USDA to let farmers opt out of ACRE: In remarks Jan. 14 to the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow producers to either leave or opt into the Average Crop Revenue Election program (ACRE) for the coming year. Originally authorized for five years, the ACRE program required participants to stay in the program through 2012. However, the farm bill extension passed earlier this month extended the program for an additional year. With the extension, USDA determined that farmers could either opt in or opt out for the coming year.
Animal disease zoning agreement: Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced Jan. 16 that Canada and the U.S. intend to recognize each other's zoning measures during highly contagious foreign animal disease outbreaks. Although foreign animal disease outbreaks are rare in North America, this arrangement will help minimize trade disruptions while still preventing the spread of disease if an outbreak occurs, the announcement said. This initiative fulfills a commitment made in the December 2011 Joint Action Plan of the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council, which is aimed at better aligning the two countries' regulations. The main goal of the council is to enhance the economic competitiveness and well-being of Canada and the U.S. while maintaining high standards of animal health, public health and safety and environmental protection. Under the arrangement, each country intends to accept each other's decisions on establishing, maintaining and releasing a disease control and eradication zone if an outbreak of a foreign animal disease, such as foot and mouth disease or classical swine fever, occurs. A detailed guidance framework outlining exactly how the arrangement will work is under development. In practice, the arrangement means that if Canada were to establish a disease control and eradication zone anywhere in Canada, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would continue to allow imports of live animals, animal products and byproducts from disease-free areas of Canada. Once Canada released the zone, the U.S. would resume trade with that area, and vice versa.
FDA okays novel seasonal flu vaccine: The Food & Drug Administration announced Jan. 17 that it has approved Flublok, the first trivalent influenza vaccine made using an insect virus (baculovirus) expression system and recombinant DNA technology. Flublok is approved for the prevention of seasonal influenza in people 18-49 years of age. FDA said unlike current flu vaccines, Flublok does not use the influenza virus or eggs in its production, but its novel manufacturing technology allows for the production of large quantities of the influenza virus protein hemagglutinin (HA), the active ingredient in all inactivated influenza vaccines that is essential for entry of the virus into cells in the body. The majority of antibodies that prevent influenza virus infection are directed against HA. While the technology is new to flu vaccine production, FDA said it is used to make vaccines that are approved to prevent other infectious diseases. Flublok contains three full-length, recombinant HA proteins to help protect against the H1N1 and H3N2 influenza virus A strains and one influenza virus B strain. As it does with all influenza vaccines, FDA will evaluate Flublok annually prior to public use each flu season. FDA also will assess the recombinant HA proteins produced in the baculovirus expression system and included in Flublok.
New York soda ban grace period: Food outlets in New York City are being given a grace period before being fined for serving sugar-sweetened beverages in containers larger than 16 oz., which has been banned. The board of the city's health department passed the ban last year, prohibiting delis, restaurants, street vendors, movie theaters and sports stadiums from selling any drink that contains more than 25 calories per 8 oz. in cups larger than 16 oz. (Feedstuffs, Oct. 1, 2012). The ban goes into effect on March 13, but a department spokesperson announced last week that while notices will be issued for violations, fines will not be levied for the first three months. After the grace period, violators will be fined $200. A group representing the city's restaurants and theaters has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban on the basis that the health department lacked the authority to adopt such a measure and that the proposal should, instead, have gone through the city council for legislative action (Feedstuffs, Oct. 22, 2012). A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Global consortium: The International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF) and the European Union's Association of Specialty Feed Ingredients & Mixtures (FEFANA) announced the launch of a scientific council of experts who will serve as the expert advisory body of the IFIF/FEFANA Specialty Feed Ingredients Sustainability Project. The council includes experts on ISO methodology and animal nutrition and feed from the Asian Pacific, North America, Europe and South America. The project is designed to measure and establish the role of specialty feed ingredients in the environmental impact of livestock production, the announcement said, and the scientific council will provide independent expert advice on the project during the course of the work in order to ensure scientifically robust inputs in the analysis and to lay the ground for a future peer-reviewed publication of the project output once it is completed.
Intersystems sold: The Pritzker Group announced that it has acquired Omaha, Neb.-based Intersystems, a designer and manufacturer of specialized material handling equipment, including belt conveyors, bucket elevators, bulk weighers, truck probes, grain samplers, gravity screeners, distributors, micro ingredient systems and bolted bin systems. Intersystems sells to customers in more than 30 countries. The Intersystems management team will remain with the company, which was purchased from private investors for an undisclosed price. The Pritzker Group's middle-market investment team acquires North American-based companies with enterprise values between $75 million and $400 million. "We see great opportunities for Intersystems in the world grain and feed markets," said Tom Schroeder, Intersystems chief executive officer. "The resources of The Pritzker Group will ensure our continued growth by helping us add new products and services to better meet the needs of our customers."
Ethanol terminal: Last month, Green Plains Renewable Energy loaded the first unit train from its 96-car unit train terminal in Birmingham, Ala. The new terminal, served by BNSF Railway, features a throughput capacity of 300 million gal. of ethanol annually. Operated by Green Plains subsidiary BlendStar, the terminal has a storage capacity of 160,000 barrels and a four-lane covered truck rack. With construction completed and the first unit train loaded, the company said the new terminal is operational. Green Plains is the fourth-largest ethanol producer in North America, producing and marketing approximately 1 billion gal. per year.
Scoular sells: In late December, The Scoular Co. sold a portion of its ownership interest in a 55 million gal. ethanol plant in Pratt, Kan., to a biofuel investment firm. Scoular announced Jan. 14 that it remains a part owner of the plant alongside new partner Pratt Biofuel Investors (PBI), which has "related ownership to Calgren Renewable Fuels." Along with its ownership stake, Scoular will continue to operate the plant's grain facility, feedstock procurement and distillers grain marketing services. Scoular acquired the Pratt facility and an adjoining 1.8 million bu. shuttle-loading facility in 2011. Scoular senior vice president John Heck said PBI brings the "solid operating experience" necessary to get the plant up and running. Calgren successfully renovated a similar plant in Pixley, Cal., in 2009, and Calgren president Lyle Schlyer was named president of the now Scoular/PBI jointly owned Pratt Energy. Renovation of the Kansas plant, under PBI's leadership, should be completed by spring. Located on the Union Pacific Railroad, the facility is capable of loading 100-car trains.
Urea capacity: Completing a $7 million expansion project, Rentech Nitrogen Partners announced that its East Dubuque, Ill., facility is now operating at a 15% larger capacity. Rentech said the expansion added 21,900 tons of annual urea production to its capabilities. Rentech manufactures and sells nitrogen fertilizer products, including urea ammonium nitrate, ammonia and ammonium sulfate produced from natural gas. The additional tons of urea produced at the plant will actually be converted and sold as diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to Yara North America as part of a long-term, exclusive purchase agreement. DEF is a high-purity urea solution used as an emissions-reducing engine technology that targets hazardous nitrous oxide emissions.