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USDA Releases Results of First Local Food Marketing Practices Survey

USDA | Posted on December 22, 2016

More than 167,000 U.S. farms locally produced and sold food through direct marketing practices, resulting in $8.7 billion in revenue in 2015, according to the results from the first Local Food Marketing Practices Survey released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The report results cover both fresh and value-added foods, such as meat and cheese. Farms selling food directly to institutions and intermediates, such as wholesalers who locally branded the product or food hubs, brought in the most revenue at $3.4 billion. The next category, at $3 billion in sales, was from approximately 115,000 operations with direct-to-consumer sales, such as on-farm stores and farmers markets. Sales directly to retailers were $2.3 billion from over 23,000 operations nationwide.The top five states by value of total direct food sales were:California, $2,869 million, Michigan, $459 million, New York, $441 million, Pennsylvania, $439 million, Wisconsin, $431 million. Most farms selling directly to consumers sold through outlets such as farmers markets and on-farm stores. Pennsylvania led the U.S. in the number of farms selling directly to consumers, with more than 6,000 operations engaged in direct to consumer sales. California led in sales, earning $467 million. Only 8 percent of farms selling directly to consumers across the nation did so via online marketplaces, though 73 percent of all farms using direct marketing practices had internet access last year.


EPA, farm groups win Mississippi River nutrient case

Agri-Pulse | Posted on December 22, 2016

Mississippi River Basin states should be given a chance to address nutrient pollution first, before the federal government steps in, a federal court ruled.  “EPA's ‘policy' of partnering with the states and maintaining a states-in-the-first-instance approach is . . . an integral part of the (Clean Water Act) as enacted by Congress,” U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey said in his opinion, issued Dec. 15.  Lead plaintiff in the lawsuit was the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), which was joined by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Iowa Environmental Council, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Sierra Club and others. They sought an order from the court that would force EPA to adopt numeric water quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus in the 10 Mississippi River Basin states. On the other side of the lawsuit was EPA, along with dozens of farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, Agricultural Retailers Association, 15 state farm bureaus and a collection of commodity-specific organizations.  EPA worked with states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to develop a TMDL - Total Maximum Daily Load - with specific pollution reduction targets. Farm groups failed to get the federal courts to overturn the EPA program.Steen said the latest decision “isn't likely to be the end of the road - at least not for many years. But the agricultural community and the states in the Mississippi River Basin should take this opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure the best practices are in place to demonstrate, when the next round of petitions and lawsuits come, that we are all doing our part for water quality.”


U.S. asks for WTO dispute panel on China’s grain subsidies

Delta Farm Press | Posted on December 20, 2016

The U.S. Trade Representative has taken two more steps in the long, laborious process of trying to persuade the People’s Republic of China to abide by the rules of the WTO on the levels of support it can provide for wheat, corn and rice and on imports of those crops.  The USTR requested the formation of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel to hear arguments on why China should reduce those levels of support. It also challenged the way China administers tariff rate quotas for grain imports.Although China’s internal prices for wheat, corn and rice are significantly higher than world prices, the USTR and U.S. commodity organizations say China’s administering of the tariff rate quotas is so unreasonable that U.S. and other exporting countries with lower prices are unable to make full use of the TRQs. Ward said it could take as many as two or three months to set up a panel, and that a report from that panel could take another 10 months. “We knew from the outset this was a long process, which is why keeping things moving forward is important.” Ward said China provides import licenses under the TRQs contrary to several of China's WTO commitments and in a manner that effectively acts as import restrictions prohibiting the fulfillment of these TRQs.


FDA Finalizes FSMA Third-Party Certification User Fee Program

OFW Law | Posted on December 20, 2016

Last week, FDA issued a final rule to establish a user fee program for a voluntary accreditation program under Food Safety Mondernization Act, which established a voluntary program to accredit third-party certification bodies, or auditors, to conduct food safety audits of foreign food entities and certify that foreign food facilities and food produced by such facilities meet applicable FDA food safety requirements. The final rule provides for a reimbursement, or user-fee, program to assess fees and require reimbursement for the work the agency performs to establish and administer the third-party certification program.  FDA will notify the public of the fee schedule annually. The fee notice will be made publicly available prior to the beginning of the fiscal year for which the fees apply, except for the first fiscal year in which this regulation is effective. Each new fee schedule will be adjusted for inflation and improvements in the estimates of the cost to FDA of performing relevant work for the upcoming year.


Livestock Marketing Protections Largely Left to Trump Administration to Decide

DTN | Posted on December 20, 2016

The visceral political fights over livestock marketing rules will carry into the Trump administration as reaction to USDA's release of three rules on Wednesday ranged from all-out praise from some farm groups to condemnations of political retribution by other groups. The livestock marketing rules under the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, are in different stages of the process. They date back to language in the 2008 farm bill, and the rules have been controversial throughout the Obama administration. Early proposals from USDA drew fire from major industry groups and Congress. The rules were then blocked by Congress refusing to fund any efforts to advance the rules. Finally, Congress relented in the fiscal year 2016 funding bill and USDA immediately advanced the rules again.The three rules, dubbed as the "Farmer Fair Practices Rules," were late, coming just 37 days before the inauguration. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Congress gave conflicting signals about the rules for years, leading to the late push this year by the administration to compete them. Vilsack said the rules help ensure a "fair, just, a non-discriminatory and non-deceptive system" for marketing livestock and poultry.


Livestock Marketing Protections Largely Left to Trump Administration to Decide

DTN | Posted on December 15, 2016

The visceral political fights over livestock marketing rules will carry into the Trump administration as reaction to USDA's release of three rules ranged from all-out praise from some farm groups to condemnations of political retribution by other groups. The livestock marketing rules under the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, are in different stages of the process. They date back to language in the 2008 farm bill, and the rules have been controversial throughout the Obama administration. Early proposals from USDA drew fire from major industry groups and Congress. The rules were then blocked by Congress refusing to fund any efforts to advance the rules. Finally, Congress relented in the fiscal year 2016 funding bill and USDA immediately advanced the rules again.The three rules, dubbed as the "Farmer Fair Practices Rules," were late, coming just 37 days before the inauguration. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Congress gave conflicting signals about the rules for years, leading to the late push this year by the administration to compete them. Vilsack said the rules help ensure a "fair, just, a non-discriminatory and non-deceptive system" for marketing livestock and poultry.


A decades-long, tri-state water war killed a bipartisan weather bill last week

The Washington Post | Posted on December 15, 2016

A bipartisan weather bill years in the making quietly died on the floor of the House of Representatives. Supporters of the bill say it was necessary to maintain U.S. excellence in research and forecasting and the National Weather Service’s ability to issue lifesaving warnings. It also would have bridged federal agencies and private companies in a discipline where advances are being made across all sectors. The Weather Research and Forecasting Act of 2015 — which had Democrat, Republican, bicameral and weather enterprise support — passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Dec. 2 but was left withering on the vine in the House, ostensibly because of a decades-old water dispute in the South.The bill would have been the first major piece of weather legislation since the early 1990s. It prioritizes accurate forecasts and warnings and collaboration with the private sector through competitive grants. It aims to improve tornado warnings, including the ability to warn of a tornado more than one hour in advance. It continues the Hurricane Improvement Forecast Program, which saw its funding slashed in 2015, much to the disappointment of the weather community and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).


FDA: a gentle giant or a brewing beast?

Meatingplace (registration required) | Posted on December 15, 2016

There has been a great deal of media coverage surrounding FDA’s new enforcement initiatives under the Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”).  With the new regulations going into effect, the agency has also adjusted its approach as it relates to other areas of enforcement.  Although FDA leadership implored last week that the agency is here to “help food companies enhance their existing food safety programs,” and to “educate before it regulates,” those statements stand in stark contrast to ongoing reports of: (1) FDA and DOJ criminal investigations initiated against companies such as Chipotle, Blue Bell, Dole and others; (2) FDA’s new strategy to conduct routine microbiological “swab-a-thons” in all registered food facilities (and then force expansive recalls based only upon environmental test results); and (3) FDA’s recent use of armed U.S. Marshals to seize millions of pounds of milk products from a major dairy cooperative in Virginia. The statements from FDA regarding its interest in gently helping the food industry to do a better job also stand in opposition to the agency’s decision to bestow all of its FDA inspectors with the fear-inducing title of “FDA INVESTIGATORS.”   Now, what were commonly referred to as routine “FDA inspections,” are incresingly characterized as “FDA investigations.”  When asked about the meaning and connotation of the title "investigator," some ageny employees confirmed that the title is used to “give them more power.”  If an FDA employee is told that he or she is an “investigator,” however, and that he or she must “go investigate a food facility,” isn’t the hypothesis being tested that the food company has already committed crime? 


Continuing Resolution Includes FSA Loan Funding

Southeast Ag Net | Posted on December 15, 2016

A continuing resolution budget bill to keep the U.S. government funded through April includes language to provide the Department of Agriculture money for farm loans and summer feeding programs. The Further Continuing and Security Assistance Appropriations Act, which covers 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills, will maintain government operations at a rate of $1.07 trillion through April 28th, 2017.  The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill Thursday with the Senate following suit on Friday, according to the Hagstrom Report. The farm loan language for the Agricultural Credit Insurance Fund Program by the Farm Service Agency followed a request for the funding by farm groups.A coalition of farm groups sent a letter to appropriators that it was “absolutely critical” the Farm Service Agency has the resources needed to meet rising demand for farm loans. The bill also includes agriculture emergency watershed and conservation funding.


Japan ratifies Trans-Pacific Partnership

Watt Ag Net | Posted on December 15, 2016

Japan’s parliament on December 9 approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in spite of promises from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that the U.S. would withdraw from the deal. The trade agreement, which in addition to the U.S. and Japan, involves Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The agreement was agreed to by negotiators from all involved countries in October 2015 and signed in February. From there, governmental bodies from all participating nations were to vote for ratification.


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