A bipartisan Senate bill set for release today would set the stage for agricultural carbon markets that would pay farmers to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The bill is aimed at connecting farmers to credit markets and would facilitate the third-party verification needed to provide legitimacy and transparency to ag carbon trading. 

The bill’s supporters will include major farm and conservation groups. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee, is one of the lead sponsors. 

Keep in mind: It’s far from clear when Congress will act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a carbon tax or some other measure. But many multinational corporations are already making sustainability commitments that will likely require them to purchase carbon credits, and that’s where a bill like this comes in. 

Price-fixing charges put focus on market power

Concerns about price fixing in the meat and poultry sectors have taken a new turn with the filing of federal charges against several top executives in the chicken industry. The executives are accused of conspiring to rig bids and fix prices for chicken supplied to fast-food restaurants. 

Responding to the charges that involve poultry giant Pilgrim’s Pride, the National Farmers Union says price fixing “is only a symptom of the much bigger problem of corporate consolidation. Companies are only able to employ anticompetitive business practices when they’ve amassed control over their respective industries.” 

Keep in mind: These allegations come as producers have been pushing for investigations of the increased margins between prices paid to farmers and charged to consumers during the coronavirus-related slowdown in processing.

Read more about the price-fixing charges here.

Analysis: Pandemic wiping out food security gains

The nation has made major strides in reducing food insecurity over the past decade, but a new analysis by Feeding America, the national network of food banks, says that improvement will likely be wiped out by the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Food insecurity dropped to levels in 2018 not seen since 2007 ahead of the Great Recession: Some 37 million Americans, 11.5% of the population, were food insecure in 2018. But an estimated 54 million people, including 18 million children, may experience food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. 

Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap analysis projects food insecurity this year will affect more than 18% of the population in many rural congressional districts across the South, parts of the Plains and the West. (Darkest areas in the Feeding America map above show highest food insecurity.)

Take note: One-third of people who are food insecure may not qualify for federal food assistance, according to the group. Undocumented immigrants fall into that category as well as newly unemployed people who have assets, such as a car, exceeding the allowable limit. There are 115 counties in which a majority of the people who are food insecure are unlikely to qualify for assistance. 

Programs like USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Boxes can be especially beneficial to those groups – if the food gets to their locations. 

Hong Kong: We aren’t sweating US actions

 The U.S. has more to lose than Hong Kong if President Donald Trump follows through with threats of halting preferential treatment, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po insists in a new blog post.

“In the past decade, the (U.S.) trade surplus with Hong Kong has been the biggest among all its trading partners, totaling almost $300 billion,” the official writes. Hong Kong is a major importer of U.S. wine and beef, he noted. 

Why it matters: The concern for the U.S. ag sector is that if the U.S. imposes tariffs on Hong Kong products similar to those it imposes on China, Hong Kong will reciprocate.

As it stands now, Hong Kong charges no tariffs on U.S. ag commodities, except for tobacco and alcohol. Hong Kong also imports tree nuts, poultry, pork, fruit and pet food and is the seventh largest ag export market by value for the U.S.

Sugar industry urges FDA crackdown on artificial sweeteners

FDA should require food and beverage manufacturers to clearly identify non-nutritive sweeteners in their products, the Sugar Association says in a petition submitted to the agency.

The petition urges FDA to require the term “sweetener” be added in parentheses after the name of all non-nutritive sweeteners in the ingredient list. For children’s food and beverages, manufacturers should “indicate the type and quantity of non-nutritive sweeteners, in milligrams per serving,” on the front of packages, the petition says.

The association also wants the labels to “disclose gastrointestinal effects of various sweeteners at minimum thresholds of effect.”

“These changes by FDA will bring the complete transparency in sweetener labeling that we know consumers want, deserve and should expect,” Sugar Association President Courtney Gaine said.

Behind the request: The petition says consumers are largely unaware of low- or no-calorie sweeteners in their food. Only 37% in a recent survey could correctly identify sweetening ingredients.

“To be able to recognize that the products they purchase for their children contain nonnutritive sweeteners, parents would need to know the chemical names of these ingredients. However, name recognition of non-nutritive sweeteners and knowledge on how to identify products containing these ingredients is low,” the petition says.

Roger Wicker

Key senator pushes FCC to speed broadband money

The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, is asking the Federal Communications Commission what steps it could take to accelerate phase one of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“I have heard from a number of Mississippi broadband providers that are ready to begin deploying in unserved areas but cannot act until they receive this critical support,” his letter reads. He notes that the situation isn’t unique to Mississippi.

FCC created RDOF to distribute $20.4 billion over ten years to support broadband deployment in unserved areas. The commission plans to begin the phase-one reverse auction in October, which would make available $16 billion to eligible broadband providers.

She said it: “In the decade before the pandemic, we made progress in finally returning to pre-Great Recession levels of food insecurity, though that number was still regrettably high. That fragile progress has given way under the weight of this crisis.” – Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America.

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher (philip@agri-pulse.com)