WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2016 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is worried that food and restaurant companies are forcing changes in farming practices that will impose unsustainable costs on producers. Speaking to reporters at the FFA convention in Indianapolis, Vilsack said the food industry is rushing to make commitments on issues such as cage-free eggs without knowing whether consumers will pay higher prices.
As Agri-Pulse has reported, Vilsack has gotten personally involved in an effort to bring egg producers together with the food industry to figure out how to address the commitments to shfit to cage-free egg supplies. The new facilities required to produce eggs without cages is expected to cost producers $8 billion.
Food companies made the cage-free commitments “in isolation. They did this as a marketing effort without any thought about precisely how may of these commitments were being made and essentially how the market was going to react.” It could be, he went on, that many consumers ultimately decline to pay more for cage-free eggs.
Vilsack says the food industry needs to work with farmers before making such commitments. “That is an important conversation that needs to take place that isn’t taking place.”
GIPSA rules needed to address ‘uncertainty,’ Vilsack says. Vilsack defended his decision to advance a new set of regulations for contracting and marketing practices in the livestock and poultry industry. Last week, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration sent three rules to the Office of Management and Budget for review before they are released.
Vilsack said there’s a “clamoring in the countryside” among producers for clarity on what contracting practices are acceptable. “When you have uncertainty you have circumstances and situations where people can be taken advantage of,” he said.
Pork producers lend hand in Massachusetts battle. The National Pork Producers Council have been putting money into a long-shot effort to defeat a ballot measure in Massachusetts. The initiative would bar the sale of eggs from caged hens or meat from animals that were tightly confined.
Massachusetts voters favor the measure by a margin of 66 percent to 28 percent, according to the latest polling. But Diane Sullivan, who is leading the opposition to the measure, tells Agri-Pulse she hopes the $250,000 ad buy on cable TV can help turn the tide. (The ad can be seen here.)
Her group, called Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice, argues that the cage-free requirement will hurt low-income families by driving up food costs. “The polling looks daunting but I’m not dissuaded,” said Sullivan, who says she was once homeless herself.
NPPC warns of ‘not-so-unintended’ consequences. The National Pork Producers Council is spending $100,000 on the ad campaign. Another $120,000 is coming from Forrest Lucas, the Indiana businessman who founded the advocacy group Protect the Harvest to fight measures such as the Massachusetts initiative.
NPPC says in a statement that it hopes “Massachusetts voters will learn about the motives of the groups behind this ill-advised initiative, which will tell farmers how to raise and care for their animals, and about the not-so-unintended consequences of Question 3: higher bacon and egg prices for Bay State residents.”
According to the latest reports filed with the state, proponents of Question 3 had received $1.7 million compared to $295,000 for Sullivan’s group.
FDA seeking new food advisers. The Food and Drug Administration is looking for new voting members for its food advisory committee, which examines emerging food safety, nutrition, and other food- or cosmetic-related health issues.
The agency says in today's Federal Register that the committee reviews and evaluates data and makes recommendations on the safety of food ingredients and new foods; food labeling; nutritional adequacy, and safe exposure limits for food contaminants. FDA also may ask it to provide advice on how to communicate risks to the public.
The committee has 17 members, 15 of whom vote. The other two are non-voting industry representatives.
Supreme Court turns aside ranching appeal. The Supreme Court has declined to review a decision from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found a Nevada ranching family had trespassed by allowing its cattle to graze on federal land without a permit.
The estate of E. Wayne Hage argued that a district court judge had it right when he said that the family could legally graze cattle on federal lands that were within a half-mile of any water source in which they had a state-law watering right.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed and the Hage family filed a petition with the Supreme Court. The matter will now be decided by a new district court judge: The Ninth Circuit found that the original judge was biased against the government. Even before the trial began, he called the Bureau of Land Management "arrogant" and predicted that its trespassing claim would "undoubtedly" fail.
He said it. “If Congress had not done what it did several years ago, we would have those rules in place, and we would be talking about something else.” - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the GIPSA rules, referring to the fact that Congress repeatedly blocked their release until this year
Spencer Chase and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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