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Appropriations; WRDA; Policy Issues; Ag Economy; Biotech; and, Climate

Agriculture Appropriations- House

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The House on Tuesday moved forward with legislation aimed at exempting some schools from lunch nutrition rules that have been a part of first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity initiative.

“An Appropriations subpanel approved language that would require the Agriculture Department to waive requirements to serve fruits, vegetables and low-sodium and low-fat foods for schools that can show their lunch programs are losing money.

“Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said the temporary waivers are needed because some school districts are losing too much money and need more time to adjust to the requirement. He said a big problem is that students are refusing to eat the healthy foods.”

To listen to remarks on this issue from Chairman Aderholt at yesterday’s markup, just click here (MP3- 1:43).

Mr. Wasson noted that, “[Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.)] suggested that more could be done to help schools meet the standards and that the USDA is already aware of the problem.

“‘The problem is the kids are saying they don’t want this. You are trying to force them to eat things they don’t want, and they go elsewhere,’ top appropriator, Chairman Hal Rogers  (R-Ky.) shot back.

He asked DeLauro if she is proposing to lock students inside the cafeteria.”

The Hill update added that, “The White House has not directly addressed the waiver proposal but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday issued a statement opposing it

“‘The House bill would undermine the effort to provide kids with more nutritious food and would be a major step backwards for the health of American children, just at the time childhood obesity rates are finally starting to level off,’ he said. ‘USDA has continued to show flexibility in implementing these new standards, and Congress should focus on partnering with USDA, states, schools, and parents to help our kids have access to more healthy food, not less.’”

Jacqui Fatka reported yesterday at Feedstuffs Online that, “In what was characterized 90% good and 10% hard to swallow by Democrats, Tuesday morning by a voice vote the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture approved a spending bill providing $20.9 billion in discretionary funding.”

The article noted that, “The major contentious points discussed during the mark up Tuesday morning including the ability to allow school districts who’ve struggled with meeting the new school lunch standards to receive waivers. [Sam Farr, the subcommittee ranking member from California] argued that it was the ‘wrong move’ to allow school districts to opt out of the program meant to encourage the eating of healthier foods and keep the money instead of serving fresh fruit and vegetables.

“‘We don’t allow students to opt out of math or science, so why are we allowing this,’ Farr said, adding that changing the American diet is so fundamental to bring down health costs and essential to help start growing healthier people.”

The Feedstuffs update added that, “Farr also had concerns with the proposed budget which provides the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] with [$62] million below what the President requested this year, and even less than last year. He said stripping funds from the agency tasked with policing the markets and preventing another economic crisis punishes the referees, not the coach.”

To listen to remarks on the nutrition issue from Rep. Farr at yesterday’s markup, just click here (MP3- one minute).  Comments on the CFTC funding issue by Rep. Farr can be heard here (MP3- one minute).

The Washington Post editorial board provided perspective today on the House measure allowing schools to opt out of the school lunch requirements and noted in part that, “The Obama administration has shown a willingness to listen to reasonable requests from schools. Tweaking the policy when necessary, not undermining it before it has time to work, is the right approach.”

Recall that David Rogers reported earlier this week at Politico that, “And in a surprising twist, the bill [House Ag Subcommittee appropriations measure] language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households — both urban and rural — during those months when school meals are not available.”

Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita M. Lowey (D., N.Y.) addressed this issue at yesterday’s markup, related audio here (MP3- one minute).

An update yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog indicated that, “The subcommittee bill cuts more than 1 million acres from the Conservation Stewardship Program, reducing funding by $109 million. The bill also cuts over $200 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and $60 million from the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.”

Yesterday’s NSAC update noted that, “The 2014 Farm Bill cut $4 billion from farm bill conservation programs, including over $2 billion from the Conservation Stewardship Program. In addition, automatic spending cuts known as ‘sequestration’ will cut mandatory conservation funding by more than $265 million in FY 2015 alone. As a result, farmers will employ fewer conservation practices on their farms, resulting in increased pollution and soil erosion. Meanwhile, the number of farmers denied access to the programs will grow even larger. Further reductions to mandatory farm bill spending via the appropriations bill would be devastating. Moving forward, we will urge the House to reconsider this proposed rewriting of the farm bill and trust that the Senate Committee will reject this approach as it marks up its version of the bill later this week.”

In a statement yesterday on the House appropriations action, Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) noted that, “I am strongly opposed to the effort in the House agriculture appropriations bill to gut conservation and energy programs that passed in the Farm Bill with wide bipartisan majorities. These irresponsible cuts to some of the most important Farm Bill programs cannot be allowed to happen. The bill also unwinds the landmark Child Nutrition law, which was also passed with bipartisan majorities, by undermining efforts to improve the health of school children. If that weren’t enough, the House bill vastly underfunds the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who is tasked with making sure our financial markets do not suffer another collapse like they did in 2008. When Congress passes laws with strong bipartisan majorities, the appropriations bills must reflect the will of Congress and the letter and the spirit of those laws.”

And a reaction yesterday from Oxfam noted that, “The House of Representatives just passed an agriculture appropriations bill that:

“- Does not include the President’s request for flexibility to use up to 25 percent of Title II food aid funds for local and regional purchase, cash or vouchers;

“- Does not include the $35m in agriculture appropriations needed by USAID to significantly reduce the use of monetization;

“- Does not include funding for Local and Regional Procurement authorized at up to $80m in the 2014 Farm Bill.”

And a news release yesterday from the National Farmers Union stated that, “‘I commend House and Senate appropriators for leaving the COOL law alone. Consumers want to know the origins of their food and farmers and ranchers want to tell them. There’s no need to do harm to COOL,’ said [NFU President Roger Johnson].

“‘It is concerning, however, that the House bill included a harmful rider that would allow abusive market behavior by livestock and poultry processors,’ said Johnson. ‘NFU appreciates the outspoken opposition to this rider by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, during the subcommittee markup and urge the full Appropriations Committee in the House to follow suit and remove it.’”


Agriculture Appropriations- Senate

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “A Senate spending panel on Tuesday approved a 2015 Agriculture bill without controversial school lunch provisions found in a House companion bill.”

The Hill update added that, “[Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.), Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee] said the bill, the text of which is under wraps until Thursday, does not contain language forcing the USDA to pay for white potato purchases under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance program. That provision in the House bill and an amendment is expected at the full committee level.

“Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) at the Tuesday markup blasted the USDA for excluding potatoes from WIC.”

The full House and Senate Appropriations Committees are expected to markup the Agriculture measures on Thursday, where amendments will likely be offered.


Nutrition Issues- School Meals, Whole-Grain Foods

Caroline Porter reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture loosened a rule Tuesday on some whole-grain foods that was expected to apply to the school-meals program starting this coming school year, after local education officials complained that the regulations were impractical.

“The planned restrictions, which are part of a wider federal effort to improve school nutrition following passage of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, have come under pressure, and a House bill introduced this week aims to offer temporary waivers to schools.

Under the reprieve, schools can apply for a two-year extension before all the pastas served are at least 50% whole-grain. All other items, such as bread, must comply with the 50% or more whole-grain rule by July 1.”

Also yesterday, USDA issued a fact sheet titled, “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act School Meals Implementation.”

And Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee, responded to USDA’s decision on the whole grains issue in statements released yesterday.


WRDA- Water Resources Reform and Development Act- Passes House

AP writer Henry C. Jackson reported yesterday that, “The House passed the closest thing so far this year to an infrastructure bill — a $12 billion-plus bipartisan measure authorizing 34 water projects, ranging from flood protection in California and North Dakota to deepening the Port of Savannah and widening a Texas-Louisiana waterway that services the oil industry.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed Tuesday on a 412-4 vote. Lawmakers shook off criticism from conservative and watchdog groups like Heritage Action and Taxpayers for Common Sense that argued the bill should have done more to rein in wasteful government spending.

“The Senate could vote on the bill before the end of the week, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature. The legislation is a bipartisan compromise of companion bills passed separately by the House and Senate last year. After months of negotiations, a final deal on it was reached last week.”

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “One of the key provisions in the bill for river projects is the shifting of funding responsibilities for the Olmsted Locks and Dam project. The federal government will take over 85% of the costs of the project with 15% coming from the Waterways Trust Fund. That is estimated to free up more than $100 million annually for other inland projects.

“WRRDA authorizes 34 water resources projects across the country that have cleared technical reviews by the Army Corps of Engineers.

“WRRDA also eliminates as much as $18 billion in planned projects by the Army Corps of Engineers that have never gotten off the ground. It also is expected to accelerate project planning and development times that have stretched to longer than 15 years in some cases. The Corps would have three years to do feasibility studies and have a $3 million cap.”

Mr. Clayton added that, “The bill pitted vote scoring by the American Farm Bureau versus the conservative group Heritage Action. Farm Bureau backed the bill, calling it a priority issue for the group. Heritage said the bill spent too much and ‘crosses five out of six red lines’ created by the group.”


Policy Issues- Farm Bill, Rural Health Care

A news release yesterday from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) indicated that, “[Sen. Grassley] is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify for producers the eligibility requirements for application to the Livestock Forage Disaster Program.

“Grassley wrote in a letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that he had heard from concerned farmers who were frustrated with the program. According to Iowans who Grassley has heard from, there have been conflicting reports of county eligibility by different Farm Service Agency offices, and questions about certifiable acres.”

A news release yesterday from Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) indicated that, “Today, [Sens. Franken], Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced a bipartisan bill to help rural communities address the challenges they face when it comes to providing quality health care.

“The Craig Thomas Rural Hospital and Provider Equity Act (R-HoPE) would support the efforts of rural health care systems to provide innovative, sustainable health care solutions for patients in rural America. Specifically, the legislation would extend several programs that provide access to hospitals, doctors, and ambulance services in rural areas.”


Agricultural Economy

Reuters writer Sybille de La Hamaide reported yesterday that, “A deadly pig virus that has decimated herds in the United States and sent prices rocketing is likely to subside before the end of this year as the causes are being identified, the head of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said.

“Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus (PEDv) has wiped out more than 10 percent of the U.S. pig population and forecasters have said losses from PEDv in the world’s biggest pork exporter could cut production by as much as 7 percent in 2014.”

The Reuters article noted that, “‘I’m confident. Like in all other diseases we know how to stop them once we have identified the causes properly,’ OIE Director General Bernard Vallat told Reuters.

“He said the spread of the virus was likely mainly due to a lack of hygienic precautions, notably disinfecting trucks entering and leaving farms, but was also potentially linked to feed.”

Bloomberg writer Jeff Wilson reported yesterday that, “Corn futures fell, capping the longest slump since November, on speculation that beneficial weather will boost crops in the U.S., the world’s biggest producer. Soybeans and wheat declined.

“Warm, dry weather in the next six days will aid corn seeding from North Dakota to Ohio, Commodity Weather Group LLC said in a report.”

With respect to transportation issues, Reuters writer Elizabeth Dilts reported last week that, “As a polar vortex snarled North America’s railroads and upended freight flows this winter, everyone from agricultural giant Cargill to Dow Chemical rushed to secure the next-best form of hauling goods: trucks.

In what trucking executives described as an unprecedented bidding frenzy, spot market rates surged by as much as 20 percent to record highs in the first three months of 2014 as shippers sought to minimize sometimes weeks-long delays in rail service.”

And in trade news, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “Ministers from 12 nations trying to create a trans-Pacific trade pact said on Tuesday they have regained momentum for resolving the thorny issues of tariffs and market access, though they were unable to reach a final agreement.

“Speaking after a two-day meeting in Singapore, the ministers said recent bilateral talks between the United States and Japan helped breathe life into the stalled talks for the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.”



AP writer Steven Dubois reported yesterday that, “Residents in a southwest Oregon county voted emphatically to ban genetically engineered crops following a campaign that attracted a bushel of out-of-state money.

“With most of the ballots counted in Tuesday’s all-mail election, Jackson County voters approved the measure by a 2-to-1 margin. A similar, lower-profile measure in neighboring Josephine County led 58 percent to 42 percent with nearly two-thirds of expected ballots counted.

Though it’s a local issue, the Jackson County measure attracted national interest. A pair of competing campaigns raised $1.3 million to sway the county’s 120,000 registered voters. Nearly $1 million of that money was raised to defeat the proposed ban.”



Scheherazade Daneshkhu reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The world’s 10 biggest food companies emit more greenhouse gases than the whole of Scandinavia but are failing to tackle the risks of climate change adequately, according to Oxfam, the campaigning charity.

“Erinch Sahan, Oxfam policy adviser, said that apart from fossil fuel producers, the food and drinks industry contributed more carbon emissions than any other industry.”

Keith Good