In a potential new milestone in agricultural biotechnology, a gene-edited tomato that’s high in antioxidants believed to fight cancer and heart disease, has cleared a key hurdle. USDA has formally decided that the tomato doesn’t warrant regulation because it isn’t a plant pest risk.

The tomato is the result of research at the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory in England. The developers say the deep purple tomato contains high levels of anthocyanins, which are found in berries and other fruit.

company that’s a spinoff of the research has been working on breeding varieties suitable for production in the U.S.

Keep in mind: A report by Rabobank says products like this are why biotech fruits and vegetables are likely to take off in the market over the next several years.

Trade nominee headed to Senate floor

In a notable show of bipartisanship, the Senate Finance Committee voted 27-0 Thursday to approve USDA adviser Doug McKalip’s nomination to be the Biden administration’s chief agricultural trade negotiator.

“McKalip is a strong choice to take on these challenges as our top trade advocate for American agriculture,” said Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “He has fans on both sides of this committee, and we expect to work closely with him once he’s confirmed and on the job.”

Child ag labor concerns get focus

The Obama administration’s failed attempt to tighten regulations on child farm labor figured large in a House hearing Thursday. Researchers and farmworker advocates argued that Congress needs to tighten labor standards to protect young farmworkers from accidents and exposure to harmful chemicals.

“This Congress has an opportunity to make long overdue changes to U.S. labor law to provide child farmworkers the same protections as children working in all other sectors,” said Margaret Wurth, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Norma Flores Lopez, a daughter of farmworkers, told a House Education and Labor subcommittee that her family was “reminded daily that we were disposable and how our dismissal would be of no consequence to the farm operations.”

But Kristi Boswell, an adviser to former Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue on ag labor issues, said learning how to work on a farm is good for kids, and she warned against giving the Labor Department new authority to regulate child labor.

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“The proposal under the Obama administration was completely misguided and made broad sweeping changes that completely blindsided the agricultural industry,” said Boswell.

Likewise, a bill backed by Democrats would result in parents losing the right to decide what work is safe for their kids to do, she said. “I have concerns about bureaucrats in Washington writing overly broad regulations without technical expertise on farming practices, and without engaging farmers,” she said.

Keep in mind: President Obama’s Labor Department ran into a political buzz saw over the 2012 proposal.

Nutrition advocates: Hunger numbers show importance of aid

There’s little sign that food insecurity in the United States is budging. Some 10.2% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2021 at 10.2%, a rate that was not significantly different from the 10.5% rate recorded the previous two years, USDA says.

There was some improvement in food security among households with kids. But Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center, says the data ”would be far worse if not for the federal nutrition programs and the critical additional investments that were made to combat hunger during the pandemic.”

USDA funded free meals to all kids during the pandemic and also has significantly increased SNAP benefits.

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, which represents food banks, says “the public-private response to the hunger crisis brought on by the pandemic has been successful in mitigating food insecurity rates, particularly among households with children.” Those efforts need to be expanded,” she says.

Keep in mind: The White House hunger and nutrition conference will be held Sept. 28.

July a strong month for US ethanol exports

The U.S. exported more than 107 million gallons of ethanol in July, a 6% increase from June and the tenth consecutive month that shipments have exceeded the 100-million-gallon mark, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

U.S. ethanol exports saw the strongest gains for the month in shipments to Singapore, which imported 12.3 million gallons – more than triple the 3.5 million it purchased in June and the biggest monthly total for the country since January 2018.

Cubans visit Arkansas rice farms

Officials from the Cuban embassy in D.C. spent the day Tuesday in Arkansas, visiting farms and talking to industry representatives. The USA Rice Federation hopes the visit is a sign of growing Cuban interest in American rice and other agricultural products.

“Our family was glad to share a meal with our Cuban guests as we discussed our shared hope that someday soon our countries will again regularly be trading rice and other goods,” said Mark Isbell, an Arkansas farmer. 

It’s difficult for Cuba to import U.S. rice because of laws requiring Cubans to pay cash up front and use third-country banks for financing. Cuba was the largest market for U.S. rice before the 1962 trade embargo.

He said it. “Smart trade policy is one important solution to hunger in the 21st century — a policy that promotes affordable, abundant food here at home and abroad.” – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

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