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How safe is chicken imported from China?

The Conversation | Posted on August 21, 2017

Cooked poultry is considered to be a processed food item, so it is excluded from country of origin labeling requirements which would apply to raw chicken. This means that U.S. consumers will not know they are consuming chicken grown and processed in China. Restaurants also are excluded from country of origin labeling, so the cooked poultry could be sold to restaurants without consumers knowing. The first Chinese exporter did not specify the name brand that its cooked chicken is being sold under. The key issue is cost competitiveness. If China can sell cooked poultry at a competitive price point, there will most likely be a U.S. market for it. At this point, though, the Chinese poultry industry is not as integrated (that is, organized so that one company owns breeder birds, hatcheries, grow-out farms and processing plants) or technologically advanced as the U.S. poultry industry. In the short run this makes it difficult for China to compete with the U.S. poultry industry at any appreciable level, even though Chinese labor costs are lower.

Secretary Perdue Announces Tony Tooke as New Forest Service Chief

USDA | Posted on August 21, 2017

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced Tony Tooke will serve as the new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Tooke has worked for the Forest Service since age 18 and currently is the Regional Forester for the Southern Region. Following the announcement, Secretary Perdue issued this statement: “The Forest Service will be in good hands with the U.S. Forest Service’s own Tony Tooke whose knowledge of forestry is unmatched. Tony has been preparing for this role for his whole professional life, and at a time when we face active and growing fires, his transition into leadership will be seamless.  He will oversee efforts to get our forests working again, to make them more productive, and to create more jobs. His focus will be on ensuring we are good neighbors and are managing our forests effectively, efficiently, and responsibly, as well as working with states and local governments to ensure the utmost collaboration. No doubt, the stewardship of our forests is an awesome and sacred responsibility, and no one knows that better than Tony who has dedicated his career to this noble cause,” said Secretary Perdue.

WOTUS: Where Are We Now?

Texas Agriculture Law Blog | Posted on August 17, 2017

In February 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order which required the EPA and COE to “rescind or revise” the 2015 Rule.  The Order said that the agencies should “consider interpreting” the term consistent with Justice Scalia’s opinion in Rapanos. In June, the EPA announced it would be taking the first step to rescind the 2015 Rule and to re-codify the definition of WOTUS prior to the passage of the 2015 rule.Where Are We Now? Rescinding a rule already promulgated is not as simple as it may sound.  The EPA has published a new proposed rule in the Federal Register, which essentially seeks to codify the rule as it was prior to the 2015 EPA rule being passed (and, due to the 6th Circuit stay, the approach currently in place across the US).  Specifically, the proposed rule would rescind the 2015 approach and codify an approach consistent with the Rapanos Supreme Court decision, applicable case law, and other longstanding agency practices. Now, notice and comment rulemaking will take place, which will allow the public to offer input on the new proposed rule.  This period is open through August 28, 2017.  After that, the EPA plans to conduct a “substantive re-evaluation” of the definition of WOTUS and conduct notice and will likely propose a new rule after property notice and comment rulemaking occurs. Meanwhile, the 2015 rule is not in force anywhere in the United States, as the 6th Circuit stay remains in place.  Thus, currently, the definition of WOTUS is governed by the pre-2015 rule that got us the complex decision in the Rapanos case.  Unfortunately, until a new rule is promulgated, landowners are left with trying to interpret the Rapanos decision in order to know whether federal permits are required on their land.Hopefully, the revised rule will offer more clarity and certainty for both the government and landowners alike.

FDA Clarifies Sanitary Transportation Rule Waiver for Retail Food Establishments

The Coastal Bend Chronicle | Posted on August 17, 2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidance to clarify that a waiver to the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food final rule (Sanitary Transportation rule) covers retail food establishments that sell food for humans, including those that sell both human and animal food, but does not apply to establishments that only sell food for animals. The Sanitary Transportation rule  established a process by which FDA may waive any of the rule’s requirements for certain classes of persons, vehicles, or types of food  if doing so will not result in the transportation of food under conditions that would be unsafe for human or animal health, or contrary to the public interest.  

2018 Farm Bill: What shiny object will be used to distract this time?

Ag Policy | Posted on August 17, 2017

During these last 30-plus years, farmers and major farm and commodity organizations, abetted by agribusiness, have gone after one shiny new thing (policy) after another, often that border on entrepreneurial rent seeking, while playing the sympathy card of public support for family farmers and the agrarian ideal. Our main theme in this series is that farmers and farm and commodity organizations have consistently ignored the economic characteristics of grain production that result in long periods of low prices punctuated by brief periods of high prices and, every few decades, with longer periods of high price that are the direct, disruptive result of government policies in this country or elsewhere in the world.In the first two months of writing this column in 2000 we laid out our understanding of the fundamental economic characteristics of agricultural production. Over the years we have repeatedly described a set of policies that take into account the root causes of chronic price and income problems faced by farmers—that is policies designed to respond to the economic characteristics of primarily, but not limited to, grain agriculture, providing a policy environment in which market forces would allocate supplies among competing uses, and result in minimal governmental costs, while protecting farmers on the low side of farm commodity prices and consumer from the high side. At the same time, we have criticized policies that treat the symptoms rather that respond to the causes of the farm price and income problems.

FDA eases restrictions on ultra-filtered milk for cheese-making

Wisconsin State Farmer | Posted on August 17, 2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says ultra-filtered cow’s milk can now be used to make all types of natural cheeses, a move that Wisconsin cheese-makers have sought for nearly 20 years. Ultra-filtered milk is fresh farm milk run through a filter to reduce the amount of water and lactose and concentrate the natural proteins.“FDA’s announcement is an important win for Wisconsin and other great cheese-making states,” John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association said in a statement.Umhoefer said the FDA’s decision will allow cheese-makers to use the concentrated form of milk with flexible labeling restrictions.“There’s been an oversupply of milk in the U.S. for over a year, causing real financial stress for dairy farm families. This decision can lead to more production of … ultra-filtered milk and find new markets for our abundant milk supplies,” Umhoefer said.For years, the dairy industry has worked with the FDA to allow the use of ultra-filtered milk in cheeses with a federal standard of identity — such as cheddar, mozzarella, Colby and brick.The agency has allowed the use of the concentrated milk in standardized cheeses if the filtration took place at the factory where natural cheese was made.

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.'”