Recall that back on February 13, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture held a budget hearing and heard testimony from USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong.
During the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.), Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr (D., Calif.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) all referenced a recent New York Times article from January that focused on animal production research procedures and operations at a federal facility in Nebraska. The lawmakers expressed support for the IG to investigate some of the issues raised in the Times article in more detail.
Chairman Aderholt: “In closing, I do want to thank you for agreeing to review the New York Times allegation about the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska. The article described research and attitudes that seem to be pretty much in…pretty inconsistent with the conscientious, the hardworking scientists and the staff that work there and that we have at the Agricultural Research Service. Your assistance in auditing the claims included in the article and reviewing the current conditions, practices and policies would be very helpful to us.”
Ranking Member Farr: “And I want to echo what the chairman said on the animal treatment center, and I’m sure it’s going to open up a lot of issues with a lot of university research areas, but it’s worth looking into. I know California has required all the research institutions in the state universities to change all their caging and animal husbandry practices to bring in humane practices, state-of-the-art humane practices. It’s very expensive to bring it all up, but they did it, and I think that’s probably something that we in Congress ought to look at.”
Rep. Pingree: “I want to just add my voice to the choruses of concern around a very troubling New York Times story that was mentioned about animal research, so I’m hopeful that we’re going to do some more investigating into that. And obviously many of the concerns that were raised in that story about the spending of taxpayer dollars and humane treatment basically bordering on the bizarre, in fact in some of the things that were being researched, in my opinion, and even more importantly, completely counter to what the consumer is looking for today. I mean, the market is growing in humanely raised and, you know, different levels of treatment for animals, so why the taxpayer dollars is being spent in something that’s clearly inappropriate practice I think raises a lot of questions. So just want to add my concerns along with the chair and the ranking member.”
Reuters writer P.J. Huffstutter reported this morning that, “No new research projects will be allowed to begin at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center until stronger procedures are put into place and improved animal welfare standards are implemented by the center’s oversight staff, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Monday.
“Vilsack also ordered that USDA staff update electronic record-keeping practices at all facilities, to ensure all animals are being appropriately monitored and cared for.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Monday that, “A panel of outside researchers declared in a draft report Monday they found no evidence of current animal abuse or mistreatment at a USDA animal and meat research facility in Nebraska.
“Despite no evidence of current animal abuse, USDA still ordered any new research projects at the facility not be started until some new procedures are implemented.
“The report examined current practices at USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center outside of Clay Center, Neb., following allegations in the New York Times of animal abuse at the facility. The article in January sparked outrage from some animal-rights activists and led Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to call for a quick review of the facility.”
Mr. Clayton added that, “A four-member panel visited the research center over a two-day period Feb. 24-26 and gave the facility a clean bill of health. ‘Without exception, the panel observed healthy and well-cared-for animals,’ the panel’ report stated. ‘As a rule, animals were handled with care and professionalism by dedicated staff members. No instances of animal abuse, misuse or mistreatment were observed.'”
“The report released Monday didn’t specifically address allegations made in a New York Times article in January about death losses and animal care at the facility,” the DTN article said.
Joe Duggan reported on Monday at the Omaha World-Herald Online that, “The panelists found ‘no evidence’ of animal welfare training for those who work at the center. In addition to ordering such training, Vilsack also required center officials to more clearly define their long-standing partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when it comes to animal welfare.
“‘It is imperative that all USDA research activities be carried out in a manner consistent with our high standards of humane and responsible treatment of animals in our care,’ Vilsack said.”
Also on Monday, with respect to the USDA’s Inspector General, P.J. Huffstutter reported that, “The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Office of the Inspector General has assembled an audit team and plans to begin field work this month in an inquiry of the government’s key livestock study center amid media reports of animal welfare abuse, the agency told Reuters on Monday.
“OIG officials currently are ‘determining the scope and objectives of their planned audit inquiry‘ into the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) facility in Nebraska, the agency said.”
Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) noted at today’s hearing that, “Like many, I am concerned about obstacles created by the Chinese government to our inspection of foreign food and drug products. While the safety of American consumers is our paramount concern, there is also a fundamental question about fair trade practices. Domestic manufacturers and producers are subjected to extensive regulation to ensure the safety of their products, and they should have an equal playing field with their foreign competitors. The Fiscal Year 2015 Omnibus included $2 million to speed up drug facility reviews in China, and we are looking forward to an update on this effort.”
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “The size of FDA’s FY 2016 request includes increases for budget authority that disregard the debt crisis facing our nation. The agency is proposing large increases using scarce discretionary resources. Since FDA is informing Congress that Food Safety, Medical Product Safety, and Rent and Infrastructure needs are their highest priorities this year, it will be incumbent upon FDA to prove to Congress that such priorities cannot be funded out of base resources first.”
Subcommittee Chairman Aderholt added that, “FDA’s request for budget authority exceeds the 2015 enacted funding level by six percent.”
FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who is stepping down at the end of the month after six years in that position, noted the FDA’s work on the Food Safety Modernization Act and stated at the hearing: “FDA published seven major proposed rules and, based on stakeholder input, four supplemental proposals to implement FSMA. The Agency also completed 8,607 high-risk food establishment inspections in FY 2014, exceeding the target of 6,507 inspections by 32 percent. FDA also released a FSMA Operational Strategy Document that focuses on how we can implement FSMA by prioritizing prevention, voluntary compliance, risk-based oversight, and expanded collaboration across the food safety community.”
Below is a transcript of the discussion on this issue.
Rep. Robert Aderholt: 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.”
I reminded him, when he was here last week, of the need to stay focused only on the dietary and nutritional recommendations of the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee and subsequent comments collected by USDA and the Department of Health & Human Safety about these recommendations. To quote from former Senator Bob Dole, he said, “I believe the committee exceeded its mandate when it made dietary recommendations based on environmental concerns of sustainability.” I urged the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health & Human Services to [amend] those recommendations in issuing their final guidelines.
The science of nutrition can be confusing to the average consumer. Integrating environmental considerations into dietary recommendations lessens the report’s impact and usefulness. My question, Commissioner, would be, as a vital player in the development of these final guidelines, 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?
Dr. Margaret Hamburg: Well, our role in the nutrition space is a little bit different. We are involved, of course, in the dietary guidelines, but that’s not our direct responsibility. We have many responsibilities directly in areas of nutrition and nutrition science. And I’m really happy to be able to report to you that we have a very strong commitment to science-based decision-making in our nutrition programs, that as we look at what matters to promoting health and protecting health of the American public with respect to health and nutrition, you know, we spend a lot of time examining what is known, what does the [literature] show, soliciting input from other experts in helping to get additional information that we might not be aware of. We also do undertake research ourselves and in partnership with others.
We also have just recruited a wonderful new director of our Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, Dr. Susan Mayne, who is here, who we got from Yale University, you know, who has a long and distinguished career in nutrition science and health. So I think we are well positioned to help advance understanding and to make sound policies based on evidence. And certainly we try very hard to color within the lines, too. We already have responsibilities that outstrip our resources. We have no desire to take on new activities that are outside of what we’ve been mandated and asked to do.
Rep. Aderholt:Okay, I’ll take that as a yes then, so… I find it interesting that the advisory committee has found that cholesterol is not an nutrient of concern for over consumption, even though previous dietary guidelines have recommended limiting cholesterol intake to [no] more than 300 milligrams per day. There are other such examples in the recent past where the advisory committee completely changed its focus, despite claims of sound science.
The advisory committee also recommended a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods as more health promoting, even though lean meat has been included as a part of a healthy, balanced diet in previous dietary guidelines. How are consumers supposed to feel confident about following the dietary guidelines when the recommendations contradict what was just put out five years ago?
Dr. Hamburg: Well, I think one of the challenges in this arena and other arenas as well is that the science base is always changing. Also, with the vast array of different kinds of studies going on, with different perspectives, it can get very confusing about emerging [science] and how to put it into context, and what information consumers should rely on.
Again, I come back to my earlier answer that we really view as the foundation of the work we do establishing the database and the evidence for regulatory decision-making, but recognize that this is a dynamic process, and new evidence emerges as understandings of the science and of human biology advance, and as that happens, we do think it’s very important to periodically update the work we’re doing.
For example, not too long ago we put forward a proposal to update our nutrition facts label, which is the nutrition information on the back of various kinds of processed and other foods. That was first begun, I think now, more than 20 years ago. And some of the nutritional components being represented there didn’t represent advances in nutrition science, and also the serving size information didn’t reflect current practices and behaviors of American consumers. So I think that’s very important so that Americans can have access to the most recent and updated information so they can make informed choices.
Rep. Aderholt:I reminded Secretary Vilsack, when he was here last week, of the enormous impact the dietary guidelines have on individual diets. Also nutritionists and dieticians who plan and prepare food for schools and other institutions and elsewhere across the United States. I suggested to him that the 45 day timeline for the comments is too short. And he committed to discussing extending that comment period for an additional 60 days with Secretary Burwell. Can I get a commitment from you that you and your colleagues will convey that need to extend that comment period?
Dr. Hamburg: Well, I will certainly reflect back to Secretary Burwell, you know, your comments in this discussion.
Rep. Aderholt: Thank you. Well, as I say, he was…the Secretary, I think, he was in agreement that this additional 60 days was important because of the impact of this, and so we would appreciate your conveying that to the Secretary, and that how…that this, we…many of us feel here on the committee that it is important as well.
Policy Issues- Senate Ag Committee Hearing; House Ag Committee Hearing Today
In two separate panels, agricultural producers and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on the implementation of last year’s Farm Bill Tuesday morning.
AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on Tuesday that, “Congressional Republicans are laying the groundwork for an overhaul of the nation’s food stamp program, trying again after an unsuccessful attempt two years ago.
“House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Tuesday that his panel is starting a comprehensive, multiyear review of the program to see what’s working. He said ‘either huge reforms or small reforms’ could come from that, though he wouldn’t detail what those might be.
“Conaway says a 2013 GOP effort to cut food stamps ‘didn’t resonate well’ because Republicans didn’t spell out why it was important. House Republican leaders tried unsuccessfully to cut the program by 5 percent annually by passing a bill with broad new work requirements.”
The AP article noted that, “Some Democrats say they are wary of the review process. Agriculture Committee member James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a longtime advocate for food stamps, said he wonders why the SNAP program is singled out for review and not expensive farm programs.
“‘I am deeply concerned about this,’ McGovern said. ‘This is a program that by and large works.’”
Meanwhile, David Pierson reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “An estimated 9 million people are sickened and 1,000 killed by food-borne illnesses in the U.S. each year, but until now officials were unable to pinpoint which foods were most likely to blame.
“In a report released Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service detailed the sources of the most common food-borne illnesses with the aim of improving food safety and policy.”
The LA Times article noted that, “Among the findings: More than 80% of E. coli O157 cases were attributed to beef or crops such as leafy vegetables.
“About 75% of campylobacter illnesses were linked to dairy (66%), particularly raw milk dairy, and chicken (8%).
“More than 80% of listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit (50%) and dairy (31%).”
Also on Tuesday, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its annual U.S. Crop Values Summary, a link to the complete report along with highlights regarding corn and soybeans can also be found at FarmPolicy.com.
Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times contained an article highlighting ongoing drought concerns California. The article included this quote from Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “If you think we’ve turned around on the drought, stop smoking whatever you’re smoking.”
Details on this article, as well as Reuters news updates that focused on agricultural issues in Brazil, Ukraine, and Russia have been posted here.
And Jon Hilsenrath reported on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, sounding upbeat about the economy, laid the groundwork for interest-rate increases later this year.
“‘The employment situation in the United States has been improving on many dimensions,’ Ms. Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, her first of two days of semiannual testimony before lawmakers. Spending and production had increased at a ‘solid rate,’ she added, and should remain strong enough to keep bringing unemployment down.”
Trade Issues (TPA, TPP); West Coast Ports
And in trade related news, William Mauldin reported in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Lawmakers from both parties are trying to strike a difficult balance as they wrangle over the final intricacies of a bill that would expedite consideration of trade deals.
“House and Senate leaders crafting the so-called fast-track bill want to include sweeteners to attract skeptical Democrats, including rules to allow lawmakers greater access to the details of continuing trade negotiations.
“But supporters fear too many provisions friendly to Democrats could alienate Republicans and the business community, or even put a major Pacific trade deal at risk when it comes up for a final vote. The U.S., Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries are hoping to agree to the final terms of the trade partnership in coming months.”
Mr. Mauldin explained that, “The bill’s authors—Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.)—are now fighting over how much leverage to give lawmakers to remove any coming trade deals from fast-track protection. That would subject the pacts to ordinary amendments and procedural delays.”
Reuters writer Krista Hughes reported on Tuesday that, “U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen warned Congress on Tuesday against a bid to crack down on currency cheats and said adding currency rules to trade deals could hobble monetary policy.
“Lawmakers have introduced legislation allowing firms to seek compensation for currency weakness overseas and some are also fighting to include a currency chapter in upcoming trade deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”
Also on Tuesday, Reuters news indicated that, “A meeting aimed at sealing a Pacific trade deal has been called for April, Mexico’s economy minister said on Tuesday, adding he was optimistic it would be sealed in the first half of 2015.
“‘I am very optimistic that there will be good news for the TPP in the first half of this year,’ Ildefonso Guajardo told Reuters, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
On the West Coast Port issue, Diana Marcum reported on Tuesday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “An end to labor strife at West Coast ports should speed up cargo operations, but it may be too late to help California’s drought-weary nut and citrus farmers.
“Citrus took the hardest hit. Oranges, many bound for Chinese New Year celebrations, sat decaying on ships, at docks and on the ground as a nine-month labor dispute snarled ports. Fieldworkers, packinghouse employees and truck drivers had their hours cut.”
The article added that, “Losses could reach as high as 50% of citrus exports, or $500 million, according to trade groups… [F]or California’s almond farmers and processors, the severe cargo backlogs have raised fears that foreign buyers could cancel contracts for almonds stuck in storage and buy from other countries.”
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters he was prepared to move swiftly to extend funding for DHS through the fiscal year in a bill that is not contingent on Republican demands to repeal President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.”
Bloomberg writer Mario Parker reported on Tuesday that, “Ethanol producers are cutting output after getting squeezed by the biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2008.
“Valero Energy Corp. and Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc., representing about 15 percent of U.S. capacity, have reduced operations as margins narrowed. At a typical mill in Illinois that makes ethanol from corn, profit margins have almost totally disappeared, compared with $1.33 a gallon a year ago, according to AgTrader Talk, a Clive, Iowa-based consulting company.”
A tentative agreement on the West Coast port dispute was reached on Friday, while articles on Saturday cautioned, “that the new contract won’t immediately resolve the delays.” Some lawmakers also weighed in on the developments expressing relief and a need for quick implementation of the agreement. A recap of news from Friday and Saturday can be found here at FarmPolicy.com.
The cautionary tone was amplified in an article by Tiffany Hsu, Andrew Khouri and Peter Jamison on the front page of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times titled, “Despite West Coast ports’ labor deal, normality not yet on horizon.” The writers indicated that, “West Coast ports are emerging from the most contentious labor dispute in more than a decade, but lingering resentment and structural problems may complicate a return to normality.”
President Obama used his weekly address on Saturday to call on Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
While The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that “House and Senate negotiators are converging on a deal” regarding TPA- more details at FarmPolicy.com.
A news release on Friday from U.S. Wheat Associates indicated that, “Several influential countries are not complying with the domestic agricultural support commitments they made as members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). That is the conclusion of a study sponsored by U.S. commodity organizations and introduced to agricultural negotiators Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland. Those organizations made the point that recognizing the current realities in agricultural support and trade could help improve the chances of finally reaching a Doha Round agreement.
“The study was conducted by DTB Associates, Washington, DC, and updates a similar study conducted in 2011. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) was one of the sponsors of the latest study indicating that the governments of India, China, Turkey, Brazil and Thailand have dramatically increased trade distorting subsidies for wheat, corn or rice production over the past ten years to levels that exceed their WTO agreements — in most cases by large margins. That information has not been readily available to WTO negotiators.”
And Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), along with several House Democrats, including Collin Peterson (Minn.), just concluded a trip to Cuba, for more on this trip and Cuba issues, see this FarmPolicy update.
Following Thursday’s release of dietary guidelines from a government advisory committee, reactions from lawmakers and other interested parties have been publicized, including different views from former United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman on the “sustainability” aspect of the guidelines.
The South Dakota congressional delegation also “expressed their concern about the misleading and inconsistent guidelines on meat consumption in the report.”
And news release on Friday from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that, “The model of agricultural production that predominates today is not suitable for the new food security challenges of the 21st century, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today.”
The release added that, “Agriculture has a potentially large role to play not only in guaranteeing food security but also in building resilience to the affects of climate change and in reducing humankind’s emissions of global warming gases, according to the FAO Director-General.
“‘The impacts of climate change are no longer an anticipated threat. They are now a crystal-clear reality right before our eyes,’ he warned, adding: ‘Climate change will not only affect food production but also the availability of food and the stability of supplies. And in a global, interdependent economy, climate change makes the global market for agricultural products less predictable and more volatile.’”
The House Ag Committee will hold hearings this week on Wednesday and Thursday regarding Farm Bill nutrition issues; while, on Tuesday, the Senate Ag Committee will hold a hearing on Farm Bill implementation and hear testimony from Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack.
Sec. Vilsack is also scheduled to appear on Wednesday at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
Recall that earlier this month, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Ag heard from USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong.
Meanwhile, Tom Steever reported on Friday at Brownfield that, “The Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee says cutting crop insurance subsidies is a non-starter, but the Kansas Republican also expresses the need to convince detractors that the risk management tool has value.
“Senator Pat Roberts says there are people who believe that crop insurance subsidies should be reformed, which he says is the nice way to describe a cut.
“‘Usually they want the money for something else,’ Roberts told Brownfield Ag News at the Western Farm Show in Kansas City Friday, ‘either that or they just do not feel that farmers ought to have subsidized crop insurance.’”
Mr. Steever added that, “Roberts says Obama budget writers see crop insurance subsidies as low hanging fruit where money can be saved.
“‘We’re determined to educate these folks to the value of crop insurance; that’s going to be an ongoing effort, but that’s the way it’s been for years,’ said Roberts. ‘We’re going to put that down as a top priority.’”
And Ron Nixon reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “To understand America’s fragmented food safety inspection system, consider a slice of frozen pizza. The pepperoni is examined by the Agriculture Department, the cheese and tomato sauce by the Food and Drug Administration, each agency using its own methods for inspecting and testing.
“If someone gets ill sampling that slice’s tasty goodness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might sound the alarm, but it would fall to the F.D.A. to pressure the pizza maker for a recall.
“The Obama administration wants a single new agency to sweep all that away: the Food Safety Administration, a colossus that would be housed within the Department of Health and Human Services to ‘provide focused, centralized leadership, a primary voice on food safety standards and compliance with those standards,’ the administration said in its new budget request.”
David Kesmodel reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “While many U.S. farmers grappled with lower grain prices last year, Mike Baker had an ace up his sleeve: sorghum.
“The grain, long overshadowed by more-plentiful crops, suddenly is in high demand [related graph] thanks to China’s soaring appetite for animal feed and a shift in its buying preferences away from foreign corn. A 15-fold increase in imports of U.S. sorghum by China over the past year has pushed its price above corn’s in parts of the U.S., a rarity that highlights how policy shifts by Beijing can have a far-reaching impact on the global grain trade.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “Congress and the Obama administration will once again have to decide whether labeling meat with the country of origin is worth the trade headaches it causes.
“The ruling is a victory not only for Canada and Mexico, but U.S. meatpackers that have long opposed labeling the origin of meat products at retailers. Opponents of the law urged both the Obama administration and Congress to eliminate the rule or change it.”
Jacob Bunge reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “U.S. grain and soybean futures closed sharply lower Wednesday—with corn sinking to the lowest level in more than four years—after government and private-sector reports reinforced expectations for massive harvests ahead.
“Corn futures for September delivery fell 4.1%, the biggest decline on a percentage basis since June 30, pressured by reports from Allendale Inc. and Lanworth estimating high yields that may translate to larger U.S. grain stockpiles, analysts said.
“September corn dropped 14½ cents to $3.41¼ a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, marking the lowest closing price since June 29, 2010. December corn futures, the most-active contract by volume, dropped 11¾ cents, or 3.2%, to $3.52 a bushel.”
Mr. Bunge added that, “Soybean and wheat futures also declined Wednesday as crop-yield forecasts soothed concerns over weather-related threats to some U.S. soybean fields, and a strengthening U.S. dollar added uncertainty to export prospects for the domestic wheat crop.”
Tony C. Dreibus reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Corn and wheat futures tumbled to their lowest prices in nearly four years as favorable weather over the July Fourth holiday weekend upgraded prospects for U.S. crops.
“Soybeans fell, too, closing at their lowest level in more than four months.
“In the past week, up to six times the normal amount of precipitation fell in parts of Iowa and Illinois, the biggest U.S. growers of corn and soybeans, further improving growing conditions. About three-fourths of the nation’s corn and soybean crops were in good or excellent condition as of Sunday, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department [related graph].”
“From white potatoes to Pacific salmon and even cigars, the nearly three-hour meeting had a bit of everything. And behind the scenes, first lady Michelle Obama pushed — with some success — for last-day compromises protecting nutrition standards for children.”
David Pierson reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “For decades, China’s rulers deemed grain production a linchpin to its national security. The policy of self-sufficiency was a legacy of its planned economy from the days of Mao when China was increasingly isolated from the outside world.
“But China’s communist founders couldn’t have predicted the nation’s dizzying rise in meat consumption, which has grown nearly ten-fold to 71 million metric tons since 1975.
The article noted: “That’s why China has been increasingly importing grains such as soybeans and corn from the U.S. and Brazil to boost its livestock population. Grain self-sufficiency was becoming like communist dogma in China: more a theory than a practice.
“Then last week, Beijing called it quits by announcing it was scaling back its annual grain production targets to put a greater emphasis on quality rather than quantity.”
Mr. Pierson explained that, “The shift in grain policy was the clearest signal that policymakers had decided meat production was paramount, a pivot that will ripple across the globe and probably intensify China’s quest for foreign sources of meat, grain and dairy.”
An update yesterday from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), “2014 Farm Sector Income Forecast,” stated that, “Net farm income is forecast to be $95.8 billion in 2014, down 26.6 percent from 2013’s forecast of $130.5 billion. The 2014 forecast would be the lowest since 2010, but would remain $8 billion above the previous 10-year average.”
“The value of crop production is expected to decline substantially in 2014, falling back to pre-2011 levels. Commensurate with this drop is an expected decline in both crop cash receipts and the value of crop inventory adjustment,” the ERS update said; adding that, “Large U.S. corn production increases are expected as U.S. farm operations continue bouncing back from the 2012 drought. Both sales receipts and value of inventory change for corn in 2014 are expected to decline significantly, reflecting a large forecast decline in the average price of corn for grain. The world corn market has become much more competitive.”
ERS noted that, “Soybean receipts and value of production are expected to decline significantly, reflecting a large expected decline (19.3 percent) in the annual price” [see related graphs here and here].
A news release yesterday from National Crop Insurance Services indicated that, “On the heels of the 2014 Farm Bill becoming law, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) addressed the crop insurance industry yesterday and noted that crop insurance is now the centerpiece of U.S. farm policy.
“‘Today, crop insurance is the foundation of this Farm Bill and the farm safety net,’ Stabenow, one of the law’s architects, said at the crop insurance industry’s annual convention.”
The update added that, “‘The farmer gets a bill, not a check with crop insurance…and they don’t get help unless they really need it,’ Stabenow said referring to the premiums farmers pay and the indemnities that are only received after losses are verified.
“Stabenow noted that during the debate, farmers stressed their support for crop insurance and asked Congress to strengthen it. And by making crop insurance more readily available to specialty crop growers, she said the policy’s coalition of support has been strengthened.”
AP writer Jeff Karoub reported yesterday that, “A group of scientists at Michigan State University huddled around a computer screen earlier this week — not poring over scientific data but watching a webcast of the U.S. Senate.
“Among them was Rufus Isaacs, an entomologist who leads a team of U.S. and Canadian scientists working to enhance bee pollination of crops. Isaacs was anxious to see if the Senate would approve the long-delayed farm bill, and with it continue the $8.6 million federal grant critical to his pollen project’s survival. The Senate passed the legislation and Congress sent it to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign the bill Friday on Isaacs’ campus in East Lansing.
“‘It was a great relief and celebration in my lab,’ Isaacs said of the rare moment when pollen took a backseat to politics. ‘It’s been a long wait for this.’”
The article noted that, “The nearly $100 billion-a-year federal farm bill, passed after 2 ½ years of legislative wrangling, does two main things: Almost 80 percent of the money goes to food stamps for the needy, and around 15 percent is designated for farm subsidies and crop insurance subsidies. The pledge of hundreds of millions of dollars for agricultural research is a relative drop in the bucket, but it’s pumping money into universities across the country, particularly for advanced agricultural research.
“Obama’s visit to Michigan State is a nod to the primary role a fellow Democrat, Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, played in authoring the bill and getting it passed.”
In a radio interview earlier this week with Mick Kjar (Ag News 890, Terry Loomis, Farm Director (Fargo, ND)), Senate Agriculture Committee member John Hoeven (R., N.D.) discussed several Farm Bill issues.
In part, Sen. Hoeven indicated that, “I think that the conference committee really has the parameters for an agreement, people just need to agree and we need to have the bill on the floor when we get back the first weeks in January and get it passed. I think right now we are on track to do that. People are positive about it, so I think right now it’s going the right way.
“Now I am here and I’m pushing every single day to make sure something doesn’t go off track, but I think right now we’re going to be in a position where we can get this thing to the floor, that second week in January, and it get passed, and I’m just going to keep doing everything I can to make that happen.” (Related audio here (MP3- 0:55)).
Also in his discussion on Ag News 890, Sen. Hoeven briefly discussed crop insurance and Title I issues– related audio here (MP3- 1:00).
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “House Republicans took the first steps late Thursday toward a formal Farm Bill conference with the Senate, as the Rules Committee cleared the way for a floor vote Friday that would marry up the separate titles approved in July and then last week.
“The provisions are part of a larger ‘martial law’ rule approved 9-3 by the Rules panel and empowering the GOP leadership to move quickly over the weekend on debt and funding bills prior to the fiscal year ending Monday night.
“In this context, the farm language can seem a bit player in the furor over a threatened government shutdown and potential default. But it is a critical first step that Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has been waiting for anxiously.”
Mr. Rogers pointed out that, “Even now [House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio)] has chosen such a convoluted approach that some fear it will take several weeks more before a farm bill conference can be up and running.
“There’s no chance of beginning before the current farm law — a one-year extension of the five-year program that already expired in 2012 — runs out Monday. And while the Senate has already appointed its conferees, it must repeat that process now — exposing Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to more delays.”
From the Washington Post Online program On Background, September 24- “The USDA quietly approved cooked chicken imports from China last month, raising concerns with some food safety groups and on Capitol Hill. Chris Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America weighs in on the debate.”