August 31, 2009
WSJ: Recession hits down on the farm
From the Wall Street Journal:
Recession Hits Down on the Farm
By SCOTT KILMAN and LAUREN ETTER
The American farm, which has weathered the global recession better than most U.S. industries, is starting to succumb to the downturn.
The Agriculture Department forecast Thursday that U.S. farm profits will fall 38% this year, indicating that the slump is taking hold in rural America. Much of the sector had escaped the harsher aspects of the crisis, such as the big drop in property values plaguing city dwellers and suburbanites.
August 27, 2009
USDA ERS Report on Global Economic Crisis and Agricultural Trade
From the USDA Economic Research Service:
Abstract: The global economic crisis that started in late 2008 has led to a sharp curtailment of international trade, including a short-term decline in the value of global agricultural trade of around 20 percent. While not uniform across commodities and regions, the trade impact appears to be stronger on crops than on livestock. Global agricultural trade after slowing will continue to grow in the future. Economic growth prospects of emerging and developing countries will be important in determining composition of trade toward increased high-value products. The crisis is leading to a realignment of exchange rates, and the ultimate resolution of the crisis will depend on adjustments in the exchange value of the U.S. dollar. The U.S. agricultural sector would benefi t from a depreciating dollar, which results in high export earnings, high agricultural commodity prices, increased production, and increased farm income.
August 24, 2009
Study Finds Mercury Contamination in Freshwater Fish Nationwide
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study released [August 19, 2009].
About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals.
“This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds, and many of our fish in freshwater streams,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation’s waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers.”
Some of the highest levels of mercury in fish were found in the tea-colored or “blackwater” streams in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana — areas associated with relatively undeveloped forested watersheds containing abundant wetlands compared to the rest of the country. High levels of mercury in fish also were found in relatively undeveloped watersheds in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. Elevated levels are noted in areas of the Western United States affected by mining. Complete findings of the USGS report, as well as additional detailed studies in selected streams, are available online. . . .
Washington Post editorial on Sugar, Imports, and Ag Policy
DOWN ON the farm, the latest dispute pits America's sugar producers against their biggest customers: food manufacturers that add the sweetener to everything from raisin bran to raspberry yogurt. The food makers are unhappy with a recent tightening of supplies that has pushed the wholesale price of refined sugar to 35 cents per pound. Warning of higher grocery prices and lost jobs, the manufacturers want Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to . . .
August 23, 2009
Vilsack, Hamburg to speak at National Food Policy Conference September 8-9
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg will be providing keynote addresses at the 32nd Annual National Food Policy Conference, September 8-9, 2009, in Washington, DC.
From the conference website:
For 32 years, the National Food Policy Conference has been a Washington institution and a unique collaboration between consumer advocates, government and the food industry. It is a key national gathering for those interested in agriculture, food and nutrition policy. The conference is coordinated by the Consumer Federation of America, in cooperation with the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
This year's conference will focus on food safety and child nutrition, two issues that have become critical concerns in recent months both domestically and internationally. This year’s conference will explore food safety reform at the Food and Drug Administration, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act and children’s health. Speakers and panelists will explore the connections between health policy and nutrition, how to regain consumer trust once it has been lost, and the implications of new media technologies on policy making, among other issues.
August 21, 2009
WSJ Law Blog: On Bananas, Pesticides and Lawyers Behaving Badly
From the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
We’ve blogged before on the craziness that is the litigation against Dole Food Co. brought by banana-plantation workers. (Click here, here and here.) But WSJ reporter Steve Stecklow takes it all to another level today, with his front-pager, which takes a comprehensive look at the situation.
In a word, it’s ugly — on a whole bunch of levels.
August 01, 2009
NYT: 2 Agencies Take Steps to Improve Food Safety
The August 1, 2009, New York Times online includes an article on recent food safety efforts:
2 Agencies Take Steps to Improve Food Safety
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
Strengthening its efforts to keep a deadly strain of E. coli out of meat sold to consumers, the Department of Agriculture said Friday that it would begin regular testing of meat trimmings used to make ground beef.
At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration said it was working to develop mandatory standards for growing, harvesting and processing fruits and vegetables, going well beyond the rules in place today.
July 17, 2009
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders -- concerns about milk monopoly
News Release from Bernie Sanders's website:
July 14, 2009
Citing a “disaster in the making” on Vermont dairy farms, Sen. Bernie Sanders has asked the U.S. Justice Department antitrust division to investigate milk processors. The senator met last week with Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, the antitrust division chief, to request “a very serious look” at Dean Foods Inc., which dominates some two-thirds of the New England milk market. We’re supposed to be living in a country that embraces competition in the marketplace and free enterprise but that’s clearly not what’s happening when one company controls 70 percent of the market,” Sanders told The Burlington Free Press.
Sanders also has spoken with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about increasing price supports paid to dairy farmers. “Farmers have seen the price for their milk drop from $19.50 per hundred pounds a year ago to less than $11 in June. Meanwhile, Dean Foods profits climbed from $30 million in the first quarter of 2008 to $76.2 million for the first quarter of 2009. “To the best of my knowledge, Dean Foods now controls about 70 percent of the liquid milk production in New England -- 70 per cent. And while family farm incomes are plummeting, Dean Foods has seen very significant rise in profits,” Sanders said during a press conference on Monday at his Senate office in Burlington.
“The low milk prices that Vermont dairy farmers are now receiving are unsustainable,” Sanders said. “If this continues, we will be losing more and more farms, which would be a disaster for our state.”
The Senator's website also has links to some other articles about dairy industry troubles.
July 15, 2009
Wall Street Journal Opinion on "Max Baucus's Fish Sense"
From theWall Street Journal Opinion Journal, July 14, 2009:
Senator Max Baucus . . . .[is] right on a trade issue now percolating in Washington: There's no reason to launch a trade war with Vietnam over fish.
At issue is the possibility that the Department of Agriculture could effectively ban imports of Vietnamese pangasius fish, which is similar to U.S.-produced catfish. The excuse for the move would be food safety; USDA is considering whether the Vietnamese fish should be subject to a stricter inspection regime. But . . .
July 13, 2009
National Food Policy Conference
The Consumer Federation's annual Food Policy Conference takes place September 8 & 9 in Washington, DC.
"For 32 years, the National Food Policy Conference has been a Washington institution and a unique collaboration between consumer advocates, government and the food industry. It is a key national gathering for those interested in agriculture, food and nutrition policy. The conference is coordinated by the Consumer Federation of America, in cooperation with the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
This year's conference will focus on food safety and child nutrition, two issues that have become critical concerns in recent months both domestically and internationally. This year’s conference will explore food safety reform at the Food and Drug Administration, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act and children’s health. Speakers and panelists will explore the connections between health policy and nutrition, how to regain consumer trust once it has been lost, and the implications of new media technologies on policy making, among other issues."
Registration information is available on the conference website.
June 02, 2009
FDA Forms Transparency Task Force
FDA News Release:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced the formation of a task force to develop recommendations for enhancing the transparency of the agency’s operations and decision-making process.
To support the efforts of the task force, today the FDA issued a Federal Register notice announcing a June 24, 2009, public meeting to solicit recommendations on how the agency can make more available, useful and understandable information on its activities and decisions.
"Our administration is committed to making government open and transparent," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "The Transparency Task Force will give the American people a seat at the table and make the FDA more open and accountable."
"President Obama has pledged to strengthen our democracy by creating an unprecedented level of openness and public participation in government, and the FDA looks forward to participating in this process," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “I have asked the Transparency Task Force to deliver recommendations to me for ways to make more information available and foster better understanding of decision-making.”
The task force will be chaired by Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, M.D., and will include center directors, the associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, chief scientist, and the chief counsel.
"Implementation of the Transparency Task Force’s recommendations should make agency actions and decisions, and their underlying processes and bases, more transparent to the public," said Sharfstein. "I look forward to chairing this task force and reporting our findings to Commissioner Hamburg."
The Transparency Task Force will:
- Seek public input on issues related to transparency;
- Recommend ways that the agency can better explain its operations compatible with the appropriate protection of confidential information;
- Identify information the FDA should provide about specific agency operations and activities, including enforcement actions and product approvals;
- Identify problems and barriers, both internal and external, to providing useful and understandable information about FDA activities and decision-making to the public;
- Identify appropriate tools and new technologies for informing the public;
- Recommend changes to the FDA’s current operations, including internal policies and guidance, to improve the agency’s ability to provide information to the public in a timely and effective manner;
- Recommend legislative or regulatory changes, if appropriate, to improve the FDA’s ability to provide information to the public; and
- Submit a written report to the commissioner on the Transparency Task Force’s findings and recommendations.
The establishment of the task force follows President Obama’s Jan. 21, 2009 memorandum directing executive agencies to find new ways of making information available to the public rapidly and in a form that is easily accessible and user-friendly.
For more information:
May 27, 2009
Marler will pay Michael Pollan's speaking fee
Bill Marler has offered to pay Michael Pollan's speaking fee at Marler's alma mater, Washington State University, and the university has accepted Marler's offer.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
In the recent case of Washington State University’s dropping Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma as its “common reading” selection for the year, two rationales emerged: University officials said the reasons had to do with the institution’s dire budget outlook — there was just no money to bring in a big-name author like Mr. Pollan, they said. Meanwhile, some faculty members and others said the book was dropped because it attacks one of the university’s bases, Big Agriculture.
Well, Bill Marler, a Seattle-based personal-injury lawyer who specializes in food-poisoning cases and who has become something of a food-safety advocate, is throwing down the gauntlet. “Hey, Michael Pollan, I’ll pay your way to Pullman,” Mr. Marler, a Washington State alumnus, writes on his blog. “I have my checkbook ready.”
I knew it was the economic pressures that public education is facing and not any political pressure that caused the change in the reading of Omnivore's Dilemma and Michael Pollan's visit to Pullman. The WSU I graduated from and served, would not bend to that kind of small mindlessness. As I said to a reporter:
“I certainly understand the financial problems that WSU and other colleges and universities are facing,” said Marler, an attorney from Bainbridge Island. “However, I also thought it would be important for the public to understand that Washington State University views freedom of speech and academic expression as something that is truly fundamental to its mission. I am pleased I could help in this regard.”
April 07, 2009
US Food Producers File 1 Billion Dollar LawsuitA recent release from the Dow Jones Newswire reports that five domestic producers of food products filed a $1 billion lawsuit seeking class-action status against a handful of major insurance companies and the U.S. government for alleged damages caused by dumped Chinese food products.
The complaint alleges the insurers' negligent issuance of customs surety bonds, and the subsequent refusal to pay under the bonds, allowed the sale of "huge amounts of competing food imports" from China at below cost, or "dumped" prices.
The complaint alleges that for eight years, the insurers negligently issued hundreds of customs surety bonds that guaranteed the payment of any dumping duties the government might determine were owed by U.S. importers for the specified Chinese goods.
The five producers - Sioux Honey Association, Adee Honey Farms, Monterey Mushrooms Inc., The Garlic Co. and Beaucoup Crawfish of Eunice Inc. - say the alleged action caused "severe financial damages."
Read the article.
Michael Coursey of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, the firm representing the food producers, said:
“Without these customs surety bonds, the importers could not have brought in and sold the Chinese goods in the U.S. market at steeply dumped prices. The dumping of these imports forced the domestic producers to significantly lower the prices for their competing products, causing the producers to lose hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Michael Coursey, a partner in Kelley Drye’s