WASHINGTON, June 30, 2016 - The Senate’s GMO labeling compromise has cleared a key first hurdle. Last night, the Senate voted, 68-29, to overcome opponents' objections to taking up the legislation. The procedural vote only needed a simple majority, but the big margin indicates that the bill should easily have the 60 votes necessary to make it filibuster proof.
That critical cloture vote will occur after senators return next Wednesday from their long holiday weekend.
Fifteen Democrats and Maine independent Angus King joined the Agriculture Committee’s ranking member, Debbie Stabenow, in support of the biotech bill last night. Just three Republicans voted against it.
Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, called the vote “a strong show of support” that reflects the endorsement the bill received from over 1,000 food and agriculture groups.
Nobel laureates jump in GMO debate. Some 107 Nobel prize winners in chemistry, economics, medicine and physics have signed a letter endorsing agricultural biotechnology. The message, which will be the subject of a news conference at the National Press Club today, is specifically addressed to Greenpeace and its objection to golden rice. But the laureates are more broadly endorsing the safety and benefits of the GMOs and the need for genetically engineered crops.
The letter emphasizes that scientific and regulatory agencies worldwide “have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production.”
The letter ends with a strongly worded challenge: “How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a ‘crime against humanity’?” The letter makes no reference to GMO labeling, but the timing couldn’t be any better for supporters of the Senate’s biotech disclosure bill. An article about the letter received prominent play on The Washington Post website.
Acreage, stocks reports due today. At noon today, USDA will issue its closely watched survey of spring plantings. Analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal are expecting the acreage report to show record plantings of soybeans because of the disappointing South American harvest that sent future prices higher. USDA’s quarterly grain stocks report also will be posted today.
USDA clarifies Sodsaver exemption. USDA has finalized changes to the crop insurance program with a tweak to the Sodsaver provisions required by the 2014 farm bill. Under that legislation, farmers who are caught breaking up native grasslands in the upper Midwest will see their premium subsidies cut in half. A final rule being published today in the Federal Register clarifies an exemption that allows farmers to break up to five acres of native sod without getting the subsidy cut.
USDA received some complaints that the subsidy cut is only for four years. It was suggested that a farmer could break up native sod, plant the ground to an uninsured crop for four years, and then switch to an insured crop with no loss of subsidy. USDA doesn’t dispute that could happen but says it had no authority to tighten the restriction.
ITC report details trade benefits. One day after Donald Trump delivered an extended attack on U.S. trade policy in Pennsylvania, the U.S. International Trade Commission released a report detailing how the country has benefitted from multilateral and bilateral deals.
According to the ITC, consumers saved about $13.4 billion in 2014 alone because of tariff cuts that resulted from the agreements. The 374-page report lays out ways in which U.S. exports have benefitted. U.S. pork exports are among the examples the report cites. U.S. shipments to Colombia tripled from 2011 to 2014 thanks to a trade pact the two countries signed.
Global food security improves. An annual measure of food security around the world found that most countries made improvements last year. The Economist Intelligence Unit, which maintains the Global Food Security Index, attributed the improvement to falling food prices and rising incomes as well as overall economic growth.
Some 89 of the 113 countries in the index improved their scores. Indonesia showed the biggest improvement, followed by Myanmar, the United Kingdom and Ecuador. The nations with the biggest declines included the war-torn countries of Yemen and Syria, as well as Haiti and the Ivory Coast.
Trade preferences losing poverty-fighting benefit. It has long been argued that providing duty-free treatment to exports from low-income countries can help alleviate poverty and reduce hunger. A new report from the U.S. trade representative says that while such trade preferences do make a difference the impact is waning as countries reduce tariffs through trade agreements.
The USTR report also says that there are many other hurdles that poor countries must overcome to increase exports, including poor transportation systems and telecommunications and lack of credit for farmers. The report also says that even without the trade preferences, U.S. tariffs are generally already low.
He said it. “We're going to keep on pushing hard to shape an international order that works for our people. But we're not going to be able to do that by cutting off trade, because that's going to make all of us poor.” - President Obama, defending his trade policy in a joint news conference with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.
Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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