WASHINGTON, June 10, 2016 - There are signs of progress in the search for a congressional agreement on biotech labeling. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow and their aides met off the Senate floor yesterday to work through differences over a bill that would preempt state biotech laws.  

One aide familiar with the discussions put it this way late yesterday afternoon: “Negotiations are ongoing, and we're moving in the right direction.” That is probably the most optimistic assessment we’ve heard in a long time.

Also sounding upbeat, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said there were “ongoing negotiations.” There were a number of issues that the senators and staff needed to settle, including how a mandatory biotech disclosure system would work.

Agriculture and food groups have been ramping up pressure on the senators to reach an agreement this week so that a preemption bill could be enacted before Vermont’s GMO labeling law takes effect July 1. 

Egg producers make pledge on chick culling. The United Egg Producers has agreed to end the practice of killing, or culling, day-old male chicks. Research is under way into alternatives to the practice. One method is to identify male eggs so they can be destroyed before they hatch. 

Under UEP’s pledge, the culling practice will end by 2020 or soon as an alternative is “commercially available and economically feasible.” UEP worked out the policy with The Humane League, an activist group that had been pressuring the group to end the culling. 

A UEP statement says the industry egg industry “is committed to continuing our proud history of advancing excellent welfare practices throughout the supply chain, and a breakthrough in this area will be a welcome development.”

Funding for international cancer agency questioned. A senior House budget writer is raising questions about U.S. government funding for the international agency that claims glyphosate herbicide probably causes cancer. 

Robert Aderholt, who chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee, says in a letter to the National Institutes of Health that the findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer were the result of a “significantly flawed process.” Aderholt says the IARC benefits from U.S. support, and he wants the NIH to explain what standards it places on the research that it funds.
Democrats gear up to block House nutrition bill. Democrats think they can make an election-year issue out of the Republican child nutrition bill that’s pending in the House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she wants to ensure that the bill “never sees the light of day,” and she suggests that Democrats will be mounting a sustained public effort against the legislation. 

Democrats have seized on a portion of the bill that would allow a pilot program where some states would be allowed to run school meal programs on their own. The provision was added to the bill at the last minute in order to ensure that there would be sufficient support from Republicans to get the bill out of committee. 

At a news conference yesterday, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro called that provision a “foothold in the door” that would allow Republicans to eventually gut the school meal program. “This plan will drive more and more Americans into poverty,” she says. 

French say 'non' to U.S. cherries. France isn’t a big market for U.S. cherry producers – about $1 million per year – but exports are halting because of a new French ban on the fruit from countries where farmers are allowed to use Dimethoate, a popular insecticide.

The insecticide is used to fight the Asian fruit fly and is approved for use in the European Union, but the French suspect that it may also be dangerous to human health, according to a new report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

The French cherry crop will be affected, too. Without the insecticide, French farmers are expected to see a smaller harvest, forcing the country to rely heavier on imports from countries like Spain and Italy, the report concluded.

Fruit importers in Europe fear that France may soon implement similar bans against other EU-approved pesticides, “de-facto shutting down the free movement of EU and third-country fruits and vegetables into France,” FAS said.

USAID claims progress on malnutrition. The U.S. Agency for International Development says preliminary data show it’s on track to reach a 2017 goal for reducing stunting in children by 20 percent in 19 targeted countries. That’s a key goal of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative, which is aimed at improving food production and reducing malnutrition across the target countries. 

According to USAID, child stunting in Cambodia decreased more than 23 percent between 2010 and 2015 in the area of the country where Feed the Future programs are operating. In targeted areas of Bangladesh, stunting dropped 14 percent between 2011 and 2014. 

Beth Dunford of USAID’s Bureau of Food Security described for a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee yesterday a couple of projects in Africa that are making a difference. One is the distribution of seeds for iron-fortified beans in Rwanda. The beans have double the yield of traditional beans.

In Kenya, USAID provided a refrigerated truck to a businessman who is distributing chicken products that are made from chicken parts that processors were once throwing out. “That’s the type of ingenuity and innovation we really need to see form the private sector.” Dunford said.

She said it. “They should not have to be worried about whether or not they’re going to get something to eat.” - Veda Rasheed, a Washington, D.C., mother saying that school meals are sometimes the only food some school kids eat

Bill Tomson contributed to this report. 


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