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Thursday Morning Update: Policy; Ag Economy; Trade; Regs; and, Political Notes

Policy Issues

A House Ag Committee news release yesterday stated that, “Today, Chairman of the Agriculture Committee K. Michael Conaway (TX-11), Nutrition Subcommittee Chairwoman Jackie Walorski (IN-2), and Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman David Rouzer (NC-7) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell raising concerns about recommendations received from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).

“‘Members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee greatly exceeded their scope in developing recommendations,’ Chairman Conaway said. ‘The Secretaries share responsibility for these flawed recommendations because they failed to keep the Committee focused on nutritional recommendations and away from areas such as sustainability and tax policy, which are outside of the Committee’s purview. At a time when consumers are already subjected to conflicting and often contradictory nutrition and health information, the dietary guidelines must provide the public with realistic, science-based recommendations. Given the grave concerns that have been raised, more time is needed for public comment, and those comments should be fully reviewed and considered.’”

Also yesterday, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) turned his attention to the Dietary Guidelines during a hearing where FDA Administrator, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, presented budget related testimony.

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Aderholt noted that, “Let me switch over to dietary guidelines. The Department of Health & Human Services, and of course FDA is a part of that, has a lead role in developing the dietary guidelines for Americans in 2015. The Secretary of Agriculture appeared before this subcommittee, was sitting where you are sitting just about a week ago. He made a commitment to adhere to the statutory directive for developing the dietary guidelines for Americans. And as he put it, and this was his quote, “I know my role and I will color within the lines.”

Chairman Aderholt went on to ask Dr. Hamburg: “Can we get an assurance from the Department of Health & Human Services that the final report would include only nutrient and dietary recommendations and not include environmental factors and other extraneous material?”

A complete transcript of the exchange between Chairman Aderholt and Dr. Hamburg on the Dietary Guideline issues can be found in this update that was posted yesterday at FarmPolicy.com.

Also yesterday, a Senate Ag Committee news release stated that, “At a Legislative Action Conference for the School Nutrition Association (SNA), U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said he would bring everyone to the table as the debate over reauthorizing child nutrition programs begins.

“‘We need to find a way to bring folks together and have a big picture discussion on how to retain the great advancements that some schools have made, and to allow other districts to meet the challenges,’ Roberts said. ‘We do not intend to take away any successes or devolve to the lowest common denominator, which some folks have expressed concern. We intend to find ways for the program to fulfill its mission: serving nutritious meals to children in need in the best possible manner.’”

Meanwhile, in a closer look at executive branch perspective, Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “While Republicans on Capitol Hill attempt to rein in food stamps and roll back some of the healthier-school-meals rules that have been put in place during the Obama administration, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is organizing a new effort to curb childhood hunger and improve nutrition in some of the poorest areas of the country.”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “But amid the lofty rhetoric, Vilsack also said he is afraid House Republicans may want to fit the food-stamp program—formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—into an ‘arbitrary’ budget number and to provide schools with ‘flexibility’ that could lead them to stop serving meals that are lower in fat and sodium and include whole grains and fruits and vegetables.

“Vilsack made it clear he is proud that the Obama administration has increased the percentage of people eligible for SNAP who are getting benefits from 72 percent to 83 percent, and that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 promoted by first lady Michelle Obama has improved the quality of school meals.”

Mr. Hagstrom indicated that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas has begun a ‘top-to-bottom’ review of SNAP that he says may last several years. Vilsack said those hearings have been ‘respectful,’ but he fears that Republicans who don’t serve on the Agriculture Committee will focus only on how to save money…‘There is a success story here,’ Vilsack said. The Agriculture Department is prepared to address problems in SNAP and in the schools, he said, ‘but we ought not to be sacrificing the progress that’s been made. This is an effort to make sure every kid is prepared to be contributing to this incredibly transforming economy.’”

Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “Changes made to government-subsidized meals by the Obama administration to get schoolchildren to eat more fruits are having their intended effect, according to a study released on Wednesday.

“The study, by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, found that from the time the changes went into effect in 2012 through last year, the percentage of students choosing fruit on a cafeteria line increased to 66 percent from 54 percent.

“Perhaps more important, the study found that children were throwing away less food now than they were before the new guidelines were put in place. Students ate 84 percent of their entrees, not including fruit, up from 71 percent before the rules were in place, thus decreasing the amount of food waste, the researchers found.”

In other policy news, an update yesterday from Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) indicated that, “Today, Representatives [Conyers] and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reintroduced the Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2015, which requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend the use of certain insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, until the agency can review the registration and declare that such insecticides do not cause adverse effects upon honey bees and other pollinators.”

And in policy news from the private sector, Stephanie Strom reported on the front page of the Business Section in today’s New York Times that, “McDonald’s said on Wednesday that it would begin using chickens that are not raised with antibiotics used to treat humans, a move likely to put pressure on competitors of the fast-food chain, which now sells more chicken than beef.

“The decision by McDonald’s, which is also one of the largest buyers of chicken in the United States, is likely to have a major impact on how poultry is raised and on the kinds of chicken restaurants serve.”

Additional articles, analysis and reaction to this development from McDonald’s can be found in this Farmpolicy.com update from yesterday.

 

Agricultural Economy

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve Board released its Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions. Commonly referred to as the “Beige Book,” the report included several observations with respect to the U.S. agricultural economy.

The Kansas City District noted that, “Looking forward, District contacts expected modest declines in cropland values and further deterioration in farm loan repayment rates amid tighter profit margins for crop producers.”

The Chicago District stated that, “Even though higher relative input costs were likely to shift acres toward soybean production and away from corn, there were reports that farmers were reluctant to plan major changes in crop rotations. Contacts also noted plans to return some marginal ground to pasture or hay production, instead of planting corn or soybeans this spring.”

A complete rundown of the Fed report has been posted at FarmPolicy.com.

Ken Anderson reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “After five years of increases, average farmland values in Nebraska dropped three percent over the past year.

“That’s according to preliminary findings from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln 2015 Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Survey.”

 

Trade

A brief FarmPolicy.com update on Cuba trade related issues and agriculture was posted yesterday at FarmPolicy.com- “Update on Cuba Trade Issues.”

Meanwhile, both The Washington Post (“White House counts on Sen. Wyden to deliver on a trade deal ”) and The New York Times (“Fate of Obama’s Trade Agenda May Rest on Oregon Senator”) included articles in today’s papers regarding trade issues and Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.).

The Post article noted that, “Wyden, 65, a four-term senator who has consistently supported trade. He has become the White House’s most important ally to woo skeptical members of Obama’s own party as the president races to complete a massive 12-nation trade deal in the Asia Pacific that is important to his foreign policy legacy.”

The Post item added that, “So far, however, the results have not inspired confidence among Republicans. This week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters that his plans to introduce legislation to grant the administration additional powers to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — as well as another large deal between the United States and Europe — would be delayed until April.”

Today’s New York Times article stated that, “Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says he cannot go forward with such ‘fast track’ authority until the Senate can produce a bipartisan version. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, says he cannot produce one without the support of his committee’s ranking Democrat, Mr. Wyden.”

More broadly on trade, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office released its annual Trade Policy Agenda report yesterday, which is available here.

 

Regulations

An update on some recent regulatory developments has been posted today at FarmPolicy.com.

 

Political Notes

Christopher Doering reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley has been asked for his perspective on farm policy issues by at least two presidential contenders. It also appears that Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) will not be able to attend this weekend’s Iowa Ag Summit- details on these items at Farmpolicy.com.

Philip Rucker and Dan Balz reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “A top adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, is leaving the Obama administration to manage Hillary Rodham Clinton’s likely presidential campaign in Iowa, four Democrats familiar with the move said Wednesday.

Matt Paul, an operative with more than two decades of political experience in Iowa, will return to the Hawkeye State to oversee Clinton’s campaign for the first-in-the-nation caucuses, said the Democrats, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the move.”

FarmPolicy is reminded of this front page Des Moines Register article from last year, “Vilsack on Track for VP?

Keith Good