Skip to content Skip to navigation

Federal News

Heritage Foundation attacks ethanol policies

Farm Futures | Posted on June 8, 2017

The Heritage Foundation Blueprint for Agriculture includes a lengthy chapter on U.S. biofuels policy and the renewable fuel standard (RFS). Heritage concludes that ethanol and other current biofuels are harmful to agriculture, the environment, and consumer.Heritage claims the U.S. biofuels policy “is a case study in the unintended consequences of government intervention.” For example, biofuels have created higher livestock prices for livestock farmers and ranchers. Heritage suggests biofuel policies, over a 30-year time frame, have diverted over $35 billion in taxpayer money to agriculture. It goes on to conclude renewable fuel mandates have assisted corn growers at the expense of livestock producers. (I suspect my friends in the livestock community are not complaining about corn prices now.)The report claims “The renewable fuel standard has certainly contributed to increased prices [in food].” To support this charge, Heritage quotes the USDA Economic Research Service, which writes, “Increased corn prices draw land away from competing crops, raise input prices for livestock producers, and put moderate upward pressure on retail food prices.”Heritage also claims that diverting food to fuel has hurt both rural America and the world’s poorest citizens. I suspect there is some dispute over this assertion.The report relies on the 2012 summer drought to assert that existing subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels “needlessly” diverted food to fuel. Although the report does accurately state “The magnitude of the ethanol mandate’s effect on corn prices and overall agricultural products is difficult to determine, partly because of the uncertainty of estimates regarding how much ethanol would be used for fuel absent a mandate…”

FDA Slated to Extend Compliance Dates for Agricultural Water Standards

The National Law Review | Posted on June 8, 2017

FDA announced its intention to extend the compliance dates for agricultural water requirements in the Produce Safety Rule (other than for sprouts).  According to the announcement, FDA intends to use this additional time to work with industry to develop an approach that addresses stakeholder concerns while achieving the Agency’s enumerated public health goals. FDA intends to extend the compliance dates using appropriate administrative procedures at a later time.

Mexico agrees to sugar trade deal, but U.S. refiners remain unhappy

The New York Times | Posted on June 7, 2017

Mexico agreed to demands from the United States to cut exports of refined sugar, striking a deal on Tuesday in a contentious trade negotiation that was closely watched as a prologue to talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.The dispute stemmed from complaints by American sugar refiners that Mexico was taking advantage of unfair trade practices to dump refined sugar in the American market and at the same time limit the amount of raw sugar it exported to American refineries.The preliminary deal heads off the threat of punitive tariffs and maintains Mexico’s access to the American market. Mexico was forced to make significant concessions, but the American sugar industry, which had pushed for much tighter restrictions on Mexican sugar, opposed the deal.Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross, speaking at a news conference in Washington alongside Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s economy minister, said, “We have gotten the Mexican side to agree to nearly every request made by the U.S. sugar industry to address flaws in the current system and ensure fair treatment of American sugar growers and refiners.”Mr. Ross continued, “Unfortunately, despite all of these gains, the U.S. sugar industry has said it is unable to support the new agreement, but we remain hopeful that further progress can be made during the drafting process.”

FDA’s tough new task: Explain biotech’s safety, benefits

Agri-Pulse | Posted on June 5, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration has a tough job ahead of it, a job that the food and agriculture sectors have struggled to accomplish: Convince the public that biotech crops are safe to eat and can offer a variety of benefits to the public and the environment. The fiscal 2017 spending bill enacted at the end of April includes $3 million earmarked for FDA to coordinate with the Agriculture Department on a consumer outreach and education effort. The stated goal under the legislation is to educate consumerson the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts of such biotechnology, food products, and feed.”The GMO law enacted in July 2016 will require companies to disclose the presence of biotech ingredients through a digital code that can be read by smartphones. But consumers still won’t have enough knowledge about biotechnology itself, and that is where the FDA program will come in, said Brian Rell, a spokesman for House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican who originally put the provision in the House version of the FY17 bill.“Up until now, consumer activists, biotech seed companies, and organic companies have tried to fill the void in trying to educate the public. However, each of these segments has an ulterior motive. FDA is a neutral source and the public generally accepts FDA’s word on most scientific issues,” Rell said.

Trump on Paris accord: 'We're getting out'

CNN | Posted on June 1, 2017

The decision amounts to a rebuttal of the worldwide effort to pressure Trump to remain a part of the agreement, which 195 nations signed onto. Foreign leaders, business executives and Trump's own daughter lobbied heavily for him to remain a part of the deal, but ultimately lost out to conservatives who claim the plan is bad for the United States."We're getting out. And we will start to renegotiate and we'll see if there's a better deal. If we can, great. If we can't, that's fine," he added.In triggering the official withdrawal procedures, Trump will spark a lengthy process that won't conclude until November 2020 -- the same month he's up for reelection, ensuring the issue becomes a major topic of debate in the next presidential contest. "The United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord," Trump said, saying it would include ending the implementation of carbon reduction targets set under Obama and ending contributions to the United Nations' Green Climate Fund.

National Rural Housing Coalition letter opposing Trump rural development budget cuts

National Rural Housing Coalition | Posted on June 1, 2017

We write to express our opposition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget for Rural Development. This budget if enacted, along with the ill-advised recommendation to eliminate the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development, will substantially diminished resources dedicated to improving rural communities and the lives of rural people.  We believe a better choice for rural America is to continue USDA Rural Development programs at no less than the FY 2017 levels included in Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (115-31). This will allow USDA Rural Development to continue its important mission of providing technical and financial assistance aimed at improving the living and economic conditions in rural America. We also urge the Committee to oppose elimination of the Rural Development mission area and the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development. Rural Development needs the time and attention of a management team led by an Under Secretary who is empowered to direct and administer rural development programs and field staff.

Heritage Foundation claims agricultural subsidies are harmful

Farm Futures | Posted on June 1, 2017

Last week I provided a summary of the Heritage Foundation's report on how to change the upcoming farm bill. This week I am addressing Heritage's view on subsidies. It claims "Government intervention creates numerous problems and makes the status quo of agricultural subsidies an untenable situation. Subsidies distort planting decisions of farmers so that instead of responding to the market, they make decisions based on the incentives provided by the subsidies." Heritage goes on to claim that agricultural subsidies lead to "moral hazard" because risk is shifted to taxpayers and not farmers. Heritage claims the Federal crop insurance program costs approximately $15 billion a year which comes from the taxpayer. Further, it claims "...only 25% of agricultural producers received payments...". Furthermore it claims from 2005-2014 corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and soybeans received approximately 90% of farm payments.

Chinese Chicken Is Headed To America, But It's Really All About The Beef

NPR | Posted on June 1, 2017

Cooked chicken from birds grown and raised in China soon will be headed to America — in a trade deal that's really about beef.Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Thursday night that the U.S. was greenlighting Chinese chicken imports and getting U.S. beef producers access to China's nearly 1.4 billion consumers. But the deal is raising concerns among critics who point to China's long history of food-safety scandals.The Chinese appetite for beef is huge and growing, but American beef producers have been locked out of that market since a case of mad cow disease cropped up in the U.S. in 2003. In response, many countries, including South Korea, Japan, Mexico and China, banned imports of U.S. beef.China was the only one of those nations to not eventually lift its ban — and that's a big deal."It's a very big market; it's at least a $2.5 billion market that's being opened up for U.S. beef," Ross said in announcing the trade deal.Many people long had seen China's refusal to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports as a negotiating tactic, a tit for tat aimed at allowing Chinese chicken imports into the United States. The negotiations that led to the new trade deal have been going back and forth for more than a decade, stalled at one point by worries in Congress over China's food-safety practices.American beef producers are rejoicing that the process has finally resulted in allowing them to send beef to China.

He plowed his field; now he faces a $2.8 million fine

USA Today | Posted on June 1, 2017

A farmer faces trial in federal court this summer and a $2.8 million fine for failing to get a permit to plow his field and plant wheat in Tehama County. A lawyer for Duarte Nursery said the case is important because it could set a precedent requiring other farmers to obtain costly, time-consuming permits just to plow.“The case is the first time that we’re aware of that says you need to get a (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) permit to plow to grow crops,” said Anthony Francois, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. The libertarian-leaning nonprofit fights for private property rights and limited government.“We’re not going to produce much food under those kinds of regulations,” Francois said.However, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller agreed with the Army Corps in a judgment issued in June. A trial, in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office asks for $2.8 million in civil penalties, is set for August.The case began in 2012 when John Duarte, who owns Duarte Nursery near Modesto, Calif., bought 450 acres about 10 miles south of Red Bluff.Duarte planned to grow wheat there, according to Francois and court documents.Because the property has numerous swales and wetlands, Duarte hired a consulting firm to map out areas on the property that were not to be plowed because they were part of the drainage for Coyote and Oat creeks and were considered “waters of the United States.”Francois conceded that some of the wetlands were plowed but not significantly damaged. He said the ground was plowed to a depth of 4 to 7 inches.Duarte's wheat was planted but not harvested because in February 2013 the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued orders to stop work at the site. The agencies claimed Duarte had violated the Clean Water Act by not obtaining a permit to discharge dredged or fill material into seasonal wetlands considered waters of the United States.

The EPA just halted an Obama-era methane rule for oil and gas companies, 4 days before it would have taken effect

Business Insider | Posted on June 1, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday halted methane emission standards for oil and gas companies in its latest move to unwind Obama administration climate change rules, amid reports that the United States will withdraw from a global climate change agreement.The agency issued a 90-day stay of the 2016 New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry, which require companies to capture fugitive emissions, obtain engineer certifications and install leak detention devices while it reconsiders the rule.The rule, completed last year under former President Barack Obama, was due to go into effect on June 3.The EPA said it expects to prepare a proposed rule and launch a public comment period after the stay.Environmental groups vowed on Wednesday to block the EPA move in court.