FarmPolicy

September 23, 2019

Farm Bill; Biotech; FDA; and, Biofuels

Categories: Ethanol /Farm Bill

Farm Bill

Erik Wasson reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The House will not produce legislation reforming food stamps before the August recess in a setback for those seeking a quick revival of the stalled 2013 farm bill.

“A House GOP leadership aide said Friday that conversations over the food stamp program would continue over the recess that begins at the end of next week.

“An earlier attempt to draft a stand-alone food stamp bill before that time have been shelved, the aide said.”

The Hill update added that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has been polling members on what the bill should look like and has participated in a small working group convened by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The group met again this week without resolution.”

On Friday’s Agriculture Today radio program (Red River Farm Network), House Ag. Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) provided his perspective on the Farm Bill in a report presented by Don Wick.

An audio replay of this portion of Friday’s Agriculture Today program can be heard here (MP3- 2:28).

In part, Rep. Peterson indicated that, “The Senate has the nutrition title in their bill and we don’t need it in our bill; we can negotiate this without it.”

With respect to the Farm Bill process, Rep. Peterson stated that, “There’s no question the problem is Cantor; he’s listening to some of these right wing groups, (such as) the Heritage Foundation, and they want to eliminate all farm programs; they want to get rid of crop insurance—everything.”

Don Wick’s report on Agriculture Today added that, “The House farm bill made changes in permanent law. Peterson said he expects that to change in the conference committee.”

On Saturday, Rep. Peterson was in Iowa City, Iowa with Rep. Dave Loebsack (D., Iowa) where he participated in a Farm Bill forum with producers (photo here).

Aly Brown reported on Saturday at the Iowa City Press-Citizen Online that, “U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, joined U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, at a farm bill forum Saturday at the Johnson County ISU Extension Office. Farmers and community members voiced their concerns on the farm bill’s restructuring, including billions of dollars worth of food assistance cuts, and conservation enforcement being integrated into corn insurance policy.”

The article added that, “Peterson expressed frustrations with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and requests for drug testing of those participating in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

“‘If we’re going to drug test food stamp people, we should drug test farmers or congressmen,’ he said. ‘Anyone that gets federal funding then should get drug tested.’”

A brief video report from KCRG (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) television included remarks on the Farm Bill from Rep. Loebsack.

Meanwhile, Chris Kaergard reported on Saturday at The Register-Mail Online (Galesburg, Il.) about a meeting late last week with Ag. Committee Member Rep. Cheri Bustos (D., Il.) and farmers: “Among the topics under discussion with the East Moline Democrat and her staff were crop insurance, means testing, food stamps, crop subsidies, ethanol and other renewable fuels.

“But for all the detail, large parts of what the farmers and Bustos agreed upon were simple provisions.

First and foremost, there was a near-universal desire for a multi-year farm bill — not another short-term extension of existing legislation.”

The article pointed out that, “In addition to being able to have a consistent plan for several years, [Ted Mottaz of Elmwood, who farms land in Knox County] wants farm legislation again linked with food stamps and other nutrition programs in any final bill, even though House Republicans supported splitting the two topics into separate legislative packages.

“He and others said during the discussion that it’s harder to attract support for farm legislation from urban and suburban lawmakers without the two topics being paired.”

Also, Bill Thompson reported on Saturday at The Gainesville Sun (Fla.) Online that, “When the initial version of the farm bill was defeated in the House in June, [Rep. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.)], the only Florida lawmaker on the House Agriculture Committee, slammed Democrats and his fellow Republicans.

“The bill, Yoho said in a statement, failed because of a ‘plague of ignorance’ in Congress.

“Democrats earned Yoho’s scorn because of their unflagging commitment to the status quo on food stamps. The freshman lawmaker chastised his fellow GOP members for not recognizing that the shift from direct payments to crop insurance represented ‘a conservative movement toward market-based policy.’”

The article noted that, “Janell Hendren, national affairs coordinator for the Gainesville-based Florida Farm Bureau, called crop insurance ‘a great risk-management tool.’”

Jason Nobel reported on Friday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Four top Iowans this week implored Congressional leaders to resolve their differences and approve a new farm bill.

In a letter sent Thursday to the Republican and Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Director of Natural Resources Chuck Gipp encouraged ‘swift conference committee resolution of the differing farm bill measures that have passed both chambers of Congress.’”

And a news release Friday from the American Soybean Association stated that, “In a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees today, the American Soybean Association (ASA), National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and the U.S. Canola Association (USCA) made it clear that their position in favor of more market-oriented farm policies would not change as both chambers prepare their respective bills for a potential conference in September, and that the organizations would oppose any bill containing a risk management program that would tie planted acres to fixed reference or target prices.

“In the letter, ASA, NCGA and USCA made it clear they would oppose any program that ‘would distort planting decisions in years when prices fall below support levels, resulting in surplus production of certain commodities, reduced acreage for smaller crops, depressed domestic and international market prices, and potential WTO actions against the U.S.’”

 

Additional Policy Issues: Catfish, Sugar, C.O.O.L., Raisins, and, Yogurt

Ron Nixon reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “Deep-fried catfish served with a side of hush puppies and coleslaw has been a regional specialty for years and a cash crop for states in the Deep South. Now, catfish is at the heart of a dispute as the House and Senate prepare to work out their differences on a new five-year farm bill. The current bill expires on Sept. 30.

“At issue is a little-known provision in the 2008 bill that established an office within the Agriculture Department to inspect catfish. But those inspection programs also exist at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Commerce Department.”

Mr. Nixon noted that, “Catfish farmers and producers in Mississippi say their support of a catfish inspection program at the Agriculture Department is about food safety and imported catfish.”

“But that argument has little sympathy outside of the catfish industry,” the article said.

On a separate issue, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported on Friday that, “Faced with a huge sugar surplus, the U.S. government published a rule on Friday that allows it to sell excess amounts at a loss to ethanol companies for making biofuels for cars and trucks.

“The Agriculture Department said the ‘sugar-for-ethanol’ program, authorized by a 2008 law, would be ‘if needed … an additional tool to manage the domestic sugar surplus.’

“A sugar industry source said the government would probably implement the sugar-for-ethanol initiative in August or September if prices stay low despite the USDA’s efforts to boost them. A USDA spokeswoman declined to say when or if the program will start.”

In addition, Ben Goad reported on Friday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “A coalition of meat industry groups from across North America asked a U.S. federal court Friday to block new labeling regulations seen as threatening ‘irreparable harm’ to businesses and severe economic damage to the broader economy.

“Nine meat processing and packing trade groups from the United States, Canada and Mexico filed the request for a preliminary injunction stopping the new country-of-origin labeling (COOL) standards from taking effect. The industry groups argue the injunction is warranted because they are likely ultimately to prevail in a lawsuit challenging the Agriculture Department rule.”

Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) wants the federal government to stop scooping up raisins from farmers without paying them anything.

“On Thursday, Radel proposed the Raisin Farmer Freedom Act, which would exclude raisin farmers from a decades-old federal law that lets the government take a significant portion of each year’s raisin crop. The seizure is meant to help stabilize prices and lets the government store them and slowly distribute them domestically and internationally.”

And a news release Friday from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) stated that, “U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and [Gillibrand], and Representative Richard Hanna today announced New York-based Chobani Greek Yogurt will be the yogurt of choice in a USDA pilot program to serve Greek yogurt in school lunches. New York State was chosen for the pilot program earlier this month because of its burgeoning Greek yogurt manufacturing sector and the high level of interest in the program among New York State school districts. The federal officials announced today that the USDA has selected Chobani for the contract, and their yogurt will be served as part of the new pilot program that is set to start in September 2013.”

 

Biotech

Amy Harmon reported on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times that, “The call Ricke Kress and every other citrus grower in Florida dreaded came while he was driving.

“‘It’s here’ was all his grove manager needed to say to force him over to the side of the road.

The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. Mr. Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Natural, sat in silence for several long moments.”

In the years that followed, he and the 8,000 other Florida growers who supply most of the nation’s orange juice poured everything they had into fighting the disease they call citrus greening.”

The article noted that, “With a precipitous decline in Florida’s harvest predicted within the decade, the only chance left to save it, Mr. Kress believed, was one that his industry and others had long avoided for fear of consumer rejection. They would have to alter the orange’s DNA — with a gene from a different species.

“Oranges are not the only crop that might benefit from genetically engineered resistance to diseases for which standard treatments have proven elusive. And advocates of the technology say it could also help provide food for a fast-growing population on a warming planet by endowing crops with more nutrients, or the ability to thrive in drought, or to resist pests. Leading scientific organizations have concluded that shuttling DNA between species carries no intrinsic risk to human health or the environment, and that such alterations can be reliably tested.

But the idea of eating plants and animals whose DNA has been manipulated in a laboratory — called genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.’s — still spooks many people. Critics worry that such crops carry risks not yet detected, and distrust the big agrochemical companies that have produced the few in wide use. And hostility toward the technology, long ingrained in Europe, has deepened recently among Americans as organic food advocates, environmentalists and others have made opposition to it a pillar of a growing movement for healthier and ethical food choices.”

The article added that, “An emerging scientific consensus held that genetic engineering would be required to defeat citrus greening. ‘People are either going to drink transgenic orange juice or they’re going to drink apple juice,’ one University of Florida scientist told Mr. Kress.”

Near the end of the very lengthy article, Ms. Harmon indicated that, “Late this summer he [Mr. Kress] will plant several hundred more young trees with the spinach gene, in a new greenhouse. In two years, if he wins regulatory approval, they will be ready to go into the ground. The trees could be the first to produce juice for sale in five years or so.

Whether it is his transgenic tree, or someone else’s, he believed, Florida growers will soon have trees that could produce juice without fear of its being sour, or in short supply.”

Andrew Pollack reported in today’s New York Times that, “With pressure growing to label genetically modified foods, the developers of biotechnology crops are starting a campaign to gain support for their products by promising new openness.

“The centerpiece of the effort is a Web site that is expected to go into operation on Monday to answer virtually any question posed by consumers about genetically engineered crops. The site, GMOAnswers.com, is also expected to include safety data about the crops similar to that submitted to regulatory agencies.”

Also, Philip Brasher reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “Scientists started working back in the 1990s to genetically engineer a soybean that’s oil would be free of artery-clogging trans fats, a product farmers think will appeal to consumers as well as food-makers and fast-food chains.

But even though federal regulators approved a soybean variety in 2010 developed by a unit of DuPont, the crop is still only being grown on limited acreage under strict rules to ensure it is kept separate from other soybeans.”

The article stated that, “The reason is at the heart of a major issue facing U.S. and European negotiators as they try to work out a trade deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, that can get ratified by Congress.

DuPont has been unable to get the European Union’s approval for the new product, one of an array of genetically engineered crops that are stalled in an EU approval process, even though the company first applied for EU approval in 2007.”

Mr. Brasher explained that, “DuPont’s concern, and the concern of U.S. farmers, is that a soy shipment to Europe could be accidentally contaminated with traces of the new soybean, which goes by the trade name Plenish. So, until the EU approves the crop, sales and cultivation of the seeds will continue to be restricted in the United States.

“Most of the soybeans now grown in the United States are genetically engineered. The EU allows importation from the United States of some GMO varieties it has approved already — so the concern is about contamination by unapproved beans such as Plenish.

Even a small amount of contamination could lead to a shutdown of soybean trade. Foreign countries don’t hesitate to block shipments of U.S. farm commodities if it’s possible they contain minute amounts of biotech products those nations haven’t approved. Japan and South Korea both imposed bans on U.S. wheat this spring, when stray plants of an unapproved biotech variety were discovered growing in Oregon.”

Meanwhile, Tom Spears reported last week at the Ottawa Citizen Online that, “Canada geese may have spread viable seeds of genetically modified wheat grown at the Central Experimental Farm, documents from Agriculture Canada show.

The odds aren’t high, the department says.

“But the geese ate the experimental wheat last summer at the Experimental Farm. Geese are voracious eaters and leave droppings every few minutes.”

 

FDA- Food Safety

Ricardo Lopez reported on Friday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “In an effort to avoid illness outbreaks from imported foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed new rules that would require importers to verify that their suppliers’ standards are on par with those of domestic growers and processors.

“The agency has shifted its focus to preventing disease outbreaks rather than simply responding to them. Imported food accounts for about 15% of the U.S. food supply, the agency said.”

 

Biofuels

Amy Harder reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., has tasked four GOP members of his panel to take the lead on reforming a federal biofuels mandate.

“The four members represent districts that crisscross the diverse industries with a stake in this complicated and contentious debate, including oil refineries, corn growers, livestock farmers, and biofuels producers.

“Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., a senior member of the committee who represents a state that is No. 2 in corn production, will lead the unofficial GOP team. The others are Reps. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lee Terry of Nebraska, and Steve Scalise of Louisiana.”

The article noted that, “The eight-year-old renewable-fuels standard requires increasingly large amounts of biofuels—mainly ethanol made from corn—to be blended with gasoline each year. Since the devastating drought that sent corn prices soaring last year, the policy has come under intense scrutiny by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.

“Among the four Republicans, Scalise from oil-rich Louisiana is the only one who has advocated for repeal of the RFS, as favored by the oil, livestock, and food industries. The other three lawmakers take more-nuanced positions because they represent constituencies that have a stake in maintaining the standard, including producers of corn and advanced biofuels that come from nonfood products such as cellulose but that are not coming to market as quickly as Congress initially envisioned.

The group will work on policy actions that reform but don’t repeal the mandate, which was established in the 2005 energy law and strengthened by Congress two years later.”

Keith Good

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