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Five years after West Fertilizer explosion, EPA rolls back chemical safety reforms | Posted on May 24, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected next month to roll back chemical plant safety reforms that the Obama administration proposed after 15 people died in a fertilizer plant explosion in West. The rollback means the disaster, which exposed wide safety gaps in the industry and its oversight, will result in no significant federal regulatory changes, as the Austin American-Statesman reports.That angers the mayor of the Central Texas town.

An Immigration Debate Distinct From Economic Realities

Wall Street Journal | Posted on May 24, 2018

There is a good case that America’s economy has never needed immigrant labor more than it does now. The American birthrate has slowed dramatically, with the number of babies born in the U.S. last year hitting a 30-year low. At the same time, Alaska fisheries, New Hampshire restaurants and Maryland crab processors all say they are critically short of workers. Farmers say they need thousands more workers, and some production is moving overseas for lack of labor. There are 6.6 million job openings in the U.S., which means that, for the first time in history.

Farm bill heads through House with animal husbandry amendment

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on May 16, 2018

The U.S. House of Representatives begins debate on the farm bill this week, including an amendment designed to stop states from regulating the way farmers raise food animals in other states.

Been there done that; it was called Freedom to Farm

Ag Policy | Posted on May 16, 2018

Edwards writes, “President Donald Trump proposed cuts to farm programs in the 2019 federal budget, but the longer term goal should be to fully repeal all farm subsidies.” Our response to the goal of fully repealing all farm subsidies will be echoed by many of our readers, “Been there, done that, and the result was a very expensive policy disaster.”In reviewing the 1996 Farm Bill, the Cato bulletin glosses over the impact of “Freedom to Farm” with a simple statement: “But Congress reversed course in the late 1990s, and it passed a series of supplemental farm subsidy bills.”What they don’t tell their readers is that by 1998, farm income had fallen dramatically, crop prices were below the full cost of production, and things stayed that way for four years. In some years and some states, net farm income was less that direct government farm program payments even though the net farm income numbers include the profits being earned by the livestock sector. Crop farmers were using part of their government payments just to pay for production costs.Edwards then writes, “As a result, subsidies over the seven years of the 1996 Farm Bill ended up costing more than double what had been promised.” There is no surprise there. Daryll, in his analysis of the 1996 legislation written at the time, predicted that the legislation would be costly.As we look at the current string of low-price years, there is no evidence that eliminating sensible farm programs would produce different results.The truth is that whenever we write farm programs that do not take account of the economic characteristics of crop agriculture, they will almost always be significantly more expensive than the Congressional Budget Office projections made at the time the legislation is passed.

Migrant labor shortage shakes pro-Trump small biz

Newsday | Posted on May 16, 2018

It’s a complaint echoed by crab processors in Maryland, innkeepers and lobster restaurants in Maine and Texas shrimpers who couldn’t get enough workers under the H2-B visa “guest worker” program for nonagricultural workers. East End farmers also are stymied by “a tremendous shortage of labor for low-skilled jobs,” said Long Island Farm Bureau president Karl Novak in a recent discussion of immigration policy with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), according to Riverhead Local.Even before unemployment hit a 17-year low, Devine said he couldn’t find enough dependable, drug-free U.S. workers. He relied on H2-B for seasonal help, mostly from Guatemala. Recently, he lost a $100,000 account for lack of manpower. The visas were awarded by lottery for the first time this year instead of first-come, first-served. Crab houses in Maryland that weren’t lucky are idle. Local economies are suffering. “The Mexican labor creates jobs for Americans. It’s creating my job,” fisherman Burl Lewis, who sells bait to crabbers, told The Wall Street Journal.Homeland Security plans to issue 15,000 more H2-B visas, but some businesses say by the time eligible migrants could make the trek north, it will be too late.

Farm Bill could threaten 58 million acres of forest land

Newsweek | Posted on May 16, 2018

The Farm Bill, an all-encompassing multi-year piece of legislation that directs what happens at the Department of Agriculture, has gained attention for its proposed overhaul to the food stamp program. While it is typically written with input from both sides of the aisle and passed along bipartisan lines, that’s not the case this year. Critics argue that this year has been unusually partisan and that parts of the new bill come straight from Republican Representative Bruce Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, which worked to ease anti-logging regulations and reduce environmental review processes for logging and construction. These provisions threaten to eliminate the roadless rule, which prohibits most commercial logging and activity through vast swaths of American forest land and preserves them as habitats for threatened species and areas of recreation. Advocates argue that preventing deforestation in these areas protects drinking water for millions of Americans, prevents dangerous mudslides, and can help mitigate the effects of climate change. Some critics argue that having so many trees so close increases the chance of long-burning forest fires, but the large trees found in these areas tend not to burn and catch fire as quickly, and can often mitigate fires.

United States Issues First-Ever WTO Counter Notification Against India’s Market Price Support

USDA | Posted on May 15, 2018

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that the United States submitted a counter notification in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Agriculture (COA) on India’s market price support (MPS) for wheat and rice. Filed on May 4, 2018, this is the first ever COA notification under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture regarding another country’s measures. Based on U.S. calculations, it appears that India has substantially underreported its market price support for wheat and rice. When calculated according to WTO Agreement on Agriculture methodology, India’s market price support for wheat and rice far exceeded its allowable levels of trade distorting domestic support. The United States expects a robust discussion on how India implements and notifies its policies at the next COA meeting, which is scheduled for June 2018.

SNAP is a boon to urban and rural economies

| Posted on May 15, 2018

In case you missed it, Congress is in the midst of a pretty major food fight. At the center of it is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the first line of defense against hunger for more than 21 million American households.  Going forward, however, an estimated 2 million people stand to lose SNAP benefits if the farm bill proposal passed by the House Agriculture Committee last month becomes law. The bill’s draconian work requirementsand eligibility changes threaten to upend the lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families. But it could also deliver a serious blow to the economic vitality of many rural and small-town communities, in an economic domino effect that often starts at the local grocery store.

Ag budget bill would give USDA jurisdiction over lab-grown 'meat'

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on May 15, 2018

As meat substitute products that use new technologies proliferate and the debate over what is and is not meat heats up, Congress jumped into the fray last week with a paragraph in its proposed USDA budget that would give the agency jurisdiction over products made in labs from animal cells. The proposed legislation states: “For fiscal year 2018 and hereafter, the Secretary shall regulate products made from cells of amenable species of livestock, as defined in the Federal Meat Inspection Act, or poultry, as defined in the Poultry Products Inspection act, grown under controlled conditions for use as human food, and shall issue regulations prescribing the type and frequency of inspection required for the manufacture and processing of such products, as well as other requirements necessary to prevent the adulteration and misbranding of these products.”

FSIS boosts outreach to small, very small plants

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on May 14, 2018

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is launching an initiative to prioritize outreach to small and very small establishments in each of the 10 districts throughout the country, enhancing its existing outreach resources, the agency said in its Constituent Update newsletter. More than 90% of the approximately 6,000 plants inspected by FSIS are considered small or very small. Outreach to these businesses is critically important — ensuring they have the tools, guidance, and resources needed to comply with FSIS regulations and deliver products that are safe and wholesome.