FarmPolicy

July 19, 2019

GMO Labeling Debate on Senate Floor

Categories: Biotech

A news release yesterday from Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) stated that, [Chairman Roberts] today announced the Senate has proceeded to floor debate on his proposal to provide a uniform standard for bioengineering and an incentive to provide more information on biotechnology to consumers.

“‘This legislation is a true compromise,’ said Chairman Roberts. ‘I have worked with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to find a balance between consumers’ right to know and ensuring an even playing field in the marketplace.'”

The release added that, “Votes on the legislation are expected as early as Wednesday.”

Recall also that an alternative GMO labeling measure, which was co-sponsord by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) has also been introduced in the Senate.

Yesterday, senators began to speak in more detail about these two legislative measures.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) noted that, “Vermont recently passed food-labeling legislation that according to one study could increase annual food costs by more than $1,000 per family. These aren’t just Vermont families I am talking about; these are families all across our country.

“The Senate will soon consider commonsense, bipartisan legislation that aims to ensure that decisions in one State or a patchwork of different State laws do not hurt American families throughout our country—especially at a time when so many are already struggling to make ends meet. The goal is to set clear, science-based standards in order to prevent families from being unfairly hurt by a patch- work of conflicting local and State labeling laws passed in States and cities where they don’t even live.

“I would like to recognize the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator ROBERTS, for his continuing work on this issue. The Agriculture Committee moved to pass the chairman’s mark last week with bipartisan support. I know Chairman ROBERTS continues to work with Senator STABENOW, the ranking member, and others across the aisle on a pathway forward on legislation we can pass in the Senate to resolve this issue. I urge Members to continue working with him in that endeavor.

“Let’s not forget that this may well be our last chance to prevent the actions of one State—just one State—from hurting Americans in all the other States. Legislation to address this issue passed the House last summer with bipartisan support. With cooperation from across the aisle, we can take action on a bipartisan basis here on the Senate floor as well.”

On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) indicated that, “Madam President, GMO, genetically modified food—that is basically what it is. What we want is to make sure consumers know what is in their food. They deserve clear standards. They require the disclosure of what is in their food, not a voluntary standard that Senator ROBERTS is talking about bringing out of the committee. All that does is leave consumers in the dark, and that is the wrong way to go.”

And Sen. Merkley, who has regularly addressed this issue on the Senate floor over the past several days (see herehere, and here), also spoke about the GMO labeling issue again yesterday.

A complete transcript of his remarks can be found here.

In part, Sen. Merkley noted that, “Right now Vermont is a laboratory. On July 1 they are going to have their first labeling law in the country, and that is an experiment that their citizens wanted, consistent with 9 out of 10 Americans who want to know. They responded; Vermont responded. They are the first State in the Union to do so. Are we going to cut that short? We are going to trash that ability of Vermont to conduct this experiment? We are going to stomp on the citizens’ rights to know, not just in Vermont but in Oregon, Montana, Florida, and all 50 States, and throw in a few U.S. terri- tories as well?

Now the argument is made that this is very dangerous because there could be multiple States that produce different standards. But that doesn’t exist. There will not be multiple States in July. There is only one State that has a bill. So it is a phony argument to say that this is somehow causing big, expensive problems because there are conflicting State standards, because there are no conflicting State standards. It is just one great State that responded to its citizens’ desires. Who are we to stop that experiment now? We should endorse that experiment. We should endorse that State laboratory. We should watch to see how well it works. We know citizens want this and that they care a lot. So why take it away just because Monsanto and friends don’t want Americans to know?”

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Farmland Values Steady, DTN

DTN Executive Editor Marcia Zarley Taylor reported today that, “Despite serious erosion in farm incomes since 2013, farmland markets across the Corn Belt held amazingly steady this winter.

“Peak Soil Index sales data through February 2016 shows six states it monitors below all-time records set in the last few years. But select counties in Wisconsin are averaging $4,361 per acre, only 2% below their high of a year ago; irrigated Nebraska farmland ran $7,055, about 4% below its 2015 peak; Minnesota crop counties averaged $5,641, off 8% from their 2014 peak; Illinois averaged $7,591, off 8% from its 2104 peak; and Indiana at $6,782 per acre recorded the steepest tumble, off 14% from its peak a year earlier.

“Such adjustments so far seem modest, even miniscule, compared to the collapse in commodity prices the past three years. Overall net farm incomes (including livestock, crops and government payments) could run about 40% below 2014 levels this year, USDA estimated in February. That would be the lowest farm income level since 2002.”

The DTN article noted that, “In contrast, good-quality Iowa farmland averaged $8,123 per acre through February, according to Peak Soil. That’s down about 11% from the state’s all-time high in May 2013.”

Today’s article added that: “The shock to farmland markets typically lags farm incomes by several years: Studies by Iowa State University Economist (Emeritus) Mike Duffy show for every 2% drop in gross farm income, you’d expect cropland values to dip 1%. It’s worked to forecast nearly every period in modern history except the 1970s, when Duffy believes inflation expectations distorted land markets.”

Recall that The Des Moines Register indicated today that: “Faced with declining profits, some Iowa farmers are defaulting on cropland rents…”

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Call For Federal Action on Bee Health

A news release yesterday from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) indicated that, “Senators [Feinstein], Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency to better protect bee populations.

“The senators’ recommendations include improving data collection, better identifying unregistered mixtures of pesticides and reducing unnecessary pesticide use. The letter follows the release last week of a Government Accountability Office report that detailed the collapse of pollinator populations in the United States.

The senators wrote: ‘Despite their irreplaceable contribution to the health of agriculture and the environment, domestic and wild bees are under serious threat. From 2006 to 2014, beekeepers reported honeybee colony losses averaging 29 percent annually, an unsustainable rate of loss well above normal levels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that bee populations face increasing risks from parasites, disease, lack of adequate nutrition, and sub-lethal pesticide exposure.'”

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Farmers Hurting From Lower Profit Margins

Donnelle Eller reported on the front page of today’s Des Moines Register that, “Faced with declining profits, some Iowa farmers are defaulting on cropland rents — a largely unheard of move given the intense competition for the state’s fertile farmland and a sign that financial pressure and debt are mounting.

“With farm real estate debt across the United States at its highest levels since the farm crisis years of the early ’80s, farmers are increasingly nervous about trying to turn a profit while paying sky-high rents.

“As a result, more growers are severing ties on rented land that some have farmed for decades — and they’re doing it with the spring planting season nearly upon them.”

The Register article explained that, “”We had someone call today and say ”Don’t cash that check right away,” said Mark Gannon, owner of Gannon Real Estate & Consulting in Des Moines, on March 1. ‘Another farmer called, wanting to renegotiate their lease. … There’s some stress out there.’

“Farmers tell managers and landowners that bankers are tightening credit, with growing losses and dwindling reserves built up during farming’s boom driving lending decisions, experts say.”

Ms. Eller added that, “U.S. farm income in 2016 is projected to fall for the third year in a row, with farmers squeezed between tumbling corn and soybean prices and stubbornly high costs for land, seed, fertilizer and other inputs needed to grow a crop, experts say.

Grain prices have sunk 50 percent or more since 2012, when drought drove prices to record highs.”

Today’s Register article also noted that, “Dermot Hayes, an ISU agricultural economist, said land rents and other costs need to drop more, given where commodity prices have landed.

“‘Cash rents haven’t declined in proportion with revenue,’ he said. ‘That adjustment needs to occur.'”

Also, today’s article stated that: “[Dale Kooima, president of Peoples Bank in Rock Valley in northwest Iowa] said losses for corn and soybean growers are being exacerbated by a downturn for livestock producers. Cattle producers have struggled to post a profit, while pork producers have seen mixed results, he said.”

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