By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY with Megan Cassella, Maya Parthasarathy, John Lauinger and Pradnya Joshi | 10/23/2017
GIPSA DECISION REVERBERATES: After the administration’s decision last week to end Obama-era proposals aimed to help protect livestock and poultry growers, farmers and ranchers are skeptical about what may happen to the ranking system draft GIPSA rule that remains. “They’ve screwed this up bad enough. Lord knows what they’re going to say to help big poultry companies,” J. Dudley Butler, the former head of USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration said in an interview with MA. “I’m not optimistic they’ll get anything right.”
Trump may face wrath: Butler said the decision may influence what support President Donald Trump and his administration receive from farmers and ranchers in the future. Farmers felt abandoned, Butler said, by statements from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue that he did not support the interim final rule because it would lead to “unnecessary and unproductive litigation.” Farmers and ranchers are “the least litigious people in this country,” Butler said, adding that the bigger challenges may come when Trump seeks their support if he tries to get re-elected.
“Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of America and they paved the way for Trump to be president,” Butler said. “They thought he was their president, but he and his minions have now sold these very farmers and ranchers down the river.”
Another discouragement: Butler said it would also be harder to encourage future generations to take up farming if they weren’t protected from big corporations. “I’ve got four kids and none of them want to do that. Why would you? It’s hard work. You make more money somewhere else.”
HAPPY MONDAY, OCT. 23! Where we at Morning Ag are ruminating over how one pulls off a “10-4” acknowledgement in a formal response to a letter from members of Congress on a constitutional issue. We had thought the closest agriculture could come to ten-code-appropriate usage would be a “10-54,” for a report of livestock in the roadway (thanks for slowing down in rural areas, everyone) or the ever-safe “10-69” (message received).
** A message from the National Confectioners Association – #AlwaysATreat: Leading global chocolate and candy companies are coming together to provide more information, options, and support as consumers enjoy their favorite treats. It’s the first step on our journey to help people manage their sugar intake and ensure that they feel empowered to make informed choices. Learn more at AlwaysATreat.com. **
UNEXPECTED BOOST ON FARM BILL: The fiscal 2018 budget H. Con. Res. 71 (115) that the Senate passed last week could make moot the $10 billion in cuts to ag programs that were in the House version — a move that makes passage of the next farm bill easier, Pro’s Helena Bottemiller Evich writes.
Backers of SNAP had been bracing themselves for the prospect that the spending cuts would be squarely aimed at welfare programs including food stamps. But the Senate version does not include the $203 billion in spending reductions the House had incorporated.
“It is certainly helpful, I think, for the farm bill process not to at least be arbitrarily forced to make a $10 billion cut to the baseline,” said Ellen Vollinger of the Food Research & Action Center, who has watched the sausage being made during previous farm bills.
Deficit hawks make have to swallow Senate version: The House and Senate need to pass identical budgets if Republicans want to fast-track the budget and avoid hammering out differences in the two versions over weeks and weeks in conference committee. There is a lot of pressure on the House to adopt the Senate version so that lawmakers can get onto the business of tax reform. Trump is said to have pressed reluctant House Republicans over the weekend to accept the Senate version.
SNAP may still be in bull’s-eye: Still, Vollinger and other anti-hunger advocates are not convinced that safety-net programs are safe over the long term, especially considering that some lawmakers are unhappy about the huge increase in the federal deficit allowed for in the Senate version. For instance, Rep. Mark Walker — who supports the House’s proposed cuts to welfare and entitlement programs — asked GOP leaders to commit to separate votes on a balanced budget amendment and other deficit-reduction legislation, POLITICO’s Rachel Bade reports.
PERDUE PAUSES CODEX MOVE: After coming under criticism, Perdue is holding off on his plan to move the Codex office from within the department’s public health arm to its newly created trade mission area. The move was part of Perdue’s grand plan to reorganize the USDA. But many fear that putting the Codex office under the responsibility of trade officials — instead of under the Food Safety and Inspection Service where it resides — signals that exports rather than public health issues would be the priority of the office.
The Food and Drug Administration in particular was caught off-guard by the move and made its sentiments known in no uncertain terms. “Transfer of the U.S. Codex office under a trade umbrella would build a perception that the United States places a stronger priority on advancing trade over public health,” Stephen Ostroff, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, wrote in five pages of formal comments earlier this month.
In a letter to lawmakers, Perdue said he would take more time to consider the Codex move but contended that the overall response to the reorganization blueprint has been positive. Perdue acknowledged, however, that “there have been some stakeholders who have expressed concerns.” More from Pro Agriculture’s Helena Bottemiller Evich here.
— Trapped in the Valley: While Rio Grande Valley has a surplus of undocumented laborers, farmers in other parts of Texas are desperate for workers, The Texas Observer reports. Low pay and dangerous work conditions aren’t the only factors contributing to farm labor shortages. With increased immigration enforcement, undocumented workers aren’t willing to take the risk of deportation that comes with traveling past government checkpoints.
— Biofuel backers claim win: Following demands from the powerful biofuel lobby and Sen. Joni Ernst, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — under pressure from Trump — publicly promised in a letter not to change biofuel program rules. More from Pro’s Eric Wolff here.
— Scientists warn about fish’s future: More than 200 scientists along with the conservation group Oceana are sending a letter to Congress today encouraging members to oppose a bill that amends the Magnuson-Stevens Act H.R. 200 (115), arguing that it weakens the act and reduces the quality of science used in making management decisions. Check out the POLITICO Pro report here.
— Saving the fish: Animal-rights groups are moving into seafood to educate consumers about why they should concerned about the conditions of the fish they eat, NPR reports.
— One bright spot for JBS: The Brazilian meatpacker will resume operations on Tuesday at seven slaughterhouses that had been shut after a court-ordered asset freeze, Reuters reports.
— Talking trade: Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland tells CNN that her nation is renegotiating NAFTA in good faith. “We all have to have a mindset that says, let’s get a ‘win-win-win’ — a win for everybody,” she said during an interview on the show Fareed Zakaria GPS. “And if one party has a winner-take-all attitude, then it’s not going to work.”
— WTO members at odds on ag: World Trade Organization members warn that the prospects of reaching any sort of deal on agricultural trade during the group’s ministerial meeting in December are waning. During a two-day meeting of the informal committee on agriculture, which wrapped up Friday, members acknowledged that they should be narrowing ag issues to a limited number of points that they will present to ministers for discussion at the conference, diplomatic sources in Geneva told Pro’s Megan Cassella.
— Who is helping the EPA shift its policy on toxic chemicals?: The New York Times features Nancy B. Beck, an American Chemistry Council executive, who has been working behind the scenes on rolling back protections against toxic chemicals. She helped rewrite a rule making it harder to track the health consequences of groundwater being contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, used on everything from stain-resistant carpets to nonstick pans.
— Good news for white grapes, bad news for red: The New York Times reports that Northern California’s wildfires may have long term effects on the 2017 vintage. While most white grapes had been harvested, as much as 30 percent of the Bordeaux varieties had not.
— Monsanto sues Arkansas plant board: Monsanto went after Arkansas agricultural officials late Friday seeking to block a decision prohibiting the use of dicamba during the summer, Reuters reports.
— Bad weather leads to ice cream sales slump: The Guardian reports that it was a disappointing season for the consumer-goods conglomerate Unilever this summer after ice cream sales were hit by competition from a new low-calorie brand as well as by poor weather in Europe and the Americas.
— Cotton farmer hopes to replace Corker: Former Rep. Stephen Fincher, a seventh-generation West Tennessee farmer and small businessman, announced his campaign this weekend to succeed retiring Sen. Bob Corker. The Tennessean reports he is facing GOP competition from Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Andy Ogles, former head of the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee. Fincher previously served on the House Committee on Agriculture.
— Hipster quality coffee comes to Colombia: The Washington Post reports on how coffee quality has grown after years of lower quality choices.
THE WEEK AHEAD: Members of the Senate Finance Committee will consider three nominations on Tuesday including that of Gregory Doud to serve as chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. His name will be taken up along with the nomination of Jeffrey Gerrish to serve as deputy U.S. trade representative, and Jason Kearns to serve as a member of the International Trade Commission. The vote should be a breeze for Doud and Kearns, both of whom have faced little controversy. Gerrish could run into potential difficulties after it emerged that he cast a ballot in Virginia in November despite moving to Maryland five months earlier.
Senate Agriculture Committee is aiming to have the nominations of Bill Northey for undersecretary of agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services and Greg Ibach for undersecretary of agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs voted on by the full Senate this week. As of Friday, no date had been confirmed for floor time.