WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2016 - It’s a familiar but critical story in agriculture. Big food and restaurant companies continue to force changes in agriculture that the government can’t or won’t. McDonald's has announced that all of the chicken it is buying now has been raised without the use of medically important antibiotics. 

The company says that producers will continue to use a class of antibiotics, called ionophores, that are not used in human medicine. Ionophores are commonly used in beef cattle. 

McDonald’s announced March 2015 that it was committed to going antibiotic-free within two years so the company beat the timetable. Chick-fil-A has pledged to phase out the use of antibiotics by 2019.

McDonald’s also announced yesterday that it will start serving hamburger and sandwich buns that won’t contain high fructose corn syrup. In addition, the company is removing artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets. pork sausage patties and omelet-style eggs.

“More than ever, people care about their food – where it comes from, what goes into it and how it’s prepared,” said McDonald’s USA President Mike Andres. He said these changes would “ensure the food we’re proud of is food our customers love and feel good eating.”

Consumer activists applaud McDonald’s. Steve Roach, food safety program director for the consumer advocacy group, Food Animal Concerns Trust, says the McDonald’s announcement shows that it’s possible to end of the use of medically important antibiotics in chicken production. He said he hopes McDonald’s will make similar commitments on beef, pork and turkey.

The National Chicken Council reiterated a statement it made in response to the original McDonald’s pledge. The group said that the “vast majority” of antibiotics given to chickens aren’t used in human medicine. 

USDA, Brazil reciprocate on beef trade. The Obama administration and Brazil are clearing the way for normalizing beef trade between the two countries.  

USDA yesterday announced officially what was first reported a few days ago: The Food Safety and Inspection Service has determined that Brazil's meat safety system remains equivalent to U.S. standards and that fresh beef can be safely imported from Brazil. FSIS is amending its import eligibility list to include fresh beef from Brazil. 

Brazil, meanwhile, has reached agreement with USDA to allow imports of U.S. beef and beef products for the first time since 2003, the year the first U.S. case of BSE, or mad cow disease, was discovered. 

NCBA: FMD vaccine bank is critical. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association suggests that the USDA announcement on importation of Brazilian beef is premature, given that the Government Accountability Office is still reviewing the department’s methodology in determining the safety of the beef. 

More importantly, the department needs to ensure there is an adequate supply of vaccine against foot and mouth disease, says NCBA President Tracy Brunner. “The current lack of FMD preparedness could devastate our industry if our herd is exposed to the highly communicable disease,” Brunner said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says his department has now managed to get BSE-related restrictions lifted in 16 countries since last year.  "The Brazilian market offers excellent long-term potential for U.S. beef exporters. The United States looks forward to providing Brazil's 200-million-plus consumers, and growing middle class, with high-quality American beef and beef products," Vilsack said.

White House hosts drone workshop. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is hosting a workshop this morning on drone technology. The event is intended to focus on the future prospects of unmanned aircraft in a variety of applications, including agriculture. 

The Federal Aviation Administration recently finalized drone regulations that take effect later this month. The White House workshop can be viewed online at whitehouse.gov/live.

Sugar users aren’t giving up. Agri-Pulse’s Dan Enoch says that the Washington lobbyist for the Sweetener Users Association - whose members include the biggest U.S. candy-makers - ventured into the lion’s den yesterday at the International Sweetener Symposium in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. 

Randy Green was asked whether the outlook for reform of the U.S. sugar program is the same as the prospects for the Washington Capitals’ winning hockey’s Stanley Cup. As in,“There’s always next year.” Green said he might extend the comparison to baseball’s Washington Nationals, but “that would be bad luck.” 

For our friends in the nation’s capital, these analogies to Washington sports teams are a little painful. 

Green told the producers that he’s still hoping for changes in the operation of the sugar program “that work for you and work for us.” Those changes would include publication of more supply and demand information related to sugar in USDA’s monthly WASDE report.

Lawmakers to sugar producers: We’ve got you covered. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, spoke by video link to the symposium and assured the growers that they would defend the sugar program in the next farm bill. “It works for the American taxpayer, and more importantly it works for the American sugar producer,” Conaway said.

He said it. “Sourcing decisions by industry leaders such as McDonald’s have great potential to positively influence appropriate antibiotic stewardship in food animal sectors around the world.” - H. Morgan Scott, professor of epidemiology in Texas A&M University’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. 



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