The White House hunger and nutrition conference is in the books. Now, the question is how much of the White House food strategy will be put into practice - and what it will mean for the ag and food sectors.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says corn and soybean growers shouldn’t be worried about the negative emphasis on processed foods.

“We've asked questions in the dietary guidelines about processed food,” Vilsack said. “And I think it's a legitimate question to ask. But at the same time, we're also looking at sustainable aviation fuel that's going to come from a lot of agricultural products.”

“So, there's going to be plenty of opportunity and plenty of demand,” including for exports, Vilsack said.

Take note: On one of the panels at the event, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said “we need to put the ‘F’ back into the FDA,” and he called out the amount of sugar and salt in “massively processed foods.” New York City Mayor Eric Adams credited a plant-based diet with curing his diabetes.

As the conference ended, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told Agri-Pulse he thought the day helped energize food and nutrition activists.

FDA plan triggers new debate over ‘healthy’ labeling

The maker of KIND nutrition bars is claiming a victory of sorts after the FDA proposed new regulations for labeling foods as “healthy.”

KIND North America filed a petition in 2015 that would play a role in the agency's overhaul of the regulations. “A rule that reflects current nutrition science and Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a win for public health – and that’s a win for all of us,” says KIND CEO Russell Stokes.

Keep in mind: The proposed regulations would require products labeled “healthy” to contain a meaningful amount of foods recommended by the dietary guidelines, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

But one of the big challenges for food companies is that the proposed regulations also would have limits on the content of saturated fats, sodium and added sugars.

The International Dairy Foods Association says the limits on saturated fats and added sugars would prevent some nutrient-dense dairy products from being labeled as “healthy,” and the sodium limit would be a barrier for cheese.

“Ignoring the benefits of milk fat will be a lost opportunity to embrace newer science and will contribute to ongoing confusion about the healthfulness of all dairy products,” IDFA says.

Bottom line: FDA requested – and is going to get – a lot of input from industry and elsewhere on the proposed regulations.

Analysis: Whopping boost in soy acres needed

To Vilsack’s point about future crop demand, a new report from CoBank estimates that 17.9 million additional acres of U.S. soybeans will be needed to meet the needs of the nation’s growing renewable diesel industry. That would be a 21% increase over this year’s acreage.

Keep in mind: The estimate is based on announced increases in refining capacity.

The nation’s renewable diesel production capacity is expected to grow six-fold to 6.5 billion gallons annually by 2030, due to the Renewable Fuel Standard and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Insurance endorsement expands

More corn farmers will be eligible to purchase an insurance policy endorsement that’s intended to promote better stewardship of fertilizer.

The Post-Application Coverage Endorsement (PACE), sold for the first time this spring, will be available in most counties of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Plus, the product will still be offered in areas of Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Dakota.

The endorsement protects farmers who are unable because of field conditions to make a fertilizer application during the growing season.

FDAs Califf: Weve got to really look at this differently now

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture that his agency can’t give the American public what it needs for public health without a strong relationship with state agencies.

He called for the use of more information technology to enhance FDA’s relationship with state partners, noting that “cloud computing was made to enable people to look at common data and information.”

Speaking in a Zoom interview with California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, Califf also underscored the “magnitude of the task ahead of us” due to climate change, which he said threatens food supplies around the world.  

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Keep in mind: Califf asked the Reagan-Udall Foundation to evaluate the agency’s human foods program with the goal of “giving the food side of the FDA the attention it deserves.” The foundation is holding a public meeting on the issue today and Friday.

FAO chief warns of coming food availability crisis

The resumption of grain and vegetable oil exports from Odesa is helping to lower food prices in the world’s poorest nations, but more needs to be done to prevent a potential “food availability crisis,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu said Wednesday at a meeting of G20 agriculture ministers in Bali.

Qu called the Black Sea Grain Initiative “an important step forward,” but stressed the need for more low-cost financing to enable low-income nations to import more ag commodities as well as expanding access to fertilizers for farmers in developing nations.

Ag transport group issues warning for Miss. River barges

Water levels are dropping on the Mississippi River, making it difficult for barge operators, according to Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

The issue is particularly acute south of St. Louis, according to Steenhoek, who said little rain is expected in the near term.

Farm labor contractor pleads guilty

A farm labor contractor in Florida has pled guilty to racketeering and forced labor charges in connection with a scheme that victimized Mexican workers who came to the U.S. as part of the H-2A program.

Bladimir Moreno and his co-conspirators charged Mexican farmworkers “exorbitant sums” to come to the U.S. on short-term H-2A visas to work for Moreno’s company, the Justice Department said. Then he and his co-conspirators coerced over a dozen workers into providing long hours of physically demanding agricultural labor, six to seven days a week, for minimal pay.

He said it. “We’re good at productivity, we’re good at innovation and technology and we’re good at efficiency. Climate policy done well will reward that, and I think U.S. agriculture and U.S. forestry could stand to benefit.”  - Robert Bonnie, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, speaking at the NASDA meeting.

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