November 15, 2019

Policy; Ag Economy; Trade (Cuba); Regulations; and, Biofuels

Policy Issues

Evan Halper reported on the front page of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “The political clash over climate change has entered new territory that does not involve a massive oil pipeline or a subsidy for renewable energy, but a quaint federal chart that tries to nudge Americans toward a healthy diet.

“The food pyramid, that 3-decade-old backbone of grade-school nutrition lessons, has become a test case of how far the Obama administration is willing to push its global warming agenda.

“The unexpected debate began with a suggestion by a prominent panel of government scientists: The food pyramid — recently refashioned in the shape of a dinner plate — could be reworked to consider the heavy carbon impact of raising animals for meat, they said. A growing body of research has found that meat animals, and cows, in particular, with their belching of greenhouse gases, trampling of the landscape and need for massive amounts of water, are a major factor in global warming.”

The article pointed out that, “Administration officials are already enmeshed in bitter fights with Republicans over coal-fired power plants, methane emissions from oil and gas production, and regulation of automobiles. Whether they have the stomach for adding a food fight to the list remains uncertain. But the possibility that climate change politics could affect nutrition guidelines serves as a reminder of how many parts of daily life the struggle to limit global warming can reach.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “In the closing days of December’s lame-duck session, Congress inserted language in a massive budget package which demanded that the food pyramid deal with nutrition and only nutrition. The administration is now mulling whether to move forward in an effort to rework the pyramid or bury a discussion of environmental sustainability deep in the voluminous text of accompanying Dietary Guidelines.”

And Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported on Friday that, “The Obama administration’s campaign for healthy diets is heading for a conflict with a well-funded industry as a panel of scientists is poised to tell Americans to eat less sugar.

“The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will suggest this month limiting sugars to no more than 10 percent of all calories, down from the average 13 percent now consumed by U.S. adults, as part of a once-every-five year overhaul of a consumer guide. It would be the panel’s first explicit target for sugar in the diet.”

Mr. Bjerga explained that, “Suggestions by the nonpartisan panel of academics and scientists can have far-reaching effects. The nutrition guidelines help shape school lunch menus and the $6 billion a year Women, Infants and Children program, which serves more than 8 million Americans who buy groceries from retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co. They also are the basis for the dinner-plate icon that replaced the food pyramid widely used in public-education campaigns about a healthy diet.

“The panel hasn’t published its recommendations, and members declined to comment in advance of an announcement. Documents and public testimony, however, reveal the outlines of its findings.

“Committee members also are suggesting adding detailed sugar information on Food and Drug Administration nutrition labels, limiting the use of food stamps to healthy choices and endorsing sustainable agricultural practices. They are also encouraging the government to take steps to discourage consumption of sodium and red meat, as well as issuing its first recommendations to boost sustainable agriculture.”

Meanwhile, Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Blaze Online that, “The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has agreed to pay a $48.8 million settlement after claims that it improperly handed out food stamp and welfare benefits to ineligible immigrants for several years, using federal funds.

“The Department of Justice claimed that Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) incorrectly used federal funds from 2004 to 2010 to dispense Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, also known as welfare.”

In other news, an update Friday from Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) indicated that, “[Sen. Cochran] today said he has asked the U.S. Department of State to continue to pressure foreign nations that have defaulted on contracts with American cotton producers to fulfill their contractual and legal obligations.

“Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, made his request in a letter sent this week to Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin. In the correspondence, Cochran cites a recent State Department report sought by Congress regarding the economic hardships experienced by U.S. cotton exporters due to several nations, Vietnam in particular, reneging on milling contracts after significant price drops in 2011.”

A news release on Friday from Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) stated that, “As countries like China continue to smuggle potentially unsafe honey into the U.S., a new report bolsters efforts by [Sen. Casey], a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to protect producers in Pennsylvania and across the nation from so called ‘honey launderers.’ The report, which was produced as a result of Casey-secured language in the most recent farm bill, shows strong support for the development of a federal standard of identity for honey which could help thwart smugglers and protect domestic producers. In 2011, Casey wrote to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (USCPB) urging action on honey smugglers.”

“‘This report bolsters the case for a federal standard of identity for honey that will ultimately better protect Pennsylvania’s producers,’ Senator Casey said. ‘It’s simply unacceptable that countries like China continue to cheat the system. China’s cheating, whether its smuggling honey or manipulating currency, has a serious impact on jobs and economic growth in Pennsylvania.’”

Also on Friday, Reuters writer P.J. Huffstutter reported that, “Researchers at Colorado State University are rolling out a series of projects to track antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the livestock industry, in an attempt to determine whether farm practices are fueling the rise of ‘superbugs.’

“Using a $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the scientists will focus on the DNA of these bacteria to help identify and trace back where such organisms become drug-resistant.

“Scientists and government regulators have grown increasingly concerned that the widespread use of antibiotics given to livestock on farms may be a factor in the rise of ‘superbugs’ – bacteria that grow resistant to drugs, infect humans and defy conventional medicines.”

And on the immigration issue, Lisa Mascaro reported on Friday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “Republicans wrapped up their meeting at this chocolate-rich company town [Hershey, Pa.] with rank-and-file lawmakers expressing renewed interest in tackling what many consider a broken immigration system.”

The article noted that, “‘The American people want to see the legislative branch work again,’ said Rep. Michael Conway (R-Texas), who teared up Friday while describing a citizenship ceremony he attended for 28 returning military members who had served in Iraq.

“Think of it as a two-part strategy: Republicans will continue trying to stop President Obama’s executive actions, as they did earlier this week with a House vote to undo the administration’s efforts to defer deportations for up to 5 million immigrant youths and parents.

At the same time, Republicans want to press forward with their own ideas for immigration.”

Ms. Mascaro added that, “First up will be a tough border security measure coming from Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, who plans to unveil his beefed-up bill soon.”


Agricultural Economy

AP writer Dana Ferguson reported on Saturday that, “Milk sales set records in 2014, but plummeting prices are forcing some dairy farmers to spill the surplus down the drain.

“Already disheartened by the current glut, which is due to global factors and overproduction, dairy farmers say they worry that futures markets predict dwindling prices in 2015. Over in the dairy aisle, though, shoppers are milking savings by the gallon.”

The article added that, “Dairy farmers recognize the volatility of the industry. Less than a year ago, they struggled to meet global demand and milk prices climbed to record highs — about $25 per hundredweight, or roughly the equivalent of a 10-gallon tank, according to Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin.

“So, many farmers bought new equipment and expanded their herds to meet demand. But when China pulled back on its dairy imports after stockpiling milk powder and Russia imposed sanctions against the U.S. by halting trade, dairy farmers nationwide were left with a surplus, Stephenson said.”

A news release on Friday from the National Milk Producers Federation stated that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided more specific information Friday about the extent of coverage chosen by dairy farmers enrolled for 2015 in the new Margin Protection Program (MPP), including a state-by-state breakdown of the percentage of farms using the new safety net.

“Earlier this week, the USDA announced that more than half of U.S. dairy operations have enrolled in the MPP. Today, USDA provided an estimate that 55% of those farms elected to pay additional premiums to purchase a higher level of coverage, above the basic, $4 per hundredweight level offered for $100 per year.”

On Friday, the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released its latest Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report, which indicated that, “The average all-milk price for 2014 was a record high of $23.97 per hundredweight (cwt), a 19.6 percent increase over the 2013 price of $20.05 per cwt. With recent declines in prices and changes in supply and use of dairy products, the all-milk price forecast for 2015 has been reduced to $17.75-$18.55 per cwt, a change from last month’s forecast of $18.45-$19.25 per cwt.”

Also, the ERS report added that, “The data published in the quarterly Hogs and Pigs report, released by USDA on December 23, indicates that the production effects of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PEDv) are abating and that the U.S. hog industry is likely expanding. Year-over- year increases of the December 1 market hog inventory and of the autumn litter rate suggest that aggressive actions by producers, including increased biosecurity measures and vaccination, has contributed to lowering the disease incidence and limiting losses of newborn pigs from PEDv.”

Bloomberg writer Shruti Date Singh reported last week that, “Trying to reshape the long-held eating habits of Americans, Tyson Foods Inc. wants to make chicken a mainstream choice for breakfast, just like bacon.

“Tyson, the biggest U.S. chicken supplier, last year spent $8.4 billion to buy Hillshire Brands Co. and its Jimmy Dean sausage brand. Now, Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson is pushing breakfast staples that include chicken sausage links with bits of apple and maple-flavored chicken patties.”

Late last week, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) released its January U.S. Crop Price Update, which noted in part that, “USDA reduced its estimate of the 2014 corn crop and year-to-date corn prices have been a little higher than previously expected. As a result, the projected corn price for the 2014/15 marketing year is $3.63 per bushel, up from $3.50 in the December update.

“The projected decline in U.S. corn production in 2015 contributes to an increase in corn prices. However, projected corn prices remain below $4.00 through 2018/19.”

The FAPRI report added that, “USDA slightly increased its estimate of the 2014 U.S. and world soybean crops, but the projected 2014/15 soybean price is essentially unchanged this month at $10.02 per bushel. Soybean prices have averaged a little over $10 per bushel so far this marketing year, but a large South American crop could put downward pressure on prices the rest of this marketing year.”


Trade- Cuba

Michael S. Schmidt and Susanne Craig reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “A delegation of American legislators led by Senator Patrick J. Leahy arrived in Cuba on Saturday to discuss greater cooperation and remaining areas of disagreement, the first congressional delegation to visit the island nation since President Obama announced last month that he was restoring full diplomatic ties with it.

“‘We are going this time to discuss our expectations, and the Cubans’ expectations, for the normalization of relations,’ Mr. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said in a statement. ‘We want to explore opportunities for greater cooperation, and to encourage Cuban officials to address issues of real concern to the American people and to their representatives in Congress.’”

The article added that, “Accompanying Mr. Leahy on his three-day trip are other Democratic members of Congress: Senators Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Representatives Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Peter Welch of Vermont.”

David Shepardson reported on Friday at The Detroit News Online that, “This is [Sen. Stabenow’s] second trip to Cuba since 2013. Stabenow, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has called for changes in U.S. sanctions to allow for exports of U.S.-made goods to Cuba.

“‘The policy changes President Obama announced last month will boost agriculture, encourage manufacturing, and create jobs in America by increasing our country’s ability to export goods and products, including many made or grown right here in Michigan,’ said Stabenow, D-Lansing, in a statement. ‘During my time in Cuba, I will be meeting with high-ranking officials and agricultural leaders to make sure these changes will boost our economy and serve the best interests of our farmers, manufacturers and families.’”



Donnelle Eller reported on the front page of yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “A Des Moines utility’s plan to sue three northwest counties for polluting central Iowa’s drinking water supply may have broad ramifications for state and U.S. farmers, who environmentalists complain have been too slow to embrace meaningful conservation practices.

It’s too soon to say exactly how Des Moines Water Works’ threatened lawsuit could play out in farm fields across Iowa and the nation.”

The Register article added that, “But agriculture experts and environmentalists are closely watching the case, which they say could bring to a head a decades-long national fight over who is responsible for water pollution that originates from cropland that often is hundreds of miles away.

“They say the outcome could, for the first time, indirectly require farmers to meet federal clean-water regulations that limit nutrients such as nitrates and phosphorus that enter U.S. waterways.

“‘The ruling, however it comes down, could be precedent-setting,’ said Neil Hamilton, an agricultural law professor at Drake University.”



A news release Friday from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) stated that, “U.S. Senators [Feinstein] and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) today offered an amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill to repeal the corn ethanol mandate, a law that drives up the cost of everything from gasoline to groceries.

“Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is also a co-sponsor of the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015.

“The Feinstein-Toomey amendment abolishes the corn ethanol mandate in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).”

Keith Good

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