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Weekly Update – October 20, 2008

October 20, 2008


THIS WEEK

Sodsaver Letters Delivered to Prairie State Governors: The 2008 Farm Bill provides the opportunity for the Governors of five states with native prairie — IA, MN, MT, ND and SD — to opt into a Sodsaver provision. If the Governor opts into Sodsaver, grassland in the state without a prior cropping history will be ineligible for taxpayer-provided federal payments for purchasing crop insurance on converted grasslands. Landowners are not prohibited from breaking grassland, but federal crop insurance subsidies would no longer provide incentives for doing so.

Brad Redlin, Agriculture Director for the Izaak Walton League of America and Co-chair of SAC’s Conservation and Environment Committee, took the lead in issuing the letters urging the Governors of IA, MN, and SD to opt in. SAC signed onto each letter, along with many key wildlife, conservation, sustainable agriculture and farmer and livestock associations in each state. Similar letters to the Governors of MT and ND will likely be delivered before the end of the year.

Economic Recovery Bill: Congressional Democratic leadership continued discussions this week with key aids to Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama about a potential $300 billion supplemental appropriations measure that was originally being referred to as the economic stimulus bill but is now being called economic recovery legislation. Still unclear is not only the exact contents of the measure, though certainly most of the key ideas are all on the table, but also the timing, whether to try to enact something in a lame duck session of Congress after the elections in November, or whether to wait until early next year. One key content question is whether specific items will be included for agricultural and rural economic development.

Surely no firm decisions will be made until after the election, but our bet would be to look for the measure as the first item of business in the new Congress in late January. That timing would put it directly ahead of the release of the President’s budget and just weeks ahead of congressional action on this year’s delayed appropriations measures for FY 2009.

USDA NEWS

USDA’s FSIS held a listening session on animal raising claims in the labeling of meat and poultry products on Tuesday.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Web-Based Seminars: The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) is holding two web-based seminars to solicit stakeholder input on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development competitive grants program. The seminars will be held Tuesday, October 28, 3–4 pm (ET) and Thursday, October 30, 10 – 11 am (ET). To participate in the seminar, your computer should have a DSL/cable line or better (dial-up won’t work), and you will need to have Flashware, version 9 or better (can be downloaded for free). On the day of the seminar, log on to http://connect.extension.iastate.edu/csrees/ a few minutes before the start of the session. CSREES Program Directors will begin with a brief presentation. You will be able to type questions or comments in the chat window at any time.

Animal Raising Label Claims Listening Session: USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), in conjunction with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), held a listening session in Washington, DC on Tuesday to review its policies on the use of animal raising claims in the labeling of meat and poultry products. SAC’s Ferd Hoefner testified at the session, as did several other representatives from our meat label claim standards group, including Consumers Union, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Food & Water Watch.

The impetus for the listening session was explained by FSIS as follows: “FSIS approves animal raising claims in the labeling of meat and poultry products if the animal production information submitted with the label application supports the claims being made and the claim is truthful and not misleading. Recent events concerning labeling claims related to the use of antibiotics in the raising of poultry illustrate the complex issues associated with such claims and led FSIS to review its policies on related claims to ensure that they are truthful and not misleading.”

FSIS spokespeople hinted strongly that they are contemplating a move to a third party certification system for any animal raising claim label. However, they suggested they would leave the claim standard completely up to the certifier, and merely assess whether they had the capacity to verify their own standard.

SAC comments focused on the need for AMS to develop animal raising claim standards for its process-verified labeling program that then become the yardstick for FSIS and any private certifier. We encouraged the agencies to start using a single set of performance criteria rather than different ones for each agency, and we supported a prohibition on anyone using a weaker standard than one developed by AMS. We also urged the agencies to come up with an automatic review process whereby any label proposed by a company or certifier trigger an immediate review as to whether a label standard subject to public notice and comment is warranted.

SAC as well as CU, FACT, UCS, and F&WW all also used the occasion to urge AMS not to issue its proposed naturally-raised label claim standard as a final rule. Rumor has it that they unfortunately intend to issue it within the month. Each group, as well as a poultry industry coalition called the Truthful Labeling Coalition that battled Tyson over misleading antibiotic claims, asked the agency not to go forward with the weak, misleading standard. We also urged them to return to their original track of finalizing discrete label claim standards for free range/pasture raised livestock, no antibiotics, and no hormones added.

SARE Operations Committee Meeting: The SARE Operations Committee held its semi-annual Meeting on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Representatives from all four regions, as well as national partners, met in DC to discuss SARE strategy, future directions, outreach, budget allocations, and new or expanded farm bill programs. SARE’s new emblem and animation can be found here. Union of Concerned Scientist staff and SAC Research and Extension Committee chair Brise Tencer and SAC’s Ferd Hoefner both provided brief updates on key legislative and farm bill implementation concerns of SAC. The SARE regional coordinators provided updates on new minigrants for graduate students, sub-regional meeting outcomes, and funding strategies. For more information, contact Kathryn Berndtson (kberndtson@sustainableagriculturecoalition.orgat the SAC office.

Jill Auburn to Serve as Division Chief for Ag Systems and Technology: Congratulations to Jill Auburn, National Program Leader for Sustainable Agriculture and Director of SARE, who begins with the Research, Education, and Extension Under Secretary’s office in November as the Division Chief for Agriculture Systems and Technology. Her new position is one of six created in the 2008 Farm Bill to assist the Under Secretary in identifying and communicating research, education and extension issues and priorities across the four REE agencies (CSREES, ARS, ERS and NASS) in addition to Forest Service research. The 6 new division chiefs collectively form the new Research, Education, and Extension Office (or REEO) is the principal surviving feature of the farm bill effort of the Land Grant deans known as “Create 21.” The division chiefs are all “detail” assignments and will return to their original agency after serving for not to exceed 4 years in the REEO. For an interim time period until an interim national SARE director can be sought, Utah State’s Phil Rasmussen, the Western SARE director, will also provide some of the national leadership, together with existing SARE DC-area staff.

Interagency Biofuels Sustainability Research: A recent ARS article cites the work of scientists from the Agricultural Research Service collaborating with ERS, EPA, DOE, and NRCS, to assess the economic and environmental impacts of feedstock production for sustainably producing biofuels at field, farm, watershed, regional, and national levels. The research is meant to inform individual and combined management decisions as well as strategies that are sustainable, economical, and environmentally responsible. ERS researchers make these assessments using their Regional Environment and Agriculture Programming (REAP) model, which can project regional crop acreage, management practices used, and environmental consequences from agricultural activity.

Revised EPA CAFO Clean Water Act Regulation Coming Soon: The White House Office of Management & Budget has reportedly finished its review and released a revised final Clean Water Act regulation for CAFO permits and effluent guidelines. A final regulation issued by EPA in 2003 was challenged in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in the case Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA. The court disapproved of a number of provisions in that regulation and ordered EPA to revise it. EPA has indicated that it will likely issue the revised final regulation by the end of October or early November. Ben Grumbles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, was quoted in a news report as saying that he has confidence that EPA has the legal authority to issue the provisions in the revised regulation but is also confident that EPA will be sued over it.

WTO NEWS

Still Battling Over Hormones: A World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body on Thursday issued a mixed ruling in the long-running battle between the European Union and the United States over the EU’s ban on the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef. The bottomline outcome gave something to both sides. The US and Canada are allowed to maintain trade sanctions of over $125 million in the form of higher tariffs on select European imports. The EU, however, won a more substantive point that overturned an earlier panel’s conclusion that the EU violated WTO rules by maintaining a partial ban. The appeals panel urged the US, Canada and the EU to initiate new dispute settlement proceedings without delay to determine if the status quo in the EU is now in keeping with WTO rules. The EU also won its point that two of the scientific experts advising the earlier panel should have been disqualified because of their prior work on the risk assessment standard that the EU was challenging.

The appellate ruling ran over 300 pages in length for a battle has been raging now for well over a decade, with no end in sight. As has been the case after all the previous rulings, both the US and the EU declared victory. Meanwhile, export market opportunities and market share continues to grow for US beef raised without added hormones!

Witteman Presents at Expo: On Thursday, SAC staff member Aimee Witteman participated on a panel entitled “Straight Talk About the Farm Bill” at the Natural Foods Expo East in Boston. The panel was moderated by Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a SAC member organization, and also included Dan Imhoff—author of Food Fight: A Citizen’s Guide to the Farm Bill—and Shannon Nally of the National Organic Program at USDA. Panelists discussed featured programs in the 2008 Farm Bill, including many of SAC wins for organic, conservation, and beginning farmers.

Farm Bill Guide for Pollinator Conservation: Xerces has published a new guide for those interested in using farm bill programs to protect pollinators, called Using the Farm Bill Programs for Pollinator Conservation. The new farm bill authorizes the USDA to encourage habitat development and conservation for pollinators, and this guide outlines major bill programs that can be used to promote pollinators on working lands.

USDA Farm Bill Implementation Progress Page: USDA this week launched a new farm bill implementation progress report here.

Climate Change and Public Health—How Does Agriculture Fit in? On Wednesday, the California Health Strategy Collaborative (CHSC) hosted a web forum on climate change and public health called “Parallel Paths: Carbon Footprints and Public Health — How Taking on Climate Change Will Improve the Fight Against Chronic Disease.” Panelists underscored the dual climate and health benefits of sustainable agriculture, including healthier foods produced with fewer greenhouse gases. Panelists also stressed the huge impact of livestock production on greenhouse gases—producing 2.2 pounds of conventional beef emits the carbon dioxide equivalents of 155 miles of driving—and stated that decreasing meat consumption would likely lead to healthier Americans, as well as a healthier climate.

Leafy Green Agreement Profiled by Gourmet: The November issue of Gourmet magazine features an article by Barry Estabrook on the conservation and wildlife impacts of the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement. The set of rules that were thrown together in the aftermath of the e coli spinach disaster have led to extreme measures that work to the disadvantage of conservation and small family farms, while not directly addressing the most likely food safety problems. The article entitled Politics of the Plate: Greens of Wrath can be found here.

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Save the Date! SAC Winter meeting December 9-10, 2008 in Memphis, TN

Please join us for an extraordinary SAC annual winter meeting. We will be prepping for our work with the new Administration, setting appropriations priorities, strategizing for the next round of farm bill implementation decisions, acting on our new climate change paper, and voting on the final details for the merger between SAC and the National Campaign to be effective in January. The working meeting with USDA representatives from Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education and Organic Agriculture Research & Education Initiative will be held the afternoon of December 10th in conjunction with the Southern SAWG Board of Directors and others interested in SARE and OREI issues. And please stick around for a fun outing that evening with SAC and SSAWG in downtown Memphis. Rooms will be available right at the St. Columba Retreat Center on the nights of December 8, 9 & 10. Registration information will follow next week.


Categories: General Interest


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