WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2016 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says its time to consider establishing a White House food council to coordinate food policy across the government. It would be similar to the Council on Environmental Quality that now coordinates the administration policy across all the agencies that are involved in environmental regulation. 

"We have 15 different agencies that are involved in food safety regulatory issues of one kind or the other. I think we’re the only major country in the world that has that many fingers in the pie,” Vilsack said yesterday in remarks to the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology for the 21st Century, a group known as AC21.

Vilsack also cited the definition of “natural" as another issue that needs "significantly greater cooperation" between agencies.

Cage-free egg demand gets Vilsack attention. Vilsack also said he’ll be meeting with egg industry leaders on Sept. 21 to discuss issues surrounding the growing number of commitments by supermarkets, restaurants and other marketers to provide cage-free eggs. 

Vilsack is concerned that the industry can’t fill the demand. ”It seems as if everyone likes the idea of cage-free eggs," he told AC21. "Big outfits have said that’s what we want." But, he added, "No one has stopped to ask the question of how many eggs is that gonna require.”

USDA advancing biotech overhaul. USDA is moving forward with a proposalfor overhauling the way the department regulates new biotech crop traits. Michael Gregoire, associate administrator at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told AC21 that a proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement could be sent to the Office of Management and Budget in a matter of days. 

USDA officials have said they are looking at ways to streamline the regulatory process and ensure it’s focused on biotech products that have the potential of posing  environmental risks. OMB's review is supposed to take 90 days but could take longer.  

AC21 finalizing coexistence report. AC21 meets again today to provide final input for its report on how organic, genetically engineered and other types of farming can coexist. One of the recommendations AC21 is considering calls for USDA to consider seeking legal authority to provide incentives to farmers to develop joint coexistence plans.  

USDA lawyers told the committee it currently lacks the authority to offer such incentives.

CFTC vacancies could be filled soon. The Senate is finally moving toward confirmation of President Obama’s two nominees for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The agency has been operating with just three commissioners for more than a year.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts has announced a hearing next Thursday for the two nominees, Georgetown University law professor Chris Brummer and Brian Quintenz, a former House Republican adviser. 

Neither of them have an agricultural background, but Roberts told Agri-Pulse that both men have made clear to him that they understand the needs of farmers and other end-users. 

Conaway joins Roberts at Kansas fair. Our friends in Kansas may want to get to the state fair in Hutchinson on Saturday. In an unusual joint appearance, Roberts and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway will speak at the Kansas Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Leadership Breakfast.

And then later, Conaway and Roberts will participate in a forum to be broadcast live. The two chairmen will be joined by Allen Featherstone, who chairs the ag economics department at Kansas State University.

There will be an audio stream of the 11 a.m. CST event a www.kansasagnetwork.com and www.wibwnewsnow.com.

Emergency listing for lesser prairie chicken sought. Environmental groups are asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to once again list the lesser prairie chicken for protection under the Endangered Species Act. A federal judge overturned a previous listing made in 2014. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and two other organizations have filed a petition asking for an emergency decision on populations that the groups are especially imperiled along the Texas-New Mexico border and in Colorado and western Kansas. The petition also is requesting a decision on a non-emergency basis for the third population of the birds in an area of Oklahoma and southern Kansas. 

The groups say the science is clear that the bird is in danger of extinction. “It took Fish and Wildlife Service ten years to finally protect lesser prairie chickens under the Endangered Species Act, a year and a half to lose those protections in court, and now, nearly a year later, the agency still has done nothing for the birds,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Ryan: Don’t have the votes for TPP. Reporters keep pressing congressional leaders on whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership will get a vote this year, and the answer is still the same: It won’t. “If you bring it up, it’s going to go down,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was twice asked about the trade deal’s prospects at his weekly press conference yesterday.

He said it. “I know I’m not going to be invited to as many cocktail parties after this report.” - Daren Bakst, Heritage Foundation agricultural policy specialist, on the group’s proposals to phase out commodity programs and end crop revenue insurance

Steve Davies contributed to this report.


For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com