The search continues for a bipartisan deal to lift the debt ceiling. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was upbeat after meeting with President Biden for about an hour and a half Monday evening. McCarthy told reporters the meeting had been “productive,” although there are still “philosophical differences.” 

“I think the tone tonight was better than any other time we've had discussions,” said McCarthy, R-Calif. 

North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy ally who has been directly involved in talks with the White House, said Monday’s meeting with Biden gave the “negotiating team a little more of the details we need to get to a package that can pass Congress.” 

Biden’s take:  At the outset of the meeting, Biden stressed the need for a bipartisan deal and acknowledged a need to cut spending. “We have to be in a position where we can sell it (a deal) to our constituencies.  We're pretty well divided in the House, almost down the middle, and it's not any different in the Senate.  So we got to get something we can sell to both sides.”

GAO presses USDA on SNAP, climate

The Government Accountability Office, which serves as the congressional watchdog for federal agencies, is out with a new list of its top concerns with USDA.

The priorities, which are based on previous GAO reports, include better planning and accountability in future updates of the Thrifty Food Plan, the model of food costs used to set benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

GAO said USDA failed to follow standard procedures in deciding on changes to TFP in 2021 that resulted in a sharp increase in SNAP benefits. The Biden administration continues to defend its handling of the TFP hike.

USDA has agreed with a separate priority proposal from GAO calling on the department’s Climate Change Program Office to analyze the options for increasing the climate resilience of farmers. USDA plans to integrate the options into this year’s update of its Action Plan for Climate Adaptation and Resilience. GAO says the work could help cut the cost of federal crop insurance and disaster assistance. 

Ukraine pushes back on EU grain ban

Ukrainian farmers have lost $200 million in ag sales after the European Commission agreed earlier this month to temporarily ban Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seed from being sold in five of its neighboring EU countries, says Denis Marchuk, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council.

The EU announced the ban after Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia threatened to act individually because of cheap Ukrainian grain flooding across the borders. The ban runs from May 2 through June 5 and does not block Ukraine from sending the farm commodities through the five countries to be sold elsewhere in the EU.

But Marchuk insists the bans are based on politics, not business, according to a report by the consulting firm APK Inform. Millers in Poland had been buying large quantities of Ukrainian wheat and they should be able to do so, he stressed.

Colorado CAFO permit requires monitoring, judge finds 

Colorado’s general permit covering discharges from concentrated animal feeding operations should have water monitoring requirements, a Colorado court has ruled.

Without monitoring, there is no way to assure compliance with the permit’s prohibition on discharges to waters of the U.S., Administrative Law Judge Matthew Norwood said in his order.

“That proper maintenance of liners combined with Colorado geology and other physical factors makes leakage unlikely does not eliminate the legal requirement to have representative monitoring to make sure such leakage does not occur,” he said.

The state can appeal the decision within 15 days. The Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch brought the action; the Colorado Livestock Association joined the state in defending the permit.

“The decision could have broad repercussions,” CBD said. “Of the 100 factory farms in Colorado that maintain a Clean Water Act permit, 99 operate under the permit at issue in this case.”

Independent study commissioned on infant formula

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) will conduct an independent study on challenges in infant formula supply, market competition and regulation. Congress directed the Food and Drug Administration to develop a national strategy to increase the resiliency of the infant formula market and engage with NASEM to better understand the current forces that led to the infant formula shortage last year.

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The study will identify the diversity of manufacturers; types of formula they produce; manufacturing facilities and production capacity; and the amounts of infant formula produced domestically and levels imported. Researchers will also look at infant formula marketing in the U.S. compared to the European Union, especially as it comes to “nutritional content and applicable labeling and other regulatory requirements.”

NASEM will submit a report to both Congress and FDA upon completion of the study.

APHIS confirms atypical BSE cow

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed the nation’s seventh detection of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which was found during regular testing at a slaughter plant in South Carolina.

The most recent finding was of a beef cow aged five years or older, APHIS says, but added that the animal “never entered slaughter channels and at no time presented a risk to the food supply or to human health in the United States.”

BSE, a neurologic disease of cattle, was first identified in the American cattle herd in a Canadian-born cow in December 2003. The rest of the domestic cases have been atypical, which APHIS says do not impact official BSE risk status recognition because that form of the disease is believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations at a very low rate. APHIS said it expects no trade impacts as a result of the finding.

He said it: "If that’s what gets us to 2027, that’s a pretty good deal.” — Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., about a Lower Colorado River Basin proposal that would require compensation for conservation of up to 2.3 million acre-feet of water