WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2016 - Executives from five seed and crop protection giants will be on Capitol Hill to defend their merger plans before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is concerned about the impact the deals could have on farm input costs. The executives are going to have to explain how the consolidation is going to benefit growers. 
The hearing comes just one week after Bayer announced it had reached a $66 billion deal to take over Monsanto, the third such deal in the seed and chemical industries.
Also testifying today is Chris Novak, who will be representing corn and soybean producers. Novak, who is CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, will tell the committee that an analysis of the pending Dow-DuPont merger found it would diminish competition in the corn seed sector. But he says his group decided that the deal wouldn’t “fundamentally undermine competition” in the seed industry and didn’t ask the Justice Department to force the companies to divest any seed assets. 
One concern that corn growers don’t have an answer to, Novak says, is what impact the Chinese takeover of Syngenta will have on the Chinese approval process for new biotech crop traits. It’s possible, Novak says, that China could wind up accelerating its approval process if it sees that it has a national stake in the success of biotechnology.
A unified message from farm witnesses at the hearing will be that the mergers demonstrate the severity of the downturn in U.S. agriculture. Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, is worried that rising input costs as a result of the consolidation will stress farmers even more. 
“While the agrochemical and seed companies are feeling strained in boardrooms and being pressured to merge, no one feels the strain of a farm economy more than the farmers,” Johnson says. 
USDA works to keep organic labeling separate from GMO disclosure labeling. Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Elanor Starmer released a memo Monday evening on how the agency will maintain separate standards for labeling under the National Organic Program and the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.
At the heart of the memo is the statement:

No certified organic products will require disclosure as bioengineered; and

No proposed rules for bioengineered food disclosure will require that modifications be made to the USDA organic regulations.

The memo addresses the issue of whether non-organic foods that do not need to be disclosed as containing GMO ingredients can be labeled as GMO-free, but makes no definitive conclusion. Starmer wrote in the memo: “As instructed by statute, USDA shall consider organic certification sufficient to make a claim regarding the absence of bioengineering in the food, such as ‘not bioengineered,’ ‘non-GMO,’ or another similar claim. However, products that do not require mandatory disclosure as bioengineered foods or foods that contain bioengineered ingredients may not automatically qualify for absence claims.”
Customs officers find farm threat in Saudi shipment. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers quarantined a non-commercial shipment from Saudi Arabia after finding it infested with Khapra beetles, which are a major threat to grain farmers.
CBP officers in Philadelphia said they discovered 60 live Khapra beetle larvae in rice that was part of a household goods shipment from Saudi Arabia.
“To see such a large concentration of larvae is alarming and it presents a serious threat to our nation’s agriculture. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists took immediate action to quarantine the rice and these highly destructive and invasive insect pests,” said Marge Braunstein, Acting CBP Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia. 
Danish trade mission lands in U.S. next week. Representatives of some of the largest of Denmark’s food and agriculture companies are coming to the U.S. next week to learn firsthand about evolving U.S. food safety and biotechnology policies. The trade mission, which will be led by the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark and the Danish Minister for Environment and Food, is scheduled to stay in the U.S. from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30.
The delegation will attend a seminar in Washington D.C. hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers on Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. The FDA is scheduled to give a presentation at the event on the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Brazil’s beef and pork exports expected to rise in 2017. Brazilian beef and pork exports are expected to increase next year to new record levels, according to a newly released report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Rising demand from China and other countries are fueling the rising shipments, but the value of Brazil’s currency has risen in the past couple months and that will likely limit export growth.
The new FAS forecast shows Brazil exporting 1.96 million metric tons of beef in 2017, up from 1.85 million tons this year and 1.7 million tons last year.
Brazil’s domestic consumption is also on the rise as the economy is showing signs of recovery.
“The outlook for the Brazilian economy in 2017 calls for a moderate improvement in the main macroeconomic figures, such as a forecast growth of 1.16% in the gross domestic product, a lower inflation rate, a small recovery in the unemployment rate, and the return of foreign investments,” the report said.
Phil Brasher contributed to this report.


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