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    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Keith Good Farm Policy: Genetically Engineered Crops on Rise, Getting New Attention


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    Agricultural Economy

    Clive Cookson reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Brazil led the world in the adoption of genetically modified crops last year, as the area planted with GM varieties rose 19 per cent to 30.3m hectares.

    “The most authoritative annual survey of biotech crops, carried out by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, found that area planted globally reached 160m hectares in 2011, an increase of 8 per cent on 2010.”

    Julia Moskin reported in today’s New York Times that, “Last year, according to the Department of Agriculture, about 90 percent of all soybeans, corn, canola and sugar beets raised in the United States were grown from what scientists now call transgenic seed. Most processed foods (staples like breakfast cereal, granola bars, chicken nuggets and salad dressing) contain one or more transgenic ingredients, according to estimates from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, though the labels don’t reveal that. (Some, like tortilla chips, can contain dozens.)”

    The Times article indicated that, “But consumer resistance to transgenic food remains high. In a nationwide telephone poll conducted in October 2010 by Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio, 93 percent said if a food has been genetically engineered or has genetically engineered ingredients, it should say so on its label — a number that has been consistent since genetically modified crops were introduced. F.D.A. guidelines say that food that contains genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.’s, don’t have to say so and can still be labeled ‘all natural.’”

    news release yesterday from the American Soybean Association (ASA) stated in part that, “Members of the [ASA’s] Biotech Working Group met in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss, among other items, a new effort on the part of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to streamline the approval process of new biotech traits.”

    “‘The soybean industry and its farmers have much to gain from biotech innovations that increase yield, improve nutrition, resist disease, offer competition and alternatives in the marketplace, and help in managing weed resistance issues, and we’re lucky to have a seemingly continuous pipeline of these innovations awaiting approval,’ said ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Neb. ‘To hear that APHIS is invested in making the approvals process more efficient is encouraging to both farmers and to biotech innovators.’”

    A separate ASA news item from yesterday indicated that, “As United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk moves to consider ways to improve the nation’s trade relationship with the European Union (EU) as part of the recently-formed U.S.-EU High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, the [ASA] submitted formal comments reminding the ambassador that the EU’s heavy-handed policies on biotech soybeans, as well as inaccurate characterization of biodiesel by the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), have contributed to a 70 percent drop in total soybean export quantity and a 44 percent decrease in soybean export value to the EU over the last 14 years.

    “‘As a direct result of more than a decade of discriminatory biotech traceability and labeling practices, America’s soybean producers have lost a significant portion of what was a viable and thriving export market,’ said ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Neb.”

    Meanwhile, concerns about drought in Mexico, and growing conditions in Argentina and Brazil have also generated recent discussion in the news.

    Also yesterday, the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released a report titled, “China’s Volatile Pork Industry. ”  An ERS summary of the report stated that, “China’s pork prices, hog inventories, and pork imports tend to rise and fall in a cyclical pattern in response to various factors that influence supply and demand.”

    Budget- Payroll Tax- Transportation Bill- Keystone Pipeline

    Humberto Sanchez reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) — a key cheerleader of last year’s bipartisan deficit reduction efforts — said this week that he sees little chance of reaching a ‘grand bargain’ in this presidential election year.”

    The article pointed out that, “Johanns was a backer of the gang of six Senators who tried last year to craft a bipartisan deficit reduction deal that dealt with spending cuts, entitlement reforms and the tax code. But Senate Democratic and Republican leaders have rebuffed those efforts to freelance on the deficit reduction issue, and as a result, the group’s efforts have been stifled.”

    Meanwhile, Lori Montgomery reported in today’s Washington Post that, “This year, congressional Republicans expect few opportunities to stage another spending showdown. So [Rep. Tim Griffin] (Ark.) and other frustrated GOP freshmen are focusing on a new goal: rewriting congressional budget rules to prevent spending from rising in the first place.

    “The freshmen want to end a host of arcane budget gimmicks involving ‘chimps’ (changes in mandatory spending), budgetary timing shifts and spending cancellations known as ‘rescissions.’ But their most passionate rhetoric is focused on a more mundane target: the troubling effect of inflation on the nation’s budget.”

    Ms. Montgomery added that, “House Republicans voted unanimously to support the inflation-busting Baseline Reform Act on Friday and sent it on to the Democrat-controlled Senate. This week, House leaders plan to hold votes on a raft of additional rule-changing measures, few of which have much chance of survival. One measure, which would create a process for the White House to nix specific spending proposals with congressional approval, does have the backing of the White House. But many congressional Democrats oppose the modified line-item veto plan, and aides say it is unlikely to pass the Senate.

    “Still, budget analysts said the bills allow Republicans to keep talking about cutting spending in the run-up to the 2012 elections, even if they aren’t able to do much about it.”

    Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The House on Tuesday afternoon approved the third of ten Republican budget reform bills, H.R. 3581, which puts several ‘off budget’ items back on budget, changes the way government lending programs are scored and requires agencies to post their budget justifications online.  [On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 3582, the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act.]

    “Republicans cast the bill as a way to ensure the government produces budgets that more accurately reflect federal spending.”

    With respect to some of these budget reforms, Bruce Bartlett stated yesterday (“Tilting the Budget Process to the G.O.P. ”) that, “My concern is that the Republican effort is just a smokescreen to incorporate phony-baloney factors into revenue estimates to justify unlimited tax cutting.”

    On the issue of the payroll tax, Naftali Bendavid reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congress is poised for another 11th-hour standoff over extending the payroll-tax cut, foiling an effort to avoid the kinds of bitter confrontations that engulfed lawmakers last year.

    “A House-Senate committee charged with finding a solution is laboring over how to offset the cost of extending the tax cut, which expires at month’s end. The panel’s meeting Tuesday was angry and unproductive, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said if a deal isn’t reached within a week, Democrats would introduce their own package.”

    Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “With Republicans divided over how hard a line to take [on the battle over a payroll tax cut], moving on may not be possible. Congress is to take a weeklong break starting Presidents’ Day, leaving only three days to complete a deal after lawmakers return. Already, the idea of another two-month extension is gaining currency, to the dread of Republican leaders.”

    On the transportation issue, John Stanton and Humberto Sanchez reported today at Roll Call Online that, “With the House and Senate continuing to mark up their competing transportation spending plans this week, House GOP leaders are looking for the magic formula that will get them the 218 Republican votes needed for passage.

    “With virtually the entire Democratic Caucus expected to vote against the five-year, $260 billion bill, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is leaning heavily on Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) to convince enough Republicans to overcome entrenched opposition among conservatives, and even moderates with district-specific complaints.”

    And Reuters writer Roberta Rampton reported yesterday that, “A plan to fast-track the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline was passed by a key committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Republicans made yet another attempt to spur approval of the project that has become a major issue in the 2012 elections.”

    The article added that, “On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 33-20 to send its Keystone bill to the full House, where it will likely become part of a highway and infrastructure funding bill that House Speaker John Boehner wants to see passed this month.”

    Farm Bill

    On yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program (The Red River Farm Network), Mike Hergert filed a Farm Bill focus report from Washington, D.C., that highlighted Title I Farm Bill issues.  To listen to his report, which includes analysis from Mark A. Rokala of Cornerstone Government Affairs, just click here (MP3- 2:26).

    Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture Online that, “Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a veteran member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Tuesday that he’s pleased the Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee has announced a series of hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill.”

    The article added that, “‘I think we can’t move too fast on the farm bill because in an election year, it’s difficult to get things done,’ said Grassley.

    “‘These may be the only four hearings the committee will hold prior to marking up an actual farm bill,’ said Grassley. ‘If we don’t’ get a farm bill done by June, there won’t be a farm bill, and that’s why I’m very pleased Chairwoman Stabenow is speeding up these hearings.’

    “His own priorities in the commodity title of the farm bill will be maintaining a strong crop insurance program and having limits on commodity program payments, he said.”

    Hembree Brandon reported yesterday at The Southeast Farm Press Online that, “As hearings and discussions resume on crafting the 2012 farm bill, the threat of $30 billion to $35 billion being chopped out of agricultural programs hangs over the negotiations, says Carlisle Clarke, legislative assistant to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Agriculture Committee.”

    The article added that, “‘The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction [supercommittee] ultimately didn’t ultimately pass anything, but we still ended up with that $23 billion in proposed cuts hanging over our heads for the 2012 farm bill.’

    “Part of the agreement last August, Clarke says, required that if the committee didn’t achieve the targeted budget cuts that would then be passed by Congress, budget sequestration would occur in January 2013.

    The article added that, “‘This means we’d essentially have automatic cuts determined by the Office of Management and Budget, with no input whatever by congressional leaders. That could mean $30 billion to $35 billion could be taken out of agriculture.’

    “‘They had already said food stamps would not be included in those cuts, so that $30-$35 billion would have to come from ag programs. And the agriculture spending baseline will be updated in March, which would make commodity spending even smaller than actually proposed.’”

    news release yesterday from the National Cotton Council (NCC) stated that, “Contrary to the recent farm policy criticisms by Brazil, the [NCC] Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) represents a positive step forward in efforts to resolve the longstanding trade dispute between the two countries.”

    In part, the release noted that, “Brazil offers no economic analysis supporting their claim that the NCC’s STAX proposal is more trade-distorting than current programs. The 2010 Framework Agreement negotiated between Brazil and the United States calls for trade-distorting domestic support provided to upland cotton to be significantly lower than the level provided in the period 1999-05. The NCC’s proposal accomplishes that very goal. Under the NCC’s proposed changes, total trade-distorting support to upland cotton — coupled with past program eliminations — would have declined by 60 percent over 1999-05, the period on which the Panel’s findings are based. The NCC believes the combination of STAX and a modified marketing loan ‘significantly’ reduce the support level that the Panel found to have economic impacts on Brazil.”

    And a news update today from the California Farm Bureau stated that, “In light of budgetary concerns, higher crop prices and the reluctance of the U.S. Congress to continue direct crop payments, agricultural analysts say crop insurance and risk management will be central to the debate leading up to the next farm bill.

    “‘Risk management is the new driver in the farm bill in creating a safety net, but it takes on different definitions for different commodities. Some see it as the true panacea and others see it as augmenting,’ said Jack King of the California Farm Bureau Federation National Affairs Division. ‘That’s really where Congress is focusing.’”

    In news regarding nutrition, the AP reported yesterday that, “Bread and rolls are the No. 1 source of salt in the American diet, accounting for more than twice as much sodium as salty junk food like potato chips.

    “That surprising finding comes in a government report released Tuesday that includes a list of the top 10 sources of sodium. Salty snacks actually came in at the bottom of the list compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

    Biofuels

    Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) penned an Op-Ed posted yesterday at The Hill’s Congress Blog where he noted that, “In our nation’s attempt to reduce dependence on foreign oil, we must be careful not to increase our reliance on politically-favored fuels that cause more problems than they solve. While this administration bulldozes forward with its agenda to increase the amount of ethanol in our gasoline, we should slow down before declaring high-ethanol gasoline the ‘fuel of the future.’ Today the House Science Committee will mark up legislation that ensures, when it comes to decisions about our fuel, we get the science right.”

    And a news release yesterday from the House Science Committee stated that, “The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today approved two important bills that coordinate and prioritize federal research expenditures.  H.R. 3199, introduced by the Committee’s Vice Chairman, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to coordinate with the National Academy of Sciences to comprehensively assess scientific and technical research on gasoline blends with 15 percent ethanol, commonly referred to as E15, before such fuels may be approved for consumer use.

    “‘I am pleased that the Committee voted today to put science before politics,’ Sensenbrenner said.  ‘When it comes to a decision of this magnitude that would impact every American who owns a car, boat, or lawnmower, we must base our decisions on sound science, not political expediency.  The Administration has fast tracked E15 without considering that increasing the percentage of ethanol in our gasoline will cause premature engine failure, lower fuel efficiency, and void vehicle warranties.  In small engines, E15 is downright dangerous and the EPA has no credible plan to stop mis-fueling.  If ethanol is going to be the ‘fuel of the future,’ then there should be no problem conducting independent, comprehensive scientific analysis of its effect on American drivers.’”

    An update yesterday from the National Corn Growers Association indicated that, “The House Science Committee passed a piece of legislation today that will require the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct additional testing on E15 before allowing use of the blend. H.R. 3199 is sponsored by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and includes an additional six cosponsors. The legislation was passed by a vote of 19-7.

    “‘NCGA is disappointed to see the House Science Committee vote in favor of a piece of legislation that will hamper consumer choice in fuel,’ NCGA President Garry Niemeyer said. ‘The EPA has thoroughly tested and approved the use of E15 in motor vehicles.  This legislation will create further government bureaucracy and generate unnecessary costs to American taxpayers for something that has already been appropriately vetted.’”


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