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Conveyor Currents                               January 20, 2012
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Upcoming Dates
                  

2012

 

April 18-21, 2012  CGFA Annual Convention ~ The Hyatt Regency, Monterey, CA

April 17-18, 2012, Montana Livestock Forum and Nutrition Conference in GranTree Inn, Bozeman, MT

May 16-17, 2012,  California Animal Nutrition Conference ~ Radison Hotel & Conference Center, Fresno, CA

2013

January 16-17, 2013   Grain & Feed Industry Conference, Embassy Suites, Monterey, CA

April 24-27, 2013  CGFA Annual Convention ~ The Hyatt Regency, Huntington Beach, CA


2014

January 15-16, 2014   Grain & Feed Industry Conference, Embassy Suites, Monterey, CA

April 23-26, 2014  CGFA Annual Convention ~ The Sheraton Resort, Maui, HI


In This Issue
2012 or 2013 for Farm Bill?
New Food Safety Rulemakings Behind Schedule
Bill to Broaden, Reinvent RFS Introduced
Federal Government Consolidation Authority Sought by Obama
GE Alfalfa Challenge Rejected by Federal Court
New Highway Program Reauthorization Package Expected by February
2012 or 2013 for Farm Bill?

 

With just about every association executive and lobbyist in town having declared there will be no Farm Bill enacted in 2012, the chairs of the respective agriculture committees continue to contend they'll try, but they can't guarantee it won't be 2013 before new omnibus farm legislation is signed by the President. Members of the House Agriculture Committee are predicting a one-year extension will be passed to move the Farm Bill past elections to spare it from becoming another victim of spending cuts and deficit reduction.  

 

Others say there isn't enough political cooperation to get the bill past the committee stage, and this week Chuck Connor, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), who was the deputy secretary of agriculture under President Bush, said another big reason why there won't be a Farm Bill this year is because the various groups with a stake in the rewrite of direct farm program payments can't decide what they want. House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R, OK) added fuel to the fire this week when he said June was the drop-dead point for having a bill ready for floor action. "I do think any time from June on it becomes extremely hard to get anything done," he said. Ignoring those who say it can't politically be done this year, retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D, ND), chair of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, said the political and fiscal climate in 2013 could be worse than this year, adding he wants to see a new bill in 2012.  

 

Conrad confirmed he intends to introduce a bill shortly that "is less complex, more defensible and will provide a more effective safety net for farmers...the new program I'm proposing will complement crop insurance without undermining it by providing some protection from shallow losses that crop insurance does not typically cover."


New Food Safety Rulemakings Behind Schedule

 

FDA rulemakings to implement new requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are bottlenecked at the Office of Management & Budget (OMB), and will likely not be published by the July statutory deadline because of the sheer length of the rulemakings and their cost impact on industry. The preventive controls draft rule, as well as the "animal feed draft," are under review by OMB. Other rulemakings sitting at OMB include the foreign supplier verification draft and the produce safety standards draft rule. Even activist groups acknowledge the economic impact on industry.  

 

A lobbyist for Food & Water Watch, an environmental activist group, was quoted in a recent "Inside Health Policy" article acknowledging the length of the rules and allowing the financial impact on industry will be "significant." He said the preventive controls draft - the "heart and soul of the new law" - is more than 600 pages, and the initial cost estimate of the feed rule - setting process and ingredient standards - is over $100 million. FDA stands by its earlier estimate of a $100-million price tag for the feed process regulations, but has also said that until the final regulations are published that cost is subject to change.

 

The agency says it still plans to publish the proposed rule sometime this summer. It's now expected both rules will not see the light of day until at least a few months past the July deadline. At that time, it's expected industry will seek an extension of the planned 60-day comment period, further delaying the rulemaking. The OMB review time lag forced the agency to postpone a planned series of stakeholder meetings, originally set for February.

 

Bill to Broaden, Reinvent RFS Introduced

 

Saying "it's long past time for Congress to address the failed RFS," Rep. Pete Olson (R, TX) this week introduced legislation to allow all forms of ethanol - not just corn-based ethanol - to meet Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) quotas on biofuel production and fuel blending, putting non-corn ethanol, particularly those fuels derived from natural gas and coal, in competition with the corn-based variety. The bill would establish a new "domestic alternative fuel" definition as an independent fuel category and list it within the rules that set blending rates under the RFS. Olson said the exclusive recognition given to corn-based ethanol by the RFS "has translated into higher feed costs to livestock producers and higher food costs for working families." He said Congress will look at eliminating the RFS, but in the meantime the eligibility of other biofuels needs to be addressed. Olson's bill is seen as the first of a series of bills that will be introduced this year to reinvent or eliminate the RFS.

 

Federal Government Consolidation Authority Sought by Obama

 

President Obama announced January 13 he wants to regain congressional authority - repealed during the Reagan Administration - to consolidate six federal agencies under the U.S. Department of Commerce's banner. The White House plan to seek authority to reinvent the administrative side of the federal government has fueled speculation over additional agency consolidation moves, including media reports indicating the Administration will move to combine the food safety inspection and regulatory functions of USDA and FDA if Congress approves the President's request, as well as the possibility of a consolidation of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The President will press the need for new authority in his State of the Union message January 24, as part of the overall spending/deficit reduction platform.  

 

The commerce/trade function consolidation plan would roll together Commerce Department core business development and trade functions, along with the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR); the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC), and the U.S. Trade & Development Agency (USTDA). However, critics contend each of these entities has responsibilities that go well beyond trade promotion, and the functions of some actually conflict. Several individual organization letters opposing the trade office consolidation have been sent to the White House, including opposition from the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA) and the American Soybean Assn. (ASA), with at least another group letter expected. There are also those who point to the lingering unpleasant memories connected with creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which pulled agencies and program functions from across the federal government, and which many argue still functions inefficiently. If consolidation authority is granted, Congress would be required to give each submitted plan a straight up-or-down vote within 90 days of White House submission.

 

However, getting Congress to grant the authority to move forward will be a major task, given a GOP-controlled House, even though Republican presidential candidates are making federal government downsizing a central plank in their party's platform. In the case of a USDA-FDA food safety consolidation, such a move would likely have to go beyond the two major food safety regulators as there are 14 separate federal entities with some oversight of U.S. food safety. If the White House were to only consolidate regulatory authority over meat slaughter, processing, labeling and retailing, it could be argued limited efficiencies would be gained. The call for a single federal food safety agency is not new. Legislation has been introduced in the last several Congresses to achieve this goal, but none of the bills saw action. All of the legislative proposals, however, envision all federal food safety programs being consolidated in either USDA or FDA, or as an independent, cabinet-level agency. The White House has posted a "Government Reorganization Fact Sheet" at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/13/government-reorganization-fact-sheet.

 

GE Alfalfa Challenge Rejected by Federal Court

 

The latest challenge to USDA deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa was tossed out this week by a federal district court judge in San Francisco, but opponents of GE alfalfa said they'd appeal the decision. The judge's action found arguments that USDA action on alfalfa was illegal to be without merit and dismissed the suit, saying the contention USDA had failed to consider glyphosate-resistant weeds in its decision was "fundamentally flawed for a variety of reasons." The judge basically ruled the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), in its review of the GE alfalfa, did its job, concluding that contamination from the GE plant was possible, but unlikely.

 

New Highway Program Reauthorization Package Expected by February

 

A six-year $400-500-billion reauthorization of federal highway spending programs is expected to be released by the first of February by the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, a bill House GOP members will likely embrace as their "jobs bill" in response to President Obama's push for job creation legislation. House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) said if the committee can approve the package, he'll have it on the House floor before February 20. Last month, over 100 members of Congress sent President Obama a letter urging his support for the six-year package that would be a "fully funded and paid-for reauthorization with investment above current funding." Existing programs, which fund federal highway, bridge, infrastructure and urban commuter projects, have not been fully reauthorized since 2009, and the current temporary extension expires March 31.  

 

While the full committee has not released details of its package, members of the committee see revenues from federal permitting of expanded oil and gas exploration as the likely source of funds to supplement federal fuel taxes to offset the cost of the package. The Senate last year passed a two-year extension of federal highway programs, but also approved the short-term extension of the current package. At the end of January, the Coalition for Transportation Productivity - a broad coalition of companies and associations pushing for congressional approval of language to give states the option to allow 97,000-lb. trucks on interstate highways as long as the trucks are fitted with an additional axle and increased braking power - will descend on Washington to push for the reauthorization package. Currently, U.S. interstate highways have a weight limit of 80,000 lbs. Both Canada and Mexico allow the heavier trucks.