By Jason Huffman | 04/20/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Jenny Hopkinson, Catherine Boudreau, Anthony Adragna, Caitlin Emma and Megan Cassella
WHAT PERDUE TOLD CONGRESS IN WRITING: Turns out Sonny Perdue wants the USDA to continue promoting organic and local food, put in place a trade undersecretary and give school districts more power over decisions on students' meals. A review of 120 questions and answers for the record from 10 Senate Agriculture Committee members, obtained by POLITICO, show that the former Georgia governor: thinks the jury is still out on whether humans are causing climate change; will prioritize reducing paperwork and regulatory burdens and improving coordination with other agencies; and supports a big-tent approach to agriculture. But details were scarce on his plans for pending issues before the department, particularly GIPSA.
So what did we take away from the questions and answers?
- Perdue never said 'no'. While he would dodge questions or say that he has yet to be briefed on programs or issues, the nominee never once rejected a lawmaker's question or stance. He did, however, respond with just a single word - "yes" - on 33 occasions, or about a fourth of the questions.
- Not everyone wants their Q&As out before the vote. Only 10 members of the committee supplied their questions - while three told MA they hadn't submitted any. Chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow both declined to make theirs available, preferring instead to have them released when the full record on Perdue is made public. The full Senate on April 24 is scheduled to vote on Perdue's nomination.
- Trips to New York and Vermont are in his future. Perdue told Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that he would pay their states a visit if confirmed. Add that to the promises he made to visit Montana, South Dakota and Colorado during his confirmation hearing, and he will have a busy travel schedule to look forward to once taking office.
- Trump's infrastructure bill could be the fix for proposed USDA cuts. Perdue's plan to rely on President Donald Trump's potential infrastructure overhaul to recoup cuts to USDA rural programs - which the White House outlined in its "skinny" budget - sticks out among the policy discussion. Perdue wasn't part of budget negotiations, but has repeatedly promised to protect USDA where he can. Based on his answers, it seems part of that strategy is pushing issues like rural water system funding and broadband infrastructure as priorities.
- New York's brewers need barley, but barley needs crop insurance. While lawmakers queried Perdue on a slew of pet issues, none seemed to get the commitment that Perdue gave to a request from Gillibrand on extending crop insurance coverage to malting barley, which is apparently in short supply for New York's craft brewers. Perdue said "yes" to requests from the senator to direct the Risk Management Agency and the National Agricultural Statistics Service to lay the groundwork for a program. Read the full story from Pro Ag's Jenny Hopkinson and Catherine Boudreau here.
HAPPY THURSDAY, APRIL 20! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host was intrigued to learn from Nick Romeo, at NPR's the salt, how a Nogales, Ariz., farm is the first in the country to get Fair Trade-certified and how others are looking to do the same. Thoughts, news, tips? Send them to email@example.com or @JsonHuffman. Follow the whole team at @Morning_Ag.
PERDUE PITCHES STRONG ROLE IN TRADE TALKS: Sonny Perdue is eager to establish a USDA undersecretary for trade, based on his responses to questions submitted for the record by members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Perdue said he will request that a plan for implementing the new trade post be developed and would report that to Congress. The former Georgia governor promised Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) that he would fill the position as quickly as possible.
Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explored creating the position, which was mandated in the 2014 farm bill and long advocated for by both lawmakers and industry groups, though he often warned Congress it would be a complicated move to consolidate under one mission area the department's varied international trade activities.
Perdue, in response to multiple senators who raised concerns about the Trump administration's trade agenda, also said he plans to work side by side with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative-designate Robert Lighthizer to ensure future trade deals expand and protect markets for American farmers and ranchers: "If confirmed, I will be an aggressive partner in making sure that all of American agriculture is represented in our trade efforts," he told Gillibrand.
Biotech approvals: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) brought up frequent delays in other countries' - including China's - approval of new biotechnology traits for grain crops, and asked what Perdue would do to streamline the process so farmers can have the best technology as soon as possible. Perdue said he will "insist that USDA be more aggressive in supporting advancements in biotech."
WAITING FOR OTHER HOOF TO DROP IN N.C. CAFO BATTLE: North Carolina's General Assembly returned from its April break on Wednesday, and environmental groups are watching for the Senate agriculture and environmental panel to schedule a review of S.B. 460, a bill limiting the damages that property owners can seek in nuisance suits against nearby animal feeding operations. The bill is a companion to H.B. 467 , which passed the state's House of Representatives more than a week ago by a 68-47 vote and received considerable attention from the Environmental Working Group in an article on Monday. EWG and the Waterkeeper Alliance are both involved in battling the bills, which they argue would fundamentally alter private property rights.
The legislation would allow individuals suing concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, to only receive compensation for the loss of a property's fair market or rental value. EWG says such an approach would bar more significant claims for losses due to illness, injury or the inability to use and enjoy a property, though pork industry representatives say that's a misunderstanding. The assembly isn't expected to end its session until July, so there may be little pressure to rush the bill forward.
OREGON GMO CONTAMINATION BILL LIVES ON: An Oregon measure that would put biotech patent holders on the hook in cases when genetically engineered seed finds its way into organic and conventional fields has been granted a little more time. HB 2739 was in danger of running into an April 18 deadline for reporting bills out of committees of jurisdiction. But Oregon's House Judiciary Committee voted 11-2 this week to send it to the House Rules Committee, where the deadline does not apply, the Portland Tribune reports. The lawmakers did not include a recommendation that the measure be approved.
If the legislation passes, Oregon will be the first state to put such liability on companies, a spokesman for an agribusiness group opposing the legislation told the Tribune. The Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group that lobbied for the bill, told MA on Wednesday that it is optimistic about its chances for passage. Amy van Saun, a legal fellow with CFS, noted that it would help the state's organic seed industry. Read the Tribune story here.
U.S. SHOOTS DOWN INDIA WTO COMPLIANCE PANEL REQUEST: The U.S. has blocked India's first request for a compliance panel that would examine whether New Delhi is complying with an earlier ruling that faulted restrictions on imports of U.S. poultry and other agricultural products, Pro Trade's Adam Behsudi reports.
The World Trade Organization's appellate body first declared India's import restrictions illegal in 2015, directing the country to revise measures aimed at addressing concerns over the spread of avian flu. After India released a revised compliance measure in September, the U.S. complained the following month at a meeting of the dispute settlement body that the import restrictions were still "substantially more trade-restrictive" than what is allowed under international trading rules.
India made a second round of changes to its regulations that the U.S. argues still falls short of being in compliance with trade rules. "The United States is confident that India has no basis for asserting compliance with the [dispute settlement body] recommendations in this dispute," the U.S. delegation said at a Wednesday meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, according to prepared remarks provided to POLITICO. U.S. officials said a compliance panel proceeding wouldn't lead to a prompt resolution of the dispute and added that they continue to work with India to find a solution to the ban on U.S. poultry products.
BIG MONEY FLOWS INTO SANTA FE SODA TAX FIGHT: With just 70,000 residents, Santa Fe is a small city, but it's attracting big money ahead of its May 2 vote on a soda tax to fund pre-K. Warring PACs with weirdly similar names - Pre-K for Santa Fe (pro-tax) and Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K (anti-tax) - have collectively taken in nearly $1.6 million, according to the most recent round of campaign disclosures. That's enough to hand each resident more than $22 in cash.
The American Beverage Association has chipped in at least $800,000 to oppose the tax, while former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had pitched in more than $320,000, mostly in the form of media buys, to support it.
OH WOTUS IS ME: As EPA begins its process of reconsidering the Obama administration's highly controversial waters jurisdiction regulation, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold its own hearing next week entitled "A Review of the Technical, Scientific, and Legal Basis of the WOTUS Rule." Witnesses have yet to be announced for the April 26 session.
BLM DISMISSIVE OF SURVEY ERROR IN COURT FILING: Sure, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management may have goofed in the way it surveyed a 116-mile stretch of the Red River separating Texas from Oklahoma before using the surveys to seize land from a number of Texas farmers and ranchers, but the federal agency says that's no reason to immediately rule in the farmers' favor.
BLM filed its 36-page response to a motion for summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Wichita Falls, late Tuesday, narrowly making a deadline. One of the arguments: "As plaintiffs knew before they filed their motion, BLM had concluded that the three surveys used an inappropriate methodology and that it planned to officially suspend them (which it now has done). ... As plaintiffs are aware, defendants have never represented that the informal map provides an accurate determination of the location of the boundary of the federal public lands, and they certainly do not intend to do so in this litigation." Read the motion here. Catch up with the history of the case here.
TAX REFORM FALLBACK PLAN HAS ITS OWN PROBLEMS: The agriculture industry is keen on having Congress move forward on tax reform, but it's tricky - and should the Republicans revert to their fallback plan of simply cutting taxes, they may find themselves in an even stickier situation, reports Pro Tax's Brian Faler this morning.
One reason: The first thing many Republicans want to cut is the widely reviled corporate income tax, but if they do that they'll face enormous pressure to also cut taxes on the millions of unincorporated businesses, or they'll be accused of helping Home Depot but not their local hardware stores. Read Faler's article here.
LOS ANGELES NIXES 'McTEACHER'S NIGHTS': The board of the nation's second-largest public school district this week voted to end "McTeacher's Nights," or local school fundraisers in which teachers work behind the counter at McDonald's and serve students and their families, Pro Education reports. The National Education Association, in addition to dozens of state and local teachers' unions nationwide, have been calling for an end to the fundraisers, which they see as corporations marketing fast food to kids.
Corporate Accountability International, which opposes the fundraisers, says more than 700 McTeacher's Nights have taken place in more than 30 states since 2013. The advocacy group says LAUSD's board is the first to end holding such events. Frank Sanchez, a McDonald's franchisee in Los Angeles, offered the following comment: "As a member of the community and a McDonald's franchisee, I have long supported what matters most to my customers and the community. McTeacher's Nights are one way we do that. We've held these events at the request of and in partnership with local schools to help raise funds needed for important student programs and initiatives."
DATES SET FOR ALABAMA SENATE VOTES: In case you missed it, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has announced dates later this year for a special election for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' old Senate seat, now held by Republican Luther Strange, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Ivey's proclamation sets the primary for Aug. 15, 2017 and a runoff for Sept. 26. The general election will be on Dec. 12, almost a year ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Sessions' term expires in 2020. Newly resigned former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange, then the state attorney general, to the seat this winter.
MA'S INSTANT OATS:
- FDA announced Wednesday that it has signed a food safety comparability agreement with Australia, marking the third time such a deal has been struck with a foreign country.
- The U.S. Trade Representative's Office announced Wednesday that it has signed an agreement with Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Georgia and New Zealand that would facilitate trade and combat wine counterfeiting.
- A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit protects the right of district courts to decide criminal violations under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Food Safety News' Dan Flynn explains here.
- Iowa lawmakers have voted to zero out funding for a center that supports sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University, DTN reports.
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