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New Report Illustrates Why USDA Must Not Allow Chinese Poultry or Brazilian Fresh Meat Imports

Common Dreams | Posted on October 25, 2017

In an audit released October 13, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General once again found that the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) inadequate oversight of imported meat and poultry is putting U.S. consumers at risk. FSIS is supposed to determine whether countries that export meat, poultry, egg products or catfish have a regulatory system that can meet the standards required in the United States. However, the OIG audit reveals that FSIS is not doing enough oversight of the process used to determine which countries have “equivalent” food safety systems. “This report shows why we must not allow imports of Chinese poultry or Brazilian fresh meat,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “USDA must fix its oversight system so it can keep potentially dangerous food imports off of our shelves.” The audit states, “without more robust controls over ongoing equivalence evaluations of foreign countries’ food safety systems, we concluded that FSIS’ inspection program is vulnerable to weaknesses that increase the risk of adulterated or unsafe meat, poultry, or egg products being imported into the United States.” The OIG found that FSIS fails to conduct audits of other countries’ food safety systems in a consistent, timely manner and that FSIS is not able to adequately monitor which facilities in exporting countries are eligible to send product to the U.S. The OIG also found that FSIS failed to address recommendations made in previous audits of this program about how it conducts audits of other countries’ food safety systems.

Trump’s BLM removes a hurdle for controversial Cadiz project

High Country News | Posted on October 25, 2017

The Trump administration on Friday removed a major obstacle that had long stalled a project designed to pump groundwater from the Mojave Desert to communities in Southern California. The planned 43-mile pipeline would follow an already existing railroad through public land; the Bureau of Land Management sent a letter last week to Cadiz Inc., the company behind the pipeline, stating that the company did not need federal permission to begin construction. The announcement reflects the Trump administration’s determination to prioritize large infrastructure projects over environmental protections. The Cadiz project has drawn a lot of attention in Washington, D.C., both because of what’s at stake for the desert ecosystem and because it reflects a major shift in priorities from the Obama administration. The issue was prominent in the confirmation hearings for Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former industry lawyer whose clients’ businesses relied on decisions made by Interior. Bernhardt did legal work for Cadiz Inc., and a former law partner of Bernhardt’s is the president and CEO of the company. Bernhardt’s former law firm was paid in stock and stands to profit from the project’s success. Bernhardt told senators in his confirmation hearing that he would avoid conflicts of interest. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jeff Krauss wrote in an email: “Deputy Secretary Bernhardt has played absolutely no role in anything related to the Cadiz project.”

In Congress, an effort to curtail national monuments

High Country News | Posted on October 25, 2017

On Oct. 11, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a proposal from its chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to overhaul the Antiquities Act. Bishop’s “National Monument Creation and Protection Act” would severely constrain the power of the president to designate national monuments. It would limit the size of monuments a president could designate as well as the kinds of places protected. The 1906 Antiquities Act allows a president to act swiftly to protect federal lands facing imminent threats without legislation getting bogged down in Congress. Many popular areas, including Zion, Bryce and Arches national parks in Bishop’s home state, were first protected this way. Under Bishop’s legislation, any proposal for a monument larger than 640 acres — one square mile — would be subject to a review process: Areas up to 10,000 acres would be subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act, while those between 10,000 and 85,000 acres would require approval from state and local government. The bill would allow emergency declarations, but they would expire after a year without congressional approval. It would also codify the president’s power to modify monuments — a power that has been contested in light of the Interior Department’s recent recommendations that President Donald Trump reduce the size of several monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. 

USDA Provides Support for Hurricane-Impacted Dairies in Puerto Rico

USDA | Posted on October 23, 2017

In the wake of the 2017 hurricanes, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing emergency assistance to dairy operators in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. USDA is preparing for signup to begin Oct. 21, 2017. “We’re dispatching additional USDA staff to the island, but we also continue to ramp up material assistance as well,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Dairy producers need help immediately, and the Trump Administration is providing it.”Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector, including dairy operations.  Secretary Perdue said the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is providing up to $12 million dollars to enable operators of Puerto Rico’s 253 licensed dairy operations to purchase feed for cattle. The special initiative, applicable only to Puerto Rico, is called the Dairy Assistance Program for Puerto Rico (DAP-PR). The program will be administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which has offices and staff on the island.“Dairy operations face additional losses unless they have feed for their remaining cattle,” said Perdue. “This funding will enable them to get the help they need until the situation in Puerto Rico stabilizes.”Under the provisions of today’s announcement, dairy operators can apply to FSA to receive vouchers to purchase an estimated one-month supply of feed.  The amount of the voucher is calculated based on 100 percent of estimated feed costs per cow for 30 days. There are an estimated 94,000 dairy cows on the island.

Feds trying to seize raw camel milk suspected in interstate case

Food Safety News | Posted on October 23, 2017

Federal officials are attempting to seize more than $70,000 in raw camel milk products stored in a warehouse in Kansas City, KS, including some bearing labels from a Missouri dairy, because they were allegedly shipped in interstate commerce in violation of federal law. In an action filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, KS, the Department of Justice states that inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration estimate about 4,300 8- and 16-ounce bottles of frozen camel milk, colostrum and kefir are stored in the My Magic Kitchen Inc. refrigerated warehouse.More than 3,800 of the bottles contain raw camel milk and products made from it, which sell for $10 to $18 on the internet. A few hundred of the bottles contain pasteurized camel milk products. Kansas does not have any licensed camel dairy operations. If it did, sales of raw camel milk/products would be limited to “on-farm” scenarios. Kansas law prohibits retail sales and herd share sales of unpasteurized milk.The Kansas Department of Agriculture embargoed the products in question in August.Illegal interstate commerce isn’t the only problem with the camel milk products stored at My Magic Kitchen warehouse. They are also considered “new drugs” under federal law because of health claims made on their labels and on the website of Desert Farms Inc., a California company that contracts with a network of raw camel milk producers across the country.

Audit finds shortcomings in USDA foreign meat oversight

Capital Press | Posted on October 20, 2017

An internal USDA audit has found shortcomings in the agency’s system for ensuring foreign meat and egg inspections are equivalent to those in the U.S. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspections Service is charged with ensuring meat and egg products imported into the U.S. are subject to equivalent protections against food safety hazards.Auditors from USDA’s Office of Inspector General said the agency has a “robust system” for scrutinizing countries that apply to export meat and eggs to the U.S. but found fault with its ongoing monitoring of trading partners once they’ve qualified.The audit said that “without more robust controls” for determining the equivalence of foreign inspections, the FSIS program is “vulnerable to weaknesses that increase the risk of adulterated or unsafe meat, poultry, or egg products being imported into the United States.”In response to the audit, FSIS said it was making improvements to enact many of the audit’s recommendations, though the agency disagreed with some of the characterizations in the report.The report claimed FSIS didn’t consistently follow its own policy for auditing countries based on performance assessments, for example.

FDA Announces Two Public Meetings on Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach

FDA | Posted on October 20, 2017

he U.S Food and Drug Administration is announcing public meetings to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Francisco, California, regarding its Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative. Congress appropriated $3 million to fund this initiative, which calls upon the FDA to work with USDA to provide education and outreach to the public on agricultural biotechnology and food and animal feed ingredients derived from biotechnology. The purpose of the public meetings is to provide the public with an opportunity to share information, experiences, and suggestions to help inform the development of this education and outreach initiative.Charlotte, North Carolina, Tuesday, November 7, 2017, from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm EST. San Francisco, California, Tuesday, November 14, 2017, from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm PST

FPF Analysis: New USDA Net Farm Income Figures Not Exactly What They Seem

Farm Policy Facts | Posted on October 19, 2017

A new analysis by Farm Policy Facts reveals that the USDA’s projected Net Farm Income (NFI) increase is not exactly what it seems.In fact, according to our analysis, the major takeaway from the report should not be the increase projected for 2017, but the downward adjustment to the 2016 number.The ERS had projected 2016 NFI to be $68.3 billion, but the August 30 update reduced it by 10% to $61.5 billion. These updated figures add up to a 50% drop in 3 years, and farmers and ranchers continue to deal with extremely hard times, thin to negative margins and dwindling reserves and equity that small, projected increases – or increases on paper – may do little to mitigate.Our analysis also takes a look at the difference in nominal dollars, which is often used to record NFI, and “real dollars,” which allows for a more “apples to apples” comparison.When looking at NFI adjusted in real 2017 dollars over time, it is clear that while NFI has remained relatively stagnant, the value of production and expenses have trended upward despite real declines in recent years.In addition, our analysis notes that in NFI reports, national numbers are used, overlooking significant differences from farm to farm and region to region. “By almost any measure, farm income in Missouri and nationally is down sharply from recent peak levels, unfortunately, the prospects for a rapid and full recovery are not good.”

GIPSA, tramps and thieves

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on October 19, 2017

At least it’s one less thing for processors to worry about. Scuttling the proposed GIPSA rules that would have shifted the balance of power between livestock producers and processors simplifies the regulatory landscape a little — a very little, considering issues such as the renegotiation of NAFTA continue to roil the waters. But processors will take it.The package of three regulations — a final rule that would hold that the Packers and Stockyards Act does not require farmers and ranchers with complaints against packers to show injury to the whole sector in order to show they have been the victims of a fraudulent or deceptive business practice, a proposed rule addressing how poultry growers are ranked within the tournament system for calculating farmer pay, and a second proposed rule that would define criteria for preference of one livestock or poultry producer over another — was proposed in the waning days of the Obama Administration and faced a wicked upstream battle right from the start. The rules do arguably overreach in their efforts to regulate the relationship between processors and producers.

Nafta Talks Left Reeling After Aggressive U.S. Proposals Land

Bloomberg | Posted on October 19, 2017

U.S. negotiators in recent days put forth a string of bold proposals -- on auto rules of origin, a sunset clause, government procurement, and gutting dispute panels seen by the other nations as core to the pact. The moves were long-signaled, as was Canadian and Mexican opposition to them.  The proposals have spurred public warnings from prominent U.S. lawmakers and the private sector about the perils of scuttling a deal that over more than two decades has broken down trade barriers, including tariffs, for industries like manufacturing and agriculture.Nafta’s fate may now hang on how flexible the U.S. is about its demands heading into the fifth round of talks, scheduled for Mexico City around the first week of November. While the parties had wanted to reach a deal by December, officials familiar with the negotiations say the talks are likely to drag on for months.