NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – October 25, 20008

October 25, 2008


Justice Department Files Anti-Trust Lawsuit against JBS: On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit under the Clayton Antitrust Act to block JBS — a Brazilian firm which is the world’s largest beef packer — from acquiring the National Beef Packing Company. Attorneys General from 13 states (CO, IA, KS, MN, MO, MT, ND, OH, OK, OR, SD, TX and WY) joined the lawsuit. JBS has already acquired Swift’s beef packing operations and is in the process of completing acquisition of the Smithfield Beef Group. In addition, JBS is also acquiring the giant Five Rivers Ranch Cattle Feeding complex that houses 800,000 head of cattle in 5 states.

The acquisition of National Beef Packing would make JBS the largest U.S. beef packer, controlling more than one third of the U.S. fed cattle slaughter capacity and USDA-graded box beef production. In the complaint, the DOJ states that the acquisition would restructure the U.S. beef packing industry by eliminating a competitively significant packer. The result would be concentration of over 80 percent of U.S. fed cattle beef packing in the hands of three firms: JBS, Tyson Foods Inc., and Cargill Inc. The complaint contends that as a result of the acquisition, cattle producers, ranchers, and feedlots would likely receive lower prices for their cattle while grocers, food service companies, and consumers would likely pay higher prices for beef. The DOJ also stated that there are no efficiencies from the merger that would eliminate or mitigate the anticompetitive effects of the merger.


USDA Adds Swine Contractors to List of GIPSA Regulated Entities: On Tuesday, USDA’s Grain Inspection and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) issued a final rule effective Nov. 20, 2008 to add ”swine contractors” to the list of entities subject to specific regulations issued under the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA). Congress amended the PSA to add swine contractors as regulated entities in the 2002 Farm Bill. It only took USDA over 6 and a half years to implement this mandatory directive with a regulation. The final rule prohibits swine contractors from knowingly circulating misleading reports about market conditions or prices; requires them to provide business information to authorized USDA personnel; and, requires them to permit authorized USDA personnel to inspect their business records and facilities.

USDA Releases Long-Awaited Proposed Organic Pasture Rule: On Friday, USDA put an end to the organic community’s two-and-a-half-year wait and released a proposed rule to clarify access to pasture requirements for organic livestock. Access to pasture for organic ruminant animals (i.e. cows, sheep and goats) has been a requirement of the USDA organic regulation since its inception, but it became apparent in the last few years that some producers were taking advantage of ambiguity in the definition. In response to the organic community’s request for a strict standard to protect the integrity of organic, the USDA’s proposed rule issued today attempts to clarify the standard by requiring that animals raised under organic standards have access to natural pastures. The National Organic Coalition has praised USDA for issuing the proposed rule and encourages USDA to move forward with issuing a final rule after considering public comment. On initial review, it appears a few of the specific provisions in the proposed rule will likely prove to be controversial. The comments on the proposed rule are due by December 23, 2008. SAC may issue talking points for public comments at a later date.

WRP Surpasses 2 Million Acres: On Tuesday, USDA announced that more than 2 million acres have now been enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), a SAC priority program since before its inception in 1990. The WRP has helped to protect and restore wetlands by providing financial and technical assistance to landowners who restore wetlands and establish conservation practices on wetlands that had been in agricultural production. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the WRP was reauthorized and the total acreage cap was raised to 3.041 million acres through FY 2012. The WRP is administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. For more information on this program, please visit our farm bill guide.

REEO Leaders Set: The 2008 Farm Bill creates a new Research, Education, and Extension Office (REEO) within the Office of the Under Secretary (soon to be referred to as the Chief Scientist, per farm bill) to be led by 6 program leaders who will be on loan from existing positions within existing research agencies. Their role is to coordinate research priorities across all the USDA research agencies. The 6 people promoted to the new office and the current position they are moving from are:

• Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment — Mark Walbridge, National Program Leader, Water Quality and Water Management, Agricultural Research Service
• Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health — Mary Gray, Deputy Administrator, Families, 4-H, and Nutrition, Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES)
• Plant Health and Production and Plant Products — Catherine Parks, Research Ecologist, Pacific Northwest Office, US Forest Service
• Animal Health and Production and Animal Products — Debora Hamernik, National Program Leader, Animal Nutrition and Growth, Plant and Animal Systems, CSREES
• Agricultural Systems and Technology — Jill Auburn, National Program Leader, Sustainable Agriculture, and National Director, SARE Program, CSREES
• Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities — Robbin Shoemaker, Associate Director, Resource and Rural Economics Division, ERS

NAREEEAB Meeting November 12-14: The National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board will be meeting in Washington, DC on November 12-14 to discuss recommendations regarding the ways that USDA can enhance its research, extension, education, and economic programs. The discussion will center around four focus areas: Poultry, Invasive Species, Commodity Crops, and Renewable Energy. An opportunity for public comment will be provided on November 14.


EPA Holds Workshops on Reactive Nitrogen: On Monday and Tuesday, the Integrated Nitrogen Committee of EPA’s Science Advisory Board held public workshops on the need for integrated research and strategies to reduce reactive nitrogen in the environment. At the global scale, reactive nitrogen from human activities now exceeds that produced by natural terrestrial ecosystems.

Three of the eight breakout sessions focused on agricultural activities: Managing Ammonia Emissions; Agricultural Aquatic Discharge of Reactive Nitrogen; and Agroecosystems, Food Security and Bioproducts. SAC staffer Martha Noble participated in the first day of workshops. The Committee is drafting a set of recommendations to EPA for addressing the issue. Draft recommendations are scheduled for release in Nov. 2008 and in Feb. and March 2009. For more information, see the EPA webpage.


Minnesota Local Foods Mapping Project: SAC member groups Land Stewardship Project and Minnesota Project are part of a first-of-its-kind project using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to create an interactive map of Minnesota’s local food infrastructure. Announced last week, the “Mapping Minnesota’s Local Foods Infrastructure” project will provide baseline data on existing local foods infrastructure which will help researchers and non-profits in their work to address inequities in healthy food availability. The map will also provide farmers, restaurants, retailers, distributors, and processors with a tool to determine potential local food supply or demand in an area. The first maps will be made public in December 2008.

Farmers’ Guide to GM Contracts: SAC member the Rural Advancement Foundational International (RAFI-USA) has released the Farmers’ Guide to GMO Contracts, a pocket-size complement to the Farmers’ Guide to GMOs, a joint publication of RAFI and the Farmers’ Legal Action Group. The brochure explains in detail the terms of the Monsanto contract that growers who use Monsanto seed are bound to, simply by opening a bag of seed. Grassroots organizations are invited to distribute the brochure to their own constituencies and can add their contact information to a blank space on the back panel.

Keystone Center Releases Draft Sustainability Index Report: The Keystone Center, a non-profit organization that brings together public and private thinkers to work on energy, environment, and public health issues, has a released a draft of its sustainability indicators report. The report is the result of a collaboration called “Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Outcomes,” consisting of
representatives from commodity groups, agribusiness companies, and a handful of major environmental organizations. The report is intended to be a first step towards developing a complete Sustainability Index for the entire food supply chain.

The Keystone Center welcomes comments on this draft through 2008, and a feedback form is available here. SAC staff, who have been critical of the process leading up to the report, plan to read it and submit comments, and would welcome any input members or partners may wish to pass along to us.

Organic More Conducive to Food Security in Africa than Conventional Systems: A report released this week by the United Nations Environment Programme and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development encourages policymakers and development partners to take a new look at organic production as it is “making a significant contribution to the reduction of food insecurity and poverty in areas of Africa, and to an improvement in rural livelihoods.” The report’s conclusions are based on an analysis of 114 projects in 24 African countries which found that yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used. The UN’s acceptance of the report’s findings was further emphasized on Wednesday when the UN announced its Green Economy Initiative which includes “sustainable agriculture, including organic agriculture,” as one of the five priority sectors underpinning a Global Green New Deal.

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.

A special working meeting with USDA representatives from Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) and Organic Agriculture Research & Education Initiative (OREI) 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. If you would like to register, please contact Aimee Witteman awitteman@sustainableagriculturecoalition for online registration instructions.

Categories: General Interest

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