After another union voted not to ratify a contract with rail carriers last week, more than 300 local, state and national trade associations urged the Biden administration to work to avert a strike during the nation’s holiday season.

The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen rejected the agreement last week, 60-39%. “BRS members spoke loudly and clearly that their contributions are worth more, particularly when it comes to a basic right of being able to take time off for illness or to prevent illness.” the union said.

“It is paramount that these contracts now be ratified, as a rail shutdown would have a significant impact on the U.S. economy and lead to further inflationary pressure,” said the groups, which represent a vast range of businesses.

Six of 12 rail unions have ratified tentative agreements, two have not, and four have yet to vote, as part of a process that ends Nov. 21

Ukraine emphasizes grain exports to vulnerable nations

While much of the recent Ukrainian wheat and corn exports has been going to wealthy nations, a lot has gone to poorer countries battling hunger and more would be sent to the most vulnerable, Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure said Saturday after Russia announced it was pulling out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Thanks to the UN-led deal that opened three Odesa ports, Ukraine “managed to export more than 9 million tons of foodstuffs, of which more than 5 million tons were sent to the countries of Africa and Asia,” the Ministry said. “Under the UN World Food Program, 190,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat were exported to countries in need, that are on the verge of famine. At the same time, we have to note that Ukraine remains a reliable partner for the civilized world and is ready to continue gathering and shipping agricultural products to ensure global food security.”
The U.S. reacted harshly to Russia’s announcement Saturday. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement: “Any act by Russia to disrupt these critical grain exports is essentially a statement that people and families around the world should pay more for food or go hungry.  In suspending this arrangement, Russia is again weaponizing food in the war it started, directly impacting low- and middle-income countries and global food prices and exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises and food insecurity.”

Take note: Russia said it was merely responding to a Ukrainian attack on its naval fleet, but Ukrainian officials have been complaining that Moscow was intentionally slowing down the flow of grain through the Black Sea in the days leading up to its Saturday announcement.

“We have reason to believe that the delays in Russia’s inspections of the grain initiative’s vessels are politically motivated,” said Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last week. “Recently, the Russian leadership tried to question the grain corridor without any legitimate grounds, demanding new benefits for Moscow’s consent to renew the deal.”

Interior Department considers imposing Colorado River cuts

The Interior Department is considering curtailing Arizona, California and Nevada’s annual Colorado River water apportionments if the states fail to agree on cutbacks large enough to protect water supplies in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the agency said Friday.

The department said in a public notice that it would begin revising operating guidelines for the operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams in 2023 and 2024, while considering three possible actions: exerting its authority to enforce cuts on the river, continuing to work with states to determine potential cuts, or doing nothing. 

The threat of federally enforced cuts emerged earlier this summer when Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton tasked all seven Colorado River basin states with finding a way to cut between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of use in 2023 by Aug. 15. Touton warned the states that Reclamation would “act unilaterally” to protect the system if they failed to reach a consensus, but did not impose any cuts when the states emerged empty-handed from the discussions in August.
Take note: States are continuing to negotiate potential cuts, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she still wants to see a “consensus-based” solution. Interior has set Dec. 20 as the final date for the public to submit comments on the potential actions. 

White House hosts talks on declining Mississippi River water levels

The White House hosted a meeting with CEOs on Friday about the impacts low Mississippi River water levels are having on agricultural shippers and energy transportation.

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The meeting — which also included representatives from the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the departments of Agriculture, Energy and Transportation — discussed federal dredging efforts, as well as safety limitations on waterway access. 

Organic investigations down in FY22

The number of fraud cases and other allegations involving violations of organic food standards has dropped. USDA reports that it completed 299 investigations in fiscal 2022, which ended Sept. 30. That number is down from 342 in FY21 and 447 in FY20 and 409 in FY19.

USDA started 269 new investigations in FY22, down from 398 in FY21, and there were 441 open cases as of Oct. 7.

The largest share of those open cases – nearly 60% – involve operations making organic claims even though they don’t have USDA certification. About 19% of the cases involve allegations of fraud and another 10% involve pesticide residues.

Of the 299 cases that were closed during fiscal 2022, 57% were resolved with voluntary compliance and 19% were found to not be in violation.

By the way: USDA says a surge of seed shipments from one company in 2020 “helped unravel a supply chain risk with farm-to-table impact.” USDA says it increased surveillance of 22 certified seed suppliers and ultimately removed four companies out of the organic market.

He said it: “It’s really outrageous to increase starvation.” – President Joe Biden, reacting to Russia’s decision to torpedo the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

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