WASHINGTON, July 11, 2016 - Congress is only in session for a few more days before it breaks for the August recess, but all eyes are on the House to see if it follows through and approves the Senate compromise bill on biotech food labeling. The stakes are high for the agriculture sector, facing an onslaught of state laws seeking to require different labeling requirements on food made with genetically modified ingredients.

The Senate bill, authored by Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow, would preempt what many see as labeling chaos from states and allow for three types of disclosure. Consumers would be notified about GMOs through food labels that have a symbol, text or a QR code that can be read by smartphones.

“The Roberts-Stabenow agreement ensures consumers have the access to product information they deserve without stigmatizing this safe, proven technology that America’s farmers value,” said Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “Now, we urge the House to build upon the Senate’s work today by quickly taking up and passing this legislation.” 

And the process is expected to begin Tuesday when the House Rules Committee is scheduled to pave the way for a vote this week.

ITC says cheap Chinese fertilizer hurts U.S. The U.S. International Trade. Commission ruled Friday that China is likely subsidizing the sales of ammonium sulfate to the U.S., causing harm to U.S. producers of the popular fertilizer. All six commissioners agreed that U.S. producers are being harmed by the below-market-value sales, assuring that the U.S. Commerce Department will now follow up with an investigation into whether the U.S. should take action.

Commerce will be deciding whether the U.S. should respond with countervailing and antidumping duties. The department is scheduled to issue a preliminary decision on countervailing duties in August and a decision on antidumping duties in November.

The ITC took up the issue of Chinese ammonium sulfate exports after six domestic producers with factories in Illinois, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia filed complaints.

Strong dollar means challenge for U.S. wheat. The rising strength of the U.S. dollar is already bad news for U.S. wheat exporters and the situation could get worse, according to USDA.

“Our competitors have both weak currencies and big supplies,” said Seth Meyer, chairman of the USDA’s World Agricultural Outlook Board. 

Whereas U.S. wheat is getting more expensive, grain from South America and elsewhere is getting cheaper and that’s sending a signal to foreign farmers to plant and export more, Meyer said.
U.S. wheat exports are down 20 percent for the first eight months of fiscal year 2016 and that could worsen, according to the new USDA audio posting

Farmworkers get a hand. The U.S. Department of Labor has announced it is giving out $81 million in grant money to help train, house and care for migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families. The grants are part of Labor’s effort through the National Farmworker Jobs Program to improve job opportunities, wages and living conditions for farmworkers who are often under-employed.

“The hardworking men and women who tend our farms help power the American economy and feed millions of families across the country and around the world,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said. “Farmworkers deserve the opportunity to flourish, and these grants will help provide the firm foundation they need to build a better future for their families.”

FDA gives industry more time on vending machine calorie labels. The candy bars, potato chips, donuts and other goodies in vending machines will still have to have visible calorie-counts on their labels by Dec. 1, 2016, but the FDA has decided to give the industry more time to increase the size of the text on the packages.

The labeling rule, a part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” requires the calorie-counts to be written in text that is at least 50 percent of the size of the largest text on the package. But the FDA said Friday it recognized the “significant technical challenges” in changing the labels and agreed to push back the deadline until July 26, 2018.

The FDA said that trade groups representing the food and vending industries proposed a different method to determine the size of the text on labels, but the agency did not respond. 

“When a vending machine food is in a vending machine, a prospective purchaser cannot handle the product to make it easier for the purchaser to read the nutrition information,” the FDA said in a description of the labeling rule. “Therefore, ‘visible nutrition information’ on the front of package must be large enough, and prominent enough, for prospective purchasers to see and use the information.”

The FDA calculates that it will cost industry about $1.7 billion over 20 years to comply with the calorie labeling rule.

USDA says not so fast on Argentine lemons. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service hasn’t changed its mind about allowing in imported lemons from Northwest Argentina, but it has decided to give the public more time to comment on the trade proposal.

APHIS proposed allowing in the Argentine lemons on May 10, and initially set the deadline for public feedback on today - July 11. But that deadline has been pushed back until Aug. 10 in response to public demand for more time.
Argentine lemons are currently banned because of the threat from several serious pests like fruit flies and mites, but APHIS said it conducted a thorough risk analysis and believes it is safe to allow imports, so long as rigorous safeguards are in place.
One of those people demanding more time to pour over the USDA proposal is Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.

“APHIS’ decision to delay the comment period is a small step but our farmers must be protected from devastating pests and disease,” Farr said. “Science and safety must come before policy decisions.”


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