WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2016 - The Government Accountability Office is moving ahead with an investigation of a drop in cattle prices during the latter half of last year. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other members of the committee requested the investigation in April in response to complaints from the producer group R-CALF USA

R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard gave a slide presentation to GAO officials last week that lays out more than 20 allegations that packers and others have been colluding to depress prices paid to producers. 

“Beginning in mid-2015 and continuing today, cattle prices fell at a record pace and by a record amount despite the fact that market fundamentals suggest cattle producers should be enjoying the very best of times,” according to the presentation. Cattle prices declined by about 15 percent in the latter half of 2015. 

‘Last best chance’ to stop packers, group says. R-CALF has posted an open letter to cattle producers that says GAO is looking at changes in the cattle market over the past 10 years. “This unprecedented investigation is our last best chance to stop the multinational meatpackers from capturing control over our live cattle supply chain through vertical integration,” the group says.

A spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute, which represents packers, said it had not been contacted by GAO.
A spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association had a brief response to the investigation: “We look forward to seeing the GAO’s report.”

Court mulls neonic regulation. A federal judge in California today hears arguments in a lawsuit over whether seeds coated with neonicotinoids should be regulated as pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). 

The case has major implications for farmers, who plant neonic-coated seeds on about 142 million acres of corn, soybeans, and other crops annually. The lawsuit was filed against EPA by individual beekeepers, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Bird Conservancy, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action North America. 

EPA acknowledged in its response to the lawsuit that bee populations have been declining, but says the problem is due to a complex set of factors. The agency is currently reviewing the effects of neonics on pollinators.

Heat’s on USDA over hydroponics. A group often critical of the way USDA regulates organic agriculture has filed a complaint with the National Organic Program alleging that it’s allowing produce to be grown hydroponically in violation of the organic standards.  

The complaint by the Cornucopia Institute comes as USDA is considering whether hydroponic or aquaponic production should be allowed under the current organic regulations. The complaint names two major growers, Driscoll’s and Wholesum Harvest Family Farms, but says there are about 100 others that should be reviewed as well. 

Lee Frankel, executive director of the Coalition for Sustainable Organics, which represents hydroponic growers, says the legal action “threatens to significantly reduce existing supplies of many types of organic fresh produce … in order to raise prices for a select group of growers.” His group argues that the organic regulations don’t require crops to be grown in soil. 

Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, says his group will also be filing a complaint with USDA’s inspector general ahead of a meeting of the National Organic Standards Board later this month.

Army Corps issues wetlands guidance. The Army Corps of Engineers has issued new guidance on wetlands determinations in response to a recent Supreme Court decision. The high court ruling allows landowners to go to court to challenge the Corps’ judicial determinations on wetlands. 

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs who successfully sued the Corps of Engineers, says that the guidance letter doesn’t affect the landowners’ new legal right to challenge judicial determinations that have been formally approved. 

But the group’s principal attorney, Reed Hopper, says the Corps is wrong in stating that landowners who take actions based on a preliminary judicial determination will be waiving their rights to go to court. “This waiver provision is wishful thinking. It’s not binding on a court. The courts have the power to determine if and when federal jurisdiction may be challenged, not the Corps,” Hopper writes in a blog post. 

Hopper says landowners should consider skipping the preliminary determination and get the final decision instead. 

Long-time CSPI chief to step down. Michael Jacobson will give up his job as executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest next year and become the group’s chief scientist. Jacobson, 73, has co-directed or directed the group since it was founded in 1971. 

CSPI, which successfully pushed for ending the use of trans fats and putting nutrition labels on food products, has long been one of the most influential consumer advocacy groups in Washington. 

The group has often clashed with industry over nutrition and food safety issues but has generally been supportive of agricultural biotechnology, citing the science behind the products. Jacobson will move to his new role next September. 

Humane Society ad touts Clinton. The Humane Society Legislative Fund and Moveon.org have released an online ad praising Hillary Clinton’s record on animal welfare issues. The ad, which is titled “I’m with purr,” says Clinton has a “bold platform” to protect animals. 

He said it. “This isn’t easy. We’re all nice folks. No one likes to stand up and say I disagree.” -Land O’Lakes CEO Chris Policinski on the need for farmers to challenge critics of biotechnology and companies that make non-GMO marketing claims. 

He was speaking at the annual meeting of the National Milk Producers Federation, United Dairy Industry Association and National Dairy Promotion and Research Board in Nashville.

Spencer Chase and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.


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