A veteran senior Senate staffer, Fitzhugh Elder, will be taking over as GOP staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee next month, sources tell Agri-Pulse. He will replace Martha Scott Poindexter, who’s moving to the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Elder, who is currently staff director for the Rules and Administration Committee, previously served as deputy staff director for Appropriations. He also spent four years with The Russell Group, a top ag policy lobbying firm.

Don’t miss our recent Meet the Farm Hand interview with Fitz.

USDA: ‘Strong rebound’ in livestock slaughter

USDA says the cattle and hog market is getting back to normal after ransomware attack temporarily shut down operations at JBS USA.

“Our daily market data shows a strong rebound in cattle and hog slaughter, which we expect to continue through the week, while poultry numbers are higher this week than last,” USDA said in a statement to Agri-Pulse on Thursday. The department doesn’t expect the shutdown to have lasting effects on wholesale and retail prices.

But, but, but: The statement went on, “The cyberattack on JBS USA underscores the risks of a consolidated food system. If there are lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and this latest incident, it is that we need to invest in a food system that is durable, distributed and better equipped to withstand 21st-century challenges, including cybersecurity threats and other disruptions.”

Cosby to focus on racial justice as NRCS chief

Terry Cosby, the new chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service tells Agri-Pulse that his top priorities will be addressing racial justice, facilitating climate-smart agriculture and supporting the growth of urban agriculture. 

Cosby said addressing racial justice will require making sure all producers and landowners, from the smallest to the largest, have access to conservation program benefits. 

“No matter if they have one acre or 10,000 acres, we want to make sure our programs are benefiting everyone across this country, because they are all taxpayers,” he said. 

On climate policy, Cosby says he wants to ensure that producers are rewarded for past conservation practices. There’s widespread concern among farm groups that those “early adopter” farmers will be left out of the new carbon markets, where credit purchasers only want to pay for new practices that are undertaken. 

Assisting urban agriculture will help expand local access to fresh foods, Cosby says.
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COVID delays worsen at Chinese port

Delays at a major Chinese port that is a gateway for fruit, vegetable, meat and other ag trade continue to worsen as more COVID-19 cases are detected and officials ramp up safety measures. The port is the Yantian International Containers Terminal.

“The situation continues to deteriorate as more positive COVID cases have been confirmed in Shenzhen where Yantian port and Shekou port are located,” according to the latest analysis by the Maersk shipping company.

“Due to further measures being implemented, increased congestion and vessel delays upwards of 14 days are expected.”  

UK begins process to join Pacific Rim trade pact

American farm groups and some lawmakers are still hoping the U.S. will join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. But the British – fresh from their split with the European Union - are beating the U.S. to it.

British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss says the UK has begun the process of joining the CPTPP and is already looking forward to the trade benefits from the pact that includes Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Singapore.

“It will help shift our economic center of gravity away from Europe towards faster-growing parts of the world, and deepen our access to massive consumer markets in the Asia-Pacific,” Truss said.

Gulf "dead zone" shrinks, but still larger than goal

The “dead zone,” an area of low to no oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico, will be smaller this year than the five-year average, but still much larger than the long-term goal set by the Interagency Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force.

At about 4,880 square miles, this year’s dead zone is lower than the five-year average of 5,400 square miles, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. The task force goal, however, is a five-year average of 1,900 square miles.

Ag runoff is the largest source of nutrients, but urban areas and sewage also contribute large amounts, said Don Cline, associate director for the U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Mission Area.

Petition seeks ban on PFAS in food, food packaging

Health, environmental, and consumer groups are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to revoke approvals of all PFAS chemicals used in food and food packaging.

“There is extensive PFAS contamination across the U.S. due to widespread use of the chemicals,” the Environmental Defense Fund said in a news release, citing firefighting foam and food packaging as two examples. ”Scientific evidence demonstrating harm to health, particularly children’s health, from the chemicals is overwhelming.”

“FDA needs to shut the door, permanently, on PFAS in food and food packaging,” said Maricel Maffini, a scientist and co-author of the petition.

In addition to EDF, other groups who signed on to the petition include the Center for Food Safety and the Environmental Working Group.

Spreading AFS hits Bhutan

The small nation of Bhutan, tucked in between China and India, offers fresh evidence that African swine fever is still spreading.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced Thursday that the agency is adding the country to its official list of nations that are “considered affected by African swine fever.”

APHIS says it is now imposing new restrictions on pork and swine imports from Bhutan, but the agency also noted that some of the restrictions were already in place because of the presence of other swine diseases.

She said it. “Just think about it: As some Americans have been able to connect to high-speed Internet for school and for health and for work, and to run their businesses and see their families, many others across the country, including those in rural and Tribal communities, have indeed been left behind.” – Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking at the White House Thursday about broadband funding.

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at philip@agri-pulse.com