With each new election cycle presidential hopefuls craft a campaign platform to bring American voters to their side. And while issues like immigration, job security, taxes, healthcare, and gun control have made predictable appearances in Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s platforms, issues of food and agriculture—with the exception of a few bullet points in Hillary’s “Plan for a Vibrant Rural America”—are once again glaringly absent. But we are a nation of eaters, and that is not okay. Here’s a look at three important issues and what the November election may mean for our food system’s future.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to purchase approximately 11 million pounds of cheese from private inventories to assist food banks and pantries across the nation, while reducing a cheese surplus that is at its highest level in 30 years. The purchase, valued at $20 million, will be provided to families in need across the country through USDA nutrition assistance programs, while assisting the stalled marketplace for dairy producers whose revenues have dropped 35 percent over the past two years. USDA received requests from Congress, the National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau and the National Milk Producers Federation to make an immediate dairy purchase. Section 32 of the Agriculture Act of 1935 authorizes USDA to utilize fiscal year 2016 funds to purchase surplus food to benefit food banks and families in need through its nutrition assistance programs.
The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to act on petitions to protect more than 417 animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act. The notice includes species from across the United States, including Florida sandhill cranes, coastal flatwood crayfish, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and many others. The agency has failed to make a required “12-month finding” for the 417 species, most of which were petitioned for between 2008 and 2010 by the Center and others, meaning the findings are five to seven years late. Long delays in protection of species under the Endangered Species Act have been a persistent problem for decades: At least 42 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.
FDA has agreed to a number of compliance deadlines facing food companies and farmers in connection with the new rules issued under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The agency also clarified and corrected its compliance timeline for agricultural water testing. While the major provisions of the FSMA rules are being implemented as planned, the FDA issued a final rule that extends and clarifies the compliance dates for certain provisions in four of the seven foundational rules. These changes are part of the FDA’s continuing efforts to make the rules as practical as possible while still protecting public health. The final rule addresses technical issues and better aligns compliance dates across the four rules. Compliance dates are fast approaching for large food facilities that produce human and animal foods: Human food companies other than small and very small businesses will need to come into compliance with the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food rule by September 19, 2016. Animal food companies other than small and very small businesses will need to come into compliance with Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) under the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals rule by September 19, 2016, and with preventive controls by September 18, 2017. The changes announced in today’s final rule impact the compliance dates for certain provisions in these four rules: the two CGMP and Preventive Controls rules for human and animal food, Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP), and Produce Safety. The changes include providing more time for manufacturers to meet requirements related to certain assurances that their customers must provide, more time for importers of food contact substances, and other extensions to align compliance dates for various other food operations or provide time for FDA to resolve specified issues. The rule also clarifies the timeframe for agricultural water testing.
The Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in conjunction with the Delaware Department of Agriculture, hosted FDA officials earlier this month for a tour of local state farm and packinghouse visits designed to highlight the industry and inform policymakers of the challenges facing the produce supply chain in light of the new rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). “These tours are part of PMA’s ongoing work to connect the policymakers who regulate our industry with fruit and vegetable producers’ realities and experiences, to encourage them to develop real-world workable solutions to our industry’s unique food safety needs,” says PMA President Cathy Burns. FDA finalized the produce safety rule last year, with the earliest compliance dates beginning one year after the final rule was published. The rule establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption
In a meeting with new and beginning farmers at Iowa State University today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new investment of $17.8 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The investment is made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher DEvelopment Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $126 million into projects targeting new and beginning farmers and ranchers through BFRDP. This year's awards will be made in 27 states and the District of Columbia to help fund a range of projects by partner organizations, like the Iowa-based National Farmers Organization (NFO) that will use $588,948 in funding to assist 900 beginning organic dairy and grain producers over the next three years. NFO will provide workshops, mentoring and other assistance in 11 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. New Mexico State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts will partner to use $598,030 to provide education, mentoring and one-on-one technical assistance to American Indian Pueblo beginning farmers. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, based in North Carolina, will use $513,959 in funding for Farm Pathways, a program to deliver whole farm training, farmer-to-farmer networking and farmland access.
For the next few weeks, I am changing course in writing about environmental issues in agriculture and will attempt to provide some background on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Viet Nam. The proposed TPP was signed on February 4, 2016, in Auckland, New Zealand. It took seven years of negotiations and needs to be ratified within two years after initial signatures. Proponents claim 30 chapters of the TPP will enhance economic growth, help support and create new jobs, raise living standards, and enhance labor and environmental protections. Many voices in agriculture support TPP, but presidential candidates oppose it. Why?
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service announced a final rule amending swine and lamb reporting provisions related to the reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting program. The final rule, which becomes effective on Oct. 11, amends two swine reporting requirements and one lamb reporting requirement. For swine, packers are required to report purchases on a negotiated formula basis as a separate purchase category. Second, packers must report all barrow and gilt purchases made after 1:30 p.m. Central time in their morning submission on the next reporting day.
The Food and Drug Administration issued final rules today updating how the agency determines a substance used in food to be “generally recognized as safe,” known by the shorthand GRAS. Unlike food additives, substances determined to be GRAS are not subject to pre-market approval by regulators, thought they must meet the same safety standards as additives. Some pesticides, dietary supplement ingredients and color additives are classified as GRAS. The final rules clarify that: A substance cannot be classified as GRAS if available data doesn't satisfy the safety standard for a food additive under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. GRAS classification requires “common knowledge” throughout the scientific community that the substance is not harmful. Scientific recognition that a substance is safe must be concluded using generally accepted scientific data, information and methods.
The Ninth Circuit scoffed Friday at the latest attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency to drag its heels on banning a dangerous pesticide. "EPA's nine-year delay in taking action was 'objectively extreme' when we received [the] petition for mandamus, and nothing has changed that would justify EPA's continued failure to respond to the pressing health concerns presented by chlorpyrifos," the 4-page order states. Chlorpyrifos, introduced in 1965, is widely used to control pests that threaten more than 60 crops including almonds, walnuts, oranges, cotton and grapes. The EPA barred the pesticide from homes in 2000, saying then that the action was "good news for the protection of our country's public health," but this rule did nothing to bar the chemical's application in agricultural settings. In 2007, the Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the EPA to cancel pesticide's registration. The groups noted that the chemical has poisoned many workers, children and rural families, and is linked to neurological impairments in children. They petitioned the federal appeals court for mandamus relief after years passed with no action from the EPA on the petition. Under deadline last year, the EPA proposed a ban that would revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances, ending all uses of the pesticide that result in residue on food, contamination of drinking water, or drift to schools, homes and other inhabited places. Friday's order notes that the EPA cited "extraordinary circumstances" in requesting a six-month extension. Final action by the EPA is due on March 31, 2017. "This is the final extension, and the court will not grant any further extensions," the unsigned order states.