WASHINGTON, June 28, 2016 - Food and agriculture groups have been working overtime to get the Senate to pass the GMO labeling agreement yet this week. If not, the vote won’t come until after the long July 4 weekend, leaving little time for the House to clear it before Congress breaks for the party conventions and its August recess. 

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said yesterday evening that he has the necessary 60 votes to pass the bill, but he hadn’t been assured of the timing for floor action. Roberts went to the Senate floor yesterday armed with cards that listed his key arguments for the bill on one side and gave samples of smartphone codes on the other. The bill would allow the use of the digital codes to disclose genetically engineered ingredients. 

Groups that support the bill were furiously trying to collect endorsements of as many as 700 to 800 organizations for a letter to senators in support of the bill.  

One of the critical votes for the legislation is going to come from Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill. She voted against an earlier version of the legislation in March but she tells Agri-Pulse she will support the compromise. “There will be ways that consumers can find out what’s in their food,” she said of the bill. “At the same time it’s important that we keep food costs down, which I think it accomplishes also.”

Brexit is bad for U.S. pork exports. It seems like nothing has gone unscathed by the U.K.’s historic vote to exit the European Union and U.S. pork exports won’t be an exception, according to a new report by Chris Hurt, professor for agricultural economics at Purdue University.

The two biggest factors deciding the strength of pork exports this summer will be the strength of China’s demand and the strength of the U.S. dollar, which is being pushed up by the economic turmoil surrounding the Brexit, Hurt said.

The U.S. sells very little pork to the EU (including Britain), but the “Brexit has strengthened the U.S. dollar making U.S. pork more expensive around the globe,” Hurt wrote. “This will tend to increase prices for U.S. origin pork and reduce U.S. exports from what they would have been.”

And that will be a boon for European pork exporters, he said. Together, the EU nations have been the largest pork exporter in the world for the past two years.

The dollar has risen 3.5 percent on the Euro since the U.K. vote, according to the report. And that “has given the 19 countries in the EU28 that use the Euro an immediate price advantage over U.S. pork. Said another way, Brexit gives our biggest global pork competitor a sizable and immediate price advantage.”

Price tag will be billions for cage-free migration. A lot of food companies and retailers - think General Mills and Kraft Heinz – are pledging to only use cage-free eggs in the future, but it won’t be an easy or cheap task, says Elanor Starmer, administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service.

Right now about 30 million of the over 300 million laying hens are raised under cage-free conditions that are more expensive that the normal cage systems, Starmer said in a blog entry Monday. But if producers live up to rising demand, the number of cage-free hens will need to jump from about 10 percent to about 50 percent by 2025.

AMS expects it to cost about $40 per bird to shift to cage-free operations and by 2025, the overall price tag for the overall transition will be $5.6 billion.

“U.S. agricultural producers are innovative and adaptive, but momentous changes like the proposed shift to cage-free will require all hands on deck – and a good, hard look at what such a shift would take,” Starmer wrote. “AMS will be there to help.”

U.S., Mexico and Canada to talk trade in Ottawa. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will be on the schedule when U.S. President Barack Obama meets with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts this week in Ottawa for the annual North American Leader Summit, White House officials said Monday.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada are all TPP members and they are expected to focus on the countries’ progress in ratifying the 12-nation trade deal, the officials said in a conference call with reporters Monday. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will be accompanying Obama on the trip that begins Wednesday.

But it’s not just about trade … Clean energy and the environment will also be major issues at the meetings and on Wednesday the three countries plan to jointly release a comprehensive North American Climate and Clean Energy Partnership, said Brian Deese, senior advisor to the president. Central to the partnership is an announcement that Canada, Mexico and the U.S. will collectively set a goal to convert 50 percent of all power production in North America to clean energy – renewable fuel, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage - by 2025.

Deese said that as of 2015, the three countries produced 37 percent of their power with clean energy.

Huelskamp in a tight primary race. Rep. Tim Huelskamp is all of a sudden in a tight primary race to represent the GOP in the first district of Kansas and he’s taking criticism for blowing a 39-point lead over challenger OB-GYN Roger Marshall, according to a Roll Call article.

In April, Huelskamp was leading his challenger with 64 percent support to Marshall’s 25 percent. But now a new poll from Public Opinion Strategiesshows Huelskamp with 42 percent and Marshall with 41 percent, a virtual dead-heat.

Former Senator Bob Dole weighed in with some advice in a Tweet to Huelskamp: “I’ve been keeping an eye on the first district congressional race in Kansas. I would suggest the current congressman focus on the issues rather than misleading attacks on his primary opponent.”

Regulation update needed for noxious weeds? Noxious weeds do about $25 billion worth of damage to agriculture production every year and an update is needed to the federal regulations that attempt to minimize the harm from the unwanted plants, according to a new report by Lisa Schlessinger and Bryan Endres with the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.

There are just 112 plant species on the USDA's Federal Noxious Weed List, but there are actually about 5,000 species plaguing crops around the country, the report stressed.

One of those unlisted species is the Palmer Amaranth. The plant, which has evolved to be resistant to several herbicides, is doing serious damage to cotton and soybean farms in the southeast and has spread to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

“Invasive weeds like Palmer amaranth or other weeds escaping regulation at the federal or state level have the potential to devastate agricultural production and native ecosystems,” the report authors wrote.

She said it. “There’s lots of things not to like about it. That’s the definition of compromise. It’s ugly, but it at least it provides a way forward so we’re going to have one standard throughout the country.” - Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on the GMO disclosure bill. 

Phil Brasher contributed to this article.


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