Christian Oliver reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The EU has sought to resolve years of acrimony over the status of genetically modified crops by giving each of its 28 member states the final say over whether they can be grown within their borders.
“While GM crops are common in America and Asia, they remain divisive in Europe. Brussels has repeatedly insisted that US companies such as Monsanto will not be able to use a transatlantic trade deal under negotiation with Washington to push Europe to buy more GM crops.
“At the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, lawmakers voted that each national government should be allowed to ban the planting of GM crops, even if they had been declared safe by Brussels. This rare opt-out from Europe’s hallowed single market showed how intractable positions had become.”
The FT article noted that, “The measure was passed with a majority of 480 to 159. Activists and businesses remained split over whether the parliamentary compromise meant that the EU would soon be open to other biotech crops. At present, only one is in cultivated: a variety of GM maize developed by Monsanto.
“Green lawmakers voted against the measure, arguing that Europe would indeed now turn to more bio-engineered crops. Some also predicted that food safety authorities in Brussels would be more inclined to approve pending GM licences because of the safety net offered by individual countries being able to ban them.
“‘I believe what this will mean in reality for the UK is more GMOs not fewer,’ said Keith Taylor, a Green lawmaker. ‘This is because our pro-GM government are now able to give the go-ahead to more authorisations.’”
Yesterday’s article indicated that, “However, many observers rejected any suggestion that the vote would suddenly open the floodgates…‘Member states will receive a licence to ban safe products which have been approved at European level, and they will be allowed to base these bans on non-scientific grounds,’ [Jeff Rowe from EuropaBio, the trade association representing bioindustries] added.”
Bloomberg writer Jonathan Stearns reported yesterday that, “The law, a response to what has become one of Europe’s most tangled policy areas, aims to accelerate endorsements at EU level of requests to plant gene-altered seeds made by companies such as Monsanto Co. and declared safe by European scientists. A political divide in Europe over the risks posed by GMOs has delayed EU permission to grow them and prompted complaints by the U.S. and other trade partners seeking to expand the global biotech-seed market, valued at almost $16 billion in 2013.
“The European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm that put forward the proposal in 2010, wants to enlarge Europe’s share of the biotech-seed market in the face of resistance by half or more of the bloc’s members. Surveys show opposition to gene-altered foods by European consumers, who worry about risks such as human resistance to antibiotics and the development of so-called superweeds that are impervious to herbicides.”
Meanwhile, AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Two thirds of Americans support labeling of genetically modified ingredients on food packages, even if they may not read them, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.
“Fewer Americans say genetically modified ingredients are important in judging whether a food is healthy. About 4 in 10 said the presence of such ingredients was very or extremely important.”
And Henry I. Miller, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, indicated in a column in today’s Wall Street Journal (“Regulators Put the Brakes On Biotech”) that, “Modern genetic engineering, also called genetic modification or GM, has been around since the 1970s. Yet with the notable exception of biopharmaceuticals—beginning with the marketing of human insulin in 1982 and now accounting for more than 20% of U.S. drug expenditures—genetic engineering has failed to realize anything approaching its potential for vertical progress.
“The reason is plain: In the non-pharmaceutical sectors, federal regulators for years seemingly have done everything they can to prevent U.S. researchers and companies from employing genetic engineering to create the ‘next big thing.’”
Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “The big issues of animal welfare today are on the farm, not in the slaughterhouse, famed animal-care expert Temple Grandin told the American Farm Bureau Federation here [San Diego] Sunday as she accepted an award for her contributions to American agriculture.
“‘Problems I am seeing at the packing plant, the slaughterhouse, I am going to have to fix at the farm.’ Grandin said, adding that she was referring to phenomena such as lame dairy cows brought to slaughter and laying hens with osteoporosis, an indication they had been forced to produce too many eggs.”
Mr. Hagstrom indicated that, “Grandin’s statement may reset the animal-welfare agenda that has long focused on how food animals are killed and processed, but even she acknowledged that addressing problems on the nation’s thousands of farms and ranches will be daunting.
“Grandin told National Journal after her speech that there is no way to monitor every ranch and farm. But she has already told retailers that she believes they could conduct random audits of farms and ranches that would stop some of the egregious practices she is seeing. Grandin said she hopes to avoid government regulation. Activists are bound to use her words to call for more regulation.”
In a related article, Ilan Brat and Sarah Nassauer reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. suspended sales of pork at about a third of its more than 1,700 restaurants after finding an important supplier didn’t comply with its animal-welfare standards, a spokesman said Tuesday.
“The fast-casual chain said it suspended one of its pork suppliers after a recent, routine audit found that the supplier, whose name the company didn’t disclose, was raising pigs without access to the outdoors or to deeply bedded barns that are more comfortable for the animals—conditions that Chipotle requires. The supplier hadn’t failed previous audits, the spokesman said.”
Also yesterday, Tim Devaney reported at The Hill Online that, “Food groups are urging the Obama administration to protect honeybees from dangerous pesticides.
“In a letter to President Obama sent Tuesday, more than 100 environmentally friendly food companies, including Clif Bar, call for the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the use of ‘bee-harming pesticides.’”
And Ken Anderson reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “Reports that the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines committee is recommending reduced meat consumption because of environmental concerns don’t sit well with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.
“‘The excuse to use environment as an issue for what you ought to eat or not eat is stupid,’ Grassley says. ‘There are dietary reasons for what you should eat or not eat—but not environmental reasons.’
“The Dietary Guidelines process is far from over and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will have final approval. Grassley says Congress will also have a chance to provide input.”
A recent update at the Farm Policy Facts webpage pointed out that three Letters to the Editor regarding a recent Wall Street Journal column that was “highly critical of crop insurance and the harvest price option,” were never published.
The Farm Policy Facts update stated: “Given the Journal’s past treatment of agricultural policy, its present choice to omit important information and attack farmers is not surprising.”
More broadly, Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan reported in today’s Washington Post that, “At least they have college football.
“That appeared to be the only subject of real agreement between congressional Republicans and President Obama on Tuesday as both sides met for the first time this year.”
Agricultural Economy (Trade)
Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “New House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Tuesday that giving President Obama expanded trade powers would be a top priority this year as the powerful panel seeks an avenue for faster economic growth.
“The Wisconsin Republican identified trade promotion authority (TPA) as the first issue he would tackle. Under TPA, also known as fast-track authority, Congress gets an up-or-down vote on any trade deal that reaches Capitol Hill.”
William A. Galston indicated in a column in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Republican leaders have made clear that although they will have to provide the bulk of the votes for trade-promotion authority, they are unwilling to go it alone. If President Obama really wants the authority, he will have to fight for it, not just ask for it. That would mean going against the grain of his own party, which he has been reluctant to do throughout his presidency. But not doing so could turn his vaunted ‘pivot to Asia’ into a hollow phrase.”
A statement yesterday from American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman regarding China’s ban on U.S. poultry indicated in part that, “The new ban on U.S. poultry and egg imports by China is very disappointing. Instituting a national ban is a clear violation of international trade rules and one that will be costly to American poultry and egg farmers. We are reaching out to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and the Agriculture Department and will support their actions to correct this situation as quickly as possible.”
In other news on China, Reuters writers David Stanway and Naveen Thukral reported earlier this week that, “China, the world’s largest soy buyer, imported a record 8.53 million tonnes of soybeans in December, up 41.5 percent on the month and 16.8 percent higher than the previous record set in December last year, customs data showed on Tuesday.
“Chinese processors normally increase their crushing volumes at the end of the year, and the import surge was also spurred by cheaper U.S. prices, which fell to a 4-1/2 year low in October last year amid a record harvest.”
Meanwhile, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “Russia has strengthened informal curbs on grain exports since the start of the year, further complicating trading before the introduction of an export tax, a Russian grain exporters’ lobby said on Tuesday in a letter to officials.
“Russia, expected to be the world’s fourth-largest exporter this year, hopes export curbs will cool domestic grain prices and constrain food inflation as it tackles a financial crisis linked to plunging oil prices and Western sanctions.”
Also from an international perspective, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “An important road for soy and corn shipments linking to ports in northern Brazil will not be paved until 2016, the country’s transport minister said on Tuesday.”
Domestically, Grant Gerlock and Ezra David Romero of Harvest Public Media reported this week that, “Kansas, Nebraska and other Midwest states are pitching themselves as a dairy heaven, hoping to attract frustrated dairy owners and looking for a windfall of jobs and money in rural economies.
“Ample land, a robust feed supply and ag-friendly towns across the prairie stand in contrast to the urban development and high prices challenging dairy owners in California, the nation’s No. 1 dairy state.”
And David Pierson reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “The next generation of food manufacturers are clamoring to satisfy your snack cravings. Just don’t expect another potato chip or pretzel.
“At the annual Fancy Food Show in San Francisco this week, up-and-coming brands touted seaweed chips, toasted coconut shavings, kale crackers, Wagyu beef jerky and baked pasta bites.
“Among them could be the next Super Bowl party staple. Today’s emphasis, however, is on guilt-free snacking — the holy grail of nosh. Manufacturers are banking on more healthful products, lower in fat, sugar and salt, but packing the same addictive punch as a can of Pringles chips.”
Cristina Marcos reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The House on Tuesday passed legislation to require federal agencies to estimate the economic costs of regulations, as Republicans look to tamp down on the Obama administration’s rule-making agenda.”
The Hill update noted that, “But the legislation attracted some support from centrists like Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who co-sponsored it.
“‘Our farmers, ranchers, business are all feeling the burden of increased regulation, and we need to act to ensure that they’re not regulated out of business,’ Peterson said.
“The White House issued a veto threat against the bill, saying it would ‘impede the ability of agencies to provide the public with basic protections’ as well as ‘create needless confusion and delay’ for businesses and all levels of government.”
On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) delivered remarks on the Proposed Waters of the United States Rule; in conclusion, Sen. Grassley indicated that, “The EPA and the Corps should withdraw the proposed rule and work collaboratively with the states and other stakeholders to craft a sensible rule that will ensure clean water and provide much needed clarity about the scope of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction.”
An update yesterday from Rep. Jim Costa (D., Calif.) noted that, “[Rep Costa] released the following statement after the Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by Valley water agencies and growers, thereby allowing a lower court’s ruling regarding the federal rules protecting the Delta smelt to stand.”
In part, Rep. Costa pointed out that, “Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court prioritized the Delta smelt over the welfare of hard working Americans in the San Joaquin Valley and across California. The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up this case will have devastating impacts on the individuals who live in these farm communities. The livelihoods of farmers, farm workers, and their families depend on a reliable water supply. The individuals being affected are the hardest working people you will ever meet, working tirelessly to put food on our nations’ dinner tables.
“By failing to hear this case, the Court has made a decision to continue to limit the already scarce water supply to the San Joaquin Valley and cause further damage to California’s agricultural industry.”
“The FDA on Tuesday released the results of a draft environmental impact statement that examines the proposed rule’s impact on the environment.
“The FDA also announced a public meeting to discuss the environmental impact statement.”
Also, Jonathan Weisman and Eric Lipton penned an article on the front page of today’s New York Times titled, “In New Congress, Wall St. Pushes to Undermine Dodd-Frank Reform.”
Cristina Marcos reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The House began two hours of debate on a bill Tuesday to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September that Republicans are using as a vehicle to defund President Obama’s executive action on immigration.
“An hour’s worth of debate on five amendments will commence Wednesday morning. Votes on amendments and final passage are expected no later than noon.
“One of the most controversial amendments would defund President Obama’s November action to delay deportations of up to five million undocumented immigrants. Another would roll back a 2012 order to allow immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to apply for work permits and avoid deportation under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program.”
Alexander Bolton reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “A push by House Republicans to reverse President Obama’s executive action on immigration has put their vulnerable Senate counterparts in a tough electoral spot.
“The GOP faces a much tougher 2016 map, and Hispanic groups are warning of political fallout over the issue of deportations at a time when the party is trying to win the White House and defend its new Senate majority.
“Worried about their party’s political fate, centrist Senate Republicans are balking at the prospect of a messy fight with the president.”