WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2016 - The Agriculture Department has agreed to buy 11 million pounds of cheese to help shore up dairy prices. It’s nowhere near as large a purchase as producers wanted. But one economist tells Agri-Pulse the purchase could have a modest impact on prices without making U.S. exports less competitive. The purchase would represent less than 1 percent of total cheese inventories. 

The $20 million in cheese will be provided to food banks for distribution to low-income consumers. The National Milk Producers Federation had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earlier this month to buy at least $100 million in cheese. 

Vilsack left the door open for additional help this fall. “USDA will continue to look for ways within its authorities to tackle food insecurity and provide for added stability in the marketplace,” he said. 

USDA also delayed until Dec. 16 the 2017 enrollment deadline for the industry’s Margin Protection Program. The deadline had been Sept. 30. The delay is similar to what USDA did for the first two MPP signups for MPP. 

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, called USDA’s actions “welcome news” but said he would be working on revisions to MPP in the next farm bill.

Environmentalists seek to force ESA decisions. The Center for Biological Diversity has filed notice that it will sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to force action on petitions to protect 417 animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act. “These 417 species and hundreds of others are being dangerously neglected for no other reasons than bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of political will,” said Noah Greenwald, the group’s endangered species director. 

The notice includes species from across the country, including Florida sandhill cranes and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s federal lands program, said the legal action shows that the ESA process “is broken.” “Substantive ESA reform is needed now to allow FWS the autonomy necessary to prioritize species conservation according to need, rather than political agenda,” Lane said. 

Trump pledges to ‘keep America out of TPP.’ Donald Trump seems to be waffling on his call for deporting illegal immigrants. In at least one interview this week, Trump has suggested he would follow President Obama’s deportation policy. But Trump hasn’t been giving an inch on his threat to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

In a speech Monday evening in Akron, Trump claimed that Clinton would “100 percent” support congressional approval of the TPP, if she’s elected. “We won’t let that happen,” Trump said. “We will win this election, and we will keep America out of the TPP.” 

Green candidate pitches local ag as climate solution. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who is trying to get some headway to the left of Hillary Clinton, used a news conference at the National Press Club to call for drastic action to address climate change. One of the solutions, she said, is to create jobs in the “area of healthy and sustainable local food production.” 

Stein didn’t say how that would be done, but she said that agriculture is a “major component” of greenhouse gas emissions. Stein is proposing to move the nation to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, just 14 years from now. 

Stein’s campaign platform calls for labeling GMOs and for imposing a moratorium on genetically engineered crops and pesticides “until they are proven safe.” A new NBC News poll puts Stein’s support at 5 percent in a four-way race with Clinton, Trump and libertarian Gary Johnson. 

Senate panel plans late September hearing on mergers. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley plans a hearing on antitrust issues late next month that will include a focus on consolidation in the seed and agricultural chemical business. China National Chemical Corporation announced Monday that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. cleared its proposed $43 billion takeover of Syngenta. Meanwhile, a planned merger of Dow and DuPont is under federal review and there are reports that a deal between Bayer and Monsanto could be near. 

“It’s obvious that China is looking at purchasing companies with food production expertise as part of its long-term strategic plan and a component of their national security. So it’s important that the United States look at these mergers in the same way,” Grassley told reporters. The ChemChina move to take over Syngenta follows the Chinese acquisition of Smithfield Foods.

FDA delays FSMA deadlines. The Food and Drug Administration has agreed to delay a number of compliance deadlines facing food companies and farmers in connection with the new rules issued under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The agency also clarified and corrected its compliance timeline for agricultural water testing.

Separately, FDA released draft guidance advising companies on how to comply with the new requirements for preventive controls in food plants.

Food stamp numbers continue to slide. The number of Americans on food stamps fell to less than 43.5 million in May, two million below the same month a year ago. It was the second month in a row that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been under 44 million. SNAP enrollment is down more than 4 million since 2013. 

She said it. “We call for a solution here that addresses both the economic and the climate crisis. We call it a Green New Deal.” - Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate



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