Senator Feinstein Introduces Egg Products Inspection Legislation

Following introduction of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798), companion legislation that would set federal housing standards for egg-laying hens has been introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – again raising the specter that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the livestock sector will engage one another at the Federal level, as well as at the state level. The looming clash will take place during an election year and while Congress and the Administration work to craft a new farm bill.

The proposed legislation would codify an agreement between HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) that would require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space. After the phase-in period, producers would be required to provide all egg-laying hens with environmental enrichments (e.g. perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas) that will allow hens to express natural behaviors.

In addition, the legislation would prohibit feed or water withdrawal during molting to extend the laying cycle (a practice already prohibited by the UEP Certified program), prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses, and institute standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for euthanasia of egg-laying hens.

Consumers would also not go untouched by the legislation. The proposal would require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs and would prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet the above requirements.

In the past, UEP President and CEO Gene Gregory articulated his belief that the legislation would help egg producers better plan for the future. Mr. Gregory noted that “Eggs are a national commodity, and egg producers should have a level playing field – not have different, costly rules in all 50 states. That’s where we are heading if we don’t pass this federal legislation. We need this legislation for our customers and consumers and the survival of egg farmers.”

But other livestock groups continue to sound the alarm that the legislation is only the beginning of a “government takeover of farms.” In a recent Op-Ed following the introduction of the House legislation, National Pork Producer Council President Doug Wolf noted that “This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals”. Mr. Wolf’s Op-Ed can be viewed in its entirety at http://rdlassociates.wordpress.com/.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Bill Donald has also expressed concerns related to the legislation. “This legislation, while currently only affecting egg producers, could set a dangerous precedent to allow government bureaucrats in Washington to mandate how farmers and ranchers across the nation raise and care for their animals,” said Donald. “This ill-conceived legislation could set the model for a one-size-fits-all approach to cattle production. Unfortunately, one-size-fits all doesn’t work with cattle producers, who are in diverse settings in all 50 states. This legislation won’t improve animal health or care and will result in further costly and burdensome regulations being placed on America’s food producers.” In addition to HSUS, there are a number of animal rights groups that continue to oppose modern animal agriculture, leaving little doubt that the livestock sector will have to continue defending themselves against ongoing attacks.

Those in support of animal agriculture will have to find avenues to amplify their message that agricultural producers in rural America raising livestock or growing the necessary commodities for animal feed are critical for producer vitality in the complex global food chain. Support for a vibrant and viable livestock sector and maintenance of consumer confidence in the Nation’s food supply will be critical for the animal agriculture sector in crafting initiatives for livestock and poultry care standards that are based on sound science, sound information and economic feasibility.

Below is an article regarding the Senate legislation from Farm Safety News)

Egg Standards Bill Introduced in Senate (via Food Safety News)

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and a bipartisan group of seven other senators introduced a bill late last week to set federal housing standards for egg-laying hens, again sparking protest from both pork and beef producers, as well as other animal rights activists who are now calling it the “rotten egg bill.”

The measure, which mirrors a bill recently introduced in the House, is based on a landmark deal struck between the Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers, would double the space allowed to each of the nation’s approximately 280 million egg-laying hens, which HSUS has advocated for years, and also give the egg industry regulatory certainty across state lines.

The compromise has the support of American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), as well as several consumer groups and state egg associations, but it’s not clear whether the coalition will have a strong enough coalition to put it into law, especially since other powerful agricultural interests and some animal rights groups are actively fighting the proposal.

After Feinsten introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 — with Sens. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT) Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) David Vitter (R-LA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) — the Humane Farming Association expressed “outrage” over the move.

“The egg industry is seeking to establish egg factory cages as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote,” said Bradley Miller, National Director of HFA. “This bill would preempt state laws, such as California’s Proposition 2, and is a direct assault upon egg laying hens, voters, and states’ rights.”

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Chief Executive Officer Neil Dierks told National Hog Farmer that the proposal “has far too big an impact on consumers for them to be introduced without any public hearings or debate.”

The UEP seems to be standing alone in the animal agriculture community. The American Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Turkey Federation and others have also balked at the plan. Animal ag groups have expressed strong concerns about the precedent the bill would set, calling it “an unconscionable federal overreach.”

The egg industry argues that the bill is in the best interest of the industry.

“This legislation will help ensure the American consumers continue to have a wide variety and uninterrupted supply of eggs at affordable prices,” said Gene Gregory, president of UEP. “Our industry is being endangered by the growing patchwork of differing and contradictory state laws and ballot initiatives that are impeding the free flow of interstate commerce in eggs that is so vital to grocers, restaurateurs, food manufacturers and consumers.”

Both HSUS and UEP are pointing out that their proposal affects only egg producers. The bill in the House was sponsored by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Jeff Denham (R-CA).

© Food Safety News

Gevo Announces Successful Startup of World’s First Commercial Biobased Isobutanol Plant

The following press release regarding startup of their biobased isobutanol facility in Luverne, MN was issued by Gevo, Inc:

ENGLEWOOD, Colo., May 24, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Gevo, Inc., a leading renewable chemicals and next-generation biofuels company, announced today it has begun startup of the world’s first commercial biobased isobutanol production plant located in Luverne, Minn.

“At 1 p.m. MDT yesterday we made history by initiating production of biobased isobutanol at commercial scale,” said Dr. Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo. “One year ago, we broke ground with a startup goal of less than 12 months and we’ve succeeded. It’s an extremely proud moment for Gevo and a tribute to the drive and ambition of our scientists, chemical engineers and production team.”

“The startup of our Luverne plant represents a major milestone for the industry and validation of our commitment to commercially produce biobased isobutanol in the first half of 2012,” said Gruber. “The next milestone will be to successfully ship product to our customers.”

Gevo retrofitted the Luverne plant to incorporate its proprietary yeast and Gevo Integrated Fermentation Technology(R) (GIFT(R)) system to produce biobased isobutanol. Through initial operation of the Luverne plant, Gevo expects to advance its learning of large-scale production of renewable isobutanol at the site maintaining a goal of producing isobutanol at a run rate of approximately 1 million gallons per month by yearend 2012. Per its previous guidance, Gevo expects to reach full-capacity run rates by yearend 2013. “This ramp up in production is actually fast for a new technology,” said Gruber. “It would be much longer and present more execution risk if this were a greenfield plant. I like this retrofit approach.”

“This is only the beginning for Gevo as we work toward our first shipment to Sasol and increasing production over the coming months,” added Gruber. “As with all plant startups we will face challenges. However, we have an outstanding team, many of whom have been through similar startups before, to address and meet these challenges. We look forward to growing into a very large business.”

About Gevo

Gevo is converting existing ethanol plants into biorefineries to make renewable building block products for the chemical and fuel industries. The Company plans to convert renewable raw materials into isobutanol and renewable hydrocarbons that can be directly integrated on a “drop in” basis into existing chemical and fuel products to deliver environmental and economic benefits. Gevo is committed to a sustainable biobased economy that meets society’s needs for plentiful food and clean air and water. For more information, visit http://www.gevo.com

Forward-Looking Statements

Certain statements in this press release may constitute “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements include statements that are not purely statements of historical fact, and can sometimes be identified by our use of terms such as “intend,” “expect,” “plan,” “estimate,” “future,” “strive” and similar words. These forward-looking statements are made on the basis of the current beliefs, expectations and assumptions of the management of Gevo and are subject to significant risks and uncertainty. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. All such forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made, and the company undertakes no obligation to update or revise these statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Although the company believes that the expectations reflected in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, these statements involve many risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from what may be expressed or implied in these forward-looking statements. For a further discussion of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ from those expressed in these forward-looking statements, as well as risks relating to the business of Gevo in general, see the risk disclosures in the Annual Report on Form 10-K of Gevo for the year ended December 31, 2011, as amended, and in subsequent reports on Forms 10-Q and 8-K and other filings made with the SEC by Gevo.

SOURCE: Gevo, Inc

Social Media Displaces Mom for Food Facts (via Food Technology Magazine)

PERSPECTIVE
Steve Bryant and Laurie Demeritt

Almost half of American consumers learn about food via social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, according to a new study. While eating or drinking at home, nearly one-third of Americans use social networking sites. Among millennials (18–32 years old), this figure jumps to 47%.

MSLGROUP Americas and The Hartman Group conducted a joint study, Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture, to learn more about the changing consumer behavior. (To obtain a copy of the complete study, contact blaine@hartmangroup.com.) On a fundamental level, the study found that social and digital media is displacing mom as the go-to culinary source of knowledge for many people.

How Americans learn to cook, select recipes, plan meals, purchase food, and share culinary secrets has dramatically changed in the past few years. The new online culinary culture has profound implications for how food and beverage marketers use social and digital media to build meaningful and profitable relationships with consumers.

Consumers used to rely on mom and family traditions for meal planning, but they now search online for what to cook, without ever tasting or smelling the food. Modern consumers “crowd source” the opinions of many before deciding what to buy. As a result, digital food selection is becoming less of a sensory experience and more of a visual and rational process.

Social media changes food culture by influencing how consumers think about, talk about, and experience food. With the click of our finger, social media alters the entire lifecycle of a meal from planning, to buying, to cooking, to eating.

As consumers use social media to discover and share information about food, they quickly become more active participants in food culture. They look to bloggers and other opinions online to expand their culinary horizons and make purchase decisions.

Today’s consumers prefer to learn about products based on the experiences of “people like me,” rather than directly from brands. Social media allows them to do this with ease.

For consumers to take notice, companies must use social media to communicate in ways that are authentic and personable. The good news is that when used correctly, social media is an excellent tool for companies to build personal and lasting relationships with their customers.

Traditional media resources are still relevant, but declining. This media transformation has taken years to evolve and it remains in flux. While 31% say they are inspired by food shows they watch on TV, 25% are inspired by recipe websites or phone apps, and 17% by restaurant review websites or phone apps. Pointing to the future, millennials now regard online media resources as their most valued sources of food inspiration—over both print (such as magazines or cookbooks) and food TV shows.

Consumers look to public communities for deals and recipes. Some online food behaviors are less personal and therefore brands have more direct access to their food choices. For example, 47% say they’ve searched for online/digital coupons/specials, while 42% say they’ve consulted online recipes before shopping.

Brands can also be encouraged that consumers are open to better and more highly specialized tools for shopping and meal planning. Moms and primary cooks want easy-to-use apps that make shopping, meal planning, and saving money easier for them.

Social media influence starts with a person; brand influence goes only so far. People look to stylish people, not stylish brands for food and lifestyle advice. Today’s consumers want to hear from people who eat and cook food more than they want to hear from the entities who sell food. They follow people on Twitter, become friends on Facebook, and read blogs of people with authentic voices, sincere posts, and meaningful content.

Marketers will do well to recognize the limits of their direct influence in social media. They will succeed best by operating synergistically as part of the social culture of food and beverage online. In other words, consumers are willing to engage with food brands and companies in this space, but only if the interaction promises to enrich their lives in some tangible way, such as useful information, moneysaving deals, or entertainment.

While an exceptional product and a great deal will attract consumers to you, this is only the starting point of a truly meaningful social media relationship.

To leverage the opportunities offered by this evolving platform, food & beverage brands must:
• Craft a distinct online personality
• Enlist the support of other authentic social media voices
• Be generous and humorous
• Reflect their customers’ values
• Reveal their true personalities

With even small changes in approach, companies can use social media as a tool to create more personable relationships with consumers. That said, major gains may require a fundamental rethink about how consumers are willing to interact with brands online over the long term.

Steve Bryant (steve.bryant@mslgroup.com) is
Food and Beverage Practice Director of MSLGROUP Americas.
Laurie Demeritt (laurie@hartman-group.com) is President and COO of The Hartman Group.

Republicans Blowing Up Military’s Plans for Alternative Energy; Democrats Fighting Back (via The Colorado Independent)

By Troy Hooper
Tuesday, May 22

The fight over America’s energy policy has a new battleground: the Department of Defense budget.

House Republicans passed a pair of provisions Friday that would stymie the military’s efforts to incorporate more renewable fuels into its supplies. The defense authorization bill now heads for a markup in the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Democrats are preparing to go to battle.

“Continued reliance on foreign oil puts U.S. troops at unnecessary risk on and off the battlefield,” reads a letter written last week from Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to Navy Admiral Jonathan Greenert soliciting his opinion on the House’s actions.

“In addition, the fiscal costs related to DOD’s dependence on fossil fuels are staggering. The annual Pentagon fuel bill increases by $130 million for every dollar increase in the cost per barrel of oil,” the letter continued. “This year alone, the Department of Defense will face an additional $1.3 billion bill as a result of the recent rise in fuel prices. Given that our military consumes approximately 300,000 barrels of oil per day, research into alternative fuels is a strategic and economic necessity.”

In response, Admiral Greenert wrote back (pdf) this week, saying attempts to obstruct the military’s transition to alternative fuels “will impede America’s energy security.” He referenced a May 16 statement from his superiors that lamented the House provisions would affect the Department of Defense’s “ability to procure alternative fuels and would further increase American reliance on fossil fuels, thereby contributing to geopolitical instability and endangering” U.S. interests abroad.

“The Navy’s energy program is focused on enhancing our combat capability and readiness
through increased energy efficiency and improving energy security,” the admiral wrote. “Energy security requires assured access to a reliable, secure, and affordable supply of energy for Navy missions today and in the future. To this end, the Navy has been researching alternative liquid fuels for operational use since 2003 in ‘full transparency with Congress. While the Navy does not intend to purchase alternative liquid fuels for operational use until they are price competitive with petroleum.-based fuels, the Navy needs flexibility to continue the testing and certification of all potential alternative fuel pathways to ensure the Navy has an ‘off-ramp’ from conventional fuel sources.”

The military is emerging as a leader in the country’s clean energy movement, setting a goal of producing three gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025, or enough energy to power 750,000 homes. Each branch of the military is expected to kick in a gigawatt of energy, with the Navy taking the lead.

Not only are fossil fuels expensive, but transporting liquid fuel is an additional burden on the troops. And too often a deadly one. Many of America’s troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been killed guarding fuel convoys and defending fuel resupply lines. According to Sierra Magazine: One out of every 24 fuel convoys in Afghanistan, and one out of 38 in Iraq, led to the death of a soldier in 2007. In 2007 alone, that adds up to hundreds dead given the 6,000 recorded fuel convoys. Between 2003 and 2010 more than 3,000 troops have been killed or wounded while moving fuel.

Burning oil and gas also creates more work for the armed forces.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta recently noted that “rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

The defense authorization bill passed the House by a vote of 299 to 120. Colorado Republicans Scott Tipton, Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Cory Gardner all voted for it as did Democrat Ed Perlmutter. Colorado Democrats Diana DeGette and Jared Polis voted against the defense bill.

Rep. Coffman, a veteran who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, has criticized the Obama administration’s emphasis on weening the military off fossil fuels and investing in alternative energy.

“By forcing our military to adopt high-cost renewable energies, while at the same time pushing for reductions in military personnel, the president will ultimately force further reductions to achieve his costly Green Energy initiative while also meeting his demands for a smaller military,” Coffman said earlier this year.

The stage is now set for a showdown over the military’s energy spending between Sens. Udall, Shaheen and Begich and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., who have decried the military’s shift away from fossil fuels. The arguments just may come down to dollars and cents.

“There is a clear need to find cost-competitive alternative fuels, given the fiscal challenges the Navy is facing in FY12 alone due to increases in the price of fuel,” Admiral Greenert wrote to the senators.

Issue Summary: Agricultural Trade & Export Expansion

Periodically RDL & Associates will provide and “Issue Summary: regarding topics of relevance to the agriculture sector and rural America. These are in addition to RDL & Associate’s monthly Legislative Reports and provide the opportunity to focus on a single issue in greater depth.
________________________________________________________________________________________________

For generations farmers throughout the United States have created customer preferences for their commodities – both domestically and abroad. Case-in-point; the U.S. has garnered 66 percent of world grain sorghum exports and 54 percent of world corn exports. In addition, 34 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is exported and there continues to be rapid growth in the export of Distiller’s Dried Grains and Solubles (DDGS). Expansion of existing market access and opening new markets will significantly boost U.S. agricultural sales. Although engagement in world trade is a long-term proposition, it has worldwide benefits.

Export markets are critically important to U.S. agriculture, absorbing a substantial portion of total production of many important commodities. When compared to the overall economy, U.S. agriculture is twice as reliant on overseas markets as any other sector. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), the fiscal year (fy) 2012 forecast for agricultural exports remain at $137 billion, while imports rise to $105 billion. The trade balance for 2012 is a surplus of $32 billion, which would be the third highest ever.

Export growth for U.S. agriculture is led by Canada, Mexico and non-Japan Asia yet the potential remains for enhanced expansion of U.S. coarse grain exports. Conversely, by 2020-2021 China is forecast to account for two-thirds of world soybean imports, with countries such as India, Bangladesh and Indonesia representing areas for potential growth. As American farmers and the agriculture sector look overseas to expand sales and boost income, they will need to build upon past success.

With the continued growth of the global middle class, U.S. farmers must continue developing market relationships throughout the world in order to meet the changing dietary demands of international consumers. The United Nations estimates that global food demand will double by 2050, with much of that growth in developing countries. With 96% of the world’s population residing outside of the United States, it is imperative that American agriculture position itself to seize current and future market opportunities. Economic growth in other nations ensures maximum export opportunities, as well as enhanced profitability, for U.S. farmers.

Changes in the economies of importing countries have a direct effect on U.S. agricultural exports. Economic growth creates increased demand for imports, with the inverse being true when economies slip into recession. As the standard of living and incomes rise, consumers in import countries are likely to consume more meat, milk and eggs – thereby enhancing production opportunities for U.S. grain farmers and livestock producers.

Free and fair trade also has a direct impact on the U.S. economy, rural communities and the bottom-line of farmers. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that anywhere from 26 to 30 percent of farm cash receipts in any given year comes from exports, with the impact of agricultural trade having a “ripple effect” through the domestic economy. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has found that for each dollar received from agricultural exports an additional $1.40 is stimulated, supporting activities to process, package, finance, and ship agricultural products. Furthermore, agricultural exports generate over 1 million U.S. jobs on and off the farm, including business activity in transportation, distribution, food processing and manufacturing.

Agricultural trade is one of the true success stories of American trade and one of the biggest competitive advantages for the U.S., yet its benefits are often overlooked and under-appreciated. Free and fair trade creates jobs and spurs economic growth – as well as blunting the potential impacts of a domestic recession.

Copyright © 2012 RDL & Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.

Stabenow Seeks Farm Bill Deal With South (via Politico)

With her farm bill now slated for the Senate floor in June, Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow is reaching out to Southern lawmakers, trying to heal the breach that split her panel last month and put her at odds with allies in the House.

Southern rice and peanut growers are the two primary outliers, and the backroom talks are focused on tailoring some modest countercyclical program as a safety net for these commodities.

One option discussed last week would trigger assistance if prices fell below $10.50 per hundredweight for rice and $495 per ton of peanuts. These are the same indexes set in current law and far below what the growers have been asking for, especially in the case of rice. But eager to see Senate movement, House lawmakers sympathetic with the South say the potential deal must be considered as a bridge to a future House-Senate conference on the five-year bill.

Having just taken over the Agriculture Committee in this Congress, Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, is hemmed in herself by entrenched Midwest Corn Belt interests who see the farm bill’s new subsidy structure as payback after years of Southern dominance.

Fellow Democrats from the South, like Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, have a major stake in some compromise. But to a remarkable degree, the fighting is among Republicans and driven by animosities going back almost two decades to when Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) chaired the House Agriculture Committee and was famously undercut by Southern Republicans allied with the same commodities.

In fact, Stabenow reached a bipartisan compromise with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) last fall that would have satisfied rice and peanuts growers. But the bill approved in April reflects more of Roberts’s influence as the ranking Republican on the Senate committee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office confirmed that he has promised floor time to Stabenow in June to try to move her bill. And Reid acted after getting assurance from Republican senators that they are committed to passage in a bipartisan fashion.

Senate action is pivotal for Lucas in the House. The Oklahoma Republican is poised to begin marking up his own farm bill in June and would be helped greatly by progress in the Senate, since House leaders would feel pressure then to give him floor time this summer.

“We have been committed to a collaborative and bipartisan process from the start — the committee is open to hearing everyone’s ideas and is willing to discuss proposals that fit within our framework, which is based on the idea that the market should set crop prices rather than Congress,” said Ben Becker, spokesman for the Senate committee. “As of now, there have been no proposals submitted to the committee and no agreements on anything other than what 16 out of 21 committee members voted for.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who once chaired the Senate panel and has become the lead negotiator for the South, was also careful picking his words.

“I’m hopeful we’re going to be able to come up with something,” he told POLITICO of his talks with Stabenow. “She wants to come to the floor early but without a bloc of Southern votes, it’s going to be difficult. There are a number of folks, I don’t care what it is, [who] are going to vote against it ([the farm bill). So that’s why all Aggies need to be in support of what the bill is.”

“We’re looking for a bridge to try to get to conference. But it’s got to be something meaningful.”

The regional flare-up comes as all of American agriculture is under pressure to cut crop subsidies given the record deficits facing the government. There is broad agreement that the current system of direct cash payments can no longer be politically defended, especially at a time of high farm income. The question is how those savings are redistributed between deficit reduction and a revised safety net.

Study: Democrats Must Win Moderates to Hold Senate (via Roll Call)

By David M. Drucker

In a study that could annoy Democrats and perturb proponents of the “base election” theory, a centrist Democratic think tank is arguing that its party’s hold on the Senate hinges on political “moderates.”

Third Way, in a report set for release today, asserts not only that ideological moderates will determine control of the Senate in November, but that Democrats need to win more of these voters in 10 states with tossup Senate contests than do the Republicans. The think tank crunched exit polling data from recent presidential and midterm elections and concluded that Democrats face a significant challenge in their bid to retain their thin, four-seat Senate majority.

“Crucially for Democrats, they must garner a majority of moderates in nine of 10 toss-ups to win, and in seven of those the bar is even higher — Democrats must clear 60 percent [of moderates] to win,” Third Way policy advisers Michelle Diggles and Lanae Erickson write in the think tank’s report.

Third Way classifies 10 Senate races as Tossup; Roll Call currently rates eight races as Tossup.

From the outset of the 2012 cycle, Democratic control of the Senate has appeared jeopardized. Of the 33 seats up for election, the Republicans must defend only 10. However, the Democrats have recruited a strong contingent of top-tier candidates and exhibited considerable fundraising prowess. Races in conservative-leaning states that looked like sure pickups for the Republicans suddenly appear competitive. Meanwhile, the GOP has seen at least one retirement, in Maine, which put an almost-sure hold in play.

All of this has buoyed Democrats and led prognosticators to soften their predictions for a Senate power shift in the next Congress. But the Third Way study suggests that the Democrats’ Senate hurdles remain particularly acute and also challenges the analyses of political activists on both sides of the aisle who contend that elections are decided by base turnout and which party can do a better job of motivating partisans — not by voters in the middle.

The report also presents a warning to Republicans. They must be successful with ideological moderates in the 10 states with tossup Senate races to have a chance at winning control of the Senate, although less so compared to the Democrats.

Where is the moderate vote key for the Republicans? Not surprisingly, in Massachusetts, where Sen. Scott Brown (R) must win 58 percent of moderates to win on Nov. 6. Brown’s opponent, Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, needs only 43 percent of moderates to win the election. In Hawaii, former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) needs 51 percent of the moderate vote. The eventual Democratic nominee in this open seat also needs 51 percent of moderates, although the Democrats clearly have the edge in this race.

But in the eight additional Senate tossup states as determined by Third Way, the think tank reports that it is the Democrats who must overperform with moderates. In Indiana, where Democrats are enthusiastic about their prospects in the wake of Sen. Dick Lugar’s ouster in the GOP primary, Rep. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic nominee, must win 69 percent of the moderate votes. Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, the GOP nominee, needs only 32 percent of moderates.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) needs 62 percent of moderates; the eventual Republican nominee needs 39 percent. In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D) needs 61 percent of moderates; Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) needs 40 percent. In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) needs 61 percent of moderates to oust appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). In New Mexico, the eventual Democratic nominee needs 60 percent of moderates to hold this Democratic-held open seat; the eventual GOP nominee needs only 41 percent of moderates.

In North Dakota, where Democrats are optimistic about holding an open seat, former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp must win 65 percent of ideological moderates. Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R) needs only 36 percent of this voting bloc. In the battleground of Virginia, ex-Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) needs 60 percent of moderates. Former Gov. and ex-Sen. George Allen (R) needs 41 percent. In Wisconsin, where a Democratic-held seat is open, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) needs 56 percent of moderates; the eventual GOP nominee needs 44 percent.

According to the Third Way study, Democrats need and average of 59 percent of the moderate vote in the 10 Senate tossup states; Republicans need an average of 42 percent. “Looking at the 2006 exit polls, when these Senate seats were last in cycle, moderates were the plurality of voters,” Diggles and Erickson wrote in the study. “On average in these states, 47.3 percent of the electorate was moderate in 2006.”

The data suggest that the analysis, held in some quarters, that Republicans are in trouble with middle-of-the-road voters is misplaced in the context of the battle for the Senate.

How Bloggers Influence Ag Policy (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

WASHINGTON, May 16 – Whether you are an avid blog reader or ignore the blogosphere entirely, finding out where food and ag bloggers get their information, what goes viral, and what they write about most, incited a lively dialogue at CropLife America’s 3rd annual national policy conference Wednesday at the Newseum.

“Food is a very personal thing,” said Tom Philpott, a food and ag blogger for Mother Jones and co-founder of Maverick Farms in North Carolina. He said that any blog post relating to human health usually generates the most traffic because it is what people worry about.

And traffic, of course, it what bloggers want most. The larger the numbers of visitors and page views on a site, the more a blogger can generate income.

Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, said that bloggers , in this digital age have the power to influence agricultural policy and should be involved in the conversations surrounding a new farm bill.

“From farmers to food bloggers to conservation associations, it is clear there are many unique perspectives that have a stake in this important and sweeping piece of legislation,” he said.

Danielle Gould, Food+Tech Connect founder and CEO, said that anything that generates controversy goes viral. In her experience, those have included cheese made from breast milk and a headline that read, “Carbs Are Killing You.”

Hemi Weingarten, Fooducate founder and CEO, said food and ag bloggers seek to be the change makers and accelerate how change happens in the food system today.

The moderator, Marc Gunther, a blogger and contributing editor at Fortune magazine, made a reference to Philpott’s “skeptical eye towards industry and politics.”

Philpott replied by critiquing the agricultural chemical industry and said he aims to be a counterweight to companies like Monsanto and what he described as industrial agriculture’s marketing and lobbying power.

Challenging the bloggers’ opposition to modern agricultural practices, former Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, said, “The world cannot be fed without biotechnology.”

The bloggers suggested that agribusiness companies need to do a better job educating the public on safety, security and research and increase transparency. They suggested that farmers and related firms need to change their mindset about communications, think outside the box and do more to gain the public’s trust.

Weingarten said that consumers just want to be made aware of the issues and have the ability to choose. He related how he had become interested in food issues when he saw the food coloring red dye No. 40 on the ingredient panel on a package of yogurt. Through research, he learned that it was questioned by European regulators. There are too many things “the public simply doesn’t know,” he said.

Philpott said the hyperbole surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in crops has greatly outpaced the achievements. “The technology has succeeded, but in terms of doing something useful, I don’t see it,” he concluded.

Others disagreed, pointing to the tremendous gains in crop yields and productivity over the last few years.

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House Splits with Senate on Farm Bill’s Commodity Title (via Feedstuffs)

By Sally Schuff

The Senate’s proposal for reforming farm programs “fails farmers and taxpayers, and it will not become law,” a top House lawmaker said today (May 17) following two days of testimony on farm programs and crop insurance in the next farm bill.

House Agriculture subcommittee chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) said the Senate bill would fail to protect farmers in the event of a multiple-year price decline “creating a crisis in farm country and calls for expensive ad hoc assistance in Washington.” He also criticized the Senate’s “shallow loss” program as unfair to some crops and some regions of the U.S. Conaway, a certified public accountant who chair the House ag subcommittee on general farm commodities and risk management, said the next farm bill differs from past years because those call for disaster assistance could not “ be answered because the government is broke.”

The House will begin work in a few weeks on a commodity title that “ will save money for the taxpayer while providing a more reliable policy” for farmers, he said.

Broad Coalition of Senators Pushes Farm Bill (via Roll Call)

A bipartisan group of 44 Senators sent a letter today urging leadership to allow for “timely” action on the pending farm bill reauthorization.

Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the lead signatories on the letter, asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the legislation to the floor. Although the Senate has been on a positive legislative swing lately, passing several major bills that await House approval, there has been some concern the leaders will not take up the farm bill, which reauthorizes programs set to expire by the end of the year.

“With our constant focus on job creation, we write to urge you to schedule floor consideration of the ‘Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012’ as soon as possible,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “The bill takes steps to reduce the deficit and decrease government spending by $23 billion … [and] sets an example of how Senators can come together in a bipartisan way to craft meaningful, yet fiscally responsible, policy. We believe there is strong support in the full Senate to consider the bill in a fair and open manner that allows Senators the opportunity to offer amendments.”

The bill, which passed out of committee on a 16-5 vote, would cut $23 billion from the deficit. The legislation addresses farm subsidies and other programs for farmers and ranchers, but the majority of the bill deals with nutrition programs. As proposed, the bill would cut $4 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as the food stamp program.

A wide range of Senators signed the letter to the leaders, including an assortment of leaders and freshmen of both parties.

Link: http://www.rollcall.com/news/broad_coalition_of_senators_pushes_farm_bill-214517-1.html?ET=rollcall:e13130:80065042a:&st=email&pos=epm

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