WASHINGTON, May 12, 2016 - Donald Trump heads to Capitol Hill this morning in his bid to soothe concerns among congressional Republicans and unify them behind his campaign. Trump will have a pair of meetings with House Speaker Paul Ryan before heading to a meeting with the Senate GOP leadership.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, will be joining a pair of her colleagues in responding to Trump’s visit this afternoon.
Vilsack announces new climate effort. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be with executives of Land O’ Lakes and Weyerhauser and a representative of the Environmental Defense Fund as he announces a new project today to combat climate change and promote climate-smart agriculture.
The Environmental Defense Fund has been working with a number of big food companies, including Smithfield Foods, Unilever and Kellogg’s, to use their supply chains to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality.
Feds back down on prairie chicken. Farmers and ranchers on the southern Plains won their battle against the Obama administration over the listing of the lesser prairie chicken. The Justice Department has dropped its appeal of a judge’s ruling that blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says it plans to reassess the bird’s status and will keep working with states and other federal agencies on conservation efforts. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he will seek to block the agency from re-listing the bird.
Richard Thorpe, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, says that the administration’s decision provides “major relief for ranchers who have long worried about the additional layer of federal regulations” that come with an ESA listing.
Survey confirms consumer skepticism on biotechnology. The latest consumer survey by the International Food Information Council underscores the growing challenges facing farmers and food companies over issues like biotechnology.
The survey, which is the 11th of its kind by the industry-backed group, finds that only 22 percent of consumers have a favorable view of genetically engineered crops. More than one-quarter of consumers - some 27 percent - have an unfavorable view. A similar percentage say they need more information.
At the same time, the survey backs up the idea that GMO labeling isn’t a high priority for most consumers. Only one of six people surveyed said they want more information on food labels. Out of that small group, only 20 percent said they wanted to know about GMOs when they asked an open-ended question about what new information they wanted on labels.
The survey also finds considerable disagreement about what the term “natural” means. About 30 percent say it means “no additives or preservatives.” That’s in line with the FDA’s current policy on the term, but consumer groups are pushing the agency to either ban the use of the word on labels or else set strict standards along the lines of what’s required for organic foods.
Biotech protections become law. President Obama has signed into law the Defend Trade Secrets Act. The new law will allow biotech companies and other firms to pursue federal civil cases against competitors believed to have stolen critical confidential information. Under current law, companies have to rely on federal prosecutors to make criminal cases. Obama says that civil judgments will hit the thieves “where it counts - in their pocketbooks.”
Obama used the bill signing to argue that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would provide additional protections for trade secrets.
Farm group praises Grassley’s meat packing bill. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is back with his longstanding proposal to ban meatpackers from owning their own livestock. Grassley knows it isn’t going anywhere this year, but he says he’s gearing up for the next Congress when lawmakers will start writing a new farm bill.
The National Farmers Union says the packer ban is sorely needed because the packing industry is becoming increasingly concentrated and ranchers have less options for marketing their livestock.
Top natural resources appointee exits. USDA’s deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment, Arthur “Butch” Blazer is leaving the department at the end of the week. Blazer spent 27 years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and joined USDA in 2011, where he has taken a lead role forestry issues. Vilsack says Blazer also has been tireless in helping “build a new era for civil rights” at the department.
She said it. “Working across public-private sector lines, through a collaborative approach, and with the entire ag supply chain is the only way to bring sustainability to scale while protecting farmers’ livelihoods.” - Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Bill Tomson contributed to this report.