Surrounded by international leaders focused on global food security, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that one of the biggest concerns he has about addressing future food challenges is “our ability to embrace science.” Vilsack said “we are now moving into a new era,” with tools like gene editing, and he expressed concerns that - without public understanding and support - future leaders won't be able to use all of the available new technology needed to boost food production by 50 to 60 percent by mid-century, in order to feed a growing and hungry world population.
The administration further relaxed economic restrictions on Cuba Friday, allowing more collaboration on medical research, the approval of Cuban drugs for import and the lifting of monetary limits on cigars and rum imports. The moves make the U.S. openings to Cuba "irreversible," President Barack Obama said in a statement. The latest changes build on the president's announcement in December 2014 to chart a new course for the U.S.-Cuba relationship, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. The lifting of the limit on cigars and rum applies only to authorized travelers to Cuba. “The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking and telecommunications," Lew said. "Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact, and private sector growth."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has sent livestock and poultry marketing rules, which USDA is calling the "Farmer Fair Practices Rules," back to the White House for review. The rules drew both praise and scorn. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent letters to leaders of various meat and livestock industry groups on Thursday detailing why the rules were advanced. Vilsack wrote that the rules "will seek to help balance the relationship between livestock producers, swine production contract growers, and poultry growers and the packers, swine contractors, and live poultry dealers with whom they interact." The Farmer Fair Practices actually makes up three separate rules by USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration. Parts of the rules have been under development since the beginning of the Obama administration and led to heated public forums and congressional hearings in 2010 as groups and segments of the industry lined up on opposing sides. Members of Congress maintained the initial proposals went way beyond congressional intent, and the rules had been blocked through language in funding bills until now. The rules were sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. Once greenlighted by the OMB, the rules will be published in the Federal Register for a comment period. Given the divisions within the livestock industry over the rules, it's also possible these rules could again be delayed or blocked with language in funding bills.
In September, the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, a group charged with making recommendations to the Bureau of Land Management about its Wild Horse and Burro Program, agreed that tens of thousands of equines in federal holding facilities might need to be euthanized. This recommendation — you might call it the nuclear option — undoubtedly hit horse lovers like a bomb. Social media mushroomed with immediate rancor. The BLM was inundated by negative feedback and quickly issued a statement saying it would not follow the board’s recommendation. It’s sad enough that the mustang crisis has devolved to this. It’s also sad that only a tiny fraction of the public has taken time to understand the situation, which has created a genuine cultural and environmental crisis in the American West. As horrifying as its recommendation may seem, the advisory group was only trying to rectify bad decisions regarding wild horses that date back generations. It’s a chronicle that’s echoed by the long history of corporate malfeasance in the mining world.
With crop insurance's popularity rising in rural America and on Capitol Hill, and with the policy's budget outlays falling, we're guessing one of its harshest critics, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is running out of believable critiques. So now it's resorted to pure fiction. The EWG sounded an alarm bell in an article earlier this week, warning, "Billionaire Saudi Prince Khalid bin Abdullah could be raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. taxpayer-funded crop insurance subsidies through farms he owns in Kentucky – but we have no way of knowing for sure." Actually, we have plenty of information to know for sure. And no, he is not fleecing U.S. taxpayers. Under paragraph 202 of the USDA's handbook for crop insurance program standards, it clearly notes that non-U.S. citizens are ineligible to participate. Since the Saudi Prince is not a citizen, he is not receiving crop insurance assistance. Case closed. But for the sake of due diligence, we decided to assume the Saudi Prince became a U.S. citizen without telling anyone. Even in this unlikeliest of scenario, he still isn't hitting up taxpayers for crop insurance on his thoroughbred horse breeding operation headquartered in Fayette County, Kentucky. Here's how we know. There is no crop insurance product available for horse breeding.There is a livestock crop insurance product, but horses are ineligible for coverage.There is a Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage product to assist ranchers in general, but it's hardly been used in Kentucky.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice have filed a complaint against NGL Crude Logistics, LLC and Western Dubuque Biodiesel, LLC and a $6 million settlement with Western Dubuque to address alleged violations of the Renewable Fuel Standard. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, alleges that NGL entered into a series of transactions with Western Dubuque in 2011 that resulted in the generation of approximately 36 million invalid Renewable Identification Numbers. RINs are credits created when a company produces qualifying renewable fuel and can be traded or sold to refineries and importers to use for compliance with renewable fuel production requirements. Under the settlement, Western Dubuque has agreed to pay $6 million to resolve alleged Renewable Fuel Standard program violations for generating RINs for renewable fuel that were produced using unapproved feedstocks and production processes. The consent decree does not resolve any claims against NGL.
Elephants, pangolins and parrots are among the species that were given stronger trade protections at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which ran from 24 September to 5 October in Johannesburg, South Africa. The 17th meeting of the CITES convention was its largest ever, attended by more than 3,500 people, including representatives of 152 governments. Delegates took decisions on 62 trade-restriction proposals in what John Scanlon, secretary-general of CITES, said was “a game changer for the planet’s most vulnerable wild animals and plants”. Here, Nature picks out some of the most significant and keenly anticipated decisions — including whether particular species should be listed in Appendix I or Appendix II of the CITES treaty. The first is for species at immediate threat of extinction, for which countries agree that trade in those species or their products should be largely banned; Appendix II is for those that could face extinction in future if trade restrictions were not implemented.
USDA launched a new private investment fund with the potential to inject $100 million into growth-oriented, small businesses across rural America. The McLarty Capital Partners (MCP) Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) will be the fifth RBIC that USDA has helped to initiate since 2014. "Innovative small businesses throughout rural America need the same access to capital as their urban business counterparts," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "McLarty Capital Partners is an important ally in USDA's efforts to reenergize the rural economy, help small businesses grow and strengthen local communities." McLarty Capital Partners, founded in 2012 by co-presidents Franklin McLarty and Christopher Smith, provides flexible financing solutions to small and medium sized enterprises in the United States. MCP Rural Investment Fund will invest in this sector of the U.S. economy with the goal of ensuring that businesses located in smaller communities throughout the nation have access to the capital needed to realize their goals.
The USDA will move forward with rulemaking on the proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) rules proposed in 2010, despite that effort being defunded by Congress at the time. The National Cattleman’s Beef Association and North American Meat Institute were quick to note that Congress defunded the initial effort because it recognized they would limit producers’ marketing options, add layers of bureaucracy and facilitate litigation. The move also circumvents eight federal appeals court rulings, they said. USDA has announced the GIPSA rules include an interim final rule on competitive injury and two proposed rules to address undue preference and the poultry grower ranking system. The agency has said they will provide additional opportunity for public comment on all the rules and will announce if any amendments will be made.
The Bureau of Land Management has horses grazing on a ranch the agency rents, one of 60 private ranches, corrals and feedlots where it stores 46,000 wild horses it has removed from the West's public lands. The cost:49 million a year. The expense eats up 66 percent of the federal budget for managing wild horses. The program cannot afford to continue old management practices that created the problem, or afford to come up with solutions that might fix it.