Officials with ag chemical giant Bayer say they are standing behind the safety of Roundup and dicamba herbicides despite a massive $11.3 billion settlement of litigation over the products. Bayer CEO Werner Baumann also says the agreement with law firms representing nearly 100,000 Roundup plaintiffs and an undetermined number of dicamba plaintiffs should allay growers’ concerns about access to the herbicides.. 

The dicamba settlement includes $300 million for soybean growers who experienced drift damage between 2015 and 2020. Another $100 million is set aside for claims from growers of other crops, attorney fees and claims administration, said Don Downing, chair of the court-appointed plaintiffs’ executive committee.

One of the lead lawyers in the Roundup litigation, Robin Greenwald of Weitz & Luxenberg, said that settlement “is really the only way people will see any kind of resolution in their lifetimes.”

Take note: Some high-profile cases are not included in the settlements, including three Roundup cases where juries found for the plaintiffs and awarded them more than $1 billion, although the awards were significantly reduced by judges. Bayer is appealing those verdicts in hopes that favorable appeal decisions could reduce the chance of future litigation.

Similarly, the company is not settling with Bader Farms, the Missouri peach operation that won a $265 million jury verdict earlier this year. 

Ag carbon bill to be offered in House

Two House Agriculture Committee members say they’ll be introducing a companion bill to the Growing Climate Solutions Act, the bipartisan Senate measure that would give USDA a key role in verifying the validity of ag carbon credits. 

Democratic Rep. Abby Spanberger of Virginia and Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon announced plans for the House bill on Wednesday, the same day the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the legislation. 

Take note: Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, who will become the top Republican on Senate Ag next year when Pat Roberts retires, said he’s concerned that credit markets will mostly benefit the companies that manage or buy the credits. 

Read our coverage of the Senate hearing here.

IG report faults USDA on pork line speeds

USDA failed to ensure it was using reliable worker safety data when it proposed eliminating maximum line speeds at swine slaughter facilities in 2018, according to USDA’s inspector general. 

In a report released Wednesday, USDA’s internal watchdog also says the Food Safety and Inspection Service “did not fully disclose its data sources in its worker safety analysis.”

Adam Pulver of Public Citizen Litigation Group, who is representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the 2019 rule, said the report “makes clear that the USDA used unreliable data and failed to share data with members of the public in order to hide the data’s flaws from scrutiny.”

In the litigation in Minnesota, USDA is asking the judge to stay proceedings to allow FSIS to revisit the rule. Pulver said the plaintiffs will argue to the court that the report "shows why it would be futile to return the rule to the agency for reconsideration on the same record. Given the flaws in the process, USDA would have to start anew." 

Lighthizer confident on China soy purchases

 China has a long way to go to meet its promise to buy $36.5 billion worth of U.S. ag commodities, but U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer is betting big that Beijing will come through, especially on soybeans.

“We expect them to do it all during the course of this calendar year,” Lighthizer said in an interview with Farm Journal’s AgriTalk in an interview Wednesday. “For now, phase one is the best trade deal we ever, ever negotiated and it’s the only written deal China’s ever done with the United States on any of these things. It’s a good deal.”

By the way: USDA and FDA are pushing back against China’s decisions to ban meat and poultry imports from plants that have had coronavirus outbreaks. China is demanding processors prove they’re keeping facilities free of COVID-19, sources tell Agri-PulseRead our coverage here

Vietnam signs off on EU food name protection

The U.S. dairy industry is suffering another loss in its fight against the EU’s efforts to spread its protections for European food names across the globe, according to a report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. 

Vietnam has ratified its free trade agreement with the EU, a deal that contains a promise to respect geographical indications that limit the use of 169 food and drink names such as Feta cheese and others.

That means that, for example, that Vietnamese retailers can no longer sell Feta if it’s not made from curds brined in Greece, although some companies were grandfathered in for exemptions when it comes to Asiago, Feta, Fontina, and Gorgonzola cheese and Champagne.

House Dems go big on broadband

House Democrats are working to gain bipartisan support for a $100 billion broadband bill that aims to make high-speed internet accessible and affordable in underserved rural communities.

House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, who heads the House Rural Broadband Task Force, says broadband should be an integral part of any infrastructure package moving forward. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act has 30 co-sponsors. 

“We believe that this infrastructure bill this year, or whenever we take it up, must have broadband,” Clyburn told reporters.

The bill would authorize $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure across the nation. It also authorizes funding for Wi-Fi on school buses so students can be connected to and from school, especially in rural areas where long bus rides tend to be common.

Take note: There is growing bipartisan support for significant increases in broadband funding.

FCC urges Congress to help consumers stay connected

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is urging Congress to develop solutions to help small broadband providers as the commission’s Keep Americans Connected pledge expires next week. The pledge called on companies not to terminate service or charge late fees to businesses and residents who were having trouble paying their bills because of the COVID-19 crisis. 

During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, Pai deferred to Congress on whether the assistance is a subsidy to consumers or to companies. 

But he told Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, that the issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible because consumers continue to rely on connectivity during the pandemic. 

More than 800 companies and associations signed the FCC's pledge.

He said it. “We know when we had the Dust Bowl we had to respond to that, we had to change practices, and the result of that is we have family farms today that we wouldn’t otherwise have. … We’re on the cusp of that kind of revolution right now.” - Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., talking about the potential impact of carbon markets on farmers. 

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