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USDA Provides Support for Hurricane-Impacted Dairies in Puerto Rico

USDA | Posted on October 23, 2017

In the wake of the 2017 hurricanes, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing emergency assistance to dairy operators in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. USDA is preparing for signup to begin Oct. 21, 2017. “We’re dispatching additional USDA staff to the island, but we also continue to ramp up material assistance as well,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Dairy producers need help immediately, and the Trump Administration is providing it.”Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector, including dairy operations.  Secretary Perdue said the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is providing up to $12 million dollars to enable operators of Puerto Rico’s 253 licensed dairy operations to purchase feed for cattle. The special initiative, applicable only to Puerto Rico, is called the Dairy Assistance Program for Puerto Rico (DAP-PR). The program will be administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which has offices and staff on the island.“Dairy operations face additional losses unless they have feed for their remaining cattle,” said Perdue. “This funding will enable them to get the help they need until the situation in Puerto Rico stabilizes.”Under the provisions of today’s announcement, dairy operators can apply to FSA to receive vouchers to purchase an estimated one-month supply of feed.  The amount of the voucher is calculated based on 100 percent of estimated feed costs per cow for 30 days. There are an estimated 94,000 dairy cows on the island.

Feds trying to seize raw camel milk suspected in interstate case

Food Safety News | Posted on October 23, 2017

Federal officials are attempting to seize more than $70,000 in raw camel milk products stored in a warehouse in Kansas City, KS, including some bearing labels from a Missouri dairy, because they were allegedly shipped in interstate commerce in violation of federal law. In an action filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, KS, the Department of Justice states that inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration estimate about 4,300 8- and 16-ounce bottles of frozen camel milk, colostrum and kefir are stored in the My Magic Kitchen Inc. refrigerated warehouse.More than 3,800 of the bottles contain raw camel milk and products made from it, which sell for $10 to $18 on the internet. A few hundred of the bottles contain pasteurized camel milk products. Kansas does not have any licensed camel dairy operations. If it did, sales of raw camel milk/products would be limited to “on-farm” scenarios. Kansas law prohibits retail sales and herd share sales of unpasteurized milk.The Kansas Department of Agriculture embargoed the products in question in August.Illegal interstate commerce isn’t the only problem with the camel milk products stored at My Magic Kitchen warehouse. They are also considered “new drugs” under federal law because of health claims made on their labels and on the website of Desert Farms Inc., a California company that contracts with a network of raw camel milk producers across the country.

Audit finds shortcomings in USDA foreign meat oversight

Capital Press | Posted on October 20, 2017

An internal USDA audit has found shortcomings in the agency’s system for ensuring foreign meat and egg inspections are equivalent to those in the U.S. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspections Service is charged with ensuring meat and egg products imported into the U.S. are subject to equivalent protections against food safety hazards.Auditors from USDA’s Office of Inspector General said the agency has a “robust system” for scrutinizing countries that apply to export meat and eggs to the U.S. but found fault with its ongoing monitoring of trading partners once they’ve qualified.The audit said that “without more robust controls” for determining the equivalence of foreign inspections, the FSIS program is “vulnerable to weaknesses that increase the risk of adulterated or unsafe meat, poultry, or egg products being imported into the United States.”In response to the audit, FSIS said it was making improvements to enact many of the audit’s recommendations, though the agency disagreed with some of the characterizations in the report.The report claimed FSIS didn’t consistently follow its own policy for auditing countries based on performance assessments, for example.

FDA Announces Two Public Meetings on Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach

FDA | Posted on October 20, 2017

he U.S Food and Drug Administration is announcing public meetings to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Francisco, California, regarding its Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative. Congress appropriated $3 million to fund this initiative, which calls upon the FDA to work with USDA to provide education and outreach to the public on agricultural biotechnology and food and animal feed ingredients derived from biotechnology. The purpose of the public meetings is to provide the public with an opportunity to share information, experiences, and suggestions to help inform the development of this education and outreach initiative.Charlotte, North Carolina, Tuesday, November 7, 2017, from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm EST. San Francisco, California, Tuesday, November 14, 2017, from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm PST

FPF Analysis: New USDA Net Farm Income Figures Not Exactly What They Seem

Farm Policy Facts | Posted on October 19, 2017

A new analysis by Farm Policy Facts reveals that the USDA’s projected Net Farm Income (NFI) increase is not exactly what it seems.In fact, according to our analysis, the major takeaway from the report should not be the increase projected for 2017, but the downward adjustment to the 2016 number.The ERS had projected 2016 NFI to be $68.3 billion, but the August 30 update reduced it by 10% to $61.5 billion. These updated figures add up to a 50% drop in 3 years, and farmers and ranchers continue to deal with extremely hard times, thin to negative margins and dwindling reserves and equity that small, projected increases – or increases on paper – may do little to mitigate.Our analysis also takes a look at the difference in nominal dollars, which is often used to record NFI, and “real dollars,” which allows for a more “apples to apples” comparison.When looking at NFI adjusted in real 2017 dollars over time, it is clear that while NFI has remained relatively stagnant, the value of production and expenses have trended upward despite real declines in recent years.In addition, our analysis notes that in NFI reports, national numbers are used, overlooking significant differences from farm to farm and region to region. “By almost any measure, farm income in Missouri and nationally is down sharply from recent peak levels, unfortunately, the prospects for a rapid and full recovery are not good.”

GIPSA, tramps and thieves

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on October 19, 2017

At least it’s one less thing for processors to worry about. Scuttling the proposed GIPSA rules that would have shifted the balance of power between livestock producers and processors simplifies the regulatory landscape a little — a very little, considering issues such as the renegotiation of NAFTA continue to roil the waters. But processors will take it.The package of three regulations — a final rule that would hold that the Packers and Stockyards Act does not require farmers and ranchers with complaints against packers to show injury to the whole sector in order to show they have been the victims of a fraudulent or deceptive business practice, a proposed rule addressing how poultry growers are ranked within the tournament system for calculating farmer pay, and a second proposed rule that would define criteria for preference of one livestock or poultry producer over another — was proposed in the waning days of the Obama Administration and faced a wicked upstream battle right from the start. The rules do arguably overreach in their efforts to regulate the relationship between processors and producers.

Nafta Talks Left Reeling After Aggressive U.S. Proposals Land

Bloomberg | Posted on October 19, 2017

U.S. negotiators in recent days put forth a string of bold proposals -- on auto rules of origin, a sunset clause, government procurement, and gutting dispute panels seen by the other nations as core to the pact. The moves were long-signaled, as was Canadian and Mexican opposition to them.  The proposals have spurred public warnings from prominent U.S. lawmakers and the private sector about the perils of scuttling a deal that over more than two decades has broken down trade barriers, including tariffs, for industries like manufacturing and agriculture.Nafta’s fate may now hang on how flexible the U.S. is about its demands heading into the fifth round of talks, scheduled for Mexico City around the first week of November. While the parties had wanted to reach a deal by December, officials familiar with the negotiations say the talks are likely to drag on for months.

EPA, herbicide makers agree to new limits on dicamba use

Des Moines Register | Posted on October 19, 2017

The Trump administration has reached a deal with three major agribusiness companies for new voluntary labeling requirements for a controversial herbicide blamed for damaging crops. The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday its agreement with Monsanto, BASF and DuPont regarding the application of dicamba, which is used to control weeds in fields of genetically modified cotton and soybeans. Farmers who don't buy the special resistant seeds sold by the herbicide makers have complained that dicamba sprayed on neighboring properties drifts over and harms their crops, resulting in temporary bans issued last summer by state officials in Arkansas and Missouri."EPA carefully reviewed the available information and developed tangible changes to be implemented during the 2018 growing season," the agency said in a media release. "This is an example of cooperative federalism that leads to workable national-level solutions."Under the deal, dicamba products will be labeled as "restricted use" beginning with the 2018 growing season. New rules will limit when and how the herbicide can be sprayed, such as time of day and when maximum winds are blowing below 10 mph. Farmers will be required to maintain specific records showing their compliance with the new restrictions.

USDA plan to axe livestock pricing rule divides meat producers

Reuters | Posted on October 19, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a filing on Tuesday said it will dismantle Obama-era rules for buying and selling livestock, a move that has divided the U.S. meat industry. While some of the biggest meat companies opposed the rule, smaller producers fought to keep the regulation in place. Some felt intimidated by the larger processors, who control large segments of the country’s meat industry. Ken Maschhoff, an Illinois hog farmer and National Pork Producers Council president said: ”We’re very pleased that the secretary will withdraw these bad regulations, which would have had a devastating impact on America’s pork producers.“Eliminating the need to prove injury to competition would have prompted an explosion in lawsuits by turning every contract dispute into a federal case subject to triple damages,” Maschhoff said.National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president for government affairs, Colin Woodall, called USDA’s decision to terminate its final rule a victory for the country’s cattle and beef producers.“The proposed rule would have crippled cattle producers’ ability to market their products through the value-added programs,” said Woodall.Conversely, Sally Lee, program director at Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, said USDA chose to “side with ‘Big Meat’” to the detriment of farmers. Bill Bullard, spokesman for U.S. cattle producers’ group R-CALF USA, said Perdue has now deprived producers of legal protections while helping corporate meatpackers to gain control over the cattle supply chain.“Secretary Perdue must not have received President Trump’s memo about draining the swamp,” in granting multinational meatpackers to “retaliate against cattle producers and engage in unfair and deceptive business practices with impunity.”

How Washington's formula for fighting wildfires makes them worse

The Los Angeles Times | Posted on October 19, 2017

The absurd way in which Washington pays to put out wildfires throughout the West is making a dangerous situation even more so. It’s a rare point of bipartisan agreement in Congress that a fix is urgently needed, particularly as fires grow in duration and intensity. The root problem: the U.S. Forest Service is strapped for cash. Its firefighting budget amounts to a fraction of what it actually costs to fight fires. Not sending firefighters is hardly an option. Even in the wine country blazes, which are not on federal land, the service has sent 1,500 firefighters to help out the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, along with dozens of fire engines, air tankers, helicopters and water scoopers.The Forest Service has no choice but to pay for the assistance by raiding funds from other programs in its budget — many of them oriented toward preventing the very fires it is fighting. Prevention efforts are put aside as dollars are funneled to putting out flames.To put it in perspective: About 56% of the agency’s budget now gets consumed fighting fires. In 1995, not even a sixth of its budget was spent there. That is a lot of fire prevention work going undone.