.’”

And a news release from Thursday by the Environmental Defense Fund stated that, “Environmental Defense Fund criticized the Senate Appropriations Committee for cutting several popular, oversubscribed USDA conservation programs by more than $500 million late this afternoon. The programs cut include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, Grassland Reserve Program. The 2008 Farm Bill mandated a total funding level of more than $2 billion in FY 2011 for these programs.

The move follows a vote two weeks ago by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to cut $270 million from next year’s baseline spending for the USDA’s largest working lands conservation program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP and other USDA conservation programs provide public benefits such as clean water and wildlife habitat.

“‘These votes fail to recognize the urgent need for action to conserve the working lands—farms, ranches and private forestlands—that make up two-thirds of the continental United States,’ said Sara Hopper, director of agricultural policy for Environmental Defense Fund and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. ‘Farmer demand for assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and other conservation programs routinely outstrips available funding. We urge Senate and House leadership to reverse these cuts to these critical programs that assist farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who want to improve and protect their lands for future generations.’”

Keith Good

Comments are closed.