The Senate is officially out of action until Oct. 19, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says negotiations on a potential coronavirus relief package will continue today. “We’re having our conversations,” she told reporters on Monday. 

Asked if there could be a deal this week, Pelosi continued today that the onus is on Republicans. “It depends on if they really want to crush the virus, honor our heroes and put money in the pockets of the American people,” she said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took action Monday to postpone all floor activity until Oct. 19 and blamed Democrats for the lack of a coronavirus deal: “If the speaker of the House and the Democratic leader had not spent months blocking another bipartisan relief package over unrelated far-left poison pills, we could have put hundreds of billions of more dollars for kids, jobs and health care in the pipeline many weeks ago.” 

Pompeo takes message of unity to Japan

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Japan today for a three-day visit that will highlight the strong ties between the two countries, including the trade pact that went into effect on Jan. 1 and cut tariffs on roughly $7.2 billion worth of ag products, such as beef, pork and dairy.

The U.S. ag deal is often referred to as a “phase one” deal and the U.S. ag sector is hopeful there will be a “phase two” that includes benefits for U.S. rice and increased access for U.S. dairy. That may depend on the U.S. relationship with Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, who replaced staunch U.S. ally Shinzo Abe.

“Japan and the United States continue to strengthen our steadfast alliance every day, drawing on our common values and interests to advance a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Pompeo.

Grocery shoppers show new interest in rice

One silver lining of the pandemic – at least for U.S. rice farmers – is that grocery store shoppers are buying more of the grain than ever as more families cook at home, instead of eating out, according to the USA Rice Federation.

“There's been a comparable uptick in eating in versus dining out, and we're seeing increased interest from consumers for new recipes using pantry staples, like rice, as they cook at home more,” says Cameron Jacobs, USA Rice director of domestic promotion.

USA Rice, citing Supermarket News, says rice sales were up about 85% in the nine-week period ending June 1.

Tyson advisers: Vaccine’s no fix

Scientific advisers to meatpacking giant Tyson Foods warn that a vaccine won’t be the "silver bullet” to keep COVID-19 out of processing plants. Too little is known at this point about the vaccine’s effectiveness or its duration of protection, the advisers say in a white paper released by Tyson. 

“All of the current protective measures – social distancing, screens, masks and shields, airflow management – will still be required. There needs to be continuous education for employees and their families to ensure this is well understood,” the paper says. 

The report also says that more research is needed to determine how to best protect workers. Among the questions that need to be addressed is how far droplets travel in a processing plant and whether the virus can be contracted through the eyes. 

The advisers express hope that the COVID-19 pandemic will lead Americans to address the obesity issue and that mask wearing will become more accepted by society in the future.

Advocates challenge bar on seed labeling

The GMO labeling law enacted in 2016 – and the USDA rule implementing the law – unconstitutionally prohibits states from labeling seeds as genetically engineered, according to a newly filed complaint from the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group. 

In July, CFS and other plaintiffs filed their original complaint in federal court in California, claiming the rule would illegally leave most genetically engineered foods unlabeled and discriminate against millions of Americans without a smartphone by allowing the use of QR codes for disclosure. The complaint has been amended to include the new claims.

“Despite not including any seed labeling provisions, the federal law prohibits states from enacting laws that would directly or indirectly require the labeling of genetically engineered seeds,” CFS said in a news release. “That prohibition unconstitutionally interferes with states' rights to regulate their own citizens in the absence of federal regulation.”

CFS says several states, including Vermont and Virginia, have labeling laws that cover genetically engineered seeds. 

Other plaintiffs include Natural Grocers, Citizens for GMO Labeling, Label GMOs, Rural Vermont, and the National Organic Coalition.

Syngenta acquires biologics business

Agrochemical and seed giant Syngenta Group is announcing today the acquisition of Valagro, an Italian-based biologics company that produces biostimulants and specialty nutrients for row crops and fruit and vegetable crops.

Many analysts expect the biologics market to grow significantly faster than the traditional crop protection sector over the next several years.  

“This acquisition underlines our growth ambitions in this area and positions us as one of the strongest players in the global biologicals market. The investment also forms part of our $2 billion commitment to help farmers address the effects of climate change and improve agricultural sustainability as part of our Good Growth Plan,” said Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald.

Food company accused under produce law

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is accusing an Oregon company, NORPAC Foods, of failing to promptly pay produce sellers and creditors about $19.1 million.

The alleged violations of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, or PACA, involve 145 different parties and took place between June 2019 and January 2020, AMS said. NORPAC, which filed for bankruptcy last year, can request a hearing.

“Should USDA find that the company committed repeated and flagrant violations, it would be barred from the produce industry as a licensee for three years, or two years with the posting of a USDA-approved surety bond,” AMS said.

He said it. "People may be shopping less but they're spending more on groceries when they do shop.” – Cameron Jacobs, USA Rice director of domestic promotion.

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