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USDA suspends pork imports from Poland over African swine fever concerns

Agri-Pulse | Posted on October 19, 2018

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has suspended pork imports from Poland over concerns about export protocols in the country as it deals with an outbreak of African swine fever. According to APHIS, a routine review of ongoing operations revealed one Polish facility exporting pork to the U.S. “has done so in contravention of the stringent requirements in place to prevent the spread of serious diseases of livestock, like ASF.”A second facility is also under review, and APHIS plans to exclude all product from the country until it is complete “to give us time to ensure all Polish facilities that export pork and pork products to the U.S. are acting in accordance with our import requirements.”

Wilbur Ross opens new front in trade war with $11M in fish farm grants

Washington Examiner | Posted on October 18, 2018

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross doled out $11 million Wednesday aimed at jumpstarting the U.S. aquaculture industry, or fish farming, and limiting dependence on foreign seafood imports. “With such vast coastlines, there is no reason the United States should be importing billions of pounds of seafood each year,” Ross said. Growing a domestic aquaculture industry would create jobs while making the nation more food secure, he said.The U.S. imported more than 6 billion pounds of seafood, more than $21.5 billion worth, in 2017, according to the agency. The biggest foreign suppliers include Canada, China, and Chile. Ross and the Trump administration have called for lowering the trade deficit.

Trump tells May to abandon 'unjustified' food standards for Brexit trade deal

Business Insider | Posted on October 18, 2018

Donald Trump announces his plan to negotiate a free trade deal with the UK after Brexit. Talks can begin in 2021, once the Brexit transition period is over, a letter to US Congress states.However, Trump's administration says the UK must abandon "unjustified" food standards before a wide-ranging deal between the two economies can be agreed.MPs, charities and health campaigners are worried that the US will demand UK market access for food products of a lower standard than what the UK currently accepts.Chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef and food containing maggots, rat-hair and mould are just some of the imports post-Brexit Britain could receive from the US.

Behind the partisan fight to eliminate the contry's largest conservation program

Pacific Standard | Posted on October 18, 2018

The 2018 farm bill has stalled weeks after its predecessor lapsed—and so, it seems, have negotiations. Congress, now in recess, has yet to mend the gulf between two competing versions: a Senate version with bipartisan support, and the House bill, which proposes serious cuts to federal conservation programs as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.Republican representatives have framed these cuts as a financial necessity. Under the House bill, the nation's largest conservation program, known as the Conservation Stewardship Program, becomes part of another, this one focused on reimbursement: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. "We just think that EQIP is more efficient and a better use of the money," Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said. Now, with the fight over SNAP and other minutiae at an impasse, environmental advocacy groups are coming out in force, arguing that the financial boon of this proposed "merger" is a myth—and would have epically bad consequences. A recent analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a grassroots policy organization, suggests the House bill would not only do little to save money; it would also effectively eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program, cutting its most stringent standards and pooling the rest into a more malleable program, which has historically funded one of the country's worst polluters: large industrial livestock operations.The Conservation Stewardship Program, however, is one thing environmental advocates will not budge on. Exempt from the regulatory power of the Clean Water Act, agricultural pollution solely falls under the purview of United States Department of Agriculture conservation programs. Among these, CSP is unique. "It is the only comprehensive conservation program—that means taking on multiple resource concerns, across the entire operation," says Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist at the NSAC.

Edible cottonseed review shifts to FDA

Politico | Posted on October 17, 2018

Cottonseed could become a high-protein food option, providing a boon to cotton growers, if FDA signs off on a new genetically engineered variety. Traditional cottonseed is toxic for humans and most animals because it contains a poisonous substance called gossypol. But a team of ag scientists at Texas A&M developed a type of cottonseed that contains very low levels of gossypol, making it edible for humans — and creating the possibility that the tree nut could help address global malnutrition. USDA green-lighted the biotechnology on Tuesday. It determined the GE variety does not pose a plant-pest risk to crops or other plants, Pro Ag’s Liz Crampton reports. The next step for Texas A&M researchers, backed by funding from Cotton Incorporated, is to finish consulting with FDA. If the agency determines the GE cottonseed is safe to eat, it could hit the commercial market in the form of products like chips, protein powder and flour.Developers of the cottonseed — which, BTW, supposedly tastes like hummus — are expecting FDA’s decision early next year. They can volunteer to present a safety assessment to the agency that takes into account factors such as comparing nutrient levels in the new GE plant with traditionally bred plants, or whether the altered variety could trigger allergic reactions. FDA would then evaluate the assessment to determine whether the new food complies with the law.

Trump team makes controversial change to allow chicken plants to operate at faster speeds

Washington Post | Posted on October 17, 2018

The Trump administration is now allowing more chicken-processing plants to operate at faster speeds, a controversial move that some fear will hurt workers and chicken consumers by lowering safety standards. Plants that receive a waiver from the Trump administration will be able to process up to 175 birds per minute, up from the old limit of 140 birds per minute. The administration recently published new criteria spelling out what it would take to get a waiver.The National Chicken Council, which represents the poultry industry, praised the move and noted that each individual plant must meet stringent criteria to obtain a waiver. But labor, consumer and animal rights groups decried the change as a capitulation to big business that will open the floodgates to most of the nation’s more than 200 poultry-processing plants operating at the faster rate.The move comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s push to eliminate speed limits entirely in the pork-processing industry and at a time when the United States has an abundance of chicken in grocery stores and warehouses. Foreign buyers, especially China and Mexico, have slowed U.S. meat purchases as Trump’s trade war escalates. The result is that chicken sitting in cold-storage warehouses is at its highest level since 2006, and domestic prices of boneless chicken breasts have slumped in recent months, according to U.S. Agriculture Department data.

Work Requirements and Safety Net Programs

Hamilton Project | Posted on October 17, 2018

Basic assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) and Medicaid ensure families have access to food and medical care when they are low-income. Some policymakers at the federal and state levels intend to add new work requirements to SNAP and Medicaid. In this paper, we analyze those who would be impacted by an expansion of work requirements in SNAP and an introduction of work requirements into Medicaid. We characterize the types of individuals who would face work requirements, describe their labor force experience over 24 consecutive months, and identify the reasons why they are not working if they experience a period of unemployment or labor force nonparticipation. We find that the majority of SNAP and Medicaid participants who would be exposed to work requirements are attached to the labor force, but that a substantial share would fail to consistently meet a 20 hours per week–threshold. Among persistent labor force nonparticipants, health issues are the predominant reason given for not working. There may be some subset of SNAP and Medicaid participants who could work, are not working, and might work if they were threatened with the loss of benefits. This paper adds evidence to a growing body of research that shows that this group is very small relative to those who would be sanctioned under the proposed policies who are already working or are legitimately unable to work.

No vote on USMCA until next year, McConnell says

Washington Examiner | Posted on October 17, 2018

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that the Senate wasn't going to be able to vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade before the end of the year. Postponing the vote until next year means that President Trump may have to get it through a divided Congress, should Democrats regain majorities after the fall election.

Relocation of USDA agencies sparks criticism

Capital Press | Posted on October 17, 2018

Former USDA officials and farm groups are sounding the alarm over the USDA’s plans to move the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington, D.C. The new locations have not yet been chosen. The move is slated to be complete by the end of 2019.The American Statistical Association has sent a letter to Congress, signed by 56 former USDA and federal statistical agency officials to warn of damage the move would cause, including: The loss of staff expertise due to employees not willing to move. Moving the ERS far from its clientele and collaborators who either are located in or visit Washington, D.C. Loss of visibility with policy makers. Puts ERS independence and credibility at risk.

USDA invests in veteran farmers and ranchers

Delta Farm Press | Posted on October 17, 2018

USDA will issue $9.4 million in grants to provide enhanced training, outreach, and technical assistance to underserved and veteran farmers and ranchers. This funding is available through the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Programmanaged by the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. The program was created through the 1990 Farm Bill to help socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and foresters, who have historically experienced limited access to USDA loans, grants, training, and technical assistance. Provisions were expanded in the 2014 Farm Bill to include outreach and technical assistance to military veterans.Grants are awarded to higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations to extend USDA’s engagement efforts in underserved communities. Since 2010, the 2501 Program has distributed more than $93 million to 398 partners.