GMO labeling fight set to rekindle in January (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

Lawmakers are pledging to re-double efforts to pass legislation early next year to block state GMO labeling laws and set national disclosure standards.

The industry wanted to get a bill attached to the must-pass fiscal 2016 spending agreement that congressional leaders reached on Tuesday, but talks stalled and Senate Democrats stopped even a temporary preemption measure from being included.

“The clock’s ticking. We’ll be back in session in January and that’s got to be at the front,” said House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Kansas. “We’ve got it fixed in the House. We’ve just to get the Senate to move on it.”

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has also pledged to make the issue a top priority in January. She had been leading negotiations on the legislation this fall and had said in October that she wanted a bill passed by the end of the year.

An industry lobbyist who didn’t want to be quoted by name said negotiations would “begin in earnest” right after the first of the year on broad legislation.

A Vermont labeling laws is set to take effect in July, and the failure of the federal preemption measure could embolden labeling proponents who are gearing up to push next year for labeling laws in New York state and Connecticut, said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, which supports the state labeling efforts.

“We are definitely concerned that there will be an industry push for electronic disclosure instead of a mandatory on-package requirement, which is what we will continue advocate,” Lovera said. “I think we will all be spending lots of time on this when Congress is back.”

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., had been planning to cosponsor a Senate preemption bill but never introduced it while the negotiations were ongoing.

“We need to come up with a long-term solution. That’s what I’ve been after from day one. So I’m ready to go to work and I think we need to get to work right away on a compromise that both sides can support,” he said.

Stabenow and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have been pushing the idea of providing disclosure of biotech ingredients via smartphone, QR codes and the internet rather than through language or symbols on the label. The Grocery Manufacturers Association recently announced the launch of the electronic disclosure system known as SmartLabel, but companies aren’t required to participate.

Stabenow has said that disclosure needs to be mandatory. Conaway has argued that disclosure should be voluntary, but when he was asked Wednesday about the possibility of compromise on that point, he said, “I’m not going to negotiate with her with you.”

Biotech labeling isn’t the only issue high on the Senate Agriculture Committee’s to-do list. Stabenow and Chairman Pat Roberts also were unable to wrap up work on reauthorization of school nutrition standards. Roberts, R-Kansas, told Agri-Pulse this week that House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office had objected to attaching a reauthorization bill to the omnibus.

Roberts, in a statement, said Wednesday that the nutrition bill would be the committee’s “first priority in the new year.” Said Stabenow, “I am committed to moving forward as soon as possible next year.”

The 2,009-page omnibus spending bill does include a provision that a key backer says would require FDA to issue guidelines for labeling genetically engineered salmon before it can be marketed. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the measure would stop short of mandating such labeling, but she said she would continue to push for that.

The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Jerry Moran, said he and other lawmakers, including ranking Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon, were unhappy that the FDA announced the approval of the biotech fish in November without providing any advance notification to Congress.

“I would have appreciated an understanding of what FDA was doing and was thinking and that did not occur,” the Kansas Republican said.

He noted that the labeling requirement would expire next Sept. 30, allowing time for FDA to address congressional concerns. “What I hope happens now is that there is a conversation between FDA and those members of Congress who are so strongly interested interested in this topic,” he said.

Murkowski says it is a different issue than labeling plant products.

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Media Release: Al-Corn Clean Fuel Announces Expansion Plans

Al-Corn Clean Fuel, a farmer-owned ethanol production cooperative, has announced plans for a modernization and expansion project at their ethanol facility in Claremont, MN.

The project will make Al-Corn Clean Fuel more profitable for members and allow the cooperative to modernize its grain facility, add rail capacity, lower its greenhouse gas score, and drive down the cost of production.

“I am very excited about new investment in agricultural processing facilities in southern Minnesota” said Senator Dan Sparks, Chairman of the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. “I know the Claremont ethanol plant was one of the first plants built in Minnesota and has been a huge financial success. I congratulate the plant and wish it future success.”

Representative Rod Hamilton, Chairman of the House Agriculture Finance Committee, added, “Agriculture is the backbone of Minnesota’s economy, and the expansion of Al-Corn is a testament to the importance of corn growers to our state. Through more job opportunities as well as an increased demand for corn and ethanol, the modernization of this plant is welcome news for all of us who value agriculture in southern Minnesota.”

With facilities expanding throughout the renewable fuels sector, margins continue to tighten.   Those facilities that are expanding and reducing cost are primarily those that are newer, larger, and already more efficient in terms of operating costs. This puts tremendous pressure on older, smaller, less efficient plants.

The expansion and modernization project will make Al-Corn Clean Fuel more competitive, thereby allowing the member-owned cooperative to continue operating for the long term.

“This is a huge project for our area, and we are excited to see the growth and economic impact it will have” said Jennifer Libby, President and CEO of Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce. “We are excited for our member company, Al-Corn Clean Fuel, and for all our local communities that will benefit as a result.”

Senator David Senjem added “I am excited to learn of Al-Corn’s decision to expand and become one of Minnesota’s largest ethanol producers” said Senator David Senjem. “Expansion means more jobs, more markets, and more economic vitality for our area of the state”.

“Al-Corn Clean Fuel is a valuable asset to the farmers and the general economy of my district” said Senator Vicki Jensen. “This expansion and modernization investment ensures we can stay competitive in the value added agricultural market ethanol has been to Minnesota.”

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016, with completion in late 2017.

For additional information regarding Al-Corn Clean Fuel, please visit www.al-corn.com.

Guest Commentary: Six Bullets that Could Fix the Debt

No, it’s not what you’re thinking.

The Compact Commission challenged me to create 6 bullet points that capture the benefits of the Compact for a Balanced Budget’s compact “vehicle” for delivering its federal Balanced Budget Amendment “payload.”

So here goes!

Three bullets on the compact “vehicle”:

  • Certainty: The Compact for a Balanced Budget delivers certainty by empowering the states to pre-commit 38 states and simple majorities of Congress to everything involved in advancing, proposing and ratifying a specific federal Balanced Budget Amendment before an Article V convention is organized.
  • Safety: The Compact for a Balanced Budget delivers safety by ensuring member states control the quorum and limit the Article V convention it organizes to a 24 hour up-or-down vote on a pre-specified federal Balanced Budget Amendment.
  • Speed: The Compact for a Balanced Budget empowers each state to join with its sister states to fix the national debt problem with the speed it needs by consolidating into one bill everything the states do in the amendment process and everything Congress does into one resolution.

Three bullets on the compact “payload”:

  • Restraint with Oversight: The Compact’s Balanced Budget Amendment enforces a glide path to balanced budgets by limiting Washington’s borrowing capacity to 105% of the outstanding debt on ratification and otherwise restricting federal spending to cash revenue at all times, all while restoring the original constitutional principle of outside oversight of national policy by the states, whose legislatures must approve any subsequent increase in federal borrowing capacity within 60 days of the request.
  • Flexibility without Evasion: The Compact’s Amendment handles wars and national emergencies with three release valves that do not enable easy evasion: (1) Washington can pay down the debt and free up borrowing capacity for emergencies, (2) the President can reprioritize spending to address emergencies when a “red zone” of borrowing capacity is reached, subject to simple majority override by Congress, and (3) a majority of state legislatures can approve an increase in federal borrowing capacity within 60 days of a congressional proposal.
  • Spending Reductions First: The Compact’s Amendment keeps all responsible revenue options on the table, but encourages spending reductions before tax increases to close deficits by requiring supermajority approval for new or increased income or sales taxes, while retaining the current simple majority rule for revenue measures that will cause the least harm and prompt the most special interest pushback: (1) eliminating tax exemptions, deductions and credits, (2) completely switching to a consumption tax from the income tax, or (3) relying moreso on tariffs, fines or fees.

Armed with these six bullets, I am confident that anyone who is open to persuasion will see that the Compact is the most powerful and plausible effort to fix the national debt out there!

If you agree and want to support our efforts in 10 to 15 states and Washington DC in 2016, please consider a tax deductible donation!

If you have more questions, visit our new FAQ page at http://www.compactforamerica.org/#!faq/xv6u2

Nick Dranias is the President & Executive Director of the Compact for America Educational Foundation.

There’s a crisis at Chipotle (via The Washington Post)

Food poisonings and other challenges are threatening the darling of fast food’s reputation

Chipotle became the darling of the fast-food world by attracting millennials, blue-collar workers and even whole families with its promise of high-quality, sustainably sourced Mexican-inspired cuisine. But a series of food poisonings and other challenges are threatening its reputation and underscoring the difficulty of meeting the needs of a generation of diners who increasingly demand inexpensive food that is safe, natural and nutritious.

The latest crisis began last month when Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in Washington state and Oregon after health authorities linked an E. coli outbreak to six restaurants in the region. Illnesses contracted at Chipotles have since been reported in seven more states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Then this week, at least 80 students at Boston College fell ill after eating at a Chipotle, leading the company to close another restaurant. Boston health officials said the cause was norovirus, a common virus, while citing the restaurant for two health violations: improper handling of poultry and the presence of a sick employee.

After years of strong growth and accolades, Chipotle suddenly is facing the same critical challenge brand names such as Costco and Blue Bell ice cream confronted when serious questions were raised about the quality or safety of one of their products. About a decade ago, Taco Bell’s business shrank for more than a year after an E. coli outbreak, even though it rapidly fixed the problem.

In each case, the company recovered, but customers have begun demanding better-quality food without being willing to pay much more for it. That means the pressures on companies to achieve both afford

Chipotle’s reputation is perhaps more at risk than most in the fast-food industry because the chain has promised that it adheres to more-rigorous standards for procuring and serving its food. Now, industry experts warn it could face a permanent red mark even if the latest spate of setbacks proves temporary.

“The real red flags are repetitive failures,” said Arun Lakshmanan, a marketing professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Management. “When there is repetition, that’s what really damages credibility. It’s a risky position for Chipotle to be in now.”

In response to one of its biggest health and public relations challenges in its 22 year history, Chipotle has pledged to sanitize its operations, hired food safety consultants and announced that it would introduce more-stringent testing of its ingredients. Company executives and health officials say they may never know what caused the outbreak, since any contaminated ingredients would now be long gone. Chipotle has about 2,000 locations.

“If there is a silver lining with an incident like this and not knowing for sure what the cause is, it’s that it has prompted us to fully reassess our food handling practices, from the farms that produce our food to the restaurants where we serve our customers,” said Chris Arnold, the company’s director of communications.

On Thursday, Steve Ells, the company’s co-chief executive officer, apologized to customers on on NBC’s “Today” show, calling the outbreak “a very unfortunate incident” and saying that he is “deeply sorry.” He also promised that Chipotle would be a leader in food safety from here on out. “The procedures we’re putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat,” he said.

Chipotle, which has publicly reported strong revenue growth for almost a decade, warned recently that it expects significant declines at its flagship stores as a result of the scare. Its stock price, meanwhile, has fallen by nearly 30 percent since the outbreak was first detected.

Even Chipotle restaurants that weren’t implicated in the outbreak seemed to be facing a fallout Wednesday. Patrons in the D.C. area, accustomed to lengthy queues at lunch hour, were surprised to find little to no line.

“I can’t believe there are actually people in there eating,” said Chad Molloy, 29, as he walked past an M Street NW location in the District on his way to District Taco. “There is no way we’re even considering going in there today. It’s company wide, all over the country, which means it’s a problem.”

But others said the company’s progressive reputation offset any worry about food illness.

“There is more of a chance that I would get sick eating a cheeseburger from a fast-food joint, because they have sick workers coming in and potentially touching the food,” said Tim Tagaris, a partner at Revolution Messaging, a digital agency that does work for the Bernie Sanders campaign, as he had a burrito for lunch.

Most E. coli bacteria are harmless. But certain kinds can cause a range of symptoms, including stomach pain, diarrhea, fever and vomiting. E. coli is rarely fatal: For healthy adults, the recovery time is roughly a week. Noroviruses, meanwhile, are a group of viruses that cause what is often called food poisoning or the stomach flu. They are highly contagious.

Chipotle’s pledge of higher-quality food is prominent on its website, where it trumpets the core mission of “food with integrity” and emphasizes a respect for animals, farmers, customers and the environment. The company has worked to make good on that promise by seeking out ways to cut its carbon footprint, carefully choose its farmers, source its ingredients locally where it can, and work with farmers known for humane animal practices.

But as the company has grown, it’s faced limitations.

In 2013, it began serving “conventionally raised beef” after it became clear that there was no longer enough antibiotic- and hormone-free beef to meet demand. Then this year, it pulled pork from the menus at roughly a third of its restaurants after one of its suppliers violated its standards.

Chipotle anticipated only a brief interruption, but it took more than half a year, a foreign company and two of its most disappointing quarters on record to put carnitas back on the menu.

“They’re trying to be local and serve food with integrity, but as you grow it becomes incredibly complex and difficult and challenging,” said Darren Tristano, president of industry research firm Technomic.

“When you look at what’s going on, how they’re expanding, the outbreak was almost bound to happen.”

Experts say Chipotle’s plan to improve food safety will face challenges that reflect deeper problems in the industry.

Mansour Samadpour, a food safety consultant who has been advising Chipotle on the improvements, said the industry is resistant to testing all food before it’s sold. The government requires only that a sample of food be tested, and suppliers don’t want the expense of going beyond that standard.

“Fast-food companies are 100 percent reliant on their food supply to send them something that is pathogen-free, but the supply chain is still extremely reluctant to test every [food] product it provides,” Samadpour said. “Many companies are starting to do it, but the reluctance is real and it’s problematic — and that’s getting in the way of food safety.”

Bill Marler, a lawyer specializing in food-borne illness who represents many of the people who have fallen ill as a result of the outbreak, said people shouldn’t assume that just because a company touts certain kinds of food that it has taken all steps to protect them from pathogens.

“I worry that they look at food safety from the organic, non-GMO, sustainability, animal welfare standpoint,” Marler said. “And a lot of people in that space, in that agricultural movement, tend to believe that because they do those things their food is automatically safer than food that’s served at McDonald’s or Jack in the Box or Walmart. But that’s just not the case.”

Issue Update: Agriculture Issues and Country of Origin Labeling

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, was recently a guest on the Linder Farm Network to provide a brief update regarding prospects for an omnibus spending package in the closing days of the 2015, as well Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and its status related to the fiscal year (fy) 2016 Omnibus package.

The ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) announcing $1.01 billion in annual retaliatory tariffs by Canada ($781 million) and Mexico ($227 million) will be imposed on, as yet, unspecified products.  The level of retaliatory tariffs, as well as the specific products, could be announced as early as the week of December 14, 2015.

The agriculture issues segment can be accessed here: https://soundcloud.com/rdl-associates/linder-farm-network-agriculture-issues-in-congress

The COOL segment can be accessed here: https://soundcloud.com/rdl-associates

WTO Announces $1.01 Billion in COOL Retaliation (via AgWired)

We anticipated this and now it’s here. The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced $1.01 billion retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods authorized in the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) with Canada and Mexico. The WTO has upheld multiple times our neighboring country’s claim that the label creates an unfair advantage to U.S. products.

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said “As I’ve said time and time again, whether you support or oppose COOL, the fact is retaliation is coming. Today, the WTO announced just how much that retaliation will cost the U.S. economy. With the WTO announcement, farmers, ranchers and small businesses will soon be smacked with over $1 billion in tariffs. We must prevent retaliation, and we must do it now before these sanctions take effect. I will continue to look for all legislative opportunities to repeal COOL.”

The animal agriculture community has also responded. National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President, Dr. Ron Prestage stressed the need to repeal the labeling provision. “America’s pork producers need congressional lawmakers to recognize the imminent harm our economy faces. Retaliation has been authorized, and our exports to the No. 1 and No. 2 markets will suffer and so will U.S. farmers, business people and consumers.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) agrees that legislation to repeal COOL is needed. “If the Senate does not act, U.S. beef exports will face a 100 percent tariff in these countries, severely diminishing about $2 billion of beef exports annually.” NCBA President Philip Ellis, continued by saying, “The COOL rule has cost our livestock industry billions in implementation, it has violated our trade agreements with two of our largest export markets, it has resulted in the closure of several U.S. feedlots and packing facilities and it has had no effect on the price or demand for U.S. beef. The House voted in an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 300-131 to repeal COOL and it is time for the Senate to do the same before retaliation damages the entire U.S. economy and irreparably harms our strongest trading relationships.”

However the entire animal agriculture community isn’t on the same page. National Farmer Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson has called the process “inefficient and ineffective,” and pointed to the immediate passage of voluntary COOL. Johnson said, “Congress now only has one clear path forward for ensuring U.S. regulations are in compliance with the WTO while preserving a meat label with integrity, and that solution is voluntary COOL. Voluntary COOL will solve the trade dispute once and for all, while protecting the integrity of the COOL label by defining what a ‘product of the U.S.’ is.”

The article can be accessed here: http://agwired.com/2015/12/07/wto-announces-1-01-billion-in-cool-retaliation/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=linkedin