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Inside Washington

Dairy legislation part of focus of House hearing

nevodka/iStock/Thinkstock Dairy products including milk, cheese, butter and yogurt displayed on white wood

Dairy legislation was highlighted Wednesday during a House Energy & Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing on health featuring testimony from dairy industry leaders on the Codifying Useful Regulatory Definitions (CURD) Act (H.R. 4487), which would establish a definition of the term “natural cheese” in federal statute, and to pass the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would require the Food & Drug Administration to uphold proper dairy terms.

David Carlin, senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy at the International Dairy Foods Assn. (IDFA) detailed the need for the CURD Act, which is supported by all of IDFA’s cheese company members, including those that manufacture process cheese products. In addition to IDFA, which represents the U.S. dairy processing and manufacturing industry, the bill is also supported by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), which represents cooperatives and their dairy farmer members.

The term “natural cheese” has been used extensively over the years by FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Congress and the courts to describe a particular category of cheese. Unfortunately, the ability of U.S. cheesemakers to continue to use the term natural cheese on their packaging is now threatened. Four years ago, FDA initiated a separate process to define how the term “natural” may be used to make product claims such as “all natural.”

“Even though the term ‘natural cheese’ is not a product claim and is only used to define a particular category of cheese, U.S. cheesemakers find themselves caught up in an unrelated policy debate that could force them to change decades' worth of labeling practices that generations of consumers have come to rely on when choosing the right cheese for every occasion,” Carlin testified.

Carlin said defining the term natural cheese in statute will clarify its specific meaning and narrow the scope of FDA’s work so it can focus on how the term “natural” may be used to make product claims. In fact, the CURD Act specifies that any cheese that does make a product claim such as “100% natural” or “all natural” must continue to comply with FDA’s current policy and any future regulations governing the use of that term.

Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it opposed the CURD Act because it “seeks to short-circuit that process, carving out a special definition for ‘natural’ that would only apply to cheese. This definition would allow ‘natural cheese’ to contain artificial ingredients, running counter to consumer expectations.”

Sorscher said because the CURD Act also defines “milk” as a lacteal secretions from an animal and requires “natural cheese” to be made from milk, it could be interpreted as prohibiting the use of the term “natural” on non-dairy alternatives eaten by consumers who are vegan, allergic to milk or who otherwise wish to avoid dairy cheeses.

“Use of the term ‘natural’ should not be prohibited on these products, provided the products otherwise meet consumer expectations for a natural food,” she said. “We urge Congress not to act prematurely to carve out a definition for 'natural cheese' that will confuse consumers and instead allow the FDA and USDA to define ‘natural’ clearly and consistently across all foods.”

DAIRY PRIDE Act

NMPF executive vice president Tom Balmer told the subcommittee that Congress needs to pass the DAIRY PRIDE Act soon to ensure that FDA does its job in upholding the definition of milk terms.

Allowing non-dairy products to use dairy terms to promote goods with wildly different nutritional values has undermined public health and directly flouts FDA’s own rules, Balmer said in testimony at the hearing. Proper labeling benefits consumers by drawing clear distinctions among products, encouraging better-informed choices, he added.

“Plant-based industrial food processors typically go to great lengths to try to replicate real milk by grinding seeds, nuts or grains into a powder, adding water, whiteners, sweeteners, stabilizers and emulsifiers, possibly blending in some vitamins and minerals and then marketing the resulting concoction using dairy terms,” Balmer said. “By calling these products ‘milk,’ they are clearly seeking to trade on the health halo of real milk. Yet, these imitators engage in misleading marketing because their products don’t have the same consistent nutritional offerings as real milk.”

Federal regulations clearly state that a product labeled as milk comes from a cow or certain other lactating animals and that other dairy products are, likewise, made from animal milk. FDA has not been enforcing these regulations, NMPF said.

The DAIRY PRIDE Act, introduced by Reps. Peter Welch (D., Vt.) and Mike Simpson (R., Ida.) in the House and Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.) and Jim Risch (R., Ida.) in the Senate , would designate foods that make an inaccurate claim about milk contents as “misbranded” and subject to enforcement of labeling rules. It would require FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days of its passage and require FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable in its enforcement. The legislation would force FDA to act against plant-based imitators of milk, cheese, butter and other products that brazenly flout FDA rules. 

Newly confirmed FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has voiced his support for “clear, transparent and understandable labeling for the American people.” Still, given the agency’s inability to follow up on earlier pledges to act, NMPF is calling for the passage of the DAIRY PRIDE Act as a vehicle to require FDA action.

Jeff Lyon, general manager of FarmFirst Cooperative, said, “The DAIRY PRIDE Act would allow for much-needed clarity in the dairy case and remind consumers that, often, substitutes just can’t compare. This issue has gone on far too long, and its truly American consumers that continue to be misguided. FarmFirst urges Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible and require the FDA to enact a regulation they’ve ignored.”

China’s protein shortage an opportunity for chicken

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Let’s just talk about the elephant in the room, Dr. Paul Aho, president of Poultry Perspectives, said to attendees at the Poultry Market Intelligence Forum being held in conjunction with the 2020 International Production & Processing Expo this week in Atlanta, Ga. In 2019, China produced 54 million metric tons of pork, but due to the devastating impact of African swine fever, the company will produce only 36 mmt of pork in 2020.

“That’s a gap of 18 mmt,” Aho said. “Now, to put that into perspective, the U.S. produces 12 mmt of pork, so that’s a U.S.-and-a-half that’s gone missing. That has a big effect on the whole world.”

As a result, China is going to import quite a bit more pork, Aho noted, explaining, “In 2018, China imported 1.6 mmt; this year, they are going to import 3.7 mmt. That covers about 12% of the gap. As they cover that 12% of the gap, they’re going to take 40% of all the pork that's in world trade.”

Compare that with the 20% China imported back in 2018, he added. “They’re not going to cover much more of that gap by importing more pork," Aho pointed out.

On the beef front, Aho said China imported 1.5 mmt in 2018 and is expected to import 2.9 mmt in 2020. “That covers about 8% of the gap, and that’s about 25% of the beef that’s in world trade,” he said.

While Chinese consumers prefer beef or pork over chicken, Aho said the country will import 0.3-0.7 mmt, which “covers about 2% of the gap. That’s less than 10% of chicken in world trade.”

Also, while he said Chinese consumers don’t really care for white-feathered chicken, U.S. poultry just regained access to the Chinese market last year after it was banned in January 2015.

Domestically, Aho said chicken production in China rose from 7.4 mmt to 8.5 mmt. “As they did that in the face of a severe protein shortage, the price of chicken went down. So, as the Chinese were provided this great protein, they didn’t particularly like it,” he noted.

As such, Aho said projections are that chicken production in 2020 will not rise, because “that’s not the way they want to fill the gap.”

Although additional imports of red meat and poultry as well as aquaculture products will help ease the shortage, China will still have a deficit of 9 mmt, Aho said.

“That gap is not going to be filled. The Chinese will be consuming 9 mmt less of protein than they really would want to eat, and that helps support the price of meat worldwide,” he said.

China is potentially a big market for chicken, despite not liking white-feathered chicken meat, Aho said, explaining that Chinese consumers love the paws from white-feathered chickens, which “are practically worthless” without the Chinese market.

“They may develop a taste for leg quarters in the future,” he said, pointing out that even though there is still a 35% duty on U.S. poultry shipments to China, leg quarters are still going in.

Overall, Aho said Mexico will remain the largest export market for U.S. chicken, but “China could be an important market in the future.”

Market recap

April live cattle futures saw large losses during trading hours this week. However, contracts closed Monday at $121.30/cwt. and Thursday at $120.20/cwt.

March feeder cattle futures were mixed, with large losses on Monday. Contracts closed lower Monday at $135.175/cwt. but higher Thursday at $135.65/cwt.

For beef cutout prices, Choice and Select closed lower at $213.35/cwt. and $211.48/cwt., respectively.

Cattle futures weren’t the only commodity experiencing losses this week. April lean hog futures contracts fell most of the week, with contracts closing lower Monday at $70.425/cwt. and Thursday at $65.825/cwt.

The pork cutout was mostly lower, with the wholesale pork cutout closing at $69.57/cwt. Loins were higher at $68.87/cwt., while hams were lower at $57.79/cwt. Bellies were sharply lower at $94.66/cwt.

Hogs delivered to the western Corn Belt closed at $54.59/cwt. on Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the Eastern Region whole broiler/fryer weighted average price on Jan. 24 at 91.08 cents/lb.

According to USDA, egg prices were steady, with a steady to higher undertone. Offerings were light to moderate, while supplies varied. Demand was moderate to good.

Large eggs delivered to the Northeast were higher at 83-87 cents/doz. Prices in the Southeast and Midwest were unchanged at 87-90 cents/doz. and 75-78 cents/doz. Large eggs delivered to California were $1.61/doz.

For turkeys, USDA said the market was steady to firm, and demand was light to moderate. The price range for hens and toms was unchanged at 91 cents to $1.00/lb.

USPOULTRY, foundation put $200,000 toward FFAR-funded research

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John Prestage, senior vice president, Prestage Farms, and immediate past chairman of USPOULTRY, presenting the SMART Broiler Research Initiative $100,000 check to Dr. Tim Kurt, FFAR scientific program director.

The U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn. (USPOULTRY) and the USPOULTRY Foundation announced $200,000 in sponsorship funding for two poultry research projects to benefit the U.S. poultry industry.

The sponsorship is in partnership with the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and will leverage research dollars for two projects that improve poultry welfare and efficiency, USPOULTRY said. The funds are being matched by FFAR for a total $400,000 investment.

The first research project, the SMART Broiler Research Initiative, is a collaborative research program supported by FFAR and McDonald’s that is developing automated broiler welfare monitoring technologies for commercial poultry farms. These technologies may also be applicable to the turkey industry. Existing methods for assessing animal welfare rely on human observation and subjective scoring.

This initiative is identifying automated solutions to provide objective and comprehensive information about poultry welfare across the supply chain, USPOULTRY said.

The second research project, the Egg-Tech Prize, is an initiative of FFAR and Open Philanthropy that is developing new technologies for accurate, high-speed and early-stage in ovo sex determination of layer chicks. Only female chicks are used for producing layer hens; male chicks do not lay eggs and are unsuitable for consumption.

The Egg-Tech Prize incentivizes companies and individuals to develop a technology that accurately determines the sex of an egg before it hatches and allow hatcheries to divert male eggs to the food or animal feed supply chains or use them in vaccine production, USPOULTRY said. This would solve the issue of male chick culling and improve the sustainability of egg production worldwide.

The six winners of the Egg-Tech Prize Phase I were announced by FFAR last November. The winner of the $4.5 million Egg-Tech Prize will be announced in 2021.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to actively collaborate with FFAR as a platinum sponsor for both of these projects. We anticipate that these innovative, unique and cutting-edge technologies will allow the poultry industry to further enhance producer viability, ensure animal well-being and meet the changing needs of the industry,” said John Prestage, Prestage Farms senior vice president and USPOULTRY chairman.

“The Egg-Tech Prize and SMART Broiler are both cutting-edge research initiatives that seek to address global animal welfare concerns and revolutionize on-farm practices while enhancing production,” FFAR executive director Dr. Sally Rockey said.

Better handling tools explored for non-ambulatory swine

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What do producers do when livestock are not able to walk due to illness or injury? This problem does not have an easy solution, although that may change soon, according to researchers at Iowa State University.

National standards for humane management of swine require sick or injured non-ambulatory pigs to be moved with a drag mat, in most situations, Iowa State said in an announcement. This reduces risk and stress to pigs and is also meant to make moving an animal safer and less stressful for swine producers.

Still, the industry has yet to find an effective and practical drag mat. The National Pork Board guidance on humane swine handling through the Pork Quality Assurance Plus certification and educational programs sets criteria swine caretakers and producers must use if they want certification through the Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA), Iowa State explained. The 2014 rules prohibit “dragging of conscious animals by any part of their body, except in the rare case where a non-ambulatory animal must be moved for a life-threatening situation,” and indicate that non-ambulatory pigs may be moved by using a drag mat.

“These guidelines sound straightforward, but producers have been telling us that to meet the requirements, they need better tools that are economically feasible, pig safe and worker safe,” said Anna Johnson, professor of farm animal behavior and welfare in the Iowa State department of animal science.

As a result, Johnson worked with animal science graduate student Ella Akin to research the problem. Akin, now a health and animal care associate for a pig production company in Nebraska, led the study for her master’s thesis, in cooperation with other team members. Their findings are described in two new Iowa State Animal Industry Reports that review the experience of workers in a pork production facility using four different types of handling tools.

In preliminary work, Akin observed caretakers using rubber weaning mats. “We found that these rubber mats really are not satisfactory drag mats for finisher pigs,” she said. “The mats were too heavy, tore easily and pigs kept sliding off. They also were difficult for caretakers to handle.”

This led Akin and the team to consider better options. They adapted other types of handling tools for on-farm use, developing three modifications to test: a sked (from an HMH sked rescue system), a sled and a deer sled modified from the type hunters use. Five swine facility employees — one woman and four men — assessed the handling tools on a commercial swine facility site in central Iowa.

In two controlled experiments, they moved three sizes of market-weight pigs (cadavers weighing about 130, 201 and 216 lb.). Employees used each handling tool to move all sizes of pig over a distance representing a typical length from a home pen to a hospital pen. The employees also had to roll, position and reposition the pigs. The handling tools’ effectiveness were rated based on employee heart rate, force, handling tool duration and durability. Researchers also assessed the tools based on cost and on the employees’ satisfaction with using the handling tools.

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In the end, they considered the sked as the easiest tool to use overall, in part because of convenient, buckle-type restraints that helped keep the cadavers in place, according to the announcement. The sled was ranked as more difficult or neutral due to the longer time it took to secure string-type restraints. The modified deer sled was considered very easy to use due to its size and weight but was not preferred without restraint straps.

“It is important to look at handling tools that are CSIA compliant,” Johnson said. “The stakes are pretty high. We need better solutions. This is a good start and gives us an idea of what isn’t working and what might work better, but these options still need more testing in different situations.”

Details of the research were published in two Animal Industry Reports: "Employee Survey to Determine Movement Ease for Grow-Finish Pig Cadavers On-Farm Using a Sked, Deer Sled & Modified Deer Sled" and "Movement Ease for Grow-Finish Pig Cadavers On-Farm Using a Sked, Deer Sled & Modified Dear Sled." Other authors include animal science professors Jason W. Ross and Kenneth J. Stalder, professor of veterinary medicine Suzanne T. Millman and Dr. Cassandra Jass and John Stinn with Iowa Select Farms.

The research was supported by the Iowa Pork Producers Assn., the Iowa State University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with in-kind assistance from Iowa Select Farms.

Texas VERO program gains $5m commitment

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Officials from the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS) announced a $5 million commitment to the developing 2+2 veterinary program through the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach (VERO) program on West Texas A&M University (WT) campus.

The additional funding from TAMUS will be used to increase faculty members from five to 23 for the VERO program, the announcement said. Current faculty members were secured with the support of a Legislative Appropriations Request by the Texas Education Agency.

The VERO 2+2 program is a continuation of initiatives led by TAMUS to support the agriculture industry and the young people of Texas. In 2019, TAMUS committed $90 million to the establishment of a 22,000 sq. ft. VERO facility to house the doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) curriculum and externship programs for the new clinical rotations in the Texas Panhandle as well as the 2+2 program. The 2+2 program will allow Texas A&M veterinary students to elect to spend their first two years in Canyon, Texas, on the WT campus for increased exposure to large animal needs in rural communities, the announcement explained.

“Texas A&M’s 100-year-old veterinary program is an established, accredited route for students seeking their DVM degree,” WT president Walter V. Wendler said. “Paired with WT’s prime location for the cattle industry, with ample opportunities to work with large animals through [externships] and internships, is a recipe for a prosperous veterinary services industry in Texas. We are thrilled with the seamless collaboration between these two campuses and eager to be a part of educating Texas A&M veterinary students on WT’s campus.”

The first cohort of fourth-year veterinary students will begin clinical rotations at the Agricultural Sciences Complex on the WT campus starting this summer. The first cohort of up to 18 first-year veterinary students will begin their DVM education at the VERO in the fall of 2021.

Every year after that, two cohorts at one time will be cycling through the Canyon location before their third year at CVM in College Station, Texas, with the option of returning to Canyon for a portion of their fourth-year clinical rotations.

“Through our VERO program, Texas A&M, the CVM and WT are prioritizing the need for rural and food animal veterinarians -- needs that affect citizens of the Texas Panhandle and citizens in rural communities across the state,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M.

“Our VERO educational team, led by Dr. Dan Posey, is working to meet these needs by helping West Texas A&M gather and mentor regional students to help them produce the best veterinary school application possible. In just three-and-a-half years under Dr. Posey’s leadership, the number of successful veterinary college applications from West Texas A&M has tripled,” Green added. “The next step is to bring them back home to serve their hometowns in the Texas Panhandle region, and the 2+2 program will be a key part of this critical next step.”

Combining the power of the two campuses’ resources will expose students to unique, diverse learning opportunities in a large state with some underserved regions. Faculty of the VERO program encourage incoming students to engage locally and consider working in communities that have a greater need for a large-animal veterinarian, TAMUS said.

Approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the TAMUS Board of Regents and the American Veterinary Medical Assn.'s Council of Education to finalize the program is pending.

FEEDSTUFFS IN FOCUS: A Conversation with Alltech CEO Mark Lyons

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The feed and livestock industry is a major part of the global economy, and what happens in one corner of the globe – say a major swine disease outbreak in China, for example – has far reaching implications around the globe, from animal health to dollars and cents. Understanding how global customers make food-buying decisions, anticipating future needs of the international market, and dealing with trade disruptions and political flare ups are all part of the deal for leaders in this industry.

In this episode we sit down for a fireside chat with Dr. Mark Lyons, the CEO of Alltech, a global animal nutrition and biosciences company with 6,000 employees operating in more than 120 countries. Dr. Lyons has at different points in his career led the company’s efforts in Brazil and most recently in China, where he led the Alltech office in Beijing and focused on building bridges between China and the wider industry through research, education and strategic initiatives.

In a wide ranging conversation drawing on his vast global experience and perspective, Lysons discusses topics including his company's work on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, issues and opportunities to grow the feed and animal protein business in China and Brazil, and the effect African Swine Fever has had on the feed and livestock industries.

We also discuss the shifting sands of animal disease issues and consumer feelings toward agriculture technologies, get his sense of where the industry is heading in the decade ahead, and learn about his vision for a "planet of plenty."

For more information, visit Feedstuffs online.
Follow Feedstuffs on Twitter @Feedstuffs, or join the conversation via Facebook.

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AFIA/Feedstuffs name Koch Farms as 2019 Feed Facility of the Year

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Koch Farms of Morton, Miss., wins the 2019 FFY of the year and the integrator category. From left: Gary Huddleston, AFIA's director of feed manufacturing and regulatory affairs; Dennis Gordon, Koch Farms' regional vice president; Deb Garczynski, wife of Frank; Frank Garczynski, Koch Farms' mill manager; Tim Belstra, AFIA's Board chair; Constance Cullman, AFIA's president and CEO; and Sarah Muirhead, Feedstuffs' editor.

The American Feed Industry Assn. (AFIA) and Feedstuffs congratulate Koch Farms of Morton, Miss., for being named the 2019 Feed Facility of the Year (FFY). Gary Huddleston, AFIA director of feed manufacturing and regulatory affairs, announced that the mill won the award during AFIA’s Feed Production Education Program, held at the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, Ga.

“Koch Farms is our overall winner because it is extremely obvious that the mill is very well managed,” Huddleston said. “I was blown away by the cleanliness of the facility, and that shows how dedicated the whole team is to delivering a safe and high-quality product.”

The FFY award recognizes overall excellence in feed manufacturing operations, from the company’s commitment to safety, quality and regulatory compliance to employee development to overall operating efficiencies. To date, only 34 facilities have received this esteemed industry award.

Koch Farms’ Morton mill produces nearly 800,000 tons of feed per year, all of it going to the poultry integrator’s farms located in the surrounding region. Koch Farms is part of Koch Foods, a food processor and distributor based in Park Ridge, Ill., that is considered among the largest private companies in the U.S. Started as a one-room operation in 1985, Koch Foods is today considered one of the nation’s largest vertically integrated poultry producers, with locations across Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee.

There are many factors that helped Koch Farms win the overall FFY award, including its commitment to organization, cleanliness and safety. At Koch Farms, cleanliness and safety go hand in hand and are the center of the team’s daily mission. “A clean work area is a safe work area” is the messaging prominently displayed at the mill in Morton, and to mill manager Frank Garczynski, those aren’t merely words.

The mill has a built-in vacuum system for cleaning, which has been upgraded in the past year to allow for even more effective cleanups. The new vacuum system is available to all levels of the facility and allows the team to carry the hose from area to area and simply plug it in. Garczynski noted that with the 30 hp motor, it is very effective at removing dust.

“Cleanliness is important not only from a safety and quality standpoint, but it also helps with employee morale and retention,” Garczynski said. “The facility is often visited by the Koch management team and potential and existing customers.”

A new parts and equipment maintenance storage building has enabled the facility to maintain excellent organization and cleanliness. “Prior to the new storage building, organization was nearly impossible, and cleanliness in that part of the facility was a struggle,” Garczynski said. “It was very difficult to lay hands on or know what parts were accessible quickly.”

The facility has upwards of 325 grouped areas of equipment in its parts management system. Garczynski explained that they can’t risk long periods of downtime at the mill, as it can have significant ramifications throughout the rest of the production system. The new 70 x 40 storage building is where the parts are inventoried and stored to allow for easy access when needed. The facility used a Lean Management-influenced 6-S organization (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain and safety) system to lay out the building contents.

Despite the large amount of feed produced, the Morton mill has not had a lost-time accident in four years. The mill is considered in the top 5% of individual mill capacities worldwide, and it is all produced in just five days a week.

AFIA has conducted the FFY program since 1985, and it is recognized as a first-class benchmarking program for the animal food industry, awarding top-performing facilities in four categories: commercial dry, integrator, liquid feed and premix. From those, the FFY award is selected. More information on the FFY program, as well as a list of past winners, can be found on AFIA’s website.

AFIA recognized the category winners last week and honored them with plaques at today’s Feed Production Education program. Western Milling of Goshen, Cal., topped the commercial dry livestock feed category; Koch Farms of Morton, Miss., won the integrator category; Quality Liquid Feeds of Menomonie, Wis., won the liquid feed plant category, and Trouw Nutrition of Neosho, Mo., won the premix manufacturing plant category.

AFIA would also like to recognize the semifinalists of each program category, including:

  • Commercial dry livestock feed category -- Kent Nutrition Group of Bow, N.H.; ADM Nutrition of Cordele, Ga., and Kent Nutrition Group of Columbus, Neb.
  • Premix category -- Animix of Juneau, Wis., and Bellstra Milling of Demotte, Ind.
  • Integrator category -- Sanderson Farms of Oakwood, Texas; Collins, Miss., and Laurel, Miss.
  • Liquid feed plant category -- Performix Nutrition Systems of Nampa, Ida.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation threatens EPA with litigation

Chesapeake Bay Foundation threatens EPA with litigation

Following what was characterized as repeated failures by the Environmental Protection Agency to hold the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions accountable to meet their pollution reduction goals, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a member of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, announced that it is preparing a notice of intent to sue EPA. However, in a response letter to members of Congress, EPA noted that it is fully committed to the restoration of the bay and said the threatened litigation distracts focus and resources from bay restoration efforts.

The question of whether the total maximum daily load (TMDL) itself is enforceable by a court was answered by the previous Administration in court filings defending the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, the EPA Region 3 office said in a statement. In 2016, the Obama Administration told the U.S. Supreme Court that a TMDL is an informational tool that “does not impose any binding implementation requirements on the states” and that “the bay TMDL does not directly regulate any sources or require any permits.” The Trump Administration agreed with these statements.

EPA and the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions together have legal authority to ensure the implementation of bay TMDLs. As has been done since the bay TMDL was issued, EPA said it will continue to use its existing authorities under the Clean Water Act to ensure that all six Chesapeake Bay states and Washington, D.C., are accountable for implementing their share of the bay TMDLs’ nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions.

“The mischaracterization of the EPA Chesapeake Bay program director’s recent remarks is unfortunate and distracts from the good work that is being done by agency employees,” the statement issued by the EPA Region 3 office noted.

Choose Clean Water Coalition director Kristin Reilly stated, “For decades, efforts to improve local water quality throughout the Bay watershed failed until EPA provided accountability to ensure cleanup goals were met. Regrettably, EPA has absolved itself from enforcement and abdicated its responsibility to hold jurisdictions accountable. This is just part of the larger trend from the current Administration to roll back critical environmental regulations that safeguard our land, air and water.”

Reilly said the Chesapeake Bay is getting cleaner: Bay grasses are increasing, upstream water clarity is improving and pollution is declining. “These positive results are not a result of wishful thinking. The District of Columbia and the six states and that are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have taken significant steps towards restoring and protecting their local waterways. Critical to this success is EPA’s role in enforcing cleanup efforts,” she said.

Reilly noted, “Legal actions taken against EPA are the unfortunate result of the agency not doing its job. With the bay beginning to heal, now is the time to accelerate cleanup efforts. We stand ready to work with all stakeholders to take positive steps towards clean water in our local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay.”

“Nothing more clearly signifies the EPA’s ongoing commitment and accountability to the restoration of the bay than our most recent Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) evaluations,” EPA Region 3 Administrator Cosmo Servidio said.

In the evaluations, EPA pointed out that five of the bay jurisdictions, including Maryland, must do more to achieve their goals. EPA said its evaluations also identified targeted and extensive EPA support to assist the jurisdictions in their efforts to implement the WIPs.

However, in the letter, Servidio stated, “Diverting our collective resources to litigation will undoubtedly distract from efforts to restore the bay and harm the existing partnership among the parties that has been the hallmark of this effort.”

Judge sides with state beef checkoff entities

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In the matter of R-CALF vs. Sonny Perdue, a magistrate judge granted summary judgment to the government and the 15 qualified state beef councils targeted by R-CALF USA and its activist legal partners at Public Justice.

In May 2019, R-CALF USA filed documents in the federal district court to declare the beef checkoff practices in 15 states unconstitutional in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The decision of the magistrate judge will now be forwarded to the federal district court for a final ruling, NCBA said in a statement. It could continue to be appealed by either party after the district court judge issues an opinion -- a process that will continue over the next several months or longer.

“We are pleased with today’s opinion, which allows state beef councils to continue the important work of beef promotion and research. Although this case is far from complete, this was a crucial step toward ensuring state beef councils retain the important ability to direct their investments at the grassroots level,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) chief executive officer Colin Woodall said.

“The beef checkoff continues to provide important benefits for cattle producers in the form of research and promotion that returns nearly $12 for every dollar invested in the program. The beef checkoff is weakened, and the benefits it provides our industry are put in jeopardy by lawsuits such as this one,” Woodall said. “We’re committed to defending state beef councils from these attacks and ensuring producers at the grassroots level continue to determine how checkoff dollars are invested in their states.”

R-CALF USA’s lawsuit contends that in each of the 15 states, the state beef councils are private corporations that have been keeping half of all the mandatory beef checkoff assessments collected within their states to fund their “private speech.”

The group is challenging this practice on the grounds that the First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling cattle producers and other citizens to subsidize private speech.

The remedy to this constitutional violation, according to R-CALF USA, is to allow producers in those 15 states to choose whether or not to fund private corporations. If producers choose not to fund their private state councils, their money should go to the government to fund its work on behalf of ranchers, which the Supreme Court has held is constitutional. This now occurs in Montana, where R-CALF USA was granted a preliminary injunction in June 2017.

Secretary Perdue discusses EU trade relations

US State Department photos by Serge Vandendriessche Perdue in Belgium Jan2020.jpg
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue began his European trip in Belgium. He then traveled to the Netherlands and Italy the week of Jan. 26-30. Perdue engaged his counterparts on the important issues facing agriculture at home and abroad. The Secretary will also meet with industry representatives and tour agriculture operations.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was upbeat about tackling outstanding issues with the European Union in any trade discussion, including sanitary/phytosanitary (SPS) trade barriers that plague U.S. farmers. Perdue has been traveling to Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy to engage with his counterparts there on important issues facing agriculture at home and abroad.

In a media call Wednesday morning, Perdue said SPS issues, including, for instance, the so-called ban on chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef imports, will be important issues to resolve. Europe currently bars imports of poultry products treated with chlorine dioxide, a commonly used treatment in the U.S. that Perdue said is consumed “all the time” in the U.S. without concern.

Perdue said, “We think we’re very close to equalizing the trade balance between our two entities.” He said U.S. agriculture sector currently runs at $10-12 billion trade deficit with the EU.

Initially, the EU had said agriculture could not be included in discussions for any trade deal, but Congress and the Administration said that’s a non-starter. “From our perspective, in any kind of trade agreement, agriculture would be engaged,” Perdue said. He noted that this isn’t suggesting that tariffs have to be on the table, but SPS issues have to be addressed.

Perdue has said he’s willing to offer reciprocity to the EU regarding some issues with imports of apples and pears as well as goats, and they’re close to resolving those to include as part of an agreement that may come out of overall discussions with Europe.

Geographic indicators, such as limiting the use of common food terms like feta and parmesan, is another sticking point with the EU. “They’re still very proud of their geographical indicators,” the secretary said, adding that many Americans were European settlers and brought over recipes and names decades ago. Perdue pointed out the hypocrisy of feta cheese, which is restricted from only Greece, yet cheesemakers in France can sell their feta cheese around the world.

Meanwhile, the U.K. plans to formally leave the EU bloc on Friday. When Perdue was asked whether he had any discussions with the nation, he said he is giving the U.K. a little bit of time to get more settled.