Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is announcing the first $300 million in awards to commodity groups today under a $1.2 billion trade promotion initiative he’s funding through his Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority. The Regional Agricultural Promotion Program is designed to supplement the trade promotion programs in the farm bill.

Tom_Vilsack_SenateAg_Approiations_Hearing_2023_2.jpgAg Secretary Tom Vilsack

The 66 organizations getting RAPP grants were chosen from among $1 billion worth of proposals, Vilsack told reporters in a briefing on the grants. The funding is focused on new markets for U.S. ag exports in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

“As we've seen in recent history, there are devastating consequences, if we rely on just a few large markets. We remain committed to our established customer base around the world, but we're also setting our sights on new growth opportunities,” Vilsack said.

Keep in mind: Vilsack’s announcement comes two days before the House Agriculture Committee votes on a farm bill that would cancel the CCC’s Section 5 authority that Vilsack is using to fund the trade initiative. 

“Obviously in the future, depending upon what Congress decides to do relative to the CCC, we may not have the flexibility or the capacity to respond to the need or a challenge that may arise,” he said.

Vilsack also said he wasn’t surprised the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t believe that suspending his CCC authority will produce the cost savings Republicans need to help pay for their farm bill.  He said he “fully expected the CBO score to come in at a significantly lower level,” Vilsack said. House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson argues that the $8 billion in estimated cost savings is far too low. But as we reported Monday, the CBO hasn’t changed its position.

The CCC funding for the trade initiative was formally requested by the leaders of the Senate Ag Committee last year. 

Take note: Vilsack said he believes that taking money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the farm bill would do, runs afoul of last year’s debt ceiling agreement. 

For more on the RAPP announcement, go to

Agriculture Department seeks participants for Vietnam trade mission  

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service is accepting applications from exporters looking to join a trade mission to Vietnam in September.

The mission, scheduled for Sept. 9 through 13, will include events in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the agency says. Potential buyers from Burma, Cambodia and Thailand may also be present.

Take note: The U.S. exported $3.1 billion in agricultural products to Vietnam last year. Among them: cotton, dairy, distillers grains, fresh fruit, poultry, soybeans and tree nuts, says Alexis Taylor, USDA’s undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.

Lawsuit threatened over PFAS-producing process used to make plastic containers

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is threatening to sue EPA to stop allowing the manufacture and distribution of plastic containers used for a variety of products, including pesticides. 

The group is targeting the fluorination process used to create “barrier properties” in the containers. The process, however, produces carcinogenic PFAS. PEER contends EPA has the authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to halt the practice

Meanwhile, Maine organic farmers recently threatened a lawsuit against EPA to force the agency to regulate the land application of biosolids made from sewage sludge.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association filed a notice of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act, which requires EPA to Identify toxic pollutants in sewage sludge and publish rules governing their use. PEER filed a similar letter in February.

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“In the over 35 years it has been examining biosolids for emerging threats, EPA has identified more than 250 pollutants of all types, yet has promulgated only nine sewage sludge regulations for land application,” the group says. At least 59 farms in the state have been found to be contaminated with PFAS as of January, MOFGA said.

HHS and USDA: ‘No intent’ to reclassify potatoes as grain

Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra have assured Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that “there is no intent and no effort underway to reclassify potatoes as a grain.”

In a letter to Collins that she released Monday, the two Cabinet officials say there also are no “analyses singling out potatoes.” The agencies share jurisdiction over the DGA process. 

The National Potato Council has warned that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee may be looking to reclassify the spud as a grain.

The secretaries also say, however, that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is “a framework for healthy eating, not a one-size-fits-all mold everyone must fit into.” The scientific advisory committee is currently “examining data within and across food groups,” they say. “For example, in some population groups in the United States, vegetables or legumes like beans, peas, or lentils (e.g., corn, beans, taro root) might be emphasized more than breads, pasta, or rice.”

Collins says the letter shows the issue is settled. Her press release says, “HHS & USDA Jointly Confirm: Potatoes are a Vegetable, Not a Grain.”

FDA officially withdraws policy on feed regulations

FDA has officially withdraw the Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Program Policy and Procedures Manual Guide on regulating animal foods with drug claims. The policy required a drug review for animal food ingredients, which advocates say deterred manufacturers from investing in the U.S. marketplace.

American Feed Industry Association celebrated the official move on social media but pushed for Congress to pass the Innovative FEED Act to further modernize the approval process for feed ingredients. 

Chefs, environmental groups push for climate safeguards in farm bill

Following the House Agriculture Committee Republicans’ release of the farm bill text, the James Beard Foundation, Environmental Working Group and Natural Resources Defense Council are pushing for the committee to protect conservation funding in the Inflation Reduction Act.

In a letter to the committee, the groups push for a bipartisan farm bill ahead of the panel's markup on Thursday. Specifically, they urge Congress to finalize a farm bill that promotes local and sustainable farming and supports conservation programs written into the IRA that help farmers implement practices that mitigate climate impacts. 

“The detrimental effects of climate change are causing severe economic risks to U.S. farmers, leading to restaurant closures, employee layoffs, and escalating consumer costs,” the groups say in the letter.