Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is opposed to extending waivers that eased school nutrition rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. School nutrition directors are lobbying Congress to include the waivers in the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill that congressional negotiators are trying to finalize this week.
A leadership aide said the waivers are no longer necessary but also notes they would cost $11 billion and aren’t included in the Biden administration’s $22 billion request for additional COVID relief.
“Democrats wanted to add this all to the national debt, we wanted all COVID assistance to be paid for responsibly out of unspent funds in the previous $2 trillion assistance package, where only 9% of the funding was related to the pandemic,” the aide said in an email. The aide also said the waivers were originally intended to encourage schools to close down and go virtual, something that’s no longer needed.
The School Nutrition Association is holding its annual legislative conference this week in D.C., and some 700 school nutrition program directors are expected to be on Capitol Hill today to lobby for the waivers.
In a letter to McConnell, SNA argues the waivers are still needed by schools in part because of supply chain disruptions: “While the virus is waning, the effects persist. Our industry partners are still trying to fulfill our needs and supply chains are still tenuous and will be for at least 24 months to come.”
By the way: According to a new USDA survey, some 92% of school food authorities have reported challenges due to supply chain disruptions, including limited product availability. Rural and larger school districts are the most likely to report challenges. The biggest problems are with whole grain items and with meat and meat alternatives, according to the survey.
The Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Summit is focused on “Laying the Groundwork for the Next Farm Bill” and we will convene a number of political appointees, members of Congress, food and agricultural leaders, along with industry experts and academics for a full day of discussion. To see the agenda and register, click here.
FDA clears way for marketing of gene-edited beef
Genome-edited beef could be on the market as soon as two years from now, the Food and Drug Administration said in announcing it has made a “low-risk determination” in connection with the first intentional genomic alteration in an animal for food use.
The gene-edited cattle have shorter hair, making them more tolerant of hot weather. FDA says the genetic alteration raises no safety concerns.
Acceligen, the company that produced the gene-edited cattle, said the SLICK trait “will be used to transform beef production to be more sustainable and improve animal welfare in warmer climates.”
Take note: FDA doesn't appear ready to give up its regulatory authority for gene-edited food animals. Industry groups would like to see the authority transferred to USDA. FDA, however, used the announcement of the Acceligen approval to urge biotech companies to submit more traits for approval.
EPA official talks dicamba, endangered species with state pesticide regulators
Dicamba appears to be safe for another growing season as EPA continues to look at how to address off-target damage from the herbicide that the agency documented in a report in December.
“Even if the agency had a solution that it thought could address the frequency and severity of these incidents nationwide, it's unlikely that something like that can be implemented in time for the upcoming growing season,” Michal Freedhoff, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, told members of the Association of American Pesticide Officials at a meeting Monday. “We may need your data again next year, as we continue to try to address this very real problem.”
Freedhoff also said EPA would work with states that want to restrict use of the chemical. In addition, the assistant administrator told attendees of AAPCO’s 75th annual meeting that in the coming weeks, EPA would release a work plan to address how it should review the impacts of pesticides on endangered species, so its priorities are not driven by the courts.
“We need to take back control,” Freedhoff said.
Brazil firm lowers forecast for country’s soy harvest
The Brazilian consulting firm AgRural has lowered its soybean production forecast for the country to 122.8 million metric tons, as drought damage continues to drag down yields. The new forecast is a drop from the firm’s February prediction of 128.5 million tons.
The USDA also lowered its forecast for Brazilian soybean production in February, but that prediction is still more optimistic. The USDA dropped its forecast to 134 million tons in its latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian harvest is coming in fast. AgRural says it was 55% complete as of Thursday last week, a 10% jump from the previous week. The harvest was only 35% complete at this time a year ago.
Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens Brazil’s fertilizer supplies
Brazil, a global agricultural powerhouse, may be cut off from key supplies of fertilizer as the Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies. Brazilian farmers are right now about halfway finished with this year’s soybean harvest and they will plant their next soybean crop later this year.
According to an analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, Brazil gets about a quarter of its fertilizer from Russia. About 80% of all the fertilizer Brazilian farmers use is imported.
“In Brazil, there is rising concern that growers may not be able to expand the crop planted area in the 2022-23 season,” the report says. “Without critical nutrients such as potash, Brazil will also see lower crop yields.”
She said it: “Without major reform to how EPA meets its ESA obligations, the courts will continue to be a regulator driving the schedule and priorities. That's just wrong.” — Michal Freedhoff, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, addressing the Endangered Species Act and pesticides at the Association of American Pesticide Officials meeting.
Correction: The GOP leadership estimated the waiver extension would cost $11 billion.
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