With help from Liz Crampton, Helena Bottemiller Evich, John Lauinger and Maya Parthasarathy
The House could take an important step in moving farm bill talks forward next week by voting on a motion to proceed to conference — but Thursday provided the latest indication that bad blood between House ag leaders is one of the many issues yet to be sorted out in the coming weeks.
House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) met Wednesday for the first time in eight weeks, according to Peterson. Their relationship burst into flames over the House bill’s proposed changes to the food stamps program, which Democrats insist is a nonstarter. Peterson has vowed to team up with his Senate counterparts — Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — during conference negotiations despite misgivings about some parts of their bill. Both Roberts and Stabenow have drawn a hard line in the sand that they won’t play ball with any significant adjustments to SNAP beyond what they try to accomplish in their version (which mainly focuses on combating fraud within the program).
Peterson indicated to reporters that the face-to-face got heated. "I was not easy on him, and I told him bluntly what I think, which I always do,” he said. “He didn't like it, but I said I'm just telling what I think and I'm trying to be helpful."
"We get this thing into conference next week and if people become sensible it won't take long to do this,” Peterson said in a jab at House Republicans.
Countdown clock: Conaway acknowledged that “there will be difficult decisions” to be made in the coming weeks, but repeated that his foremost priority is to get the bill on President Donald Trump’s desk before the Sept. 30 deadline. He even has a countdown clock running on his phone to relay the urgency. “I got 80 days,” Conaway said Thursday. “That clock is running not only on my phone but its running in my head as well.”
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WASHINGTON HAS SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT ‘CLEAN MEAT’: The FDA on Thursday sent a clear message to the burgeoning cell-cultured meat industry and to the USDA amid an inter-governmental spat over jurisdiction: We're ready to handle this.
"This is not our first rodeo, so to speak, in this area," said Susan Mayne, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, which hosted a public meeting on the issue at its headquarters in College Park, Md.
The packed meeting in the Wiley Auditorium — a room named after famed chemist Harvey Washington Wiley, considered by many to be the father of the modern FDA — was a fascinating moment: A rare instance of a government agency gauging public input on a sector that some believe has tremendous potential to disrupt long-established meat industry standards and patterns.
But there are lotsa questions: The session covered many of the familiar talking points. Companies working on cell-cultured meat and seafood and their boosters argued that their “clean meat” products have the power to transform the food system and need a clear, trusted regulatory pathway to market. Meat interests raised concerns about labeling and argued for USDA — which has traditionally overseen livestock producers and related industries — to be allowed to direct the government's approach to the alternative products. But countless questions and concerns were also raised by consumer groups and scientists who specialize in meat, revealing how divided they are on the technology.
Consumer advocates skeptical: Groups like Food & Water Watch and Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, which are normally cheerleaders for efforts that promise to give consumers more sustainable food options, openly questioned the government’s ability to regulate the new technology. Friends of the Earth, a group that has been sharply critical of the sector, was slated to testify, but ultimately didn’t present a comment at the meeting.
Hill goes to bat for USDA: Republican and Democrat leaders from the House Agriculture Committee and the Appropriations Committee’s agriculture panel wrote to the White House Office of Management and Budget this week also urging a more active USDA role in oversight.
** A message from the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy: American small businesses and manufacturing workers deserve a fair sugar policy that works for everyone in the supply chain – from farm to retail shelf. Thank you to those in Congress who have supported the widespread, bipartisan effort to modernize the U.S. sugar program. Learn about our efforts at FairSugarPolicy.org. **
CHINA PLACES BLAME ON U.S. FOR TRADE TENSIONS: China’s Commerce Ministry on Thursday said Washington is “fully responsible” for the escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies. While the tersely worded statement came in response to Trump’s plan to slap tariffs on another $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, Beijing didn’t shy away from calling out the U.S. for all its recent trade actions.
“When the U.S. willfully exits from groups based on its own interests under the pretext of 'American First,' it becomes an enemy to all,” the Chinese government said.
China’s not the problem: Beijing also called out the U.S. for making “groundless” accusations of unfair trade practices and not moving forward in negotiations.
“From February to June this year alone, China engaged in four rounds of high-level economic talks with the U.S., and has announced the China-U.S. Joint Statement with important consensus reached on strengthening trade and economic cooperation and avoiding a trade war,” the ministry said. “But due to domestic politics, the U.S. has gone back on its words, brazenly abandoned the bilateral consensus, and insisted on fighting a trade war with China."
Not too late for a deal? Despite the back-and-forth, the two countries could reach a deal as early as August to end the escalating trade war, said Derek Scissors, a China policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute who serves as an outside adviser to the Trump administration. Scissors said it could be a deal “focused on [reducing] the trade deficit.”
Defender of world trade order? In the meantime, China’s leadership is positioning itself as a defender of the world trade order. Beijing is trying to convince governments, organizations and companies — including U.S. firms — that it’s a champion of free trade, and send the message that it’s open for business and wants to keep globalization on track.
“The U.S. is sabotaging the global free-trade system which was initiated by Washington decades ago. This is a new cold war which threatens world peace and global development,” said a source close to decision makers in Beijing. “China is committed to further opening up … to bring opportunities to the world.” South China Morning Post’s Orange Wang and Zhou Xin have more.
Let’s focus on trade deals: House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday urged the Trump administration to go after new deals instead of new tariffs.
"The other [Trans-Pacific Partnership] nations have moved forward with that agreement," Ryan said, referring to the 12-nation pact that Trump pulled out of on his third day in office. "Any day now the EU will sign a new trade agreement with Japan. The EU has also recently initiated negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. So the point is, the world is moving ahead. They're getting preferential agreements between themselves."
The Wisconsin Republican added that losing out on new markets could hurt American influence abroad. “As our generals will tell you, these agreements are just as important for our national security as they are for our economy,” he said. Pro Trade’s Doug Palmer has more.
HOUSE HEARING HIGHLIGHTS TENSION OVER GRAZING RIGHTS: Burdensome federal regulations that environmental groups exploit to file frivolous lawsuits pose a serious threat to ranchers by limiting their access to grazing on public land, local agriculture leaders told a House Natural Resources subcommittee on Thursday. Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse repeated a common complaint among ranchers: The Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act needs to be revamped to prevent what they see as abuse.
“They’re devastating,” Little said of the lawsuits, because they can jeopardize ranchers’ grazing permits and cost them precious dollars (especially when commodity prices are down). “It’s the instability that really creates a problem, not only for the rancher but for the community that depends on that year round operation.”
Conservation counterattack: But Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, said there’s not enough enforcement of environment protections on federal lands, which compromises local ecosystems. “If the livestock industry is incapable of solving these problems then there’s a real question of whether the public has an interest of having livestock on those particular public lands.”
Wildfire assist: Ranchers play a critical role in combating wildfires that have devastated the Western U.S. increasingly in recent years, and they’re going to be needed even more to help tackle the epidemic, said University of Montana professor Dave Naugle. Targeted grazing “is an option we’re going to need even more as catastrophic wildfires get up the open space that is available to wildlife and ranching,” he said.
— López Obrador to talk NAFTA with top Trump officials: The future of the NAFTA renegotiation will be a key part of talks between Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador and top U.S. officials today, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed on Thursday. Mnuchin will be in Mexico City today with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner to discuss the bilateral relationship with Mexico’s incoming leftist president and his team. “NAFTA is now a big priority since we have the Mexican election behind us,” Mnuchin said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing.
— Trump names new top Hill aide: Shahira Knight, a top economic adviser to Trump who played a central role in shepherding the Republicans’ tax bill through Congress, will replace Marc Short as legislative affairs director, the White House announced Thursday. More from POLITICO’s Andrew Restuccia and Jake Sherman here.
— RFS waiver tally released: EPA issued 49 exemptions from the Renewable Fuel Standard to small refiners in the 2016 and 2017 compliance years, a rate that was roughly double the 10-12 annual exemptions granted by the Obama EPA. That’s according to a letter the agency sent to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday. Pro Energy’s Eric Wolff has more here.
— A trade win for U.S. ag producers: Japan will begin to accept U.S. sheep and goat exports for the first time in more than 14 years, USDA said Thursday. The news comes after what USDA described as “extensive” work by department staff and Japanese officials “to establish new terms for market access that are science-based and consistent with international public and animal health standards.” Japan banned U.S. lamb exports in December 2003 after it found a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a U.S. cattle herd.
— FDA lands new produce-rule agreements: The agency announced Thursday that new cooperative agreements have been signed with Hawaii, Kentucky and Mississippi to back efforts to implement the produce safety rule under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Existing agreements with 43 other states were renewed. FDA’s cooperative agreement program provides states with funding to develop and implement produce safety systems, among other objectives. FDA is providing $32.5 million in funding to support the new and updated agreements. More here.
— Precision ag bill advances: The House Energy and Commerce Committee signed off Thursday on H.R. 4881 (115), which would direct the FCC to create a task force focused on precision agriculture’s connectivity and tech needs. The panel also approved H.R. 3994 (115), a measure to establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the Commerce Department that would work with localities to encourage broadband expansion and adoption. The bills, cleared by voice vote, now head to the full House.
— Former dairy lobbyist tapped for top water post: EPA has hired Anna Wildeman, a former Wisconsin dairy industry lobbyist, for a top spot in the agency’s Office of Water, Pro Energy’s Annie Snider reports. Wildeman will oversee the office’s work on nutrients. She previously worked with David Ross, assistant administrator for the water office, at Wisconsin’s Environmental Protection Unit.
— “Water subcabinet” targeting nutrients: Ross has formed a “water subcabinet” to lead policy on major water-related issues. The group, which met earlier this week, includes Bill Northey, USDA undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service. Ross said nutrients, which stem in large part from unregulated agricultural fertilizer runoff, is “one of the things we’re going to go after.”
— Ag lenders’ big test: China's tariffs on U.S. soybeans will negatively impact farmers, but whether they have large impacts on the bankers that lend to soybean farmers depends on whether ag lenders are able to take steps to refinance existing loans or help farmers sell to markets outside of China. If such efforts fail, banks could be looking at increased farm loan delinquencies, American Banker reports.
— Black churches and food security: Black churches are traditionally a community hub — and now, some are taking on food inequity. The Black Church Food Security Network works with black-owned food producers to address a lack of access healthy, fresh, affordable food, which disproportionately impacts black communities. More from Public Radio International here.
— Cargill makes record profits from animal protein: Unlike some of its grain merchant competitors, Cargill also produces meat — the privately owned company is the world's largest ground-beef supplier, and its biggest profit sources include animal feed and selling meat. Cargill reported record earnings, with a 9 percent rise in net profit from fiscal 2017, Financial Times reports.
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** A message from the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy: Over the past year, we have seen an unprecedented groundswell of voices calling on Congress to modernize the U.S. sugar program, including thousands of small businesses, newspaper editorial boards and taxpayer watchdog, consumer protection, and environmental groups. Thank you to our bipartisan group of champions in Congress who have led the fight to modernize the outdated and outrageous U.S. sugar program, including Reps. Virginia Foxx and Danny Davis and Sen. Pat Toomey. We are committed to advocating for the modernization of the 80-year-old U.S. program. It's time for a spoonful of fairness that creates an adequate supply of sugar based on a reasonable competitive approach - all while keeping an appropriate safety net for farmers. To learn more, please visit FairSugarPolicy.org. **