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U.S. produce growers deeply divided over NAFTA

Politico | Posted on August 22, 2017

The produce industry is at war with itself over a protectionist proposal the Trump administration is preparing to submit in the NAFTA talks that exposes a deep regional fault line among growers. Southeastern produce growers struggling to compete with cheaper Mexican imports have long lobbied for relief under NAFTA, with little to show for it. Now, with few agricultural groups calling for significant changes to the pact, the “America First” Trump administration has seized on the plight of southeastern produce growers, putting their concerns at the forefront of the national trade agenda.U.S. trade negotiators had been expected to come to the table during the first negotiating round with a proposal that would make it easier for American growers to make the case that Mexico is selling produce at unfairly low prices when crops like blueberries or tomatoes are in season in a particular region. Growers would be able to bring anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases by domestic region and draw on seasonal data, a departure from current trade law, which requires a majority of the industry nationwide to wield at least three years of annual data to prove injury.



U.S. seeks WTO dispute panel on China's grain import quotas

Reuters | Posted on August 22, 2017

The United States has requested a World Trade Organization panel be set up to investigate Chinese tariff-rate quotas for agricultural products, the WTO said on Monday, setting up a showdown between the two largest economies. The row, which includes tariffs for wheat, rice, and corn, was initiated under the Obama administration which sought consultations on Dec. 15, but now the Trump administration has moved ahead with a formal request. The item appears on the formal agenda of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body meeting set for Aug. 31, issued on Monday. China can block this first formal request, but upon a second request at a later DSB, the panel will be set up unless all WTO members agree to block it. In December, the U.S. Trade Representative said that China's administration of the programme breached its WTO commitments and hurt U.S. farm exports. The USTR said global prices for the three commodities were lower than China's domestic prices, yet the country did not maximize its use of TRQs, which offer lower duties on a certain volume of imported grains every year. The USTR said that limited market access for shipments from the United States, the world's largest grain exporter, and other countries. Since then, Australia, the European Union, Canada and Thailand have joined the dispute as third parties.

EPA goes after Times on chlorpyrifos

Agri-Pulse | Posted on August 22, 2017

The EPA is pushing back against a New York Times report that describes some of the internal deliberations leading up to the agency’s decision to deny a petition that sought to ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos. In its story, published in the paper’s print edition Saturday, the Times cited emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request that it said “show how the EPA's new staff, appointed by President Trump, pushed the agency’s career staff to draft a ruling that would deny the decade-old petition by environmentalists.” The article also described a meeting with Washington state Farm Bureau officials at which EPA chief Scott Pruitt said the administration understands the significant economic impact agriculture has in the U.S., and that he was looking forward to working with the farm community. EPA, however, took exception to the article, accusing the Times of reporting “false facts” and “never letting the facts get in the way of a good story.” For good measure, the agency threw in a recent flub where the Times mistakenly said it was the first to report on a draft climate change report that had actually been posted online for months.

US beef struggles in China

Journal Gazette | Posted on August 21, 2017

At the Sam's Club store in Beijing's Shijingshan district, the chilled beef on offer is so dominated by Australian cuts – such as marbled rib-eye steaks and fatty oxtail chunks – that many customers are oblivious to the few packs of U.S. meat available. “I haven't noticed the U.S. beef here,” said Hui Xue, who was shopping for steaks that he cooks once a week. Even if he had spotted the produce, it probably wouldn't have gone into his cart. The American meat – back in China after 14 years as part of a trade deal hailed by the Donald Trump administration – was only available in little strips meant to be stir-fried rather than in larger hunks that can be sizzled on a cast-iron skillet.Viveca Zhang, another shopper at the store, also bypassed the American supply. “I would like to try the U.S. beef, but there are only a few options to choose from,” she said.Their reluctance emphasizes the barriers that U.S. beef faces on its re-entry into the world's second-biggest consumer after being barred in 2003 due to concerns over mad cow disease.While the return prompted fanfare from the Trump administration and promises that shiploads of meat would start arriving at China's shores, producers may have to endure a long slog back into the market. That's because rivals from nations including Australia and Brazil rushed in to dominate sales when the Americans were shut out.“Trade will grow gradually, but I don't think it will increase to the extent that would affect China's beef market, because of its limited supply,” Chenjun Pan, an analyst at Rabobank International, said of the U.S. meat.

FDA eases restrictions on ultra-filtered milk for cheese-making

Wisconsin State Farmer | Posted on August 21, 2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says ultra-filtered cow’s milk can now be used to make all types of natural cheeses, a move that Wisconsin cheese-makers have sought for nearly 20 years. Ultra-filtered milk is fresh farm milk run through a filter to reduce the amount of water and lactose and concentrate the natural proteins.“FDA’s announcement is an important win for Wisconsin and other great cheese-making states,” John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association said in a  statement.Umhoefer said the FDA’s decision will allow cheese-makers to use the concentrated form of milk with flexible labeling restrictions. “There’s been an oversupply of milk in the U.S. for over a year, causing real financial stress for dairy farm families. This decision can lead to more production of … ultra-filtered milk and find new markets for our abundant milk supplies,” Umhoefer said.

How safe is chicken imported from China?

The Conversation | Posted on August 21, 2017

Cooked poultry is considered to be a processed food item, so it is excluded from country of origin labeling requirements which would apply to raw chicken. This means that U.S. consumers will not know they are consuming chicken grown and processed in China. Restaurants also are excluded from country of origin labeling, so the cooked poultry could be sold to restaurants without consumers knowing. The first Chinese exporter did not specify the name brand that its cooked chicken is being sold under. The key issue is cost competitiveness. If China can sell cooked poultry at a competitive price point, there will most likely be a U.S. market for it. At this point, though, the Chinese poultry industry is not as integrated (that is, organized so that one company owns breeder birds, hatcheries, grow-out farms and processing plants) or technologically advanced as the U.S. poultry industry. In the short run this makes it difficult for China to compete with the U.S. poultry industry at any appreciable level, even though Chinese labor costs are lower.

Secretary Perdue Announces Tony Tooke as New Forest Service Chief

USDA | Posted on August 21, 2017

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced Tony Tooke will serve as the new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Tooke has worked for the Forest Service since age 18 and currently is the Regional Forester for the Southern Region. Following the announcement, Secretary Perdue issued this statement: “The Forest Service will be in good hands with the U.S. Forest Service’s own Tony Tooke whose knowledge of forestry is unmatched. Tony has been preparing for this role for his whole professional life, and at a time when we face active and growing fires, his transition into leadership will be seamless.  He will oversee efforts to get our forests working again, to make them more productive, and to create more jobs. His focus will be on ensuring we are good neighbors and are managing our forests effectively, efficiently, and responsibly, as well as working with states and local governments to ensure the utmost collaboration. No doubt, the stewardship of our forests is an awesome and sacred responsibility, and no one knows that better than Tony who has dedicated his career to this noble cause,” said Secretary Perdue.

WOTUS: Where Are We Now?

Texas Agriculture Law Blog | Posted on August 17, 2017

In February 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order which required the EPA and COE to “rescind or revise” the 2015 Rule.  The Order said that the agencies should “consider interpreting” the term consistent with Justice Scalia’s opinion in Rapanos. In June, the EPA announced it would be taking the first step to rescind the 2015 Rule and to re-codify the definition of WOTUS prior to the passage of the 2015 rule.Where Are We Now? Rescinding a rule already promulgated is not as simple as it may sound.  The EPA has published a new proposed rule in the Federal Register, which essentially seeks to codify the rule as it was prior to the 2015 EPA rule being passed (and, due to the 6th Circuit stay, the approach currently in place across the US).  Specifically, the proposed rule would rescind the 2015 approach and codify an approach consistent with the Rapanos Supreme Court decision, applicable case law, and other longstanding agency practices. Now, notice and comment rulemaking will take place, which will allow the public to offer input on the new proposed rule.  This period is open through August 28, 2017.  After that, the EPA plans to conduct a “substantive re-evaluation” of the definition of WOTUS and conduct notice and will likely propose a new rule after property notice and comment rulemaking occurs. Meanwhile, the 2015 rule is not in force anywhere in the United States, as the 6th Circuit stay remains in place.  Thus, currently, the definition of WOTUS is governed by the pre-2015 rule that got us the complex decision in the Rapanos case.  Unfortunately, until a new rule is promulgated, landowners are left with trying to interpret the Rapanos decision in order to know whether federal permits are required on their land.Hopefully, the revised rule will offer more clarity and certainty for both the government and landowners alike.

FDA Clarifies Sanitary Transportation Rule Waiver for Retail Food Establishments

The Coastal Bend Chronicle | Posted on August 17, 2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidance to clarify that a waiver to the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food final rule (Sanitary Transportation rule) covers retail food establishments that sell food for humans, including those that sell both human and animal food, but does not apply to establishments that only sell food for animals. The Sanitary Transportation rule  established a process by which FDA may waive any of the rule’s requirements for certain classes of persons, vehicles, or types of food  if doing so will not result in the transportation of food under conditions that would be unsafe for human or animal health, or contrary to the public interest.  

2018 Farm Bill: What shiny object will be used to distract this time?

Ag Policy | Posted on August 17, 2017

During these last 30-plus years, farmers and major farm and commodity organizations, abetted by agribusiness, have gone after one shiny new thing (policy) after another, often that border on entrepreneurial rent seeking, while playing the sympathy card of public support for family farmers and the agrarian ideal. Our main theme in this series is that farmers and farm and commodity organizations have consistently ignored the economic characteristics of grain production that result in long periods of low prices punctuated by brief periods of high prices and, every few decades, with longer periods of high price that are the direct, disruptive result of government policies in this country or elsewhere in the world.In the first two months of writing this column in 2000 we laid out our understanding of the fundamental economic characteristics of agricultural production. Over the years we have repeatedly described a set of policies that take into account the root causes of chronic price and income problems faced by farmers—that is policies designed to respond to the economic characteristics of primarily, but not limited to, grain agriculture, providing a policy environment in which market forces would allocate supplies among competing uses, and result in minimal governmental costs, while protecting farmers on the low side of farm commodity prices and consumer from the high side. At the same time, we have criticized policies that treat the symptoms rather that respond to the causes of the farm price and income problems.