Joe Biden has finally ended the speculation with his pick of California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate. Her selection is being welcomed by environmentalists who believe she will be an aggressive ally on their issues. 

“In Harris, Biden has chosen a partner with a deep understanding of how to harness the law to hold polluters accountable, uphold environmental protections, and make all of our communities safer and healthier,” said the political action arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

Analysts with ClearView Energy Partners pointed out a Biden-Harris administration could be tough on fossil fuels, noting that she was an early supporter of the Green New Deal. 

Harris has only been in the Senate since 2017, but the California Farm Bureau Federation says she was helpful on the 2018 farm bill and some other issues. She voted for the farm bill but was only 10 senators to oppose the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. 

For more on Harris’ record and what is being said about her, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also report on a new analysis that shows the U.S. is likely to exceed its farm subsidy limit under WTO rules for both 2019 and 2020. 

USDA: Pandemic to have lasting impact on hunger

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed 83.5 million more people into hunger in the world’s poorer countries, according to USDA’s annual assessment of global food security. That’s an increase of 11% because of the pandemic and means that 22% of the population in 76 focus countries doesn’t have access to the 2,100 calories a day that humans need. 

The total number of food insecure people is still projected to decline over the next 10 years as incomes rise, falling to 457 million people by 2030, down from 844 million this year. But the 2030 estimate is 10% higher than what was expected before the COVID-19 crisis. 

By the way: Most of the rise in food insecurity this year is expected in Asia, an increase of 41 million people, and in sub-Saharan Africa (35 million).

CFAP extended as new crops added

USDA has extended the signup deadline for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program because of the numerous new commodities made eligible for payments. The deadline had been Aug. 28. The new deadline is Sept. 11, which gives newly eligible farmers about four weeks to enroll, says Richard Fordyce, administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. 

Fordyce said some producers who have already received payments will have to amend their applications to add crops that haven’t been eligible before. 

FSA also formally announced that farmers who have already received payments will receive the remaining 20% that they are due. 

Keep in mind: Payment distribution has slowed considerably in recent weeks. As of Monday, USDA had paid farmers just over $7 billion of the $16 billion budgeted for the program. That total includes $3 billion in payments for cattle, $1.3 billion for dairy and $1.3 billion for corn. 

Fordyce tells Agri-Pulse that he believed that agency had done adequate outreach about CFAP but continues to work with commodity groups “to have them help amplify the message.”

Booze and sugar concerns get airing

Booze, breast milk, sugar and sustainability were among the notable issues highlighted on a public hearing Tuesday on the scientific report of the government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services are using the report to revise the guidelines this year. 

The Distilled Spirits Council and the Beer Institute said there was no scientific evidence to support lowering the alcoholic drink recommendation from two to one for men. A representative from the American Institute for Cancer Research, however, said there is “strong evidence” that drinking alcohol raises the risk for six types of cancer.

Numerous speakers touted the benefits of breast milk, but infant formula manufacturers said the only safe alternative is formula.

The committee’s recommendation to lower the added sugars recommendation from less than 10% of total calories to less than 6% received solid support from nutrition groups but pushback from groups such as the American Confectioners Association, which said Americans are reducing their added sugar intake and “food with added sugars such as confections are part of our culture.”

Sean Cash, an economist at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, said the guidelines should support sustainability. “The decisions we make about our resources now constrain our ability to meet dietary goals later,” he said.

We have more on the guidelines in this week’s newsletter. 

US plans to treat Hong Kong imports as Chinese

The Trump administration is taking action in response to China’s campaign to tighten its control over Hong Kong. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that it will soon begin to treat imports from Hong Kong the same as it does Chinese products, raising concerns of more trade tariffs.

Beginning Sept. 25, all products imported from Hong Kong “must be marketed to indicate their origin is ‘China,’” according to a Customs publication in the U.S. Federal Register. That leaves open the possibility that the U.S. will hit Hong Kong products with tariffs – the same as it is doing for Chinese products. It also raises the possibility of retaliation by China.

Hong Kong is a major importer of U.S. wine and beef.

Organic sector unhappy with cost share cut

Organic farmers are expressing their displeasure over USDA’s decision to reduce reimbursement rates for the costs of organic certification.

The Farm Service Agency is cutting the reimbursement to half of the organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to $500, instead of rates of 75%, up to a maximum of $750, as set by the 2018 farm bill.

FSA says it had to cut the rates because of the “limited amount of funding available” and to allow a larger number of certified organic farms to get assistance. 

“The National Organic Coalition is outraged that USDA’s Farm Service Agency has chosen to reduce reimbursements to organic producers in the midst of a pandemic” said Abby Youngblood, executive director of the National Organic Coalition. NOC was joined in its opposition to the change by the Organic Farmers Association.

He said it. “I would expect good vibes out of it, and if we don’t, you and I will talk about it next week.” - Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to a reporter who asked Tuesday about the upcoming meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese officials to review the “phase one” trade deal.

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