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Opinion: FDA overreach on FSMA Produce Safety needs to be addressed

Agri-Pulse | Posted on August 17, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration will soon be micromanaging a wide range of farming-related activities for many farms. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, which impacts numerous areas of the food supply, including produce safety.The FDA finalized a FSMA produce safety rule in 2015, with most of the major requirements kicking in over the next several years.  The rule doesn’t require a commodity to be connected to a foodborne illness outbreak in order to be regulated, or even to be similar to the small number of produce commodities that are connected to outbreaks. The FDA has taken the view that because an outbreak is possible, regardless of the likelihood, that’s sufficient.    As explained by the FDA, “it is likely that at least some commodities that currently have never been implicated in an outbreak have a positive probability of being implicated in a future outbreak.”By this logic, except for the limited exceptions that exist in the rule, no produce is safe from the regulatory reach of the FDA. The FDA isn’t taking a broad interpretation of FSMA’s language; instead, it is ignoring FSMA’s language and doing the exact opposite of what Congress intended.By regulating more fruits and vegetable, the FDA has also given itself the ability to enforce its produce safety rule requirements on a far greater number of farmers.  These standards cover a wide range of issues that address potential on-farm sources of contamination from water quality and testing to sanitation of equipment, tools, and buildings.

HSUS pushing for farm bill animal welfare title

Brownfield Ag News | Posted on August 17, 2017

Ignore the following at your own peril:  The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) is working its tail off to get an animal “welfare” title into the 2018 Farm Bill.  You’ve been warned. At the August 5 House Agriculture Committee’s listening session in Modesto, California, “several speakers,” by one media account, called on the committee to include in the new Farm Bill legislation dealing with so-called “animal welfare issues.”  HSUS seriously needs a legislative “win” to placate those among its donors who value such things.  It’s been remarkably unsuccessful on Capitol Hill in recent years, even when Barack Obama was president.The logic behind using the Farm Bill as the vehicle is two-fold:  First, the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is administered and enforced by USDA. along with the Horse Protection Act (HPA).  Second, the 2014 Farm Bill — along with two previous farm bills — carried animal fighting language, most recently making it illegal to take a minor child to an already-illegal animal fight, expanding on an HSUS fave.  This was a bone thrown to HSUS when Congress refused to go along with its expensive and ill-advised legislative campaign to make California’s Proposition 2 mandating cage-free egg production the law of the land.  HSUS is quick to point out the “precedent” set by such actions.The bills pushed by HSUS and its band of foot soldier organizations appear on their face to be unrelated and almost innocuous when it comes to the anti-agriculture and anti-biomedical research campaigns waged by the world largest animal rights group.  The animal rights movement counts on members of Congress seeing “aye” votes for these bills as “safe” votes when they’re anything but now that most ag groups keep animal rights score cards on how members of Congress vote on such legislation.

Fear on the farm: what will America eat when Trump throws out migrant labor?

Pacific Standard | Posted on August 17, 2017

 "A lot of people in this country think of immigrants based on what they hear on television or read in the news or Internet," Wood says. "We want people to know that, every day, they eat or drink something an immigrant helps produce: wine, or a glass of milk, or cheese, or the hotel bed they sleep in."In 2013, Wood's family hired Pedro, a short, mustachioed man of 47 with a thick head of black hair. He has been in the U.S. for 13 years, leaving behind a large family in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico coast, where he raised cows. Wood says he hired the two other workers in a "kind of underground" system "through a friend of a friend.""We needed people and tried to get Americans," he says, "but they wouldn't do it."Pedro (not his real name), who speaks little English, says he is treated well by his farm family, and Vermonters, for the most part, are kind. "But now, the laws are different with the police, and we can feel that," he says. "I am afraid to go to public places. And it makes me sad."  The Wood family laughs when they hear the president talk brashly about their Mexican workers as "bad hombres" and say they hope immigration reform comes soon."If these guys were drug dealers or bad guys, they wouldn't be coming to a farm to work," Loren Wood says."If we didn't have them, I'd have to cut our numbers. If we lost the help, we'd have to sell the cows," he continues. "If all the immigrants on the farms are deported, what is the country going to eat?"

Trump to seek NAFTA fix for southeastern produce growers

Politico | Posted on August 17, 2017

The Trump administration plans to come to the bargaining table during this week's opening round of NAFTA talks with a proposal aimed at protecting U.S. produce farmers from cheaper Mexican imports, POLITICO has learned. The plan would essentially make it easier for growers of fruits and vegetables to allege that Mexico is selling produce in the U.S. at below-market prices by allowing American producers in a given region to band together to bring an anti-dumping case backed by seasonal data, said Joel Nelsen, head of the USDA advisory committee that crafted the recommendation.U.S. trade negotiators are expected to introduce the proposal during a negotiating session on Saturday. The language would make it much easier for produce companies to bring action. Under current trade law, a majority of the industry nationwide must prove injury based on at least three years of annual data.“We reached an agreement that the United States should allow production areas to identify whether or not fruit sold at prices below cost is impacting a product’s revenue, without taking into consideration what’s being done” in other regions of the country, said Nelsen, who is president of the trade association California Citrus Mutual and chairman of USDA’s Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Fruits and Vegetables. The proposal is likely to please growers in the southeastern U.S., but it could face opposition from powerhouse produce growers in western states, many of whom moved parts of their operation to Mexico to take advantage of the longer growing season there and NAFTA's tariff-free borders. "The only way to really describe it is as Pandora’s box,” Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said of the proposal. The group represents Mexican growers and advocates for free trade in produce in North America. “If Florida does it, if the tomato growers in the Carolinas do it, if the New Jersey growers do it, then you’ve created essentially a year-round tariff."Jungmeyer said such a move would undoubtedly have a ripple effect across the industry. "If this proposal were agreed to by all three countries, you would have the apple growers in Chihuahua, Mexico, as well as in British Columbia, Canada, saying, 'Well, gosh! I want to have my own window! I want to keep out the apples from Washington state, or from Michigan, or New York.'”

Fewer risking illegal border crossings to work on farms

My San Antonio | Posted on August 17, 2017

The profile of the U.S. immigrant farm worker is changing, with fewer chancing an illegal crossing of the U.S.-Mexico border to follow harvests and more settling in with the same employers and establishing roots here, a new study by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute found. The August issue brief, which analyzes data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Worker Survey, found that the percentage of undocumented agricultural workers dropped from 55 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2014.

Canada's goals for 'progressive' NAFTA include labour and environmental standards, gender equality

CBC | Posted on August 17, 2017

Sounding optimistic, but warning that negotiations could be difficult, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland used a series of appearances on Monday to explain that Canada will seek to modernize North America's 23-year-old trade deal to update its labour standards, ease cross-border movements of professionals, cut red tape and open up government procurement. Talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement begin on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.Canada, the United States and Mexico are embarking on a "historic project," Freeland said, adding she was optimistic about the talks, but that there would likely be moments of drama and conflict.In a speech at the University of Ottawa, the minister pointed to Canada's free-trade deal with the European Union as an example of the kind of "progressive" trade pact Canada wants to see in a new NAFTA.

Vegetable Growers’ Food Safety Vigilance Is Paying Off (Opinion)

Growing Produce | Posted on August 17, 2017

I wanted to get a handle on just how often food safety recalls involving vegetable growers occur, so I pored through public records from the FDA. The agency reports every recall it issues, from medical devices to vitamins and supplements, to meat and dairy, to produce. It turns out vegetable growers are doing pretty well.There have been 210 food safety recalls so far in 2017 as of this posting. Out of those recalls, only 49 involved foods that included vegetables in some way, including processed foods like carrot muffins and prepared salads, as well as straight up vegetables like salad greens.I read through each formal recall notice and learned that only 19 recalls could potentially be traced back to a grower. Disease Is the Leading Cause of Vegetable Recalls. Fourteen of the 19 recalls involved diseases.Foreign Objects Are a Less Common Cause. There were four recalls generated by detecting foreign objects, although two of the four were from the same incidence. A single recall stemmed from a supply of thyme containing lead.All of these numbers represent a sharp improvement. By this time last year, there were almost double the number of vegetable recalls due to disease. The hard work growers are putting into keeping their produce safe is obviously paying off.

California Nurseryman Settles With Feds Over Plowing Dispute

Growing Produce | Posted on August 17, 2017

John Duarte, and Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) and their co-counsel announced today Duarte Nursery has agreed to a settlement in the federal government’s nearly five-year enforcement action over Duarte’s plowing of his property to plant wheat in late 2012.  Under the agreement, Duarte would admit no liability, pay the government $330,000 in a civil penalty, purchase $770,000 worth of vernal pool mitigation credits, and perform additional work on the site of the plowing,” Francois said in a statement.The case has drawn national attention. Just a few weeks ago American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, calling the Duarte prosecution “a poster child” for abuses by the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. Francois said Duarte would have preferred to see the case through to trial and appealed the court’s liability ruling, which holds that plowing a field requires federal permission — despite the clear text of the Clean Water Act and regulations to the contrary.“John and his counsel remain concerned that legal liability for farming without federal permission undermines the clear protections that the Clean Water Act affords to farming and poses a significant ongoing threat to farmers across the nation,” he said.

Farm Groups Sign Joint Letter Stressing Need to Avoid Disrupting Current Ag Trader

DTN | Posted on August 17, 2017

Three farm leaders from Canada, Mexico and the United States on Wednesday sent a joint letter to their respective trade negotiators as talks began to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The leaders called on trade representatives to streamline regulations and tackle trade barriers without disrupting the current flow of agricultural products among the three countries. Led by Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau, the farm leaders held a signing ceremony and press conference in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club to discuss the trade pact and reiterate, as they have for months, that the NAFTA talks should "do no harm" to the current agricultural trade flows across North America.Farm Bureau, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Council of Mexico signed a letter stressing that trade negotiators should work to improve NAFTA, but not dismantle the trade pact.

Agriculture industry wants few changes to NAFTA

Washington Examiner | Posted on August 17, 2017

The agricultural industries in the U.S., Canada and Mexico on Wednesday jointly urged the negotiators for the North American Free Trade Agreement to make as few changes as possible to the trade deal, warning that any change could severely disrupt the economies of all three nations. In a public letter, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and Mexico's National Agricultural Council said their industries are integrated as a result of the 1993 trade deal, which has greatly improved efficiency. The letter was addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his counterparts in Mexico, Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Villarreal, and in Canada, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. The three began the first round of talks to renegotiate NAFTA on Wednesday.