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Articles from 2015 In April

Senate introduces bipartisan WOTUS fix

A new bipartisan bill in the Senate would require the Environmental Protection Agency withdraw its proposed waters of the U.S.  rule currently in its final stages, and instead refocus EPA’s efforts on protecting navigable waters.  

Beginning in 2007, legislative attempts were made to take the term “navigable water” from the Clean Water Act and in 2009 efforts were soundly defeated. Environment and Public Works Committee chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) said EPA’s latest attempt to circumvent Congress and exert expanded jurisdiction stops with the bipartisan legislation which looks to better define what waters of the U.S. includes and doesn’t include.

S.1140 Federal Water Quality Protection Act requires the EPA and Army Corps to withdraw the rule and re-write their proposal with consideration of stakeholders and review of economic and small business input, following through with the straightforward procedures EPA skipped the first time. The bill also requires EPA to adhere to definitions included in the bill, specifically limiting the reach of a new rule. It also requires a comment period on the revised proposed rule of no less than 120 days and a final rule published no later than Dec. 31, 2016.

EPA and the Corps of Engineers proposed rule expands the scope of federal authority over land and water to encompass all water in a flood plain, manmade water management systems, and water that infiltrates into the ground or moves overland, and any other water that they decide has a “significant nexus” to downstream water based on use by animals, insects and birds and water storage considerations, shifting the focus of the Clean Water Act from water quality protection and navigable waters to habitat and water supply.   

The legislation reaffirms the original intent of the Clean Water Act and provides clear direction with regard to the types of water bodies that would not fall under federal regulation under the Clean Water Act such as groundwater, natural and manmade isolated ponds, storm water and flood water management systems, constructed water systems, prior converted cropland, municipal and industrial water supply management systems, and puddles.

The legislation orders EPA and the Corps to review and respond to the more than 1 million comments on the original rule, conduct an economic analysis, review unfunded mandates, as well as other measures to be reported to Congress.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), one of the sponsors of the bill, explained it is important for Congress to intervene and provide guidance of what requires federal jurisdiction and what can be left for local and state authorities to oversee. “We’re doing what Congress should do which is legislate and not leave it up to the regulatory agencies,” she said.

Heitkamp challenged that the current proposal and uncertainty created has slowed down appropriate kinds of soil management. North Dakota for example is in the middle of an historic wet cycle, impacting farmers across the state with flooding and pooling water.

She said the bill makes sure that EPA takes these unique conditions into account and proposes a rule to regulate water that actually considers what is happening on farmers’ land.

Nearly 90 agricultural organizations have voiced support for the Senate bill in a letter to the EPW committee earlier in the week.

House Ag Committee moves reauthorization bills forward

Thursday the House Agriculture Committee approved by a voice vote during its business meeting bills to reauthorize the Grain Standards Act and Mandatory Price Reporting Act. The week prior each bill had a hearing to vet the proposals.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson said, “The United States Grain Standards Reauthorization Act of 2015 will continue the inspections provided by the Federal Grain Inspection Service. These inspections provide a ‘gold standard’ assurance, backed by the federal government, to both grain buyers and sellers. The current system is working well and this bill will ensure that we have quality, qualified inspectors on the job.”

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) supported the bill’s enhancements to the current act. Particularly it brings more transparency and accountability to the process USDA uses to delegate to state agencies its authority to conduct mandatory official inspections at export facilities. In addition, the bill reiterates the responsibility for USDA to provide official grain inspection services at export elevators on an uninterrupted basis. The bill also includes an important change to the flawed formula now used by USDA to set user fees charged to export elevators, which NGFA estimates has resulted in up to $12 million in overcharges.

NGFA had testified that reauthorization legislation should require USDA utilize independent third-party entities to perform official inspections at export facilities under the same licensing and oversight that applies to entities that provide official inspection services to domestic elevators. In a recent study conducted for NAEGA found that between 20 and 25% of U.S. exports of bulk grains, oilseeds and major coproducts currently are being re-inspected by these third-party entities in response to requests from foreign buyers. NGFA and NEAGA said they’ll continue to push for this inclusion as the bill proceeds.

On the Senate side, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its own hearing on the Grain Standards Act reauthorization on Tuesday, May 5. Witnesses include NGFA, NAEGA, American Soybean Assn. and the American Assn. of Grain Inspection and Weighing Agencies.

The House also approved its bill on reauthorizing the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act which allows producers and packers to access timely and accurate information regarding the price of the products they buy and sell. House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said after hearing from stakeholders, he was pleased the committee found a bipartisan consensus on the bill.

This reauthorization contains a number of industry-specific modifications proposed by the pork producers and sheep producers. It also included a provision that responds generally to industry concern regarding USDA’s arbitrary decision to shut this mandatory program down for several days during the lapse in appropriations that occurred in 2013 while other mandatory programs were deemed essential.

Conaway said negotiations are continuing between meat packers and cattlemen that may result in further amendments, but these discussions “may take days or possibly even weeks to complete.” He said he was hopeful that the meat packers will ultimately agree to the modifications requested by the cattlemen.

Each bill expires at the end of September. Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said he doesn’t anticipate any major obstacles on passing the reauthorization bills through the chambers to achieve passage before expiration.

Zoetis accepting nominations for pig caregivers award

Do you know a pig caregiver who goes above and beyond to consistently provide superior pig care? Nominate him or her for the Honoring Caregivers award from Zoetis.

Nominations for the Honoring Caregivers award — which recognizes exemplary pig caregivers and their positive contributions to the pork industry — are being accepted online at zoetisUS.com/HonoringCaregivers until June 22. Nominations also will be accepted at the Zoetis booth (#151 in the Varied Industries Building) at World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa.

"Pig caregivers work hard to raise healthy pigs and protect our food supply, but their efforts can go unrecognized," said Gloria Basse, vice president, U.S. Pork Business Unit, Zoetis. "In 2014, we honored five deserving caregivers, and we are looking forward to sharing the stories of more dedicated pig caregivers and the positive examples they set for other animal caregivers."

From the nominations, five caregivers will be selected as winners and receive a trip to New York City in September 2015. They will be honored at an awards reception where they will be recognized for their dedication to the pork industry. Winners also will receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Farm owners, veterinarians and others working in the pork industry are encouraged to nominate qualified farm employees. Nominated caregivers will be evaluated by an independent panel of judges based on their demonstration of commitment to the three pillars of superior pig care:

* Proper treatment — commitment to the responsible use of antibiotics to protect animal and human health;

* Proper disease prevention — commitment to maintaining proper biosecurity, hygiene and vaccination protocols to prevent disease, and

* Proper pig handling — commitment to proper pig handling techniques to ensure pig well-being.

"Caregivers who focus on biosecurity, proper pig handling and appropriate treatment for illness, make it possible to bring high-quality and high-value pork to market," Basse said. "At Zoetis, we believe that exceptional caregivers deserve to be acknowledged for the positive impact they have on the pork industry. We are excited to do that through the Honoring Caregivers program."

Any individuals who are directly involved with the daily care of pigs and are legally employed in the United States are eligible to be nominated and selected as a winner. For more information on the Honoring Caregivers award and the official contest rules, please visit zoetisUS.com/HonoringCaregivers.

Japanese minister says TPP 'goal is near'

The highly anticipated visit by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe did not include any breakthrough agreement on the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions, but leaders expressed optimism that a final deal is getting closer.

Agricultural products and auto are the two significant issues needing to be worked out between Japan and the United States bilateral discussions among the broader TPP deal.

Up to this point, Japan has held that the key commodities of sugar, rice, wheat, dairy, pork and beef are “sacred” commodities and would not allow increased market access.

Sources indicate that every product is on the table, and even though rice is the most politically sensitive product, it too will not escape getting a free pass without providing U.S. producers additional market access. Negotiators from the two countries continue to work long hours and feel encouraged on progress made and are getting very close to having final details worked out.

In Abe’s address to Congress on April 29, he said, “Japan’s agriculture is at a crossroads. In order for it to survive, it has to change now.”

He told Congressional members that during the Uruguay round of World Trade Organization discussions 20 years ago, he opposed opening’s Japan’s agricultural market and even joined farmers’ representatives in a rally in front of the Parliament. However, in the past 20 years Japan’s agriculture has gone into decline and the average age of its farmers is now more than 66 years old.

“We are bringing great reforms toward the agriculture policy that’s been in place for decades,” Abe assured. “We are also bringing sweeping reforms to our agricultural cooperatives that have not changed in 60 long years.”

Abe said in the U.S.-Japan negotiations, “the goal is near” and that TPP can come to a successful conclusion through the two nation’s joint leadership. In a joint conference with Abe, President Barack Obama said the two recognized as the two largest economies in the TPP negotiations, they will work together to lead the TPP partners to “swift and successful conclusions of the broader negotiations.”

Top ag leaders request emergency assistance for avian flu

The top four members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees called for emergency assistance to be released to poultry and egg producers whose flocks suffered losses due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N2 infections.

Agriculture Committee chairmen Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), and Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R., Texas), and ranking members Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), and Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget asking for the secretary of agriculture be approved to utilize his emergency Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) transfer authority to help mitigate the spread of HPAI and limit the economic damages it causes to poultry farmers whose flocks become infected with the disease. Such funds are specifically intended by Congress for use in emergency situations such as this HPAI outbreak.

USDA recently released CCC funds for indemnity payments to farmers with infected flocks, for management of depopulated flocks and for necessary sanitation efforts at infected farms. These funds will be critical in curtailing the effects of HPAI.

“However, USDA is expected to request additional CCC funds be issued in the coming weeks to combat the virus as it continues to spread. We recognize that tax-payer dollars must be spent wisely and that CCC funds must be available for other potential emergencies, but in this situation early response to HPAI is critical in ensuring resources are preserved,” the letter stated. 

It continued, “Further, we remind you that the Animal Health Protection Act clearly states, ‘a determination by the Secretary of the amount paid… shall be final and not subject to judicial review or review by any officer or employee of the Federal Government other than by the Secretary of the designee of the Secretary.’ We urge you to ensure that your agency takes all necessary steps to guarantee that it not impede USDA’s immediate response to this emergency. Farmers are already facing severe economic hardship due to bird mortality, disruption in their production cycles, and loss of export markets for unscientific reasons. We need to ensure the indemnification process and cleanup of infected farms occurs immediately to avoid additional disruption in rural America.”

The leaders noted the spread of HPAI is “causing widespread economic devastation throughout rural communities, and we request OMB to assist USDA in alleviating this impact by providing prompt emergency assistance through the release of CCC funds as intended by Congress.”

AABP issues drug use guidelines for bovine practice

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) has created "Drug Use Guidelines for Bovine Practice" to assist beef and dairy veterinarians in guiding appropriate, effective and legal drug use on cattle operations.

Because of the complexity of the issue, a special AABP task force comprised of veterinary and pharmacology experts in the feedlot, cow/calf and dairy sectors has been crafting these guidelines over a three-year period.

"This was the result of a very deliberate and careful process that took into account the great diversity of bovine practice types that our members find themselves engaged in," explained task force chairman Dr. Keith Sterner, a veterinarian from Ionia, Mich. "Ensuring that these guidelines met our members' and their clients' needs, complying with new and changing regulations and taking into consideration societal concerns and perceptions were the underlying principles that the task force concerned itself with in developing these guidelines."

The guidelines are divided into sections including establishing and maintaining a veterinarian/client/patient relationship (VCPR); using scientific knowledge and veterinary training for disease management; providing oversight on drug use on cattle operations; prescribing or dispensing drugs in a legal and ethical manner; preventing violative residues; avoiding compounded and unapproved drugs; assuring responsible use of antimicrobials, and using analgesics to control pain when indicated.

The guidelines also contain a list of prohibited/illegal drugs in cattle, the definition of an animal drug and numerous industry and government resources for further information.

"AABP members and other beef and dairy veterinarians desiring to further the responsible, ethical and appropriate use of pharmaceuticals in their practice and on client operations will find that these guidelines are a sound foundation on which to base proper drug use," Sterner said. "They are a straightforward resource for good decision making that is accountable, measurable and repeatable. They are based on sound scientific principle but they allow for the vastly varied geographic and types of livestock operations North America."

The guidelines can be found at http://www.aabp.org/resources/aabp_guidelines/druguseguidelines_2015-4-8-1.pdf and are available to members and the public. Other AABP guidelines can be found at http://aabp.org/about/AABP_Guidelines.asp.

AABP is a membership-based, not-for-profit organization serving cattle veterinary medicine professionals across the U.S., Canada and other countries.

Video provides inside look at poultry processing

The U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn. (USPOULTRY) released a new video that provides a look at how chickens and turkeys are processed in the U.S.

The video takes a behind-the-scenes look at today's high-tech, highly efficient poultry processing plants and highlights the food safety and sanitation practices employed by the modern poultry industry.

Food production and safety is critical to maintaining the reputation of the U.S. poultry industry for consumer confidence and trust, USPOULTRY said. Collectively, proper handling, interventions, sanitation and microbial testing all lead to improved food safety for chicken and turkey products.

Producing poultry for consumption is modern agriculture at its best and addresses the world demand for food that is safe and affordable, the announcement said. The poultry industry is proud to provide one of the safest and healthiest food options available to consumers and invites everyone to take a peek behind America's dynamic poultry processing industry.

The video is viewable on USPOULTRY's website, www.uspoultry.org. It can also be viewed on YouTube by clicking here and is being distributed to all USPOULTRY members as well.

Court denies injunction on Vermont GMO labeling law

The U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont affirmed the constitutionality of Vermont’s genetically engineered food labeling law, Act 120. The ruling denied the preliminary injunction motion brought by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Assn., Snack Food Assn., and other plaintiffs to try and halt the law’s implementation, and granted the State of Vermont’s motion to dismiss on several claims.

Act 120 was signed into law on May 8, 2014 and represents the first state to move to enacting labeling requirements for genetically engineered ingredients. The Vermont law is scheduled to take effect in July 2016. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, passed GE food labeling laws with effective dates contingent on other states passing similar legislation. Oregon also had a ballot initiative on GE labeling in November 2014.

In the denying the Plaintiffs’ injunction, Judge Christina Reiss declared, “Because the State has established that Act 120’s GE disclosure requirement is reasonably related to the State’s substantial interests, under Zauderer, Act 120’s GE disclosure requirement is constitutional.”

Among other decisions, the 84-page ruling by the Court specifically denied the Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. It also granted the State of Vermont’s motion to dismiss on several grounds, including dismissing claims that Act 120 was preempted by Federal Law, and that Act 120 violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, and that the Plaintiffs’ 1st Amendment Claims were subject to strict scrutiny. The ruling also held in the state’s favor on the remaining first amendment claims, but did not dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint.

The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. said the denial was based on the grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm. “We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options,” GMA said in a statement. “Manufacturers are being harmed, and they are being harmed now.”

GMA contends that Act 120 is unconstitutional as it imposes ‘burdensome new speech requirements on food manufacturers and retailers.”

The judge’s decision also ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on Act 120’s prohibition on labeling GE food as “natural.”

GMA and others have concerns the law sets the nation on a path toward a “50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will be costly and confusing for consumers.”

USDA continues to push for partial AI export bans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to advocate for regionalized partial bans in response to the ongoing spread of high pathogenic avian influenza in the United States.

Currently 41 countries have instituted regionalized bans, whereas 11 countries have banned all U.S. poultry imports. Agricultural officials claim full-country bans are not science-based and have urged countries such as China and Argentina to relax their full bans.

Several cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 have been identified in the Pacific, Central, and Mississippi flyways (or migratory bird paths). However, so far no cases have been confirmed on the East Coast.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Monday he spoke with his Chinese counterpart Ag Minister Han Changfu on looking at accepting a regionalized ban. Changfu said the Chinese law makes it difficult to adopt such an approach.

Vilsack said a Chinese delegation will be coming to the U.S. later this summer to see U.S. biosecurity controls designed to spot outbreaks and prevent them from spreading. “The goal is to reassure what we put in place to detect the onset of AI quickly.”

He noted that China has tried to compare its ban on U.S. poultry exports to the ban the United States currently has on Chinese cooked and processed poultry. Vilsack said the two are not the same, because the U.S. ban is based on human healthy food safety concerns, whereas the ban on U.S. poultry relates to animal health.

USDA has estimated poultry exports will decline by 8.5% this year due to import prohibitions that stem from bird flu and a strengthening U.S. dollar.

Some lessons have been transferred from the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) response to AI, Vilsack added. He said consistency in approach in reaching out to trading partners has been an important component. USDA has also worked similarly with the industry on biocontrol measures and with producers related to clean up.

USDA clarifies organic dairy requirements

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced April 27 that it is seeking comments on a proposed rule to clarify the requirements for the transition of dairy animals into organic production.

The proposed rule is based on the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board, an advisory committee of organic community representatives. The rule would update USDA's organic regulations by requiring that milk or milk products labeled, sold or represented as organic be from dairy animals that have been organically managed since the last third of gestation, with a one-time allowance for a producer to convert conventional dairy animals to organic milk production after a one-year transitional period.

AMS said by clarifying the manner in which producers can transition dairy animals into organic milk production and by promoting consistency among certifying agents, USDA establishes "a level playing field" that protects all organic farms and businesses and maintains consumer confidence in organically labeled products.

The proposed rule is published in the April 28 Federal Register. The organic community, stakeholders and consumers are invited to submit written comments on the proposed rule by July 27 by visiting www.regulations.gov.

Comments can also be submitted by mail, as instructed in the proposed rule, to Scott Updike, Agricultural Marketing Specialist, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-NOP, Room 2646-So., Ag Stop 0268, 1400 Independence Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-0268.

The National Organic Program, part of AMS, is responsible for ensuring the integrity of organic agricultural products in the U.S. and throughout the world.