By Christine Haughney | 10/12/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With Helena Bottemiller Evich, Doug Palmer and Adam Behsudi
BUSINESSES, AG GROUPS IN REVOLT: With the fourth round of NAFTA talks underway, several major ag and business groups are increasingly worried about the Trump administration's plans for revamping the 23-year-old agreement.
An ad hoc coalition that included the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, the Coalition of Services Industries and others hit Capitol Hill on Wednesday to enlist lawmakers in their campaign against the Trump administration's new approach to trade policy, Pro Trade reports.
The stakes are huge for ag exporters in particular if NAFTA is killed. For most sectors, the prevailing tariffs would be low, but farmers would see a 25 percent tariff on shipments of beef, 45 percent on turkey and some dairy products, and 75 percent on chicken, potatoes and high-fructose corn syrup sent to Mexico, The New York Times reports.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, however, made the case that the potential danger of a NAFTA withdrawal to U.S. agricultural producers was an "empty threat."
"As far as I can tell, there is not a world oversupply of agricultural products," Ross said during an event hosted by the Dentons law firm. "Unless countries are going to be prepared to have their people go hungry or change their diets. I think it's more of a threat to try to frighten the agricultural community."
In another sign of NAFTA withdrawal anxiety, two frequent critic of trade agreements - Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Rep. Bill Pascrell - called on Republicans to schedule a hearing to examine the economic costs of Trump deciding to terminate the pact. Stay tuned to POLITICO Pro Trade and Pro Ag for how this round, which has been extended by two days until Oct. 17, fares.
HAPPY THURSDAY, OCT. 12! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host is happy to give a birthday shout-out to Andrew Bahrenburg, policy director at the National Young Farmers Coalition who turns 32 today. I welcome all thoughts, scoops, tips, feedback, birthday shout-outs and wedding announcements. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or @chaughney. Follow the whole team at @Morning_Ag.
GLYPHOSATE WARRIORS LOCK HORNS: A hearing in the European Parliament on Wednesday focused on whether Monsanto, which uses glyphosate in its Roundup weedkiller, unduly influenced scientific research used by regulators in determining the substance's safety. Monsanto itself failed to show up to the hearing, but its views were represented. The European Union is hotly debating whether to renew glyphosate's license in the trading bloc and has until mid-December before it expires.
Ghostwriting claims: David Kirkland, a scientist funded by Monsanto to review research on glyphosate, addressed allegations found in court documents from a legal case in California that suggested Monsanto had attempted to "ghostwrite" scientific literature. Emails showed that William Heydens, a former Monsanto executive, had suggested that they could hire academics to put their names on papers actually written by Monsanto. This "was clearly naive," said Kirkland. "It clearly did not lead to any policy decision," he said. "There was no ghostwriting."
Macron says no impasse: French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday that although France was against the idea of renewing glyphosate's renewal, the nation would not hold up the European Commission's vote on its renewal, POLITICO Europe reports. Macron said that France would instead help farmers transition away from using glyphosate by funding research looking at the alternatives to the product. The guarantee will come as a huge relief to the commission, which has urged member countries to take responsibility for controversial decisions.
THE SODA TAX MOMENTUM GAME: The Cook County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday repealed the Chicago-area's recently enacted penny-per-ounce soda tax, kicking off an immediate spin debate: Is this a one-off rebuke, or a sign that the national soda tax movement is sputtering?
The vote in Chicago wasn't close. The commissioners decided 15 to 2 in favor of repeal - a steep, veto-proof margin - that showed just how unpopular the tax had become. The repeal came after an expensive and boisterous fight, pitting the billionaire Michael Bloomberg against the American Beverage Association and its allies. Late last week, a number of key commissioners flipped their position on the tax, opening up a path to repeal.
"We see this as a momentum swing," said Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for ABA, noting that other communities have rejected taxes lately. In May, voters in Santa Fe, N.M., rejected a tax and last month the city council in St. Helens, Ore., unanimously voted against a tax there. "People are just saying we want the government to find other ways to pay for their priorities rather than taxing working people."
Health advocates, for their part, see this as an aberration. "The people in Cook County just lost a big public health protection, which is disappointing and sad, but I don't think a repeal in Cook County is any way indicative of the broader movement across the country to tax sugary drinks, an unhealthy and dangerous product," said Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America.
Bad P.R. for soda either way? Marion Nestle, a food policy professor at New York University, dismissed the idea that the repeal was a big deal. "I don't think it matters," Nestle said in an email, hinting that the multimillion-dollar media blitz over the ills of sugar-sweetened beverages itself was a win. "I'm guessing sales will drop in Chicago."
Mo' cities coming: In other news, health advocates say that more cities are going to launch soda tax campaigns in the coming weeks and months. No word yet on where.
SALAD BARS GAIN STEAM IN THE LUNCHROOM: Sliced and diced produce is slowly finding its way onto more lunch trays in the nearly $14 billion National School Lunch Program. On Wednesday, a coalition of produce industry leaders, school nutrition directors and foundations celebrated the donation of more than 5,000 salad bars to schools across all 50 states during the past seven years.
"One of the most impactful ways we can fight childhood hunger is by ensuring that the food served in our schools is nutritious and appetizing," said the first lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, who participated in the celebration at Lynbrook Elementary School in Springfield, Va. McAuliffe told the audience of nutrition leaders and schoolchildren that her favorite vegetables were radishes.
Salad, salad everywhere: The Salad Bars to Schools project - funded by Whole Foods Market, the Chef Ann Foundation, the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance and the United Fresh Start Foundation - has donated salad bars that reach more than 2.5 million kids across the country, and it's part of a broader trend. Survey data indicate that about one in three or one in four American schools now has a salad bar in the cafeteria. Schools interested in applying for one can do so here.
Which vineyards have been damaged by Northern California wildfires: The San Francisco Chronicle has a list of vineyards and their locations that it is updating regularly here.
Puerto Rico will receive nutrition assistance in hurricane aid bundle: The $36.5 billion funding package will devote $1.3 billion to nutrition assistance, POLITICO reports. That puts Puerto Rico in a similar position to money given to states that were recently affected by hurricanes. Eater reports that Puerto Rico's coffee crop, one of its prized commodities, may never recover after two back-to-back hurricanes.
'Cartel' may get approved: EU farmers are poised to win new powers allowing them to form cartels to fight low prices, POLITICO Europe reports. The move is highly controversial and has angered both the European Commission's typically all-powerful competition department as well as food manufacturers and retailers.
The 'Codfather' forfeits some of his fleet: A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that U.S. Marshals will auction off part of fishing mogul Carlos "the Codfather" Rafael's fishing fleet, POLITICO reports. The judge ruled last month that Rafael will serve 46 months in prison for violating federal fishing regulations.
How can the USDA improve its data collection? The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine laid out its plans for USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Pro's Catherine Boudreau reports.
MacArthur Foundation gives nod to farm workers: Greg Asbed, 54, a founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which seeks to improve conditions for those who work in the Florida tomato industry, was named as one of the MacArthur Foundation fellows -- referred to informally as a "genius grant." Asbed told The New York Times that he would use the $625,000 grant to run and expand the group's Fair Food Program. Since 2010, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and companies like Walmart have signed onto the program.
Brexit could cut farm profits by half: Britain's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, an advisory group, released a report predicting Brexit will slash farm profitability in half in the worst-case scenario. Find the report here.
What's the future of food? The Nation asks -- and answers. The magazine latest issue explores topics such as: how to build a sustainable food system; whether local food can lead Appalachia into the future; and whether a grain called Kernza could help replace wheat.
DOJ and State partner to fight visa abuses: Both departments announced on Wednesday they would work more closely to share information about companies violating visa programs like the H-2A program, Reuters reports.
Restaurant chains copy real estate in borrowing: Restaurant chains are embracing high-risk borrowing structures similar to the securitization deals used during the real estate boom, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Baer goes from Senate Ag to Maine: Julian Baer, a longtime nutrition policy wonk, recently left his post as senior policy adviser to Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and has accepted a position as acting director of government relations and policy at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The state lists Baer's new job here.
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