WASHINGTON, July 5, 2016 The push from farm groups and food industry lobbyists continues to intensify for a Senate vote this week on legislation that creates a federal standard for disclosure when food contains genetically engineered ingredients.

The bill, a compromise from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow, would create a way for consumers to scan food labels to know if there are GMO ingredients.

More importantly, though, it creates a federal standard that preempts individual state laws that many fear would produce food-labeling chaos across the country.
Support in the Senate for the compromise is strong, but groups like the National Corn Growers Association are not standing idly by.

“The need for Congressional action is real and urgent,” the group said in appeal to the public. “State labeling mandates threaten to confuse consumers, drive up costs and significantly complicate the jobs of American farmers.”

NCGA, which is providing a phone service and asking people to call in to reach their senators, warned that more and more food companies will feel compelled to begin reformulating their products to shun GMOs the longer it takes Congress to pass the bill.

“If Congress does not act, more can be expected to do so and farmers could lose access to a safe, proven technology they rely on,” the group said.

Food prices stabilize internationally. Global food price spikes in recent years that hit the world’s poorest populations the hardest are likely over, according to a new report released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.  

“Prices for the main crops, livestock and fish products all fell in 2015, signaling that an era of high prices is quite likely over for all sub-sectors,” the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016-2025 concludes. “Meat prices fell from record highs in 2014, dairy product prices continued declines that started in 2013 and 2014, while crop prices fell further from their peaks in 2012.”

The primary factors behind the fall in prices and the forecast for continued stability, the report says, are rising yields and production, coupled with strong stocks and lower oil prices.

And all of that translates into more affordable food and declining rates of food insecurity. The proportion of underfed people in the world is now forecast to drop from 11 percent to 8 percent over the next ten years, according to the report. That would be a drop from 800 million people who suffer from chronic hunger to 650 million.

Agriculture makes it into Democratic platform. Agricultural and rural economic policy concerns, often mostly ignored by presidential contenders, have secured a spot in a draft of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform. The entire entry is as follows: “We will work to build a stronger rural and agricultural economy. Democrats will spur investment to power the rural economy and increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers. We will expand local food markets and regional food systems and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that need support during challenging times. And we will promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship of our natural resources, while expanding opportunities in rural communities across America.”

AFL-CIO weighs in on catfish. The largest U.S. federation of unions is weighing into the national catfish debate with a letter to House members, asking that there be no vote on a measure to take away inspection from the USDA.

“The USDA system is doing its job in protecting the health and well-being of U.S. consumers from banned chemicals and illegal drugs in imported seafood,” The AFL-CIO wrote in a letter dated June 29. “Congress did the right thing by placing catfish inspections under the purview of the USDA.”

Congress ordered that USDA take over catfish inspection duties from the FDA in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills and proponents of the switch say USDA is doing a much better job. Opponents say inspection is more expensive under USDA and the switch is a waste of money.

The Senate approved a measure in May to return catfish inspection to the FDA, but House leadership has not scheduled a vote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., continues to call for a vote, saying there will be plenty of support to kill the USDA catfish inspection.

“In the House, almost 200 representatives have signed letters calling for a vote on this issue, including a majority of House Republicans,” she wrote on a blog for The Hill. “The stage is set for our government to prove that it can be a good steward of tax dollars. The Senate has voted to do away with the program and now the House is poised to as well.”

Iowa State University prepares for FMD. There hasn’t been an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the U.S. since 1929, but Iowa State University has come up with a blueprint to help the U.S. beef industry prepare for the worst.

The university’s Center for Food Security and Public Health has set up a web site that lays out ways to keep the beef industry productive in the case of an outbreak, minimize the spread of the virus and make sure Americans have access to beef.


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