Keith Good: What’s Next for Meat Labeling?; Sugar Prices Take Tumble

    Meat Labels

    Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Package labels on fresh cuts of meat that identify where animals were born, raised and slaughtered face an uncertain future after successful trade challenges from Canada and Mexico.

    “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the U.S. is running out of options for the meat labels, which are required under a 2008 law.”

    Ms. Jalonick explained that, “A spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the United States has not decided whether it will appeal the latest WTO decision. If the October ruling stands, Canada and Mexico could retaliate against the United States with other trade sanctions if the labels aren’t changed or scrapped.

    “Vilsack said he believes Congress either needs to change the law or Mexico and Canada need to negotiate a settlement with the United States.

    “‘There is no apparent regulatory solution available that could make this rule compliant with the WTO’s recent decision and also uphold the law Congress passed,’ Vilsack said in a statement.”

    Sugar Prices

    Jeffrey Sparshott reported yesterday at the Real Time Economics blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “The price consumers paid for sugar fell the most on record last month, Labor Department data showed Thursday.

    “The consumer price index’s measure for sugar and artificial sweeteners tumbled 2.2% in October and is down 3.8% from a year earlier. That bucked overall trends for food prices, which are up 3.1% from a year ago, and overall consumer costs, which rose 1.7% [related graph].

    “Separate U.S. Department of Agriculture data show retail refined sugar prices in the third quarter of this year fell to a little over 60 cents a pound, the lowest quarterly figure since 2009.”


    news release yesterday from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) indicated that, “The [NMPF] has recommended a series of changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial Waters of the U.S. regulation, a proposal that could greatly expand the waterways subject to regulation under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

    “NMPF, the voice of more than 32,000 dairy producers in Washington, asked EPA to either include the organization’s recommendations in the proposed regulation, or withdraw the proposal and rewrite it.”

    Policy Issues

    Tennille Tracy reported yesterday at the Washington Wire blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas), the newly appointed chair of the House Agriculture Committee, is pledging to undertake a ‘thoughtful’ review of food stamps.

    “Mr. Conaway, a certified public accountant, has been critical of the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. He defended Republican-led efforts to eliminate billions from the program and supports tougher work requirements for able-bodied adults without children.

    “‘The committee will conduct a thoughtful review of all programs under its jurisdiction,’ Mr. Conaway said in an e-mail. ‘It’s only natural for much of that review to focus on nutrition programs as they account for almost 80% of the spending within the jurisdiction of the committee.'”

    The Journal update pointed out that, “Mr. Conaway’s likely counterpart in the Senate, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas, has said food stamps are subject to fraud and abuse. He introduced a bill in 2013, before the most recent farm bill was passed, that eliminated $31 billion from the program over 10 years.

    “Mr. Roberts is expected to take over the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), the current chair, is likely to stay on as ranking member.”

    Also yesterday, a House Appropriations Committee news release indicated that Rep. Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) will retain his post as the Chairman of Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

    Meanwhile, Bill Theobald reported yesterday at USA Today Online that, “Climate change could substantially increase losses in taxpayer-backed flood and crop insurance programs in coming decades, according to a new government report.

    “The Government Accountability Office found that exposure to losses for property insured under the two programs grew by 8% to $1.4 trillion over the past six years because of population growth and increased property values in hazard-prone areas.

    “But the report, released Thursday, says climate change ‘may substantially increase losses by 2040 and increase losses from about 50 to 100% by 2100.'”

    Mr. Theobald added that, “The report was requested by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in his role as chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources. Colorado dealt with devastating flooding last year and ongoing drought, which is most severe in the southeast corner of the state.

    “‘It is yet another example of the expense that’s caused by our failing to deal with climate change,’ Bennet said of the report’s predictions.

    “He said the two programs are not sustainable financially as they are now designed.”

    The USA Today article added that, “The report says the Risk Management Agency within the Department of Agriculture, which runs the crop insurance program, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the flood insurance program, have taken steps to prepare for the impact of climate change.

    “But it says that the short-term nature of the insurance programs may make it more difficult for federal officials to encourage policyholders to make the changes needed to offset the long-term risk of climate change.”

    news release yesterday from Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.) stated in part that, “Today, Northern California Representatives Jared Huffman (D-02), George Miller (D-11) Mike Thompson (D-05), Doris Matsui (D-06), Jerry McNerney (D-09), [Rep. Garamendi], and Ami Bera (D-07) released the following statement after Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she will not be pursuing passage of her water bill this year:

    “‘We are pleased Senator Feinstein will not be pursuing passage of the water legislation secretly negotiated by her and House Republicans. This legislation would have eviscerated environmental laws protecting fisheries, California watersheds, local water supplies, and tribal and local economies in order to benefit a few powerful Delta water exporters. We applaud the Senator for stepping away from this deeply flawed legislation and realizing that a bill of this magnitude requires public hearings and regular committee process.'”

    Also regarding this issue, the Los Angeles Times editorial board indicated in yesterday’s paper (“Why are U.S. lawmakers making California water deals in secret?“) that, “The current process, with only selected interests at the table, negotiating about California but behind the backs of Californians, may destroy much of the carefully built consensus, compromise and confidence painstakingly built up over the course of the year.”

    Tax Extenders

    Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) demanded that any tax extender package include the wind energy tax credit.

    “‘I’m concerned about rumors that some are working to leave out or shorten the extension of the wind energy tax credit,’ Grassley said on the Senate floor Thursday. ‘I agree the tax code has gotten too cluttered … but it doesn’t mean we should pull the rug out from under domestic energy producers.’

    “Grassley said he was encouraged to hear that House and Senate lawmakers are holding informal talks to work out a tax extenders package.”


    David Nakamura reported in today’s Washington Post that, “President Obama used a legal and moral argument Thursday to try to convince the American public that his decision to unilaterally protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation is consistent with the law and necessary to begin repairing a dysfunctional immigration system.

    “In an evening address from the White House, Obama outlined a plan to provide administrative relief and work permits to as many as 3.7 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, as well as an additional 300,000 young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.”

    The Post article noted that, “Obama’s decision to act on his own came two years after he pledged, in the wake of his reelection, to pursue comprehensive immigration reform to provide a pathway to citizenship for many of the nation’s undocumented immigrants. But he was denied a potential legacy achievement after efforts to pass a comprehensive bill collapsed on Capitol Hill this past summer amid partisan fighting.”

    Mr. Nakamura pointed out that, “Even before Obama took to the airwaves, GOP leaders were deliberating over how to stop him, Republicans in both chambers debated filing a lawsuit over the president’s use of executive authority, pursuing their own legislation on immigration policy or removing funding for federal immigration agencies.”

    Laura Meckler, Colleen McCain Nelson and Eric Morath reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The plan will give more than four million illegal immigrants the chance to apply for work permits and a temporary reprieve from deportation. People who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and are parents of citizens or legal permanent residents would be eligible to apply. The White House said nearly a million more could benefit through other new or expanded programs. The president also is narrowing the group of people who would be subject to deportation, in what the White House said was an effort to focus enforcement resources on gang members, serious criminals and those who crossed the border after Jan. 1, 2014.”

    A separate Washington Post update by Ed O’Keefe and Max Ehrenfreund regarding the President’s immigration action stated that, “Also, there is no new protection or program for migrant agricultural workers, a blow to labor unions and the agricultural sector that have long sought ways to introduce a guest-worker program that would allow eligible people to travel north from Central American or Mexico and return home.”

    In response to the President’s initiative, The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted in part today that, “The best GOP revenge would be to trump him on immigration. Before Mr. Obama’s decree, smart Republicans were discussing a legislative strategy focusing on piecemeal immigration reforms. Separate bills addressing individual problems (border security, agriculture and tech visas) could pass with rotating majorities that show the GOP has immigration solutions of its own. Some bills might get to Mr. Obama’s desk, forcing him to reveal his cynical political hand if he uses his veto to block durable reform.”

    Meanwhile, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday prior to the President’s speech (link requires subscription) that, “As President Barack Obama prepares to address the nation Thursday evening on his executive action on immigration reform, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said it is the family unification program that will help farm workers find relief from deportation.”

    Mr. Hagstrom noted that, “The executive order will create ‘a bit more stability in the agricultural work force,’ Vilsack said, but ‘what will provide ultimate stability’ is for Congress to pass immigration reform.

    “United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez said Wednesday that Obama told him the executive order will allow 250,000 farm workers to stop fearing deportation, but Vilsack said that ‘This is obviously an estimate.'”

    The DTN article indicated that, “Western Growers President Tom Nassif said his group could not predict the potential impact of the executive order, but urged Congress to be cautious in its action and to pass an immigration reform bill.”

    “Chuck Conner, a former Agriculture deputy secretary who now is president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, agreed it would be best for Congress to act, but showed less enthusiasm for the impact of the expected executive order.”

    Mr. Conner noted in part that, “For what appears to be a small subset of current agricultural workers, the president’s actions will alleviate some pressure in the short term but does not offer these workers, their families, their communities or their employers the long term assurance they deserve. To mix metaphors, we as a country should not bring people out of the shadows only to let them twist in the wind.”

    The USDA’s Radio News Service also provided a one-minute overview of the administration’s immigration action yesterday; the USDA report included remarks from Sec. Vilsack.

    And an update yesterday from the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) indicated that, “In light of the President’s announcement today, the [AWC] re-emphasizes that the only way to permanently fix agriculture’s labor shortage is through legislation. As we look forward to the start of the new Congress in January, we strongly urge the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the Administration, to come together and pass legislation that both deals with the reality of the current agricultural workforce and recognizes the need for a new, market-based visa program to meet farmers’ future labor needs.

    “Without such legislation, farmers will continue to be unable to find the workers they need to pick crops or care for livestock; more food production will go overseas; local economies across the country will suffer; and the American consumer will pay more for the food they eat.

    “What farmers, ranchers and growers need, and what the American people deserve, is for policy makers in Washington to do their jobs and act to solve the country’s broken immigration system.”

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