Congress is not in session this week, but the House and Senate Ag Committees will get some new marching orders from major farm and food groups when it comes to the next farm bill.
The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance on Wednesday will announce its policy priorities for the farm bill. Leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union will be joined by representatives of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives at a news conference on Wednesday.
Why it matters: FACA has proved influential in getting the Biden administration and the last Congress to address its proposals for increased conservation funding and a series of pilot projects that will test potential markets for climate-smart commodities.
Meanwhile: USDA will hold its annual Ag Outlook conference in Arlington, Virginia. Chief Economist Seth Meyer kicks off the conference with his annual forecast of commodity markets. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack will then give his annual address and moderate a panel focused on labor issues.
Across the country: Agri-Pulse will be covering the Family Farm Alliance’s annual meeting in Reno, Nevada. The alliance is an organization of western farms that rely on irrigation.
Food Industry Association chimes in on what’s healthy
Fewer than 5% of the entire food supply would qualify for the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed “healthy” labeling requirements, according to estimates by The Food Industry Association.
FMI submitted comments on FDA’s proposed rule to update the definition of the term “healthy” when used as a nutrient content claim in labeling. Although supportive of FDA’s attempt to update what should qualify as “healthy,” the group’s comments say the proposed revisions result in an “overly restrictive definition” that could actually allow very few foods to qualify. It also may even encourage consumers to avoid certain foods such as yogurts or whole-grain breads that are otherwise part of a healthy eating pattern.
The industry group’s comments note that some of its members have found that their portfolios have gone from 80-95% “healthy”-eligible foods, to only 3-7% healthy eligible foods under the proposed rule.
FMI Chief Public Policy Officer Jennifer Hatcher urges FDA to consider more flexible criteria that takes into account the wide variety of foods that are considered healthy in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “A definition that only allows an exceedingly small number of foods to bear a healthy claim would be counter-productive to the agency’s goal of improving public health,” Hatcher says.
Ukraine adds new tension to US-China relationship
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of “serious consequences” for China if it begins providing “lethal support” – weapons or ammunition – to Russia for its war against Ukraine, adding tension to the U.S.-China relationship after the U.S. shot down what it says was a Chinese spy balloon.
The Biden administration is “very concerned that China is considering supporting Russia’s war effort in Ukraine with lethal assistance,” Blinken said during a press conference Monday in Ankara, Turkey. “It’s something that we’re watching very, very closely.”
He added: “I’m not going to lay out what the consequences would be. I shared these concerns directly with the senior Chinese foreign policy official, Wang Yi, when I saw him at the Munich Security Conference just the other day. But I think China understands what’s at risk were it to proceed with providing material support of that kind to Russia.
Why it’s important to US ag: China is the largest foreign market for U.S. agricultural exports despite the fact that Trump-era tariffs are still in place, and American farm groups are hoping that trade will expand even further despite mounting non-ag tensions. The U.S. exported about $38 billion of agricultural commodities to China in calendar year 2022, up 16% from $32.8 billion in 2021.
A call for more farm bill conservation opportunities
Former senators and co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Farm & Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force, Heidi Heitkamp and Saxby Chambliss, are pushing for Congress make it easier for farmers to expand their conservation practices in the next farm bill.
Heitkamp and Chambliss are sending a letter today to Senate and House Ag Committee chairs and ranking members with specific policy recommendations to address gaps in “conservation, forestry, and innovative programs” and provide an “opportunity to authorize and implement strategic changes at USDA that enable more farmers and forest landowners to engage in conservation and resilience solutions without replacing core farm bill programs.”
Some recommendations include streamlining the key processes at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, such as allowing “certification of third-party technical service providers.”
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Another includes “authorizing USDA’s Forest Service to provide loan and loan guarantee financing for nursery infrastructure, seed collection, and storage, as well as technical assistance to state and tribal nurseries.”
Iowa livestock company, managers sentenced for fraud
An Iowa livestock company and four high-level managers have been fined after pleading guilty to a scheme to defraud producers.
“By falsifying the producers’ accounts of purchase, Lynch Livestock and its managers created false and fraudulent invoices to pay less than what was due and owing to those producers,” the Justice Department said.
Lynch Family Companies, known as Lynch Livestock, received five years of probation and must pay a $196,000 fine. One of the managers received six months in prison and a $3,000; the rest got fines and probation.
“Between about 2018 and March 2021, Lynch Livestock’s managers and employees used a crowbar or other similar object to manipulate the scales on which livestock producers’ swine was weighed at its buying stations,” DOJ said. “As a result, Lynch Livestock created, kept, and provided to livestock producers scale tickets that contained false information because they understated the actual weight of the swine.”
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