Reuters writer Carey Gillam reported yesterday that, “U.S. food companies are rushing to offer consumers thousands of products free of genetically modified ingredients but are finding the effort costly and cumbersome in a landscape dominated by the controversial biotech crops.
“The hurdles are so high that the growing ‘GMO-free’ trend could result in a price spike for consumers, industry experts say. Eighteen years after GMO crops were introduced to help farmers fight weeds and bugs, they are so pervasive in the supply chain that securing large and reliable supplies of non-GMO ingredients is nearly impossible in some cases.”
Ms. Gillam noted that, “More than 90 percent of the corn and soybeans now grown in the United States are GMO strains. This means the pipelines for harvesting, storing, transporting, mixing and purchasing the commodities are awash in the biotech supplies.
“To supply conventional crops, farmers must plant non-GMO seeds, prevent pollen or other contaminants from drifting in from neighboring fields, and store and transport the grain separately from GMO crops. The separation must be maintained all the way to the finished product.”
And Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “Growing organic cabbage, squash and other crops for their seeds in northwest Oregon gives Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still plenty to worry about, from hungry insects to unexpected frosts.
“A man-made concern is fast rising on their list: the encroachment of bio-engineered crops, which they say threatens the genetic purity essential to the organic and heirloom fruits and vegetables they produce in the Willamette Valley, the top U.S. seed-growing region.”
Mr. Bjerga added that, “While gene-altered and organic foods share space on grocery shelves, the juxtaposition on farms has led to fears of cross-contamination as pollen blows across fields. Those fears have spawned lawsuits, referendums and even acts of vandalism: in June, 6,500 bioengineered sugar-beet plants in a Syngenta AG field in Jackson County, on Oregon’s southern border, were torn from the ground.
“The issue has become so contentious that the federal government has considered stepping in to referee. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking comment on how best to improve the coexistence of biotech and non-biotech farms. Public comments are due March 4.”
Agricultural Economy- Trade Issues
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.”
In more specific trade related news, Bloomberg writer Brian Wingfield reported yesterday that, “Talks between the U.S. and European Union will be more difficult in the coming months as both sides sort out regulatory differences for a deal they are seeking to complete this year, the EU’s top trade negotiator said.
“‘If we want to finish on the now-proverbial single tank of gas, our message to our negotiators now is that we need to step up a gear,’ EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in remarks prepared for a speech [yesterday] in Washington.”
In a statement yesterday, Commissioner De Gucht indicated that, “A lot of people ask: ‘when you discuss the alignment of standards in TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] you’ll certainly have to accept to lower some standards in the EU?’
“Let me be clear on this very important point: we are not lowering standards in TTIP.”
He added that, “That also means: yes, there will be areas where we will not be able to agree. That’s ok.
“Hormone beef is such an example. Let me be very clear again: we do not even discuss hormone beef in TTIP and we will NOT at any point in our discussions. Why? Because hormone beef is prohibited in Europe, and we do not intend to change this. And our American partners know this very well.”
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman spoke yesterday at the Center for American Progress where he discussed “A Values-Driven Trade Policy,” and indicated on the issue of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that: “Under TPA, no U.S. trade agreement can enter into force unless Congress has been extensively consulted throughout the negotiating process.
“Congress can take months to review the text of the agreement and have hearings on its full content and ultimately Congress has the power to approve or disapprove the proposed agreement.
“Neither TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] nor T-TIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] can go into effect without Congress’ approval.”
More specifically on the TPA issue, Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat says he doesn’t expect Congress to push through expanded trade powers for President Obama this year.
“Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told the Chicago Tribune it is ‘very unlikely’ the White House would see the legislation passed this year.”
Also yesterday, James Politi reported at The Financial Times Online that, “If Mr Obama’s ambitious second-term trade agenda is to have a shot at moving through Congress this year, it will be [Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.)] who makes it happen. Last week, he took over the chairmanship of the powerful Senate finance committee, which oversees international trade, and his main job this year will be to forge a difficult consensus within his own Democratic party in favour of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a separate large trade deal with the EU.”
The FT article noted that, “The early signal has been that Mr Wyden wants to press the pause button on legislation known as Trade Promotion Authority – or ‘fast track’ – that would make it easier and faster for Mr Obama to get the deals through Congress.”
Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, indicated in a column in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The opposition to TPA is unfortunate, as new agreements like those being negotiated with European and Asia-Pacific countries would help American workers, farmers and companies. Freer trade would also be a boon to economic productivity, creating more jobs at good wages.”
“The Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate international trade, but it gives the executive the authority to forge agreements with foreign governments. TPA allows each branch to perform its constitutional role,” the column noted.
In addition, David Luhnow, William Mauldin and Paul Vieira reported in yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Mexico and Canada are set to push for expanded trade within North America and a bigger global role for their continental trading bloc, even as some U.S. politicians show deep ambivalence over foreign engagements.
“‘The most important thing is to strengthen this project–that at least my government is very dedicated to–of making North America a great center of competitiveness,’ Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, said in an interview late Monday. ‘And that this concept be fully shared by the three governments.’
“The three countries’ leaders of will meet here [Mexico City] Wednesday to celebrate 20 years of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but trade experts say the U.S. political appetite for more free-trade deals has waned, casting a shadow over efforts to expand the pact and deepen trade ties between North America and Pacific Rim countries.”
Farm Bill- Policy Issues
A recent news update from National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) indicated that, “As the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law, questions have arisen about how this new legislation affects crop insurance and the farmers who rely on it. A detailed analysis that will answer those questions, including major and minor policy changes, the introduction of new products including SCO and STAX and the link between the premium discount and conservation are all detailed in the newly released version of Crop Insurance: Just the Facts.”
The NCIS update added that, “Crop Insurance: Just the Facts, a popular online resource that provides the A to Z overview of federal crop insurance resides here, on the Crop Insurance Keeps America Growing website page ‘About Crop Insurance’ where it is continuously updated.”
“In addition to addressing the various aspects of the new Farm Bill, the online series covers important topics such as how crop insurance benefits the public, economics of the industry, risk management in global terms, how crop insurance benefits producers and many other important issues,” the release said.
Meanwhile, an update posted yesterday at Fibre2fashion.com
“According to the market estimates and the first analysis made by advisors of ABRAPA and technicians of the Government of Brazil, the new Farm Bill and insurance programs offered by it tend to cause even greater distortions in prices and cotton production than in the past, ABRAPA president Gilson Pinesso said in a press release.
“Although the new Farm Bill eliminates the direct payments to US producers, it creates a new mechanism that is complementary to the existing one. In addition, the new Bill allows the US Government to pay up to 80 percent of insurance premium, the release said.”
Yesterday’s update added that, “On February 20, Brazil’s Chamber of Foreign Trade (CAMEX) will be meeting to decide on next action against the US companies in view of the violation of the WTO decision by the US, and the Brazilian cotton growers will support CAMEX, Mr. Pinesso said.”
Kansas State University agricultural economist Art Barnaby provided a Farm Bill related update yesterday titled, “Calculations of the new ARC and PLC Payments.”
A summary of the brief report stated that, “The Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) has several new programs for agricultural producers, but eliminates Direct Payments, Counter Cyclical Payments, SURE (Supplemental Revenue Assistance) and ACRE (Average Crop Revenue Election). The new Title I programs include Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). Producers will have to make a one-time irrevocable decision this year to select one of the two programs. If they do not choose, the PLC is the default option and farmers/landlords who fail to make a decision will give up any 2014 payment.”
Dave Juday, in a recent article at The Weekly Standard (“Meet the New Farm Bill“) stated that, “Unlike most farm bill debates, which tend to be festivals of bipartisanship and comity, this one split lawmakers–rural from urban, House from Senate, Republican from Democrat–along every political fault including between the Tea Party caucus and the rest of the GOP.”
The update noted that, “First, the 2010 elections decimated the ranks of the Democratic Blue Dogs, the moderate to conservative, mostly rural, mostly Southern Democrats in the House. Enough so that when it came time for the minority to assign seven new members to the House Agriculture Committee after the election, there weren’t enough Democrats from farm districts to fill the seats. Several members interested in SNAP took the assignment, notably Reps. Marcia Fudge from Cleveland, now chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose priorities are ending childhood obesity and expanding nutrition programs, and James McGovern of Massachusetts, self-described ‘unrivaled supporter for social justice and fundamental human rights.’ Not your typical Ag Committee members.
“Second, the Senate Agriculture Committee was chaired by Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), who when writing the first version of the farm bill in 2012 was up for reelection in a state which that year had 1.9 million food stamp recipients and 56,000 farms. Her priorities were clear, and SNAP was preserved.”
Egg Production Issues
Bob Meyer reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “United Egg Producers say they are no longer going to try to get Congress to pass a national hen housing and welfare bill. UEP president, Chad Gregory says now that the Farm Bill has passed the organization is going to focus on ‘delivering much-needed business certainty to the nation’s egg farmers.’
“The United Egg Producers said it would not renew its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the animal rights activist group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which was the genesis for the proposed federal legislation.”
And Ken Anderson reported earlier this week at Brownfield that, “Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey says California’s law requiring other states to comply with California’s larger cage size requirements for egg-laying hens will not go unchallenged.
“‘This will be addressed–Iowa is not going to back down and say that California can tell Iowa producers what to produce out here,’ Northey says. ‘California can tell California producers anything they want to about how they’re going to produce within their state. But legal and safe eggs from Iowa–and right now about 30 percent of the eggs in California are coming from Iowa–need to be able to be allowed in California.”
Also, Larry Kershner reported yesterday at The Messenger (Fort Dodge, Iowa) Online that, “Although he sees the 2014 farm bill as a win for farmers in the long run, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, had a political defeat in the process, but vowed he is not finished yet.”
The article stated that, “The losses include no Country of Original Labeling and his controversial amendment opposing a California law to force states to produce eggs in a manner it deems is appropriate.
“Early in the farm bill process, King submitted his controversial amendment that was overwhelmingly approved in the House ag committee.
“King called the California measure trade protectionism for its egg industry, as well as unconstitutional. He said it violates the interstate commerce clause.”
Yesterday’s article added that, “King said he is not finished with the issue.
“‘I won’t be defeated by people who can’t debate or discuss their position,’ he said.”
“‘We cannot tolerate this policy,’ he said, ‘and let California dictate policy to the rest of the country.’
“He said he’ll expand the fight to more than egg production.”
Jonel Aleccia reported yesterday at NBC News Online that, “Nestle USA is recalling 238,000 cases of its Hot Pockets pastries because they may contain meat included in a massive recall of nearly 9 million pounds of ‘diseased and unsound’ beef products.”
And David Pierson reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “A troubled Central California slaughterhouse that supplies beef to the National School Lunch Program was closed by federal inspectors Monday for failing to meet cleanliness standards.
“Operations at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, Calif., about 30 miles south of Fresno, will be suspended indefinitely until the company produces a corrective plan, inspectors said.”
Brett Neely reported yesterday at Minnesota Public Radio Online that, “A National Republican Congressional Committee polling memo purports to show that long-serving 7th District DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson ‘may be one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats in America today.’ But the numbers from the group that’s tasked with electing Republicans to the U.S. House tell a different story.
“The poll of 400 registered likely voters shows Peterson, who’s still deciding whether to run for another term, has a 58 percent approval rating with 23 percent disapproving of his performance. In a head-to-head match up against his Republican rival, state Sen. Torrey Westrom, Peterson comes out ahead 46-39.”
Cameron Joseph reported yesterday at The Hill’s Ballot Box Blog that, “Freshman Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Calif.) will leave Congress to run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, she announced Tuesday afternoon.”
Rep. McLeod serves on the House Agriculture Committee.
And a tweet yesterday from Alison Grimes, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, included a comment from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) who recently campaigned for Ms. Grimes in the Bluegrass State. The tweet noted that, “We need someone who will fight for Kentucky agriculture every single day & that’s Alison”
Recall that Chairwoman Stabenow also campaigned in North Dakota for Heidi Heitkamp during her successful run of the Senate in 2012.