News Clips April 16, 2015



1. Fast-track bill held up amid talks on trade assistance

2. House committee approves bill to nix Waters of the U.S. proposal

3. Groups file new suit on CAFOs

4. Sales of organic products grew 11% last year

5. Hearing calls for flexibility - not repeal - of school lunch rules


1. Fast-track bill held up amid talks on trade assistance


Philip Brasher

April 15, 2015


Release of a fast-track trade bill was held up Wednesday as key lawmakers negotiated the terms of a separate package of trade adjustment programs sought by Democrats.


The ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden of Oregon, has insisted that a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) reauthorization measure be moved in tandem with the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, which would smooth the way for new trade agreements.


TAA is a package of programs that help businesses, workers and farmers harmed by imports. Workers and farmers can receive cash benefits as well as services.


TPA bars lawmakers from amending trade agreements and is seen as critical to wrap up the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.


Although no deal had been finalized, the Senate committee late Wednesday night announced plans for a hearing Thursday morning with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.


“Consensus has been reached to move forward “ with the hearing, although the negotiations continued, a committee spokeswoman emailed Wednesday night.


Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said earlier in the day that he wanted to have the negotiations wrapped up by Wednesday night in time to have the hearing on the TPA Thursday and a vote next week.


“I've worked my butt off to get this resolved, and it hasn't been easy,” Hatch said.


Wyden is negotiating the TAA issue separately with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “Talking,” is all Wyden would say when asked Wednesday afternoon about the state of the negotiations.


Details of the TPA bill have not been released but Democrats insisted on tightening the process for moving a trade agreement to a final up-or-down vote.


Sen. Rob Portman, who served as U.S. trade representative in the George W. Bush administration, said the TPA bill would still only require a majority vote in committee to send a trade agreement to the floor for a final vote. That should be reassuring to trade negotiators, he said. 


“We've never had a trade (agreement) fail yet and never had one come out of committee without a majority vote,” said Portman, R-Ohio. 


Labor unions have stepped up their lobbying against TPA ahead of the bill's release. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which supported the earlier Korean trade agreement because of its potential benefit to meat exports, published an op-ed in The Hill newspaper Wednesday in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


“As the union that represents hundreds of thousands of meatpacking and food processing workers, we support fair trade agreements that open up new markets to sell UFCW-made products abroad,” wrote UFCW President Mark Perrone.


“This time it's different. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not the Korea free trade agreement. It is neither free nor fair. And the UFCW is determined to see it defeated.”


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2. House committee approves bill to nix Waters of the U.S. proposal

Farm Futures

Janell Thomas

April 16, 2015


A bill asking the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. EPA to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. proposal was approved Thursday in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 36 to 22.


The bill, H.R. 1732, Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015 requires the EPA and Army Corps to withdraw the Waters of the United States proposal within 30 days. It's sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and has more than 30 co-sponsors.


In addition to WOTUS withdrawal, the bill also charges EPA and the Army Corps with developing a new proposed rule that must take into consideration all of the comments received on the original proposal, and reach consensus with the state and local governments on defining "Waters of the United States."


Comments were first sought on the WOTUS proposal about a year ago. Two extensions were tacked on to the original comment period due to the volume of feedback the agencies received.


The proposal – which defines which waters are "Waters of the United States" and therefore subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act – has caused a rift among the agriculture and other sectors, like manufacturing.


Some ag groups are concerned that the proposal would expand federal jurisdiction over private lands by dictating what waters are subject to the guidelines in the CWA.


The comment period on the proposal has ended, and it's expected that a final rule will come down this spring, according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Last week, the agency discussed some of the clarifications that would be in a final version, but it remains under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.


The House committee's Wednesday effort at withdrawing WOTUS is the latest in a line of threats to ensure the proposal isn't implemented.


With WOTUS, "EPA would open the door to new levels of federal overreach and would have a drastic impact on the agriculture and construction industries, along with many others," a statement from sponsor Shuster's office said.


The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, also an opponent of the proposal, is concerned about federal regulation of private land.


"The subjective and ambiguous language of the proposed rule would significantly broaden the federal government's power to regulate waters and adjacent lands that convey water," said NCBA President Philip Ellis. "We also appreciate the legislation requiring the federal government to work with state and local governments, further protecting states' rights."


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3. Groups file new suit on CAFOs

DTN Progressive Farmer

Todd Neeley

April 15, 2015


A number of environmental groups wanting to force confined animal feeding operations to report their emissions to EPA are asking a judge to reopen a federal lawsuit.


The groups want EPA to turn back a 2008 federal exemption the agency granted livestock producers over two pollution right-to-know laws.


Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States, Environmental Integrity Project and the Center for Food Safety asked in a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reopen a lawsuit the groups filed back in 2008.


Eve Gartner, Earthjustice Northeast staff attorney representing the groups, said during a news conference Wednesday that EPA has had enough time to change federal rules to require CAFOs to report ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions. Such reporting requirements are outlined in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, or EPCRA.


According to court documents filed Wednesday, farms exempted from the rule are those devoted to crop or animal production that lead to annual sales of $1,000 or more.


"All industries around the country have to report when they release substances into the environment that exceed acceptable levels," Gartner said. "As soon as the exemption was adopted, the lawsuit was filed in 2008. Shortly after, the Obama administration asked the court to dismiss the case because it was reconsidering the rules. Persuaded by the Obama administration, the court dismissed the case but allowed the exemption to stay in place."


An EPA spokesperson told DTN the agency would review and respond to the court action.


Gartner said the last EPA-reported action of record was an August 2012 meeting with representatives of the National Pork Producers Council.


"The Obama administration has broken its promise to move quickly to fix the problem," she said. "EPA has done nothing since 2012... EPA actually put the revisions on hold indefinitely. Rural communities are paying the price. We had no choice but to go back to the court for relief."


EPA had been holding out on potentially revising the rule until the completion of a national air emissions monitoring study.


"Documents recently provided by EPA to petitioners in response to a Freedom of Information Act request indicate that EPA's work on revising the exemption rule came to a complete standstill in 2012," the groups said in court documents filed Wednesday. "In a recent meeting, EPA officials confirmed that work to revise the exemption rule has stopped until EEMs are developed, and that the EEM development process is on hold indefinitely."


In the filing, the groups outline a number of health effects from exposure to ammonia that "range from slight eye and throat irritation to death after less than 30 minutes of exposure." Exposure to hydrogen sulfide "may include death, adverse respiratory and cardiovascular effects and neurological damage."




Sac County, Iowa, farmer Rosemary Partridge, said during the news conference that odor coming from a number of hog farms has affected her family's way of life in recent years. Partridge said there are some 30,000 hogs living in CAFOs within four miles of their farm.


"In the last 15 years, our enjoyment of the outdoors has been greatly degraded," she said.


The odor is strongest when the CAFOs spread some 1,000 gallons of liquid manure within 100 feet of their house.


"We are nauseated at times from the odor," she said, as the family has had to leave the home at times until the odor subsided.


"We don't know how much we're being exposed to at a given time," Partridge said. "We have had to curtail activities outside. It's hard to understand why that isn't regulated."




Gartner told DTN even if EPA is at some point required to turn back the reporting exemption, the communities near CAFOs ultimately will need to push to have air emissions improved.


"We know from studies that when industry has to make public the amount of pollutants they emit, it inevitably leads to industry making changes," she said. "It is a strong incentive to reduce emissions and cleanup operations. There are ways they can reduce emissions."


Sacoby Wilson, assistant professor at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, told DTN requiring the animal feeding operations to report emissions is an important step toward "better engagement" in the community about what can be done to reduce emissions on farms.


"This data will empower residents on how to better manage animals and better management waste," he said. "It is putting the burden of proof on the industries. Right now the burden of proof is on communities and on researchers."


Kelly Foster, senior attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, said the EPA exemption has left communities guessing about what kinds of pollution were being emitted.


"People have a right to know that this industry is releasing hazardous substances into the air near their homes, schools, businesses, and communities," she said. "EPA does not have the authority to deny people access to information that is essential to protecting their health and the health of their communities and water resources."


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4. Sales of organic products grew 11% last year

Associated Press

Mary Clare Jalonick

April 15, 2015


Consumer interest in the organic label continues to grow.


The organic industry said American sales of its products jumped 11 percent last year, to more than $39 billion, despite tight domestic supplies of organic ingredients. The number of organic operations has grown by 250 percent since the government started certifying organic products in 2002, according to Agriculture Department data released Wednesday.


The industry estimates that organics now make up nearly 5 percent of food sales in the United States. There is also great growth in nonfood items such as textiles and personal care items. The Organic Trade Association said nonfood sales jumped nearly 14 percent last year and totaled more than $3 billion.


The industry has been rapidly growing since the United States put strict rules in place for organic labeling 13 years ago — some critics say growing too much, as food giants like General Mills and Kellogg have entered the organic game and many small organic food companies have grown into large businesses.


Laura Batcha, head of the trade association, said that growth has helped the industry move beyond a niche market.


“The only way to create change is for there to be widespread adoption,” Batcha said.


Organic foods generally are grown with fewer chemicals and artificial ingredients and are produced according to a strict set of government standards.


Foods cannot be labeled organic unless their production adheres to those rules, and those extra steps mean prices for organic products are generally higher.


USDA said the number of organic operations grew 5 percent last year, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced his agency will develop a database so consumers can track companies' organic certifications.


“The more diverse type of operations and the more growing market sectors we have in American agriculture, the better off our country's rural economy will be,” Vilsack said in a statement.


Despite its success, the industry has major challenges, including struggles to source enough organic ingredients.


Much of the shortage is in organic milk and eggs, caused by low inventories of organic corn and soybeans that feed cattle and poultry. The industry says there have been some shortages of fruits and vegetables, which make up the largest sector of the organic market, because of difficulties finding land suitable for organic farming.


Some of the supply issues trace back to cultural issues in highly agricultural areas, where farmers see organic as an enemy that is disparaging the quality of their conventional product. Growing organics means one can't use as many chemicals, such as herbicides, which many farmers have grown used to.


The industry is also fighting confusion in the marketplace, with many food packages touting “natural” ingredients — a term the industry believes consumers confuse with organic. To combat that, organic producers are pursuing an industry-funded Agriculture Department “checkoff” campaign — think the milk industry's “Got Milk?” ads — to promote itself and make those distinctions.


The Organic Trade Association data released Wednesday show sales growth in all areas of the country. But the strongest sales remain in the Northeast and on the West Coast, and 73 percent of organic buyers are white. Just 16 percent of those who buy organic are Hispanic and 14 percent are black.

The trade group says sales among minorities have jumped sharply, and note the breakdown closely resembles the demographics of the United States.


“Our survey shows organic has turned a corner,” said OTA's Batcha.


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5. Hearing calls for flexibility – not repeal – of school lunch rules


Spencer Chase

April 15, 2015


The controversial school lunch standards approved in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 received more scrutiny in Congress Wednesday, with advocates calling for increased flexibility in the rules.


The House Education and Workforce Committee held the hearing to look at the current state of federal child nutrition programs ranging from the school lunch provisions to the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Lawmakers are preparing to reauthorize two pieces of key nutrition legislation: the Richard B. Russel National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act.


“No child should go to school hungry - it's that simple,” committee chair Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said in his opening statement. “Today's discussion is not about whether we agree on this basic principle; I am confident we all do. Instead, our discussion today is about beginning a larger effort we will continue in the coming months to ensure the best policies are in place to help reach this goal.”


School Nutrition Association (SNA) President Julia Bauscher, one of the witnesses at the hearing, pressed for greater flexibility for school districts to meet the standards. She pointed to the requirement of one-half cup of fruits or vegetables be served with every meal. While there is little objection to including fruits and vegetables in meals, Bauscher said the requirement - rather than the option - is leading to waste when students opt to throw the food away.


She said SNA is requesting 35 cents more in federal funding for each lunch and breakfast that is served in the school lunch program, up from the additional six cents the government provided when the new standards were put in place.


“That will help school food authorities afford the foods that we must serve, but unfortunately that won't make students consume it,” Bauscher told lawmakers at the hearing. “And that's what we're also focused on…finding ways to ensure students will eat the healthy foods that we're making available to them and not throw it in the trash.”


Bauscher said SNA supported the 2010 bill at the time of its passage and it still supports it, but the 55,000-member group of school nutrition professionals wants Congress to soften the bill's target levels for more whole grains and less sodium in school meals.


“We want to make sure the best meals possible are available to those students, but we have to do it within the budgets that we have,” Bauscher said, borrowing the line of an SNA colleague, who pointed out that “flexibility is free.” She said in many cases, the new requirements have forced school lunch programs outside of budgetary constraints, forcing them to ask school districts to make up the difference. According to SNA, school districts will absorb $1.2 billion in new food and labor costs in 2010.


Lawmakers and panelists also discussed weekend and summer feeding programs as well as participation in income-based programs such as free and reduced lunch offered in the National School Lunch Program.


A figure repeatedly mentioned by representatives and witnesses alike is that for the first time in at least 50 years, the majority - 51 percent - of students in the U.S. qualify for free and reduced lunches. That number led Virginia Republican David Bratt to wonder if the solution wasn't different food, but rather “gainfully employed parents who are educated to the point that they can provide food for their kids.”


Dorothy McAuliffe, the first lady of Virginia, responded by underscoring the need for sound child nutrition in the first place, saying it can contribute to a vital future workforce, military, and economy. If children are not properly nourished now, she said, they will not be able to use their education to its fullest potential and be productive members of the workforce later.


“Families want to provide for themselves, and families should; that's our goal,” McAuliffe said, “However, this committee is called the Committee on Education and Workforce. We don't have a workforce to attract the jobs of the 21st century if we have kids who cannot take advantage of the education we're providing for them.”


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