Agreement on a new coronavirus relief package could be several weeks away, but a key GOP senator is signaling some give on one major sticking point in the negotiations.

Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, who’s set to become the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee next year, indicated the GOP would be willing to consider a temporary increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. “That’s something we definitely have to look at,” Boozman told Agri-Pulse.

He suggested the SNAP increase would be a trade-off for reducing the $600-a-week bonus unemployment benefit that is set to expire on Friday. Republicans argue the benefit is making it harder for businesses to rehire workers. They’ve proposed cutting it to $200 a week.

For more on the aid negotiations, read our weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also look at prospects for the ‘phase one’ trade deal in China in light of the worsening tensions, plus we report on some last-minute changes to the proposed Democratic platform that are of interest to farmers. 

Proposals for Dem platform got ‘junked’

Critics of conventional agriculture sought to get the Democratic Party’s platform to add some broad new language on animal feeding operations as well as a ban on an array of pesticides, including Roundup. 

But the list of recommendations backed by Friends of the Earth and other groups didn’t get to its intended reader: Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is a member of the platform committee. 

Contacted by Agri-Pulse on Tuesday, Vilsack said the recommendations landed in his email program’s junk-mail folder, which he doesn’t check. But he also defended the ag language that wound up in the platform, saying it’s intended to see farmers as partners in addressing climate change and other environmental concerns.

Roger Marshall

Roberts: Trump needed in Kansas race

Republicans are worried that they could lose a Kansas Senate seat this fall, depending on the outcome of next Tuesday’s GOP primary. Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts, who is retiring from the seat, says President Trump needs to throw his support behind Rep. Roger Marshall. 

“He’d be welcome,” Roberts said of Trump. Roberts says Trump could help shore up the conservative base behind Marshall, who Roberts recently endorsed.

The race is coming down to a battle between Marshall and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is widely known as a hardliner on immigration policy. Some Republicans who worry about holding the 53-47 Senate GOP majority fear Kobach can’t win in November. 

The winner of the primary will likely face Democratic candidate Barbara Bollier in November.

US sorghum rides high on China trade

Surging Chinese demand is pushing U.S. sorghum exports and prices far above last year’s levels, according to a new report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. As of early July, U.S. sorghum export sales worldwide were more than double sales for the entire 2018-19 marketing year and Chinese demand is the largest factor.

About 75% of all U.S. sorghum exports are sold to China, FAS said.

 “With the return of China, sorghum prices have rallied, reaching $229 per ton in June, which was the highest since July 2015,” FAS said in the analysis. “Currently, sorghum prices hover around $215 per ton, down from last month’s peak largely influenced by corn.”

 Mexico makes push for healthier eating

 Eat more organic, Mexican-grown avocados and less imported junk food and high-calorie, sugary drinks. That’s the new message behind the new campaign spearheaded by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

In one of two new videos unveiled by Obrador, the Mexican government proclaims “it is in your hands to choose between products made in Mexico- organic, natural, endemic, or consuming imported, processed, high fat and sugar products,” according to a report from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Products from the U.S. do not appear to be called out directly, but the campaign takes place as the two countries spar over the approval and safety of biotech crops and pesticides.

Lawsuit seeks to block GMO disclosure rules

A new lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety and other advocacy groups is aimed at derailing the new bioengineered food disclosure rules before companies are required to be in compliance. The lawsuit specifically targets the use of QR codes to convey information about genetically engineered ingredients. 

Allowing companies to rely on QR codes discriminates against at least 20% of the population, mainly the poor, elderly, rural, and minorities, with lower percentages of smartphone ownership, or who live in areas where grocery stores don’t have sufficient bandwidth, the plaintiffs say.

Keep in mind: The Senate Ag Committee leaders who wrote the 2016 law on which the regulations are based clearly intended to allow the use of QR codes. 

The lawsuit also says food companies should be allowed to use “genetically engineered“ (GE) or “genetically modified.” Banning those terms and replacing them “with a term nobody has ever heard of is misleading and will create massive confusion in the marketplace,” said Mark Squire, co-founder of plaintiff Good Earth Natural Foods.

Unions sue USDA over poultry line speeds

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and five of its local unions are suing USDA to stop it from allowing poultry plants to increase their line speeds.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, UFCW and the locals seek to set aside both the program and seven line-speed waivers where plaintiffs’ members work.

“In adopting the new waiver program, [the Food Safety and Inspection Service] ignored concerns — raised by plaintiff UFCW and others — that increasing line speeds at poultry processing plants would increase the risk of injury to workers on the line,” the complaint says. 

“Instead, the agency asserted that it lacked the legal authority to address worker safety concerns, even as it acknowledged that it had considered and addressed worker safety concerns in its 2014 rulemaking.”

He said it. “After this crisis, we simply cannot go back to business as usual. Instead we must create a better future where we phase out big factory farms and instead put our faith and support behind independent family farmers and robust local food systems.” - Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaking at the Consumer Federation of America’s annual food policy conference, which is being conducted online this year. 

Booker introduced legislation Tuesday that would force meat and poultry processors to slow line speeds during the pandemic. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at