|11/19/2018 10:01 AM EDT
With help from Helena Bottemiller Evich and Maya Parthasarathy
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IN THE HOPPER: In surveying the deadly wildfires in California, President Donald Trump promised $500 million in the farm bill for forest management and stressed the importance of working with environmental groups to improve forest maintenance.
— The Agriculture Department and FDA have a plan for splitting up regulatory authority over cell-based protein products, but lawmakers who control the agencies’ budgets have other ideas. A year-end budget battle could determine who wins out.
— On tap today: The Environmental Working Group plans to release data on early recipients of USDA’s tariff-relief program, including names and dollar figures.
— Beyond the soda-tax wars: There’s a broader effort to keep states from enacting food and nutrition laws — and to shield businesses from liability in obesity claims.
FOREST FIRES AND THE FARM BILL: Trump took stock of the charred California landscape this weekend, pointing to rapid movement in farm bill talks and repeatedly referencing new forest management funds in the bill as one thing the federal government could do to limit future wildfire damage.
“In the farm bill, we’re putting quite a bit of money — about $500 million — in the farm bill for management and maintenance of the forests beyond this area,” Trump said Saturday in Chico, Calif. “That will be in the farm bill. We just put it in. The farm bill is moving along pretty rapidly for our great farmers. But we have a new category and that’s management and maintenance of the forests. It’s very important.”
MA had an early look last month at the heated debate between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over forestry provisions, including changes to wildfire-prevention efforts. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway said on Friday that farm bill negotiators had not resolved forestry provisions, according to reports.
— The “raking” flap: In Paradise, Calif., Trump claimed Finland avoids devastating wildfires by diligently “raking” its forest floors. (Finland’s president says he never discussed raking with Trump, per POLITICO’s Quint Forgey.) California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has sparred frequently with Trump, suggested the state needs to do more to thin its forests, the Sacramento Beewrites.
Trump’s claim that the farm bill is moving along rapidly largely checks out. House Agriculture leaders sounded bullish Friday about closing in on a deal with the Senate, your host reported. Conaway and ranking member Collin Peterson said they sent their Senate counterparts an offer after reaching agreement on all 12 titles.
Farm bill marathon: Committee staff worked through the weekend to help bring negotiators closer to agreement on the sweeping legislation, but they were tight-lipped about how much progress was made. Peterson apparently told a group of Minnesota farmers that a final deal on the House side could be reached as soon as Monday.
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USDA, FDA WANT SHARED POWER OVER CELL-BASED MEATS: When the Agriculture Department and FDA released plans for sharing regulatory jurisdiction over cell-based meats, their joint statement Friday included a brushback pitch to Congress: The Trump administration “does not believe that legislation on this topic is necessary.”
Republican and Democratic appropriators support giving USDA full authority to regulate the budding sector — and the House Agriculture-FDA spending bill, H.R. 5961 (115), which could be approved during the lame-duck session, includes language to that effect.
Trump administration officials have asked lawmakers to keep the House provision out of a final version of the appropriations bill while USDA and FDA sort out a regulatory framework.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tried to get out in front of Congress by releasing details of their proposed joint regulatory framework, a move that followed a two-day joint public meeting in October.
Here’s how it would work: FDA would oversee early stages of the process, like cell collection and cell banks. USDA would then handle oversight of food production and labeling. Your host has more details on the arrangement and the related appropriations fight.
— The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that supports the alternative protein sector, praised Perdue and Gottlieb for “clearing the way for a transparent and predictable regulatory path forward.”
— Companies that are working on cell-based protein products, like Memphis Meats and JUST, are also backing the proposed division of responsibility (which is similar to what Memphis Meats and the North American Meat Institute suggested in a joint letter to Trump in August).
— Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti said the plan “plays to the respective strengths of both USDA and FDA, while continuing to foster innovation and assure a safe and reliable food system.”
— The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said giving USDA “primary jurisdiction over the most important facets of lab-produced fake meat” is “a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do on this issue.”
Approps question TBD: It remains to be seen if House appropriators will drop their bid to give cell-based meat jurisdiction to USDA.
TRADE-AID PAYMENTS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: The Environmental Working Group at noon today is set to make public the names of ag producers receiving payments through USDA’s trade-assistance package. The group filed a FOIA request in late September to obtain the names and addresses of trade-aid recipients — and how much money each is getting.
EWG’s disclosure is likely to cover a fraction of total recipients, since most of the $4.7 billion that USDA set aside for the first round of direct payments is still sitting in federal coffers. (Reutersreported last week that just $840 million has trickled out to farmers so far.)
— Issue to watch: EWG has frequently complained that city-dwellers who don’t live or work on farms often still receive farm subsidies. Today’s data dump is expected to show plenty of trade-aid payments flowing to residents of major metropolises like New York and San Francisco.
There’s been some backlash against large ag companies benefiting from other pieces of the trade-assistance package, like the $1.2 billion commodity purchase program.
USDA canceled a $240,000 contract with Smithfield Foods after public complaints that the Chinese-owned pork-processing giant was set to receive taxpayer funds that were intended to help U.S. farmers and ranchers suffering from Beijing’s retaliatory duties, our Catherine Boudreaureports. (Smithfield requested that the contract be terminated, and no funds had been transferred, according to USDA.)
STATE PREEMPTION LAWS UNDER FIRE: There’s a broad effort underway to limit state and local governments’ ability to enact food and nutrition policies like sugary drink taxes and nutrition labeling. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine quantifies the trend: Between 2008 and March 2018, a dozen states enacted 13 preemption laws on food and nutrition. (Not included on this list: Washington state’s initiative to block all food and beverage taxes, which voters approved earlier this month.)
— There’s also been a push to limit industry liability in potential obesity claims: Between 2003 and 2013, 26 states passed so-called Commonsense Food Consumption Acts, the study found.
“The specific focus of all of these laws is to preempt lawsuits based on claims that a consumer’s weight gain, obesity, or associated health conditions resulted from long-term consumption of food,” the researchers write. Read the study here.
— NAFTA 2.0’s hard climb on the Hill: The new North American trade pact is drawing fire from the right and the left, Pro Trade’s Sabrina Rodriguez reports. Liberals say they want tougher environmental protections and higher labor standards in Mexico, while conservatives are protesting new protections in the deal for LGBT workers.
— APEC meeting ends without joint statement: A clash between the U.S. and China over the future of the WTO prevented this weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea from producing a joint statement for the first time since 1993 — a bad sign heading into Trump’s expected meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 gathering later this month, our Pro Trade colleagues report. The main sticking point was whether the statement should include a reference to WTO changes, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said during a closing press conference.
— Rare trade criticism: China’s former chief trade negotiator criticized as ill thought-out Beijing’s decision to target U.S. soybeans, our content partners at the South China Morning Post report.
— CDC corrects record on farmer suicides: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued new data and retracted a widely cited 2016 report that mistakenly said farmers had the highest rate of suicide of any U.S. worker in 2012. After a data-entry problem was corrected, construction and “extraction” workers (like miners) had the highest suicide rate in 2012 and again in 2015, Pro Ag’s John Lauinger reports.
— Grassley chooses Senate Finance gavel: Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley will make the jump to the Finance Committee chairmanship, where he’ll play a major role in ushering the new North American trade pact through Congress. Sabrina Rodriguez has more on Grassley’s decision.
— Trade war spurs ag changes in China: The escalation of tariffs between the U.S. and China has prompted Beijing to take steps to modernize its agriculture industry, which is dominated by small farms with low crop yields. The Chinese government plans to build 254 “strong agricultural industrial towns” and, potentially, lift a ban on genetically modified seeds. The Wall Street Journal has the story.
— Misleading studies behind chlorpyrifos approvals? New analysis of the decades-old, industry-sponsored tests of the insecticide chlorpyrifos found discrepancies between the results and what Dow Chemical Co. had reported back then to the EPA, writes Environmental Health News.
— The initial tests have long been cited in continued government approvals of chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to learning disabilities in children. (The Trump administration recently appealed a federal court ruling that EPA must ban the chemical.) Here’s the research.
— Democrat wins Florida ag commissioner race: Nikki Fried, a South Florida attorney, defeated Republican Matt Caldwell after two rounds of recounts in the race for agriculture commissioner. The Miami Herald has this deep dive on Fried’s victory.
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