December 15, 2019

Farm Bill; “My Plate,” Ag Economy; Animal Ag; and Food Safety

Farm Bill Issues

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “A Democratic appropriator this week successfully convinced Republican appropriators to reduce a cut to child nutrition, but Democrats have only faint hope that the rare victory can be repeated.

“Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) was able late Tuesday to convince her colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to restore $147 million to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance program, which otherwise would have been cut by $832 million, or 12 percent, in the 2012 agriculture bill.

“With a voice vote, DeLauro fought off the cuts by identifying a program less popular than assistance to the poor: cash payments to Brazilian cotton farmers.”

The Hill article indicated that, “In an interview, DeLauro said she fears the victory could be both short-lived and one of a kind.

“‘I don’t think they will let it stand. I think they will attack it on the floor,’ she said of Republicans.

“More broadly, she said, the victory is an exception, and for the most part Democrats will not be able to stave off GOP cuts.”

Yesterday’s article pointed out that, “Not making the Brazil payment could open the U.S. to WTO-sanctioned trade retaliation by Brazil. The WTO has found U.S. export credit guarantees and cotton subsidies to illegally distort world trade. The U.S. altered the export guarantees but has been allowed to maintain the cotton subsidies pending the next farm bill, so long as the Cotton Institute payments are made.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Wednesday that it is reviewing the DeLauro language.”

Recall that Brazil was authorized by the WTO to impose up to $830 million in sanctions against the U.S. in the WTO cotton dispute.

A news release Wednesday from the National Cotton Council stated that, “The combined effect of two amendments offered by Representatives Flake (R-AZ) and DeLauro (D-CT) would violate the Framework Agreement established between the United States and Brazilian governments. The Framework, which was finalized in June 2010, is a multi-faceted document that outlines an orderly resolution of the WTO trade dispute involving the export credit guarantee programs and certain provisions of the upland cotton program. As part of the agreement, the United States committed to establish a fund of $147.3 million per year that would provide technical assistance and capacity building for Brazil’s cotton industry. The fund, which is subject to transparency and audits, will continue until the next farm bill’s passage or a mutually agreed solution is reached. If enacted, the appropriations amendments would end those payments, thus putting the United States in violation of the agreement and exposing a broad range of sectors of the U.S. economy to more than $800 million in harmful trade retaliatory measures by Brazil. Representative Flake’s amendment would reduce upland cotton direct payments by the amount necessary to fund the Brazil Cotton Institute. The amendment is the latest in a long line of attempts to undermine or alter the Framework Agreement achieved by the United States and Brazilian governments.

“‘It is unfortunate that Representative Flake’s amendment will divert funds from the most trade compliant provision in the farm safety net and also squarely places the burden of the dispute on upland cotton programs, even though export credit programs account for 80 percent of Brazil’s retaliation authority,’ Parker said. ‘Representative DeLauro’s amendment goes a step further by diverting the funds away from the Brazil Cotton Institute, and thus violating the government-to-government agreement.

“‘Actions by the Appropriations Committee have violated the Framework Agreement that had already established a clear path to resolving the ongoing WTO trade dispute. Provisions in the Framework establish principles that will likely mean substantive changes to upland cotton programs as part of the 2012 farm bill. The U.S. and Brazilian governments negotiated a detailed process that will resolve the trade dispute and Congress should let that process come to fruition.’”

With respect to the House Appropriations Committee action and conservation programs, the Environmental Working Group indicated yesterday that, “[I]t was absolutely heartbreaking that not a single member even mentioned the tremendous cuts the bill makes to conservation programs…But amid much discussion of slaughtering horses, government contracts with convicted felons and the meaning of ‘hard science,’ the word conservation never even came up.

“No one stood up for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays growers to farm more sustainably and enhance the farm ecosystem. The program is slated for a cut of $171 million, which the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has said will force the Department of Agriculture to break existing contracts with farmers, never mind signing up new farmers.

“No one came forward to restore the $350 million for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Congress has already reneged on $1 billion in funding promises for EQIP since 2008.”

Meanwhile, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk Radio program with Mike Adams; in part the two discussed the House Appropriations Committee action from earlier this week.  Chairman Lucas indicated that, “From my perspective I am not supportive of what’s gone on here in most of these areas and when the Bill goes to the Rules Committee, probably week after next, and following that, to the floor of the United States House, I suspect I and a number of my colleagues will not only vote against some of these things but we will argue rather strenuously against them too.”  (Related audio from yesterday’s AgriTalk program available here (MP3- 2:41)).

More broadly beyond the appropriations process, Mike Adams and Chairman Lucas also discussed the interaction between the legislative branch and executive branch in the process of developing the next Farm Bill (related AgriTalk audio (MP3-  1:31)).

Chairman Lucas also offered perspective on House action with respect to the timing of drafting the 2012 farm legislation.  The Oklahoma Republican highlighted a very important caveat to his current thinking on Farm Bill timing: “Depending on what comes out of Vice President Biden’s working group, if there is a grand compromise on raising the debt ceiling which would entail a substantial cut in spending immediately, that over rules the way I would like to do it.  And we could conceivably have a Farm Bill this fall or winter in a hurry-up fashion.”  (Related AgriTalk audio available here (MP3- 1:37)).

In news on federal budget talks and debt reduction, Washington Post writers Zachary A. Goldfarb and Paul Kane reported earlier this week that, “A Wednesday meeting between President Obama and House Republicans about the nation’s debt ended with neither side showing a willingness to give ground on any substantive points or rhetorical differences.”

Anna Palmer and John Stanton reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday called on President Barack Obama to become personally involved in cutting a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

“The Ohio Republican told a small group of reporters that he was also ready to engage in negotiations so a resolution could happen within the month. He refused to endorse the debt limit talks being led by Vice President Joseph Biden and cast doubt on whether they would be the basis of any final deal to avert a government default and possible shutdown.”

The Roll Call writers explained that, “So far, debt ceiling negotiations have focused on the bipartisan group led by Biden. Boehner appointed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to be his representative in the talks set to resume June 9. Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as House Democrats, are represented in the discussions as well.

“When asked if he was disappointed by the state of those ongoing talks, Boehner declined to answer.”

And Naftali Bendavid, Janet Hook and Stephen L. Bernard reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Moody’s Investors Service warned Thursday that it might review the government’s Aaa debt rating for a possible downgrade as early as next month if there is no progress toward a deal in Washington to increase the $14.294 trillion federal borrowing limit and cut deficits.”

The Journal article noted that, “House Republicans met Thursday with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and pressed him on why the administration hasn’t produced a detailed debt plan. Several said afterward Mr. Geithner did not understand the urgency they feel about cutting spending.”

In other Farm Bill developments, South Dakota farmer Michael M. Melius noted in an Op-Ed on Wednesday at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Online that, “It’s time to declare federal farm subsidies a success and begin phasing them out.”

“Prices for most cereal grains have been at historically high prices for three years now. World population and economic growth have caught up with production; surpluses and low prices may finally be a thing of the past.

“In response to the high grain prices, farmers are seeking more land to grow crops. Efforts to conserve land as forest, prairie or wetland are under pressure by farmers looking to increase acreage.”

The opinion item added that, “Does an expanding industry really need continued subsidies?

In response to a Kansas City Star editorial on the Farm Bill from last week (“Toward a more rational farm bill”), National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson noted in a letter to the editor that, “Farm policy in general, and crop insurance in particular, will help weather-ravaged growers pick up the pieces and farm another day. It does so for less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget. And because crop insurance payouts come from private companies, not the government, taxpayers are largely insulated.

“Without a strong farm policy in place, ad hoc funding bills following disasters would end up costing taxpayers more. It’s why Congress wisely designed modern farm policies that operate efficiently and provide us with the lowest costing food in the world.”


“My Plate”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “There’s a new U.S. symbol for healthful eating: The Agriculture Department unveiledMy Plate’ on Thursday, abandoning the food pyramid that had guided many Americans but merely confused others.

“The new guide is divided into four slightly different-sized quadrants, with fruits and vegetables taking up half the space and grains and protein making up the other half. The vegetables and grains portions are the largest of the four.”

More background on this development, including interesting detailed historical context, was published in today’s Washington Post.


Agricultural Economy

Reuters news reported earlier this week that, “An open stretch of warm, dry weather in the eastern Corn Belt this week is raising farmers’ hopes they will be able to catch up on crop planting after a wet, chilly spring, a forecaster said on Wednesday.

“The eastern Midwest was mostly clear on Tuesday and will stay dry except for an occasional light shower through Monday. Temperatures remain above normal, with highs in the mid 80s to low 90s degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 Celsius) this week.”

In related news, University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey examined issues associated with the economics of prevented planting payments yesterday at the FarmDocDaily Blog- the full update- “Upside Potential Given Up by Taking Corn Prevented Planting Payments”- is available here.

And A.G. Sulzberger reported in today’s New York Times that, “Adding to an already brutal season of flooding, another major waterway — this time, the Missouri River — is rising because of record rain and snow, meaning major flooding is likely from the headwaters in Montana to where it flows into the still-swollen Mississippi River.

“The sharp rise of the upper Missouri has forced officials to release unprecedented amounts of water from a series of dams that normally control the flow of the river, leading to the evacuations of homes and the construction of emergency levees in downriver communities, including the capital cities of North Dakota and South Dakota. The river is expected to remain at high levels for at least six weeks.”

Leslie Kaufman reported in today’s New York Times that, “As the surging waters of the Mississippi pass downstream, they leave behind flooded towns and inundated lives and carry forward a brew of farm chemicals and waste that this year — given record flooding — is expected to result in the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico.”


Animal Agriculture

The “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday that (link requires subscription) that, “Concerns about drug resistant bacteria are growing, but there is little agreement why that is so. Still, fingers are being pointed in many directions, especially toward agriculture and are leading to efforts to impose ‘tougher’ rules on livestock.

“A new suit has been filed against the FDA that would completely halt non-theraputic use of antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracyclenes in animal agriculture. The National Resources Defense Council argued that, ‘Accumulating evidence shows that antibiotics are becoming less effective, while our grocery store meat is increasingly laden with drug-resistant bacteria,’ according to NRDC spokesman Peter Lehner. ‘FDA needs to put the American people first by ensuring that antibiotics continue to serve their primary purpose — saving human lives by combating disease.’

“The National Pork Producers Council calls those charges ‘spurious’ and counters that the main purpose of the suit is to weaken modern agriculture. It charges that the NRDC assertions lack any basis in science, and that ‘numerous peer reviewed risk assessments show that the risk to public health from animal uses of antibiotics is negligible.’”

The New York Times editorial board opined today that, “Small doses of antibiotics — too small to kill bacteria — are fed to factory farm animals as part of their regular diet to promote growth and offset the risks of overcrowding. What factory farms are really raising is antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which means that several classes of antibiotics no longer work the way they should in humans. We pay for cheap meat by sacrificing some of the most important drugs ever developed.”

It is time for the F.D.A. to stop corporate factory farms from squandering valuable drugs just to promote growth among animals confined in conditions that inherently create the risk of disease. According to recent estimates, 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country end up in farm animals. The F.D.A. can change that by honoring its own scientific conclusions and its statutory obligation to end its approval of unsafe drug uses.”


Food Safety

The AP reported yesterday that, “Scientists on Thursday blamed Europe’s worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak on a ‘super-toxic’ strain of E. coli bacteria that may be brand new.”

Alan Cowell and James Kanter reported in today’s New York Times that, “With hospitals coping with seriously ill victims, sectors of European agriculture staggering and consumers weighing what foods are safe to eat, Russia extended a ban on fresh vegetable imports beyond Spain and Germany to encompass all of the European Union, drawing a sharp response from European officials who called the move ‘disproportionate.’

“In Geneva, Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said, ‘What we understand is this is a strain which has never been detected in an outbreak situation before.’ He said scientists at ‘many laboratories’ were working to gather more information about the strain.”

The AP reported yesterday that, “The nasty form of E. coli hitting Europe points out gaps in the U.S. food safety system that raise concern that similar outbreaks might happen here.”

“‘It’s a wake-up call around the world,’ said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has long been concerned about the lesser known strains.”

The article added that, “And Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday there’s no immediate threat from what’s happening in Europe. ‘We have to constantly look for ways to improve food safety, and that requires us to make sure that we’re testing for the right things,’ he said.”

Keith Good

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