WASHINGTON, April 21, 2016 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack heads to Japan today for a meeting of G7 agriculture ministers, and Agri-Pulse’s Bill Tomson reports that he’ll be spending much of his time there addressing possible issues with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Vilsack’s agenda includes urging Canada to stick with its commitments to allow increased access for U.S. dairy products. Vilsack also plans to reassure his counterparts that the Congress will eventually ratify the TPP. 

Vilsack seeks to speed EU negotiations. In an exclusive interview with Tomson, Vilsack also said he’s been telling European leaders in recent meetings that the U.S-EU trade negotiations must accelerate, if there’s going to be a deal before President Obama leaves office. “People have to get serious about it,” Vilsack said. 

In meetings with leaders from Britain, France and Germany, Vilsack said he’s emphasized that the United States needs more access in Europe for U.S. beef and EU acceptance of the antimicrobial washes that U.S. chicken processors use to prevent contamination.

Conaway appeals across ideological divide. House Agriculture Mike Conaway is reaching across ideological divisions to make the case that there should be some common ground between conventional agriculture and some of its biggest critics. 

The Texas Republican was the dinner speaker last night for the Food Tank Summit. He said that both sides of the policy debate should be able to agree that food waste needs to be addressed. “Tackling food waste in this country should be a non-partisan issue,” Conaway said. 

Conaway also challenged industry critics. He said policy makers must take into account the impact that policies can have on food prices and the poor. Conaway also said there’s a lot of public confusion about ambiguous terms such as “local” and “natural.” Conaway noted that a recent Florida newspaper investigation found that food marked as “local” often isn’t.

“We have to be honest and clear with the public.  Right now, there is confusion at every stage of this process, and we all share some level of responsibility for that,” Conaway said. 

Feed the Future authorization clears Senate. The Obama administration is on the verge of winning congressional authorization for its $1-billion-a-year Feed the Future initiative. The Senate approved a two-year authorization bill late yesterday by voice vote.

The House passed a one-year authorization last week. Both bills require the development of a government-wide strategy for boosting food production and improving nutrition in target countries. The Senate bill also would formally authorize an emergency food aid account that isn’t bound by restrictions in the Food for Peace program.  

Senate backers hope the House will approve the Senate bill as it is and send it on to the White House. 

Energy negotiators face tough talks on land conservation. Cattle producers are angry that the Senate’s sweeping energy bill includes permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is the main federal funding source for public land acquisitions. Tracy Brunner, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said that “new federal land acquisitions without adequate funding for ongoing care and maintenance is just irresponsible.”

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, says the conservation fund is likely to be one of the toughest issues when House and Senate negotiators sit down to settle differences between the Senate bill and legislation that passed the House. 

But Murkowski says the biggest hurdle to negotiating a compromise bill is the relatively small amount of time Congress will be in session this year.

Former FDA official: Agency would embrace GMO education. A longtime senior official at the Food and Drug Administration says he doesn’t think the agency would have any problem with being ordered by Congress to educate consumers on the safety and benefits of GMOs. The House’s fiscal 2017 spending bill for FDA earmarks $3 million for FDA to promote consumer acceptance of biotech foods.

Joseph Levitt, a former director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says the agency believes “in the safety of the products. They should be doing” the public education.  Levitt is now a partner in the law firm Hogan Lovells.

Nestle removing some GMOs. Nestle says it’s going to start removing GMOs from its ice cream. That means high fructose corn syrup, and no beet sugar. Cane sugar is in. But with Vermont’s GMO labeling law taking effect in July, Nestle still hasn’t said when it will start labeling its products that have biotech ingredients. 

The company said in a statement to Agri-Pulse that while it hasn’t “announced plans to implement GMO labeling” the company “will be in compliance with laws and regulations.” Nestle ice cream brands include Dreyer’s and Häagen-Dazs.

He said it. “We need to begin talking to one another, speaking the same language, and empowering consumers, producers, and everyone to do the things we can all agree on - and that's doing what is best and right for the American producer, our planet, and those less fortunate than ourselves.” - House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, in speech to Food Tank Summit attendees.

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