News Clips July 29, 2015



1. The growing fight over food labelling

2. Opinion: Stabenow's COOL legislation guarantees retaliation

3. Cellulosic fuels move on: Poet says EPA's RFS proposal would force company to move future project overseas

4. Vilsack: More effective bird flu vaccine in the works

5. Australia seeks sweeter sugar deal from Trans-Pacific Partnership


1. The growing fight over food labelling

National Journal

Jerry Hagstrom

July 28, 2015


Food labeling suddenly has become the summer rage in Congress.


On Thursday, the House passed a bill that would stop states from labeling foods with genetically modified organisms and would establish a voluntary "non-GMO" label at the federal level. The same day, senators introduced one bill that would repeal country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork, and chicken, and another that would repeal most mandatory meat labeling and establish a federal voluntary label for the same products.


The labeling bills reflect several factors: consumers' increased interest in what they eat, competition within the food industry—and the difficulties of government at all levels in making the labels work.


First, the issue of genetic modification or, the term scientists prefer, genetic engineering. Ever since scientists figured out how to take a gene from one species and engineer it into another to introduce a trait such as resistance to an herbicide, the idea has scared some people. But the Food and Drug Administration has said that foods made from genetically modified corn, canola, soybeans, and cotton are not materially different from the non-GMO products and therefore don't require labels.


This view hasn't satisfied some consumer advocates or owners of organic-food businesses who want mandatory labeling of all products containing genetically modified ingredients. Ballot initiatives to require labeling failed in California and other states, but Vermont passed a mandatory GMO-labeling law that is scheduled to be enforced in July 2016. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that will go into effect if neighboring states pass the same law.


Food companies' private studies apparently show that at least some consumers would reject food with a label that it "contains genetically modified ingredients." As one lobbyist put it, "We want to label everything we can 'non-GMO' and not label the products with GMOs."


Big food—as critics call the conventional food industry—spent millions of dollars to fight each initiative, winning most of them. It tried to stop the Vermont law in the courts, but has failed so far. The prospect that the Vermont law might go into effect led the industry to convince Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, to introduce a bill that would establish a program at the Agriculture Department to allow companies to apply for a "non-GMO" label on foods that contain no genetically modified ingredients. The bill would stop states from establishing mandatory GMO-labeling programs on the grounds that one already exists at the federal level.


The Pompeo bill passed the House by a vote of 275-150, with 45 Democrats joining 230 Republicans in favor of it.


With that kind of margin, you'd think the Senate would follow the House. But so far the Senate doesn't even have a GMO bill to consider. Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, is working on a bill but says he has to figure out how to write it to attract a Democratic cosponsor and the 60 votes that would be needed to end debate.


Now, for the issue of country-of-origin meat labeling: The United States has had a country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law for certain products since 2002, although it has only been enforced in recent years. The origin of the issue is because of an odd phenomenon: Cattle and pigs are raised in Canada and Mexico, but slaughtered in the United States. The law came into existence in part because of consumer pressure but also because some beef and pork producers, particularly in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, and Wyoming, believed that slaughterhouses took advantage of the availability of Canadian and Mexican cattle and pigs whenever U.S. animal prices got high.


The Canadian and Mexican governments reacted to the law by taking a case to the World Trade Organization that the U.S. law discriminated against Canadian and Mexican cattle and hog producers because U.S. slaughterhouses said they had to segregate the foreign animals from the American animals to comply with the labeling law, and either bought smaller numbers of Canadian and Mexican animals or refused to buy them at all. The WTO sided with Canada and Mexico, and the United States now is under pressure to comply with the WTO complaint or face punitive tariffs on a range of products.


The House has voted to repeal COOL, not only for the beef and pork that were the subject of the WTO case, but also for chicken and ground meat. But once again, the road is tougher in the Senate. The very same Hoeven who is working on the GMO-labeling bill is the one who last Wednesday introduced, with Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member and Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, a bill to follow the House on repeal and establish a voluntary meat-labeling program at USDA.


"That's just reasonable because that's what Canada does," Hoeven said, referring to a Canadian voluntary "Product of Canada" label.


But the Canadian government maintains that even a voluntary U.S. government label would cause packers to continue to segregate and discriminate. The same day that Hoeven introduced his bill, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas introduced a bill calling only for repeal on the grounds that Canada and Mexico still would seek retaliation.


If Hoeven can get both restrictions on GMO labeling and voluntary country-of-origin meat labeling into law, he will be a hero in some quarters and a go-to strategist.


But with the food industry split, passage of these bills will be difficult, and the issue of labeling won't go away.


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2. Opinion: Stabenow's COOL legislation guarantees retaliation


Philip Ellis

July 28, 2015


COOL is a program that has had no benefit to U.S. beef producers or consumers and it violates our trade agreements. Regardless of how you measure impact: demand, price, or consumer trust; COOL fails them all. Four times the WTO has been abundantly clear, COOL discriminates against our trading partners. Now we're only months away from retaliation, and we have very few legislative days to find a solution. Both Canada and Mexico have stated that they will not accept Senator Stabenow's voluntary label and they will move swiftly for retaliation. The good news is there is still an easy solution and it's never been more apparent - repeal.


Given the position of our trading partners, the impending retaliatory tariffs, and the stance of our members, full repeal of this legislation is the only viable solution. It is the only solution that brings us in line with our international trade obligations. Moreover, it takes the federal government and bureaucracy out of the equation and allows cattle producers to do what we do best, market to our consumers and build trust. It is time we stop jeopardizing billions of dollars of trade and dozens of other industries while we desperately cling to this internal squabble.


After years of denial, supporters of COOL now acknowledge that retaliation is real and that it will take place if we do not act. Our economy is built on trade with our neighbors and our neighbors are galvanized that they will not accept compromise. The time to find a compromise is over. Discrimination against foreign livestock has always been COOL's cornerstone, and for that reason it will never comply with the trade obligations we agreed to.


Supporters had a decade to fix it, but have refused to act on the belief that somehow consumers would embrace it, prioritizing COOL above trade obligations. But consumers vote with their pocketbook and they have proven they prefer industry branded programs and production specific labels to government-mandated origin labeling. The industry has always stood ready to provide consumers the information they want and are willing to pay for, but without consumer willingness to pay the costs of COOL, beef producers are left with the expense of this failed program.


The entire U.S. economy and industries without even a dog in this fight will soon suffer because a select few have decided to dig their heels in. Now is time for repeal. COOL lost at the WTO, COOL lost in the House, and it's time to move forward.


Philip Ellis is President of National Cattlemen's Beef Association


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3. Cellulosic fuels move on: Poet says EPA's RFS proposal would force company to move future project overseas

DTN Progressive Farmer

Todd Neeley

July 28, 2015


Poet-DSM joined several other cellulosic ethanol developers in saying they will stop future investments in projects if the three-year Renewable Fuel Standard proposal is finalized. The comments were submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prior to Monday's close of the public comment period on EPA's proposed RFS volume requirements.


Several cellulosic ethanol companies have been starting commercial production this year at plants in Iowa, despite concerns aired by these companies that doubt about the RFS has stifled investment in future plants.


Just ahead of the comment deadline Monday, Kyle Gilley, Poet-DSM senior vice president of public policy and corporate affairs, filed a 35-page comment letter with a blunt assessment of what the RFS proposal that calls for volume cuts to conventional ethanol means for future development.


"Poet -- one of the world's largest investors in cellulosic biofuels -- expects to stop all future U.S. cellulosic investments if EPA's proposed base renewable fuel requirements are not strengthened," the company said in its comments. "The development of cellulosic and other advanced biofuels is inexorably entwined with continued regulatory predictability based on RFS targets (e.g., the statutory 15 billion gallon base renewable RVO in 2016). EPA lowering the base renewable requirements will effectively undermine the entire RFS program and destroy confidence in its incentive structure for all biofuels."


Poet said EPA can avoid the "adverse outcome" by "passing through the projected cellulosic volumetric shortfall under Clean Air Act section 211(o)(7)(D) to the advanced and total renewable targets, e.g., for 2016, the next fully available compliance year."


Poet said that as of 2013 it had planned to extend cellulosic technology to 25 plants in the Poet network in addition to Project Liberty in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and "beyond that to other corn ethanol plants in the United States, a fact that EPA had previously noted with approval."


Poet said the current proposal and the agency's prior 2014 proposal "have created barriers to these plans that can only be surmounted if EPA drastically changes its approach and requires improved Base Renewable volumes."


Already, companies like Abengoa Bioenergy and DuPont have decided to build future cellulosic plants in countries such as Brazil and France.

Poet said in its comments that its cellulosic partner DSM intends to move future projects overseas, as well.


"Poet's cellulosic partner DSM has commented that 'if the conventional biofuel RVO is reduced as proposed in the NPRM, cellulosic ethanol will be produced in other parts of the world for other markets, but not in America and not for automobiles operated in this country.'"


Also, in joint comments made on the 2014 proposal by Poet-DSM, Abengoa and DuPont, the companies said that "EPA reducing the 'overall biofuels RVO in 2014 would render the cellulosic ethanol industry in the United States non-viable.' These comments remain true."


In addition, Poet said EPA has not responded to concerns by cellulosic ethanol companies that cutting corn ethanol's portion of the RFS will undermine future cellulosic ethanol expansion.


"EPA appears to have glossed over the close relationship between corn ethanol and cellulosic facilities," Poet said. "Many cellulosic facilities would be co-located with conventional, corn-based facilities, through a 'bolt-on' model that takes advantage of economies of scale. For instance, Poet can cost-effectively expand cellulosic production by siting a cellulosic facility next to an existing grain-based facility, thereby making use of existing infrastructure, including electricity, water, railroad access, and biomass supply (e.g., corn stover from a similar footprint of farms that supplies corn to the pre-existing ethanol facility).


"Similar to Poet, Abengoa, a major corn ethanol producer, had sought to co-locate new cellulosic facilities 'with their currently existing starch ethanol facilities around the United States.' However, Abengoa has moved on to other regions, and has announced the development of cellulosic projects in both Brazil and France instead of in the U.S."


Poet said the EPA proposal comes at a time when "the RFS is on the brink of major success --- achieving the statutorily-mandated 15 billion gallons of Base Renewable biofuels.


"EPA essentially concedes that producers can supply the mandated volumes. Per the NOPR, for '2014 and possibly 2015 and 2016, there is no shortage of ethanol and other types of renewable fuel that could be used to satisfy the statutory applicable volume of total renewable fuel.'"


Read Poet's comments here:…


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4. Vilsack: More effective bird flu vaccine in the works

The Des Moines Register

Donnelle Eller

July 28, 2015


Racing for ways to prevent another massive bird flu outbreak, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the federal government is pushing ahead a new vaccine that's more effective in protecting birds and looking to build in better disaster protections for the industry.


At the same time, producers hit by avian influenza could begin bringing birds back into facilities by fall, said Vilsack, Iowa's former governor.


Vilsack, along with Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, spoke to about 300 poultry producers and state and federal officials Tuesday at an industry conference in Des Moines.


The two-day conference, closed to the public, is focused on the lessons learned from the massive outbreak that has wiped out nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys this spring. Iowa has been hardest hit by the disease, with producers losing about 31.5 million birds.


Officials worry the deadly virus could return this fall, when migrating waterfowl that carry the disease fly south.


Experts are especially worried the disease will hit the East Coast, home to the nation's largest broiler production, which so far has been unscathed.


No humans have been infected by the virus, and the food supply remains safe, health officials said.


The bird flu threat could return just as producers in Iowa, Minnesota and other states are trying to rebuild their flocks.


"Our hope is by the end of the summer we're in a position to get folks back into business across the entire 21 states that were impacted," Vilsack said. That's "assuming we don't have a re-emergence, and assuming everything goes well.


"We're doing everything we possibly can to prevent it from occurring again and to mitigate its expansion."


The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects to provide $700 million to help producers cover part of their losses and to help euthanize birds, and clean and decontaminate facilities. About 3,000 private contractors were hired to battle the outbreak this spring.


About $191 million is expected to go to producers to help cover their losses, with $183 million already dispersed to producers, he said.


The federal government's costs "may obviously grow if this thing re-emerges in the fall," Vilsack said.


Experts believe wild geese and ducks introduce the virus, but it is spread on workers' boots and clothes, equipment and through water. It's also believed to be spread on the air, dust and small birds that get into poultry facilities.


"Obviously, the best biosecurity job may not be good enough, and there may be a re-emergence," he said.


John Clifford, USDA's chief veterinarian, said the agency has set a goal to depopulate facilities within 24 hours after they're determined to be positive for infection.


"We want to reduce the virus that can spread to other operations," he said. "Speed is critical."


Animal rights groups have criticized USDA officials for considering shutting the ventilation systems on chicken barns to euthanize birds. Officials say the option is humane and just one of several approaches being considered.


Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said one of the concerns he hears most from poultry producers is about depopulating flocks.


"The death from the virus is worse that being euthanized," he said. "They want a quick response, a humane response."


Clifford said the new seed strain for a vaccine is promising, although it's still being tested to determine how effective it is in protecting chickens and turkeys. Vaccines from several companies are being developed and will likely needed to tackle the disease.


"We want to identify a vaccine that's 100 percent effective in chickens and turkeys and make sure we have adequate supplies on hand, should we need it," Vilsack said, adding that federal money will be pumped into stockpiling vaccines.


After the federal government determines a vaccine can be used, it will be up to states to decide whether to use vaccines, which carry possible trade fallout.


"It's a shared responsibility," Vilsack said. "Governors will need to understand the pluses and minuses of using a vaccine."


Countries could decide whether they may not accept turkeys, chickens or eggs from states that use the vaccine.


Trade partners representing about 80 percent of U.S. agriculture trade has fully or partially banned ag products because of avian influenza. Vilsack said USDA representatives have been calling on Asian, European and other trade partners to urge state-by-state bans, instead of a countrywide bans.


"We're hoping to get trade partners at a more comfortable place, so if we use a vaccine, we do not have adverse trade implications as a result," he said.


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5. Australia seeks sweeter sugar deal from Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Wall Street Journal

Rob Taylor

July 29, 2015


Australia said it wouldn’t sign up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership unless U.S. negotiators agreed to a better deal for the resource-rich nation’s sugar producers.


Final talks are underway in Hawaii aimed at securing a major trade agreement between 12 Pacific nations, including the U.S. and Japan. But in an interview with a local radio station on Wednesday, Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb described the mood among negotiators as tense.


“Every country just about has still got something on the table they’re not satisfied with yet, as is the case with us,” Mr. Robb said. “I’m not going to sign it without something for the sugar industry.” Australia is the world’s third-biggest exporter of raw sugar.


Senior government colleagues of his, including Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, have also said they wouldn’t back the TPP unless Australia’s 2 billion Australian dollar (US$1.5 billion) sugar industry was assured of a better deal.


The U.S. has long worked to protect its domestic sugar cane and beet farmers from low-cost producers abroad, but Australia is looking to boost sugar exports to North America through the deal. This week, members of America’s influential sugar industry said they wouldn’t support any agreement that allowed more imports of the commodity into the U.S.—which is expected to need to import 4.5 million tons of sugar each year over the coming decade.


The goal of the current talks is to complete a deal by Friday, creating a 12-nation bloc accounting for two-fifths of the world’s economic output that would boost growth and put pressure on China—not part of the talks—to accelerate reform and liberalize its economy.


However, the talks between the U.S., Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Australia and the seven other members have been difficult, triggering disputes on several matters, including the U.S. position on pharmaceutical patents and on how state-owned businesses should be treated.


Negotiators are split over the best approach to patenting “biologic” medicines, treatments derived from work in biotechnology. Some nations are demanding the time frame on patents be as little as five or eight years, whereas the U.S. says its standard 12-year buffer should apply because of the time and expense involved in creating such treatments.


“That doesn’t mean we have to fall into line and we’re not going to,” said Mr. Robb, adding that he supported a five-year buffer. “There’s a lot of tension running about the building here at the moment. Some very frank discussions.” Mr. Robb said Canberra also wanted to modify current proposals that allow foreign companies to sue governments in member countries over new laws that negatively affect their business.


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