A trade war between the U.S. and China during the Trump administration added to tensions between the two countries. But China is still the largest foreign market for U.S. farmers, and USDA’s top trade official sees an opportunity to improve ties through agriculture.
“We’re reinvesting in that relationship,” Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor told reporters at USDA’s Washington headquarters Thursday.
“There is an opportunity coming out of the past several years. There are areas of collaboration to invest in with that Chinese relationship,” Taylor said.
Taylor stressed that there will be a “whole host of challenges” in finding common ground with China, a country that often does not live up to “a rules-based system.” But she noted that both countries do have common goals in improving innovation and food security.
Groups organizing to get farm bill climate focus
A coalition of groups representing small-scale farmers as well as farmworkers and minority producers is organizing a gathering on Capitol Hill in March to call for the next farm bill to put a focus on addressing climate change. Organizers are likening the event to the 1979 Tractorcade, when farmers massed in D.C. to demand federal policy reforms. (Repeating that would be quite a tall order.)
“For countless farmers and communities across the country, a status quo farm bill would miss the mark,” said Mike Lavender of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Nothing short of bold structural changes – including significant investments in sustainable agriculture and enacting fair pricing policies – will do.” 
New dietary guidelines advisers include health equity experts
The newly appointed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is likely to put more of a focus on the dietary needs of low-income and minority populations. Several of the 20 committee members have expertise in that area, including one who’s a specialist in nutrition needs among Native Americans.
Jessi Silverman, a senior policy associate for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the committee members have "a diversity of expertise and backgrounds in a way that I think is unprecedented.”
Why it matters: The committee will make recommendations for revising the guidelines, which shape federal nutrition policy. They’re closely watched by industry as well as the nutrition and healthcare community. 
By the way: The Nutrition Coalition, a group associated with low-carb advocates, called on USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to disclose committee members’ “potential conflicts of interest.”
The official website for the dietary guidelines says “the vetting process for potential members included a background check by HHS to determine if any candidates have a financial, ethical, legal, and/or criminal conflict of interest that would prohibit them from serving on the committee.”
More talk of high egg prices
A group called Farm Action is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether antitrust violations are contributing to soaring egg prices. 
Economists at the White House and elsewhere attribute high egg prices to the avian flu outbreak. But Farm Action says in a letter to the FTC that nothing “justifies the dominant egg producers’ more than three-fold price hike.” 
Ric Herrera, CEO of ProEgg, a newly formed egg cooperative on the West Coast, says prices prior to the HPAI outbreak didn’t allow producers to make a profit much of the time. “The outlook is for prices to decline slowly, but not to return to pre-HPAI levels, based on the impact it has had on breeder flocks,” Herrera said.
FTC hears concerns on proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger
Some supermarket employees are asking the FTC to oppose the proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons. During a commission meeting Thursday, one Safeway employee who has been a grocery store worker for 38 years said she’s seen first-hand the negative impact to workers and overall reduced competition when Albertsons purchased Safeway 10 years ago. 
“We can't handle another mess like what happened with the last merger,” the employee told the FTC. She also said she believes there will be less competition to hold down food price increases.
Another Safeway employee from Colorado said he believes the merger will result in thousands of workers losing their job and having their pensions decimated. 
By the way: Albertsons plans to pay a $4 billion special dividend to investors today, following the Washington State Supreme Court’s lifting of an injunction. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson had sought to block Albertsons from paying the $6.85-per-share dividend, originally scheduled for last November.
USDA aims to make RD programs easier to access 
Xochitl Torres Small, USDA’s undersecretary for rural development, says the department knows that rural development programs can be inaccessible to some groups, due to the complexity of the application process.
In an interview for Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Torres Small said the department is looking at how to make programs “easier to access so that you don't necessarily need a grant writer to be able to qualify for the funds.
“We know in order to reach the people who need and deserve our services most we've got to make sure that our programs are easier to access to get real work done,” she said.
Newsmakers will be available today at Agri-Pulse.com.
She said it.  “While there are challenges, I think there are big opportunities.” – Alexis Taylor, USDA’s undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, on the U.S. trade relationship with China.

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