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House Passes Agro-terrorism Bill

Pro Ag | Posted on March 28, 2017

Iowa Congressman David Young's agro-terrorism preparedness legislation, the Securing our Agriculture and Food Act (H.R.1238), was passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 406-6.  First introduced in 2016 and then again in January of this year, Congressman Young's legislation addresses concerns brought to light after Iowa suffered the largest animal disease outbreak in state history, when the 2015 avian influenza outbreak wiped out millions of layer hens, turkeys, and backyard flocks.  Response efforts revealed problematic breaks in the federal government's ability to communicate with stakeholders and react quickly to large-scale animal disease outbreaks. This disaster also raised concerns among farmers and producers about whether our nation would be able to capably share information and respond to agro-terrorism threats and attacks, ultimately an attack against our nation's consumers.
Young's Securing our Agriculture and Food Act requires the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through the assistant secretary for Health Affairs, to elevate preparedness of our nation's food, agriculture, and veterinary systems against terrorism and high-risk events. The bill authorizes DHS to collaborate with other agencies, to ensure food, agriculture, and animal and human health sectors receive attention and are integrated into the DHS's domestic preparedness policy initiatives. The U.S. Senate version of Young's legislation, S.500, has been voted out of committee and is waiting for a vote to be scheduled in the full Senate.

Growing markets by focusing on borders

Agri-Pulse | Posted on March 28, 2017

There has been a lot of discussion lately about borders and what to do with them. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a paper recently that provides one of the best suggestions I’ve heard yet--invest in making borders more efficient. Farmers of all sizes, from countries around the globe, face high costs and great uncertainty when they choose to export. Uncoordinated, bureaucratic procedures and delays often make imported products uncompetitive, and can even result in products being spoiled or unsafe by the time they reach their destination. The Chicago Council’s paper, “Growing Markets, Growing Incomes: Leveraging Trade Facilitation for Farmers” by Andrea Durkin, highlights the ways that investing in trade facilitation can help solve these problems and boost the livelihoods of farmers in the United States and around the globe.  Trade in agricultural products, particularly perishable items such as meats, dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables is growing rapidly, particularly in emerging economies, where rising incomes are spurring demand for higher-value imports. Yet emerging and low-income economies tend to have border conditions and policies, such as lengthy inspection procedures, poor storage and infrastructure, and paper-based documentation that is prone to being misplaced, destroyed or altered, that add costs and stifle trade growth. Border requirements are also more complicated for agricultural products, which often require additional scrutiny to ensure that they comply with food safety and plant and animal health protocols.

Perdue seeks to reassure Congress as Trump eyes budget cuts

Capital Press | Posted on March 25, 2017

The nominee for agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, on Thursday sought to reassure farm-state senators fearful about the impact of President Donald Trump’s proposed deep cuts to farm programs, promising to work with Democrats to create jobs in the struggling industry. At his confirmation hearing, the former Georgia governor stressed bipartisanship, reaching out to Democrats who have complained about Trump’s lack of experience in agriculture and his proposed 21 percent cut to the farm budget. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, expressed frustration with the Trump administration, saying “it’s clear that rural America has been an afterthought.”She said government dollars are important to rural communities as many of them are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.“Especially during these times of low prices for agriculture and uncertainty around budget, trade and immigration, we need the next secretary to be an unapologetic advocate for all of rural America,” she said.Farm-state Republicans have also criticized the proposed budget cuts and have been wary of the president’s positions against some trade agreements, as trade is a major economic driver in the agricultural industry.

NAFTA showdown pits cars against cows

Toronto Sun | Posted on March 23, 2017

It’s cars versus cows.  The NAFTA showdown between Canada and the United States will pit the interests of the automotive industry and other exporters against protected sectors like dairy, telecommunications, airlines and banks, Carleton University Associate Professor Ian Lee said.“You can bet that those four industries will shamelessly invoke Canadian nationalism to protect their own greed, their own private interests,” Lee said. “They’re going to wrap themselves in the flag and say they’re doing this for Canadian identity.“The question is will the government if Canada, the Trudeau government, have the courage to take them on?” Despite what President Donald Trump said following a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — that the Canada-U.S. portion of the deal would be “tweaked” — the revisions will be major, he said.With about 5 million jobs dependant on exports, two-thirds of which are headed to the United States, Canadian negotiators will be determined to secure open access to American markets.Giving up that access on behalf of 12,000 well-off farmers seems unlikely.“I think it would be economic suicide for any Prime Minister to adopt such a position,” Lee said.U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross used more pointed language than his boss, telling reporters he wants “concessions” from Canada and Mexico.Ross said he expects the renegotiation o

More delay for Produce Safety Rule as industry balks over water testing

Food Safety News | Posted on March 23, 2017

Water testing standards that are a key part of the produce safety requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are undergoing a quiet review that could extend the compliance date for the Produce Safety Rule beyond January 2018.  Produce industry leaders learned  in mid-February during a meeting with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials led by acting FDA Commissioner Stephen Ostroff that they’d be getting the review with the likely delay in compliance.

President's budget recommends deep cuts to rural

Daily Yonder | Posted on March 23, 2017

USDA's Rural Development, which helps provide water, power, broadband, housing, and small business loans in rural America, gets identified for deep cuts in the president's budget proposal. The proposal, which is just the first salvo in the budget battle, also recommends eliminating agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority. The proposal says Agriculture’s Rural Development programs would be cut so deeply there would be less need for staff in USDA’s Service Center offices. Service Centers are located across the country and provide local access to programs serving farmers and landowners, local governments, businesses, and others.

Once nearly buried by medical bills, a farmer braces for insurance drought

Daily Yonder | Posted on March 23, 2017

Darvin Bentlage’s health insurance plan used to be the same as all the other cattle farmers in Barton County, Mo., he said: to stay healthy until he turned 65, then get on Medicare. But when he turned 50, things did not go according to plan.  “Well, I had a couple of issues,” he said.That’s putting it mildly.Over two years, he dealt with hepatitis C and diverticulitis. That was on top of his persistent kidney stones, diabetes and other health problems.“I had to go back and refinance the farm,” he said. “By the time the two years was up, I had run up between $70,000 and $100,000 in hospital bills.”He does not want to end up in that situation again, so he is paying close attention to what Republican health care billworking its way through Congress might mean for him.He racked up those medical bills in 2007. Bentlage said that given his preexisting conditions, health insurance became impossibly expensive — a problem because he needed more health care. So when the Affordable Care Act exchanges opened in 2013, he said, “I was probably one of the first ones to get online with it and walk through it.”About a quarter of the people on the exchanges are between 55 and 64, and they have more health problems than younger people do. So they have a lot on the line if the Affordable Care Act gets replaced. Under the GOP plan, older people’s insurance cost could rise dramatically, but the subsidies would be capped at $4,000. That’s less than half of what Bentlage is getting now under the ACA.

Researchers Call Trump’s Proposed NIH Cuts ‘Shocking’

Kaiser Health News | Posted on March 23, 2017

An estimated $5.8 billion in cuts to the National Institutes of Health in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget has universities and medical institutions sounding the alarm. Trump’s spending plan — running into opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike — would cut about 20 percent of the roughly $30 billion budget of the nation’s medical research agency that supports research on cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Zika and other conditions. Research institutions nationwide decried the cuts as potentially devastating to their work. Based in Bethesda, Md., the NIH spends most of its annual budget — about 85 percent — on grants to thousands of researchers and medical institutions across the country.Traditionally, biomedical research has enjoyed strong bipartisan support, surviving ideologically driven cutbacks from one administration to the next. Grant increases to major NIH recipients had been averaging about 3 percent per year during the Obama administration.

USDA announces $6 million to aid fire-affected farmers and ranchers in Kansas

The Hutcheson News | Posted on March 22, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that more than $6 million in funding is now available for those affected by the wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The funding, delivered through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, will assist farmers and ranchers as they attempt to restore grazing lands, rehabilitate devastated landscapes, rebuild fencing and protect damaged watersheds, according to a news release.“The availability of USDA conservation funds targeted toward restoring land impacted by the fires is appreciated," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who visited southern Kansas and spoke to ranchers March 12. "I have asked USDA to provide maximum flexibility in administering the federal assistance programs in response to the disaster, and will continue to make clear the urgent need for more immediate assistance to those impacted.”

China, EU cut imports of Brazil meat amid scandal

Reuters | Posted on March 22, 2017

China and the European Union curtailed meat imports from Brazil on Monday after police, in an anti-corruption probe criticized by the government as alarmist, accused inspectors in the world's biggest exporter of beef and poultry of taking bribes to allow sales of rotten and salmonella-tainted meats. As the scandal deepened, Brazil's Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said the government had suspended exports from 21 meat processing units.But he also criticized the investigation by Brazil's Federal Police into meatpacking companies, calling their findings "alarmist" and saying they used a few isolated incidents to tarnish an entire industry that maintains rigorous standards.