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PMA, Delaware officials host FDA to expose produce industry challenges

Food Engineering | Posted on August 23, 2016

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in conjunction with the Delaware Department of Agriculture, hosted FDA officials earlier this month for a tour of local state farm and packinghouse visits designed to highlight the industry and inform policymakers of the challenges facing the produce supply chain in light of the new rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  “These tours are part of PMA’s ongoing work to connect the policymakers who regulate our industry with fruit and vegetable producers’ realities and experiences, to encourage them to develop real-world workable solutions to our industry’s unique food safety needs,” says PMA President Cathy Burns. FDA finalized the produce safety rule last year, with the earliest compliance dates beginning one year after the final rule was published. The rule establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption

Secretary Vilsack Awards $17.8 Million to Cultivate the Next Generation of Farmers and Ranchers, Sets Stage for Continued New Farmer and Rancher Support

USDA | Posted on August 17, 2016

In a meeting with new and beginning farmers at Iowa State University today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new investment of $17.8 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The investment is made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher DEvelopment Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $126 million into projects targeting new and beginning farmers and ranchers through BFRDP. This year's awards will be made in 27 states and the District of Columbia to help fund a range of projects by partner organizations, like the Iowa-based National Farmers Organization (NFO) that will use $588,948 in funding to assist 900 beginning organic dairy and grain producers over the next three years. NFO will provide workshops, mentoring and other assistance in 11 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  New Mexico State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts will partner to use $598,030 to provide education, mentoring and one-on-one technical assistance to American Indian Pueblo beginning farmers. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, based in North Carolina, will use $513,959 in funding for Farm Pathways, a program to deliver whole farm training, farmer-to-farmer networking and farmland access.

Attempting to understand Trans Pacific Partnership

Farm Futures | Posted on August 17, 2016

For the next few weeks, I am changing course in writing about environmental issues in agriculture and will attempt to provide some background on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Viet Nam. The proposed TPP was signed on February 4, 2016, in Auckland, New Zealand. It took seven years of negotiations and needs to be ratified within two years after initial signatures. Proponents claim 30 chapters of the TPP will enhance economic growth, help support and create new jobs, raise living standards, and enhance labor and environmental protections.  Many voices in agriculture support TPP, but presidential candidates oppose it. Why?

USDA finalizes swine price reporting changes

Meatingplace (registration required) | Posted on August 17, 2016

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service announced a final rule amending swine and lamb reporting provisions related to the reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting program.  The final rule, which becomes effective on Oct. 11, amends two swine reporting requirements and one lamb reporting requirement.  For swine, packers are required to report purchases on a negotiated formula basis as a separate purchase category. Second, packers must report all barrow and gilt purchases made after 1:30 p.m. Central time in their morning submission on the next reporting day.

FDA Revamps Rules for Food Ingredients Recognized as Safe

Bloomberg | Posted on August 17, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration issued final rules today updating how the agency determines a substance used in food to be “generally recognized as safe,” known by the shorthand GRAS. Unlike food additives, substances determined to be GRAS are not subject to pre-market approval by regulators, thought they must meet the same safety standards as additives. Some pesticides, dietary supplement ingredients and color additives are classified as GRAS.  The final rules clarify that:  A substance cannot be classified as GRAS if available data doesn't satisfy the safety standard for a food additive under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.  GRAS classification requires “common knowledge” throughout the scientific community that the substance is not harmful.  Scientific recognition that a substance is safe must be concluded using generally accepted scientific data, information and methods.

Court Upbraids EPA for Delays on Pesticide Ban

Courthouse News Service | Posted on August 16, 2016

The Ninth Circuit scoffed Friday at the latest attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency to drag its heels on banning a dangerous pesticide. "EPA's nine-year delay in taking action was 'objectively extreme' when we received [the] petition for mandamus, and nothing has changed that would justify EPA's continued failure to respond to the pressing health concerns presented by chlorpyrifos," the 4-page order states.       Chlorpyrifos, introduced in 1965, is widely used to control pests that threaten more than 60 crops including almonds, walnuts, oranges, cotton and grapes. The EPA barred the pesticide from homes in 2000, saying then that the action was "good news for the protection of our country's public health," but this rule did nothing to bar the chemical's application in agricultural settings. In 2007, the Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the EPA to cancel pesticide's registration. The groups noted that the chemical has poisoned many workers, children and rural families, and is linked to neurological impairments in children. They petitioned the federal appeals court for mandamus relief after years passed with no action from the EPA on the petition. Under deadline last year, the EPA proposed a ban that would revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances, ending all uses of the pesticide that result in residue on food, contamination of drinking water, or drift to schools, homes and other inhabited places. Friday's order notes that the EPA cited "extraordinary circumstances" in requesting a six-month extension.   Final action by the EPA is due on March 31, 2017. "This is the final extension, and the court will not grant any further extensions," the unsigned order states.

Opinion: Trade Agreements: Good or Bad?

Agri-Pulse | Posted on August 15, 2016

Those who forget the lessons of history are potentially destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. About 90 years ago, the U.S. economy was operating at full speed and labeled the “Roaring Twenties” in the post-World War I era. At this same time, Europe's economy was recovering from the wartime devastation and started producing again. Global overproduction emerged. This was particularly true for those in agriculture. Back then, agriculture and the rural economy was a larger part of the general economy. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was being debated in Congress during the Fall of 1929 when the stock markets crashed. Signed into law in 1930, Smoot-Hawley increased tariffs on a wide range of imported goods. Unemployment rose in Europe, and around the world. In the U.S., it rose to 24 percent. More than 5,000 banks failed during the Great Depression. Thousands lost homes and farms because they couldn't make mortgage payments due to low prices, lost jobs, and bank closings. Some economists argue that monetary policy decisions contributed to starting the Great Depression, however, most agree Smoot-Hawley made things worse. The domestic economy did not pull out of the Depression until the end of the 1930s when World War II demand picked the economy up. The bottom line is either a nation agrees to the rules of trade or they don't. You cannot have it both ways. A nation that wants to export, must agree to imports. If there is no trade, then economic growth and incomes for the citizens are much more limited to resources and products that can be produced domestically within its borders. U.S. agriculture has the capacity to produce a lot more food and energy than we consume. People buy it internationally because it is cheaper than the alternatives. The emergence of mass markets also facilitates growth. In the United States, firms produce for one national set of product standards and market regulations instead of 50 states. The recent GMO labeling bill passed by Congress maintains the mass-market concept for the U.S. The European Union (EU) has a similar mass market. However with the Brexit vote, Europe may evolve into two sets of product and trade rules, which may add to the costs of trade in the region as Great Britain seeks full sovereignty, separate from the other EU members. 

Britain's Post-Brexit Promise of Farm And Science Subsidies Is Only Temporary

Forbes | Posted on August 15, 2016

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has announced that Britain will continue to pay the usual farming and scientific subsidies beyond the time that Britain leaves the European Union. This seems sensible as it at least provides certainty in the short term. We don’t even know how long it will take to leave the EU so the promise PMSEY +% to continue the subsidies to 2020 does indeed make that sense. An entirely unknown date at which they’ll stop would be worse than having them simply stop today.

ESA Takings Challenged

DTN | Posted on August 11, 2016

The Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to repeal a regulation that applies the take provision of the Endangered Species Act to every threatened species listed, according to a 19-page petition. In the petition brought on behalf of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, the group makes the case the law does not give blanket authority to federal regulators to apply its take provision to each of 150 threatened species listed.  A Congressional Research Service report from 2013 said the statute defines a taking as any act that adversely affects a species that includes "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, capture or collect" a listed animal. The USFWS defines "harm" to include habitat modifications made by private landowners.  There has been an outcry from farmers and ranchers in the West who say the federal government is overreaching and protecting species and their habitats, essentially assuming control of private land after the federal government strikes deals with litigants behind closed doors.

Crushing Zika via genetically modified mosquitoes

CNBC | Posted on August 8, 2016

Oxitec, the British subsidiary of Germantown, Maryland-based Intrexon, received a green light from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday to release the GMO mosquitoes as part of an investigational field trial in Key Haven in the Florida Keys. Residents of Key Haven will vote on the trial in a nonbinding referendum scheduled for November, with final approval to reside with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board. "It couldn't have come at a better time," Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry told reporters. While the company is glad it got the regulatory green light, Florida locals are concerned there may be risks to the human population.