CEI joined 11 other groups in a letter today to House Speaker John Boehner urging him not to give in to special interest pressure to push through the bloated 2012 farm bill. Agricultural interests and their cheerleader USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack are using the current drought as a pretext to bring the The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) to a quick vote. The bill, passed by the House Agriculture Committee, has a $957 billion price tag.
The coalition letter noted that most farmers currently can take advantage of a highly subsidized safety net of crop insurance and thus there’s no need to rush through the bloated and flawed FARRM bill.
Agriculture already has a more than adequate safety net in the gold-plated federal crop insurance program in which taxpayers pick up, on average, 62% of the premium costs for crop insurance. These policies allow businesses to guarantee up to 85% of their expected revenue. Crop insurance cost taxpayers more than $11 billion last year.
In the letter, the groups pointed out that the bill should have been used to cut back on outdated and costly programs–not add to them:
The bill should have been used as an opportunity to save taxpayers billions while reducing the manipulative role of the federal government in the business decisions of a vital sector of the American economy. Instead, the Committee bill obligates nearly 60% more than the last Farm Bill, creates three new taxpayer-paid “shallow loss” programs, and does nothing to rein in, and in fact expands, taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance.
A small food company in Canada has grown an apple that doesn’t turn brown after being sliced.
Not everyone thinks it’s a great idea. A representative for incumbent apple growers told The New York Times, “We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time.”
This translates roughly to, “We think consumers will prefer this product to ours, and will hurt our bottom line. Therefore, regulators should keep these things off the market for us.”
I’d rather consumers decide on the non-browning apple’s merits, thank you.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, an editorial sharply criticizes the U.S. sugar program and urges Congress to vote on amendments that would significantly rein in this complex system that doubles the cost of domestic sugar over the world price.
The sugar producers brag that the program operates at “no net cost to the government.” But the government guarantees prices, restricts domestic supply, and imposes stiff tariffs on imported sugar except for quota-holders.
The WSJ notes that the program provides concentrated benefits to sugar producers and dispersed costs to consumers and sugar-using companies:
The program provides about $1.4 billion each year to fewer than 5,000 large and mostly prosperous beet and sugar cane producers. But according to a 2011 American Enterprise Institute study by North Carolina State economist Michael Wohlgenant, it costs consumers about twice that amount, mostly in higher food prices. It’s a conveniently hidden tax and a regressive one too. When Big Sugar says the program imposes “no net cost” on the budget, they’re not talking about the family budget. Americans pay about 50% more than the world price of sugar.
While attempts to cut back on this program have failed in the past, the time may be now when real reform can occur, the WSJ said, and pointed out the bipartisan sponsorship of the Senate amendment.
CEI has long fought for the elimination of this egregious program — a holdover from the Great Depression. See here and here and here. As CEI noted:
In these tough economic times, with high unemployment levels, consumers deserve a break from the hidden taxes of the U.S. sugar program. At a minimum, policymakers should insist on reforms that will open the sugar market, help save and create jobs in the U.S. food industry and help consumers by keeping food prices down.
Have a listen here.
Immigration Policy Analyst David Bier explains how the Labor Department’s byzantine restrictions on immigrant agricultural workers hurt immigrants and native-born Americans alike. Current immigration policy keeps many immigrants in dangerous black markets, raises food prices for consumers, makes it difficult for farmers to hire workers and create jobs, and reduces the government’s tax revenues.
CEI joined with 10 other free-market groups in a letter today urging Congress to take on real reform of agricultural subsidies in the next farm bill and to resist attempts for new entitlements. The letter noted that farm businesses are doing quite even in this recession, with net income at $98 billion. With negotiations on reauthorization of the farm bill underway, it’s essential that Congress review federal agricultural policies that distort market decisions. The letter pointed out some specific areas that deserve attention:
We believe the nearly $30 billion reduction in federal spending on agriculture agreed to in the House Budget Resolution should be the minimum reduction in the Farm Bill. Eliminating direct payments, as the resolution suggests, is long overdue. Making meaningful reforms to the largest Washington-based support for agriculture, federally subsidized crop insurance, is also a must. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this program—which provided $2.2 million in subsidies for just one agricultural producer’s insurance premiums in 2011—will cost more than $90 billion over the next ten years.
Also, we believe Congress must not create any new potentially budget-busting entitlement programs that would increase Washington’s role in farm business decisions, such as efforts to put taxpayers on the hook for “shallow losses” in annual farm business revenue. And Congress should not use the Farm Bill to undo the responsible cuts to biofuels programs the House achieved in last year’s minibus appropriations bill.
The letter noted that, given the strength of the agricultural sector and the “glaring weakness of the federal budget,” it is essential for Congress to reform agricultural policy. And, the letter urged, there must be “full and open legislative debate on Farm Bill reauthorization.”
It’s been a few years since biotech foods have been regular front page news. The anti-technology activists cried wolf a few too many times, and none of the scare stories have come true. Still, the activists have re-grouped and are making an all out, well-financed assault on state and federal governments this year, agitating for mandatory labeling of biotech foods.
Stonyfield Farm Chairman Gary Hirshberg even gave up his position as president and CEO of one of the world’s largest organic food purveyors to lead what’s being billed as the “Just Label It” campaign, organized by a veritable who’s who of the organic and “natural” foods industry. And they’ve been busy – petitioning FDA and the White House, and lobbying Congress and state legislatures to mandate warning labels on biotech foods. But arguably the crown jewel in this year’s campaign is an initiative that will likely appear on California ballots this coming November.
I’ve written before about why mandatory labeling is a bad idea and why consumers don’t need mandatory labeling to exercise their choice to purchase non-biotech foods. But the simple fact is that labeling mandates of this type are also unconstitutional. In a case called International Dairy Foods Assoc. v. Amestoy, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Vermont statute requiring dairy products from cows given the biotech growth hormone rbST violated the First Amendment, and that food labeling cannot be mandated simply because some people would like to have the information. The Vermont law was unconstitutional because it forced producers to make involuntary statements contrary to their views even though there was no substantial governmental interest in requiring the label statement.
“We are aware of no case in which consumer interest alone was sufficient to justify requiring a product’s manufacturers to publish the functional equivalent of a warning about a production method that has no discernable impact on a final product. … Absent some indication that this information bears on a reasonable concern for human health or safety or some other sufficiently substantial governmental concern, the manufacturers cannot be compelled to disclose it. Instead, those consumers interested in such information should exercise the power of their purses by buying products from manufacturers who voluntarily reveal it.”
That should mean that the California ballot initiative would also be invalidated. Although the Second Circuit’s decision is only binding on courts in Vermont, New York, and Connecticut, other courts would view the decision as persuasive precedent. But I’ve just now been alerted to a recent California federal court decision providing a different legal theory for invalidating state labeling mandates.
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Last week, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor wrote a nice article examining how the mainstream media has been complicit in smearing lean finely textured beef — what critics are calling “pink slime.” “ABC has covered the story almost round the clock in recent weeks with stories on ‘World News with Diane Sawyer’ and ‘Good Morning America’,” Gainor reported. Versions of the story have been picked up by dozens of major and minor newspapers around the country. And most television and radio news programs have covered it as well.
On Sunday, however, The New York Times‘s Andrew Revkin became what appears to be the first major media figure to debunk the misinformation campaign in a blog post entitled, “Why I’m O.K. with ‘Pink Slime’ in Ground Beef.”
I agree with Texas Gov. Rick Perry on something — the nutritional merits of derided “pink slime” — the processed last scrapings of meat and connective tissue after cattle are butchered. Dude, it is indeed beef — a source of low-fat nutrition.
One of Revkin’s sources, a historian and blogger named Maureen Ogle, explains the issue well:
“First a word about PS: It’s beef, people. Plain ol’ beef. It’s created by using a deboning process that removes every last morsel of flesh from beef carcasses. During the cutting, slivers and bits of bone end up with the beef, but those are reduced to mush in the processing that follows. … In the BEEF industry, its use dates back to the mid-1970s, although poultry and fish processors were already using the technique. Beef packers began using in the in mid-seventies because, at the time, all meat prices, but especially beef, were in the stratosphere. … So pushed by consumers on one side, and soaring costs on the other, meatpackers asked for, and got, permission from the USDA to use a “mechanical deboning” process that allowed them scrape meat off carcasses so that what had been waste could be eaten.”
Although critics are calling pink slime an unsafe food additive that ought to require mandatory labeling wherever it appears, the fact of the matter is, lean finely textured beef is exactly that: beef. And, compared to other ground beef, LFTB is probably better for consumers. It is processed in a way that removes much of the fat — thus the “lean” part of its name. And beginning around the early- to mid-1990s, following a foodborne illness outbreak linked to Jack in the Box hamburgers, processors began treating LFTB with tiny amounts of the common food disinfectant ammonium hydroxide to kill germs, thereby substantially reducing consumers’ exposure to foodborne pathogens.
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On Monday, I’ll be speaking at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by Americans for Choice and Competition in Agriculture, which also goes by the name of AgChoice: “Feeding the World & Growing Our Economy: Agricultural Innovation in the 21st Century.”
The global population reached seven billion people on October 31, 2011, and is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. In order to meet the challenge of feeding this growing population, agricultural output must double and food production must increase by 70 percent by mid-century.
Despite a weak global economy, the demand for U.S. agricultural exports is growing and has increased 45 percent in the last five years. Leadership from the U.S. agricultural industry will play an important role in addressing these challenges, but only if policies that encourage increased innovation are adopted. Join Americans for Choice and Competition in Agriculture and other thought leaders to discuss the agricultural challenges that lie ahead in the 21st century including how innovation will play a key role and what policies need to be developed in order to encourage ongoing innovation in agriculture.
Dr. Roger Beachy, Founding President, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Brandon Hunnicutt, Chairman, Nebraska Corn Growers Association
Gregory Conko, Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Chandler Goule, Vice President of Government Relations, National Farmers Union
11:45 A.M. – 1:30 P.M.
1302 Longworth House Office Building
One of the topics I’ll be addressing is the way in which precautionary U.S. and foreign regulation of food biotechnology has made it more difficult for scientists to develop, breed, and sell innovative new crop varieties that increase agricultural productivity and lighten farming’s environmental footprint.
Of particular interest to AgChoice and its farm industry members is the expiration of several patents on some of the most widely grown biotech crops — particularly RoundUp Ready soybeans. But silly and unnecessary regulations in Europe and parts of Asia may prevent a generic biotech seed industry from developing.
Come see the event to find out how.
Earlier today, Nicole Ciandella linked to an essay by the John Locke Foundation’s Fergus Hodgson, titled “The Absurdity of Raw Milk Prohibition.” It’s a good piece, worth reading. But Hodgson makes a couple of errors worth pointing out, so I thought I’d add my two cents.
Hodgson begins well enough:
“Picture a peaceful, Amish farmer, selling one of nature’s super foods — fresh, raw milk. Eager customers came from afar, even across state lines, to savor the taste and access a nutritious product. Who could oppose such harmonious commerce on Rainbow Acres Farm? Government officials and their enforcers, that’s who.
This Pennsylvania farmer has been the subject of a yearlong sting operation, which included stealth purchases and a 5 a.m. surprise inspection. In February, a federal judge imposed a permanent injunction that prohibited him from selling his milk across state lines.”
So far, so good. But then Hodgson makes an error of over-simplification: “To defend this violation of freedom of choice, proponents claim to be protecting others from the purported dangers of raw milk. But this claim is laughable, since evidence to the contrary has been mounting for decades.”
As I’ve written on occasion, the health risks associated with raw milk consumption are generally quite low, at least for adults with a healthy immune system. But they’re not zero. After all, pasteurization was seen as a remarkable scientific breakthrough and public health miracle for a reason: raw milk can harbor any number of nasty bacteria – including S. typhimurium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Brucella – which historically have had a nasty tendency to result in illness and, occasionally, death.
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In a recent blog post, I describe the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Beef Promotion and Research “checkoff” program as corporate welfare. The agency’s Public Affairs Director disagrees. In an email, he asked me to issue a correction. I would, but the facts won’t allow it. Still, some clarification would be helpful.
He claims that “Zero appropriations are used” in AMS’s research and promotion activities. Note the use of the word “appropriations” instead of “taxes.” This is a sneaky use of language. It doesn’t matter if Congress appropriates AMS money or not. The relevant question is whether AMS uses tax dollars to advertise for private businesses. It does.
Under federal law, farmers producing certain foods (beef, pork, milk, honey, various crops, etc.) are assessed fees. The AMS uses the revenue to promote those products. Those “Got Milk?” and “The other white meat” ads are prime examples.
The “Certified Angus Beef,” program, on the other hand, is a wholly private, voluntary marketing program supported by qualified producers of that particular cattle breed. But AMS’s beef checkoff assessment is mandatory (that is, a tax).
AMS argues that the entire industry benefits from collaborative promotion, though the Congressional Research Service explains that it’s not clear whether or to what extent this is true. What is clear is that not all producers benefit to the same extent — those Certified Angus producers and others who sell branded products have to pay the tax to support advertising for their un-branded competitors.
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