September 22, 2020
FDA looks to speed outbreak investigations
FDA is proposing new record-keeping requirements for food traceability to aid investigators during foodborne illness outbreaks and routine inspections.
In a lengthy proposal to be published in Wednesday’s Federal Register, FDA said manufacturers, processors, packers and handlers of foods on the agency’s Food Traceability List (FTL) would be subject to the requirements.
Companies would have to describe “reference records” such as bills of lading and purchase orders, a list of foods they ship that are on FTL, a description of how they assign traceability lot codes, and other information needed to understand their traceability programs and records.
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) is already in compliance, according to spokesperson April Ward. LGMA has required its members have traceback systems since 2007. Survey results released last week show the producers can quickly track products involved in an outbreak.
“We can say with confidence that 100% of our members have a traceback system in place,” said LGMA CEO Scott Horsfall.
Active fires in the west
Wine industry: Extend disaster payments for wildfires
Wine groups in California, Washington and Oregon are calling on Congress to extend the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+).
California winegrape growers were able to access WHIP+ payments last year for 2018 losses, which included damages due to smoke taint.
“We fear these wildfires, and potentially more to come, will result in the greatest economic loss due to a natural disaster ever suffered by the industry,” reads a letter from the groups to congressmembers.
The industry worries that as the wildfires continue more buyers are rejecting grapes due to smoke exposure. Some growers are taking a leap by converting grapes to wine on their own without knowing if the added investment will pay off. Wineries, meanwhile, may not discover smoke taint until after processing, resulting in a significant loss, according to the groups.
“2020 has produced more challenges than any could have ever anticipated,” said California Association of Winegrape Growers President John Aguirre.
State Ag Board president pushes back on almond criticism
Don Cameron took issue recently with the complaint that almond growers use too much water—a common refrain echoed during the extreme drought.
In a blog post, Cameron, the president of the State Food and Ag Board who farms near Fresno, lists out the many ways that farmers have reduced water use over the years. He takes aim at commentary by the Golden State Salmon Association, writing that the “overly simplistic” argument has been circulating for 40 years, with cotton being singled out before almonds.
He points to an industry commitment to cut water use by 20% by 2025 and other sustainability practices.
“One thing is for certain, we will not get there by placing blame on each other without accepting responsibility for finding mutually beneficial solutions,” he writes.
On that note: CDFA Secretary Karen Ross has penned a blog post recognizing the important role farmers and farmworkers have played in helping to provide food during this difficult year.
“We have learned to do a lot by phone and computer from the confines of our homes these past six months,” she writes. “But you can’t telework planting seeds, milking cows, or harvesting crops.”
CCC fight erupts over stopgap bill
A partisan feud over USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. is threatening passage of a stopgap spending bill that House Democrats rolled out on Monday.
Democrats refused to allow a provision replenishing the CCC account, which USDA uses to make routine farm and conservation program payments as well as special forms of assistance like the Market Facilitation Program and Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments.
The top Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, said during the Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit on Monday that USDA doesn’t need the CCC account refilled right away. She says the department should be able to adequately manage payments from the account between now and November when the account should be automatically replenished. She and other Democrats say President Donald Trump has been using the account as a political slush fund.
But the chairman of the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, said in a statement to Agri-Pulse that failing to replenish the account will delay the handling of marketing loans as well as the distribution of farm program payments due in October.
“This October, November, and December, we expect the CCC will need an additional $15 billion or more to meet their obligations,” the statement said.
Take note: Hoeven says that $14 billion in the CCC account was expressly intended for the CFAP payments. USDA received more than 10,000 applications for the second round of the program on Monday, the first day of signup.
Bottom line: The House is set to vote on the continuing resolution this week. The House Rules Committee on Monday refused to allow debate on proposed floor amendments addressing the CCC issue, including one offered by first-term Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer.
By the way: The bill extends by one year the hemp pilot program and gives more time for Congress to reauthorize laws on livestock price reporting and grain standards.
Read our full report on the CCC funding issue here.
Backtracking on farm policy?
House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson says he worries that farm policy is going backward with the flood of ad hoc payments USDA has made for trade assistance and coronavirus relief over the past few years.
“It feels like we’re back to where we used to be” before bolstering the crop insurance program and creating permanent disaster programs, Peterson said during a pre-recorded interview for the Agri-Pulse summit.
“We’ve kind of trained people again to be looking for ad hoc payments and ad hoc disaster. I thought we were past that, but we’re not.”
The committee’s ranking Republican, Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, said Congress needs to shore up the farm safety net in the next farm bill. The question is where the money would come from.
“You will need some new money in the bill and that’s going to require other areas of the government to spend less or you’re going to have to borrow money,” said Conaway, who is retiring this year. “I would prefer that other areas of government spend less. These will be priority-setting exercises.”
He said it:
“We hope the State Water Resources Control Board, which continues to push a ‘water-only' solution, will join PPIC, Modesto Irrigation District and a growing number of scientists that point us in a different and better direction.” — Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, in a letter to CalMatters.
Ben Nuelle, Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to the report.
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