Tag Archive | "USDA"

NYT on USDA Secretary-select Vilsack

December 19, 2008
Fixing Agriculture

Tom Vilsack, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to lead the
Agriculture Department has the merit of being unsatisfactory to both
extremes of the farm-policy debates.

Zealous advocates of sustainable agriculture question his support of
biotechnology, while partisans of the status quo find him
insufficiently loyal to the system of farm subsidies. That leaves him
with a very large center of support. He’ll need it to move this
country’s broken agricultural policy in a new direction.

During his days as governor of Iowa, Mr. Vilsack embraced innovation — encouraging the use of farmland to produce energy from ethanol and wind power, while promoting better treatment of migrant workers. He has the additional advantage of having governed a state where small, innovative farms are emerging.

The department he will inherit, while responsible for extraordinary gains in research and productivity, has long favored the biggest farmers. That has produced a sterile landscape of factory farms, broken towns and endless miles of row crops like corn and soybeans.

Last year’s terrible farm bill left the old subsidy system essentially intact. But Mr. Vilsack can prepare the ground for the next one. He should endorse a modest cap on price supports so that they would benefit small farmers. He also has expressed a welcome desire to end the vertical integration in the packing industry that allows giant meatpackers to own the animals they process.

He also must take an impartial look at corn ethanol. Congress has mandated a big increase in production as a prelude to more advanced biofuels. But first the country needs an honest assessment of corn ethanol’s pluses and minuses, its effect on climate change and food prices and its reliability as a source of income for farmers.

The Agriculture Department also houses the Forest Service, which means Mr. Vilsack will be responsible for the national forests. The Bush administration has waged an eight-year assault on President Bill Clinton’s roadless rule, which offered permanent protection from commercial development to about 60 million roadless acres. Mr. Vilsack should reaffirm that rule and expand its protections to include Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

The department’s programs influence many critical issues — conservation, nutrition, rural development and, through the food-stamp program, the well-being of lower-income Americans. These are powerful tools for change and equity. The next secretary must use them wisely.

Posted in Politics, PresidentComments (0)

R-CALF on USDA Secretary pick

R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America 

Cattle Producers Pleased with Obama’s Picks for Agriculture, Interior Secretaries

December 17, 2008

Billings, Mont. – R-CALF USA is pleased with President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack to be the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture and equally pleased with the appointment of Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., as the nominee to head the U.S. Department of Interior.
“We look forward to working with Mr. Vilsack and continuing our relationship with Senator Salazar and expect that they both will represent the interests of independent U.S. cattle producers, as well as U.S. beef consumers, and that they will also recognize those interests are quite separate from the interests of the multinational packers, processors and retailers that are also within the beef supply chain,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group’s animal health committee.

“We were especially pleased during today’s news conference to announce
this pair of nominees that President-elect Obama stated in very clear
terms, ‘…it means ensuring that the policies being shaped…are designed
to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence peddlers, but
family farmers and the American people…,’” Thornsberry added.
The U.S. cattle industry – which exists in all 50 states and is the
largest segment of American agriculture – generates about $50 billion
annually into the U.S. economy. It also is the cornerstone of Rural
America, and the success of the U.S. cattle industry is important both
to those rural communities and to the overall economic strength of the
United States.
“Over the last decade, R-CALF USA members have successfully elevated a
number of key cattle industry issues to the highest levels of Congress,
and more and more members of Congress from all parties are stepping up
to support our positions,” Thornsberry said. “The changes we seek are
straightforward and need to be made immediately to ensure that the U.S.
cattle industry, which helped build our country’s economy in the first
place, is positioned to help rebuild our national economy now.”
R-CALF USA seeks to:
1) restore the competition lost to our industry caused by years of
neglect of our antitrust laws and laws to prevent anti-competitive
2) reverse the failure to update laws to reflect the changed structure of our industry;
3) reverse the failure to incorporate the unique sensitivities of our industry in trade negotiations;
4) halt the failure to differentiate domestic products from imported products;
5) stop the failure to adequately protect our industry from the introduction of foreign animal diseases;
6) reverse the general failure of the government to protect the rights and property of independent U.S. cattle producers.
“R-CALF USA members look forward to working with both Vilsack and
Salazar to swiftly implement the reforms needed to restore competition
and opportunities for U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers in the United
States, knowing that this will help to generate renewed economic
activity on main streets all across America,” Thornsberry concluded. 

Posted in Politics, PresidentComments (0)

All Seeing, All Knowing, All Gone

When it comes to food safety, the Federal Government is all
seeing and all knowing.

Which explains why many of our markets are all gone.

Take the Topps hamburger recall. The government, in its all
knowing ways just knew that the problem wasn’t large. The recall was delayed
nearly a month. Then 21 million pounds were recalled. What were they waiting
for? We can only surmise that the attitude at USDA was wait and wait and wait
and wait and see.

Inactive oversight at USDA is an energizer bunny; Still

Meanwhile the good folks in government have decided that
German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer has no need to worry, their unapproved
pre-release of genetically modified rice will be considered no foul even though
it has affected rice exports out of the USA. Rice growers are among the
most surplus laden producers in the US, and rice prices have
contributed to much of the debate regarding subsidies and the amount of
support domestic growers require.

Shades of StarLink. Foiled again. (It was StarLink corn a
few years back that ruined our corn markets for 3 years.  Affected producers received about ten cents on
the dollar for their loss. Gee, thanks Uncle Sam!)

Where is the all seeing, all knowing US government when we
need their oversight and protection?

All gone.


Posted in Agriculture, FoodComments (0)

USDA Secr admits China currency revaluation would help trade

We all knew that China currency manipulation harmed trade, but its
always nice to get the government guys on the record saying it.  I
don’t have the link, so pasted Secretary Johanns Inside US-China Trade
story below the fold. 

Inside US-China Trade
Date: September 5, 2007
USDA Report Says Chinese Currency Appreciation Could Boost U.S. Exports
A report released by the U.S. Agriculture Department on Aug. 22 found
that if China’s currency were to appreciate, prices for agricultural
goods would increase enough to attract more exports from the U.S.
Additionally, a more expensive yuan could reduce the competitiveness of
some of China’s agriculture exports, according to the report.
The report, published by USDA’s Economic Research Service, found that
the U.S. fruit and vegetable sectors suffer from the largest price
disparity compared to products grown in China, while Chinese exports of
those same products would suffer the most from currency appreciation.
For example, U.S. garlic costs more than 10 times what the average
Chinese consumer pays for garlic, according to the report.
Additionally, U.S. pears were found being sold in China at “about five
times the price of the most expensive domestic pears,” and U.S. apples
and red grapes were sold at prices well above their counterpart
versions, the report found.
The price disparity on such products makes the Chinese market less than
desirable for U.S. exporters and limits the purchasing power of Chinese
consumers for those products. If the yuan were to appreciate, the
report found, the Chinese market would receive more U.S. products and
the Chinese consumer would be more likely to purchase imported goods
due to the lower price.
The two largest U.S. agriculture exports to China, soybeans and cotton,
would also benefit from a more valuable yuan, as would wheat, according
to the report. These commodities are already sold at lower prices than
the domestic counterparts in China, and currency appreciation would
likely lead to more shipments. The price of some Chinese products, such
as corn, is close enough to the price of U.S. products that currency
appreciation may turn China into an importer of those products, the
report found.
The authors of the report said that Chinese officials would not move
quickly to allow their currency to appreciate “motivated in part by
farm income and food security concerns.”
“Currency appreciation would benefit Chinese millers, processors,
livestock producers and consumers by reducing raw material costs, but
Chinese farmers could be hurt by downward pressure on commodity prices
and farm income,” the report found.
The report noted that even with the undervalued yuan, the U.S. has an agriculture trade surplus with China.


Posted in China, TradeComments (1)

COOL Settlement in House Ag Committee

Unless you are brain-dead, or paid to appear that way, you support
country of origin labeling for meat, produce and seafood.  And all
other foods.

We finally seem to have a settlement
between the 92% of Americans that want COOL, and the .000001% of people
paid to oppose it.  Tom Buis of NFU brokered the final deal with a
packer lobbyist at the request of House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson,
who voted against COOL in 2001. 

AMI shouted "protectionism" and "its not a food safety issue."  USDA chanted "its not a food safety issue, only a marketing issue."

Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte, the representative from Smithfield Foods said, in June:

"It’s simply a bad idea," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), one of the idea’s chief opponents. "It doesn’t ensure any more food safety. It’s not a food safety issue. It’s a marketing issue."

Collin Peterson said yesterday.

 "It’s not a food-safety issue," he said. "It’s a labeling and marketing issue."

They keep drinking the same Kool-Aid.  But finally, the issue
seems resolved.  Tinkering with the law after this settlement will
be difficult.

Posted in Agriculture, FoodComments (0)

Surprise! RTI says pork tax benefits exceed costs

Remember the "study"
conducted by the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina for USDA
on livestock market concentration?  $4.5 million dollars were
spent from the 2002 Farm Bill as a strategy by then House Ag Chair
Larry Combest to derail pro-competition reforms in livestock.

hired RTI.  RTI hired economists biased in favor of big meat
packers.  They crafted a new term "Alternative Marketing
Arrangements" to replace "captive supplies" in an attempt to confuse
with framing and euphemisms.  RTI could not help but find prices
go down as captive supplies increase.  But it was insignificant in
amount… tell that to producers.  

RTI could not help
but find that market access by independent producers was problematic,
but said captive supplies helped alleviate the very problem they
caused.  The lower average price received from captive cattle is
justified to eliminate risk of no market access.  This is like
paying the gangsters for protection from the very risks they cause to
your business, home and body.

Stung by the criticism, USDA has a helpful FAQ
(link to PDF file) to explain away the RTI study’s fatal flaws,
revealed embarassingly in hearings before Senate Ag Committee and the
House Ag Subcommittee on Livestock. 

Now RTI has found
that the costs of the Pork Checkoff, or pork tax, exceed the
benefits.  USDA commissioned the study.  Does anyone trust
either RTI or USDA anymore?


Posted in Agriculture, LivestockComments (0)

Hillary for COOL

Hillary Clinton has now officially joined John Edwards in calling for country of origin labeling implementation, as well as oversight hearings to make sure USDA does not mess it up. 

Posted in Agriculture, FoodComments (0)

Low Risk Pork Available in a Supermarket Near You

The FDA and USDA have applied the "Best Available Science (TM)" to determine that a little melamine and cyanuric acid is not so
bad.  Approximately 56,000 swine consumed Chinese melamine in
their feed in California, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York,
Kansas, Utah and Illinois.

Previously, the agencies said there
was zero tolerance for melamine and cyanuric acid.  But now, after
consulting the Best Available Science (TM), USDA and FDA have come to their senses… realizing
that a little bit of these industrial byproducts is ok.  Oh… the
USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) rigorous inspection system
will protect us too.

Swine known to have eaten this feed appear healthy, which will be
confirmed as these animals undergo the rigorous inspection that FSIS
provides for all meat and poultry prior to processing.

The FSIS employees, food safety organizations, and the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, disagree that the USDA inspection is rigorous anymore.

This is part of a trend.  The U.S. did not allow countries with
mad cow disease to sell us beef.  But when Canada discovered mad
cow disease, threatening Tyson and Cargill’s Canadian plant supply to
their U.S. facilitieis, the USDA decided to create a "minimal risk
region" exception.  Now USDA is looking to do the same for Foot
and Mouth Disease, loosening restrictions on cattle coming in from
countries that have not eradicated the disease.


Posted in Agriculture, FoodComments (0)

Food, Faith and the FDA

FDA and USDA have comforting words for us.  They "believe" but do not "know."

"FDA and USDA believe the likelihood of illness after eating such pork is extremely low."
USDA/FDA, 4/26/2007

"We have no reason to believe that anything other than the rice protein
concentrate or the wheat gluten have been a problem in the United
States recently."
USDA/FDA, 4/26/2007

"But overall, we believe the risk to be extremely low to humans."
USDA/FDA, 4/26/2007

"We believe that the likelihood of illness from such exposure is extremely low."
USDA/FDA, 5/1/2007

"We do not believe that there is any significant threat of human illness from consuming poultry."
USDA/FDA, 5/1/2007

"We believe the likelihood of illness to humans, including infants, is extremely small."
USDA/FDA, 5/3/2007

"We have no reason to believe those animals are any risk to the public."
USDA/FDA, 5/3/2007

Every so often, "belief" is not enough.

"There’s no tolerance for any of these compounds, either melamine
or cyanuric acid. [...] We just don’t know when we get these mixtures
together. So there is no, really no acceptable level." USDA/FDA,

Posted in Agriculture, FoodComments (0)

USDA: A little bit of melamine is ok

Before the discovery of mad cow disease in Canada, the U.S.
government blocked all imports from countries with one or more
cases.  But Tyson and Cargill own Canadian packing plants, and
import large volumes of meat into the U.S.  The USDA worked hard
to please its packing plant masters, and devised a minimum risk rule to
open up the border.

Now USDA is doing the same for China in the
melamine case - changing from a "no tolerance" policy to a "a little
bit is ok" policy.  In China melamine is made from coal and
ammonia.  The productobtained is a hard off-white mass about 70%
melamine which is purified and ground into a power for use.

That was then - From the official transcript, FDA-USDA Update on Recall of Pet Foods, April 26, 2007: 

Could I follow up that question? The parts per billion that you found
in the urine, is there an acceptable level? You told me what the level
is. But how much higher is that than what’s acceptable, or is there no
acceptable level?

DR. MCCHESNEY: This is Dan McChesney. I’ll try that one. Currently
there’s no tolerance for any of these compounds, either melamine or
cyanuric acid. So because of that we really cannot, the likelihood of
this leads from very low likelihood of any problems resulting in food
that contained these as Dr. Acheson said is really extremely low.
However, we just don’t know when we get these mixtures together. So
there is no acceptable level.

This is now - the USDA/FDA press today that says "Scientists Conclude Very Low Risk to Humans from Food Containing Melamine: USDA Releases Some Swine and Poultry for Processing." 

Posted in Agriculture, FoodComments (0)

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