WASHINGTON, April 25, 2016 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrapped
up his Group of Seven meetings in Japan on Sunday, but his efforts to push for
ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the U.S. and abroad will
continue. It’s not just opposition by U.S. lawmakers threatening the 12-nation
trade pact that is expected to create billions of dollars in new revenue for
farmers, but in Japan as well.
Japan’s Diet has resumed debate over TPP in the aftermath of a recent earthquake in Kyushu and Vilsack, speaking about a message he took to Japan, said, “It’s incumbent upon those who are in favor of the agreement to aggressively educate the general public and members of … the Diet in Japan of the benefits to agriculture, to producers and to the general economy.”
Vilsack is in Vietnam today, another TPP member country, and he’ll be talking about the benefits of the trade agreement there before heading back to the U.S. on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the next round of talks between the U.S. and EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will take place in New York City this week in the wake of rowdy protests against the proposed pact in Germany this past weekend. The U.S., which is seeking greater beef access among other things, is pushing for speedier negotiations in an effort to finish a deal during the last months of the Obama administration.
USDA delivers warning on House child nutrition reauthorization bill. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is preparing to mark up its controversial Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 as early as this week and the USDA is joining the choir of voices concerned about the legislation.
“For many children, their only access to nutritious meals is at school, through the school meal programs,” the USDA said in a statement. “We should be making it easier for more children in need to access breakfasts and lunches to address the dangers of food insecurity and hunger.”
The USDA took particular aim at several parts of the bill, including a criticism that it would erode the Community Eligibility Provision, which removes application requirements for low-income children to get free or reduced-priced lunches at school.
Can plants be organic without soil? The National Organic Standards Board on Monday begins a three-day meeting where it will continue several debates that are roiling the industry. One is a longstanding proposal by the board to ban the use of hydroponics in production of organic production. Hydroponic vegetables are being imported from Canada, Europe and Mexico and a small amount is being raised in the United States. Farmers and other advocates of the ban say true organic farming can’t be done without soil.
The board also is wrestling with complex definitions of biotechnology and plant breeding to make sure that advanced methods of genetic engineering can’t be used in organic seed production. One question is whether the use of mutagenesis should be allowed. NOSB also is expected to consider a proposal by the Organic Trade Association to ask USDA to determine standards for seed purity. The OTA wants USDA to do a study to determine what limits should be set for biotech contamination in organic seed.
Mom, what’s organic? The group Mom’s Across America is going big in its effort to get its message across to lawmakers that they should support organic farmers and agree to labeling food with genetically modified ingredients.
The group is funding a massive billboard campaign in 191 locations in 35 cities and 13 states from Earth Day through Mother’s Day to promote organic foods. The placement of the billboards is not random, the group said, but rather targeted to get the attention of key lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees.
Zen Honeycutt, the group’s director, said in a statement: “Our intention is to reach millions of American consumers and our policy makers. We targeted the capitals of the home states of the Senate Ag and HELP Committee members, who make the decisions about whether to subsidize organic or label GMOs. We want them to support health, safety and honest labeling.”
More countries line up to ship catfish to the U.S. At first it was just Vietnam, China, Thailand and Burma that submitted lists of companies that want to be eligible to ship catfish to the U.S., but that list has grown. Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada and Pakistan have now also successfully submitted lists of exporters to USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) even though they did so after the March 1 deadline.
“FSIS was clear in the final rule that the Agency would be flexible with foreign countries, provided they continue to submit necessary information to FSIS,” an FSIS spokeswoman said about the recent additions.
As ordered by Congress, FSIS is taking over catfish inspection from the FDA and foreign exporting countries will have until Sept. 1, 2017, to prove that their food safety procedures are equivalent to those in the U.S.