WASHINGTON, July 1, 2016 - Today is the day that many in food and agriculture have been dreading - and that many consumer activists have been eagerly anticipating. Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling is now officially in effect. The law is likely to be short-lived, with the Senate now on track to pass national disclosure standards. 

But some companies that have started labeling their products for GMOs because of the Vermont regulations tell Agri-Pulse that they plan to continue even if Congress nullifies that law. A spokesman for Campbell Soup Co. confirmed that it is “committed to on-pack disclosure,” a position that the company announced in January. 

Mars, the maker of M&Ms, also plans to keep labeling, but General Mills isn’t saying yet what it will do. “We will see what finally passes and go from there,” said spokeswoman MaryLynn Carver. 

For the time being, companies are using the labeling language required by Vermont: “produced” or “partially produced with genetic engineering.” But if the Senate legislation becomes law, the Agriculture Department will be required to come up with new wording that companies will have to use if they choose to continue on-pack labeling rather than digital disclosure alone. 

USDA challenges FDA critique. The Agriculture Department sharply disagrees with the Food and Drug Administration’s criticism of the Senate bill. As we’ve reported, the FDA says the bill’s definition of bioengineering contains loopholes that would - among other things - mean that many ingredients such as soybean oil wouldn’t fall under the disclosure requirement. 

But USDA, which would have to implement the law rather than FDA, says in a statement to Agri-Pulse that the bill provides the authority for highly refined sugars and oils to be brought into the program. USDA also says that biotech traits developed through techniques such as gene editing also would fall under the national disclosure standards.

USDA says the Senate compromise would cover 24,000 more products than the Vermont law does. The department doesn’t provide any details on those products that would be affected.  But because of existing USDA regulations, Vermont law doesn’t require GMO labeling for products such as soup that contain meat or poultry.

USDA oversight of conservation compliance faulted. USDA’s inspector general says that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is being inconsistent in enforcing conservation compliance requirements. Due to the agency’s poor guidance on how to enforce the highly erodible land provisions, NRCS cites farmers in some areas for being noncompliant but not in others - even though the acreage in question has the same type of erosion.  

In Missouri, the auditors found instances where farmers that used the same conservation treatment received different determinations from NRCS depending on the county in which they farmed. The auditors also said that that officials at NRCS headquarters differ with local agency officials over whether some kinds of gullies should be considered a compliance issue. 

The 40-page report also says that the agency has inaccurate data on wetlands and that the agency’s state and field staff use inconsistent approaches when enforcing protections for wetlands. 

NRCS generally agreed with the report’s findings and is working on finalizing improvements in agency guidance by the end of the year.

Farmers lead nation in suicide rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some sobering news for farmers. According to a new CDC study, farmers have the highest suicide rate in the country. 

The suicide rate for the job category of farming, fishing and forestry is 84.5 per 100,000. That’s well above the second highest rate of 53.5 per 100, 000 for workers in construction and extraction jobs.

It’s not clear what accounts for the higher rate among farmers. But CDC says earlier research suggests chronic pesticide exposure may lead to neurologic problems and depression. Other possible factors include financial problems, social isolation and lack of mental health services.

The end of hunger? USDA sees huge improvement in food security. Now for some much better news - A new study from USDA projects that there will be a big improvement in food security around the world over the next decade. The Economic Research Service projects that there will be an eye-popping, 59 percent drop by 2026 in the number of people in low- and middle-income countries who are food-insecure. 

Put another way, just 6 percent of the developing world’s population won’t have enough food in 2026, down from the current estimate of 17 percent, according to the study. The rosy forecast is based on projections of lower food prices and rising incomes. 

The reduction in hunger won’t be spread evenly. Asia is expected to see an 80 percent drop in food insecurity, compared to a 36 percent decline in Africa.  

Froman hopes Brexit distraction won’t delay T-TIP. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says he hopes Britain’s vote to leave the European Union won’t delay negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

U.S. and EU negotiators continue to meet regularly despite the Brexit turmoil, he said at a Cato Institute event. The next formal round of talks will be held in July, but he said the negotiations never really stop. He confirmed that he met with his EU counterpart this week. “We’re making good, accelerated progress over the past eight months in terms of resolving issues,” he said.

Soy board CEO sets retirement. The United Soybean Board says that its CEO, John Becherer will be stepping down at the end of 2017 after 23 years at the organization.  Board chairman Jared Hagert says Becherer’s vision “helped drive change that has sparked unparalleled growth in the soybean industry.”

He said it. “We hope that they have the necessary focus and political will to be able to make the necessary decisions to be able to reach agreement,” - U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on hoping the Brexit vote doesn’t stop the EU from completing the T-TIP

Bill Tomson contributed to this report.


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