Washington Insider -- Thursday

Glyphosate Not Carcinogenic Says EU Science Panel

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Florida Winter Produce Industry Pushes to Curb Mexican Imports

Members of the Florida produce industry are pushing efforters to curb imports of Mexican fruits and vegetables as the Floridians say a flood of such imports is harming them.

The pitch came just as the Trump administration gets ready to formally launch North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations with Mexico and Canada.

Trump's Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross previously signaled that he would not hesitate to use Commerce's long-dormant authority to bring unfair trade cases on behalf of struggling U.S. industries on its own. Self-initiation of cases by Commerce — which allows the industry to save time and money — is particularly useful for small companies lacking the resources to compile the necessary data to bring a successful dumping or subsidy case.

Florida growers pressed their case with the Commerce Department and say their message is resonating. "Commerce is looking at it. The industry is pushing [self-initiation]," Tony DiMare, vice president of DiMare Co., told Bloomberg BNA. "NAFTA certainly has not been beneficial to the fresh produce industry in this country," he observed, calling for withdrawal from the pact. Commodities most affected are strawberries, peppers and tomatoes, he added, noting, "Secretary Wilbur Ross is very much aware of the concern of the entire Florida winter vegetable industry."

Florida winter vegetables, including tomatoes and peppers, were specifically identified during the NAFTA negotiating process as "preliminary losers," Reggie Brown, manager of marketing, education and promotion, and compliance with the Florida Tomato Committee, told Bloomberg BNA. "They got it exactly right," he said. "We have struggled for 20-plus years."

Mexico has always been the biggest competitor for the Florida produce industry, Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, said. He concurred with the idea of employing self-initiation. "Certainly one of the things we want to explore with the Department of Commerce is the potential for self-initiation."

Movement on the imports issue is its very early stages. "We're just beginning the process. There's been no one to talk with [in the administration] until recently," Stuart noted. Members of the Florida congressional delegation have also been briefed on the issue. The Florida winter vegetable industry was one of the most outspoken agricultural critics of NAFTA when it was negotiated over two decades ago.


Top Mexico Candidate Blasts Trump, Says Cannot Wait to Redo NAFTA

The man who currently figures to be Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's successor is blasting U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a 90-minute interview Tuesday in New York, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the radical outsider who is the early frontrunner in next year's election, blasted Trump's "campaign of hatred" against Mexican immigrants. Obrador also accused him of violating human rights laws, called his border wall plan a "propaganda" tool and said he could not wait to handle the renegotiation of NAFTA himself.

"Pena is too quiet. And Donald Trump speaks very loudly," Lopez Obrador said. "One doesn't beg for liberty, one seizes it." Lopez Obrador, a 63-year-old former Mexico City mayor who is known as Amlo to compatriots, said that Pena Nieto should have brought a complaint against Trump at the United Nations as soon as his wall was announced -- and vowed to take legal action himself, once he is president. Pena Nieto -- who can't seek reelection -- has pushed back against Trump. After catching flak locally for hosting the Republican candidate on a pre-election visit, Pena Nieto canceled a proposed trip to Washington in January.

He said it is unlikely that NAFTA will be renegotiated anytime soon, and that is just fine with him because "it would be better if we're in power" when it happens. Lopez Obrador said he had expected Trump would soften his "xenophobic" campaign rhetoric once in office. "I was wrong about that," he said. As a result, his line has hardened. After Trump's election in November, Amlo posted a video calling for calm.

Stressing that he supports free trade, Lopez Obrador said it makes no sense to insert tariffs into NAFTA. But he also said NAFTA is not Mexico's "salvation." Since the agreement came into force in 1994, Mexico's industrial output and exports have surged, without denting the country's poverty rate. "I think one has to find a policy of equilibrium, and not opt for an indiscriminate trade opening without limits," Lopez Obrador said. "Each country has rights that it needs to protect," he said. "We have to take care of strategic areas."

The White House declined to comment on the candidate's remarks.

Washington Insider: Glyphosate Not Carcinogenic Says EU Science Panel

There has been a contentious fight against several important ag chemicals recently in both the U.S. and Europe, but Bloomberg is reporting this week that glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, is not carcinogenic according to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). This opens the way for its continued use in the European Union (EU).

The panel found that Glyphosate should continue to be classified as "potentially causing serious eye damage and as toxic to aquatic life, but there is no evidence to support its classification as carcinogenic, as toxic to reproduction or as causing changes to genetic material," the agency said.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, and also is the active ingredient in pesticides registered by the BASF Corp., DuPont, FMC Corp. and Syngenta Crop Protection LLC, Bloomberg said.

The determination is important because it is needed to end a reauthorization holdup that was triggered by a 2015 finding from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer that the compound was "probably carcinogenic." A conflicting assessment from the European Food Safety Authority the same year had found glyphosate was "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard."

Glyphosate was authorized in the EU up to June 30, 2016, but because of disputes over whether it was carcinogenic, the European Commission, the EU's executive, extended the authorization through the end of 2017 while the European Chemicals Agency carried out its assessment.

Jack de Bruijn, the chemicals agency's director of risk management, said the agency's Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) had reached "a very clear conclusion" that glyphosate should not be classified as carcinogenic. "It does not fulfill the criteria to be called a carcinogen," he said.

The RAC decision on glyphosate was taken on the basis of scientific evidence, but the Commission could take into account other factors, such as public opposition to the reauthorization of glyphosate, which has become a high-profile issue in the EU, Bloomberg said.

Consideration of the different aspects of the debate around glyphosate "is a discussion that will have to take place in Brussels," de Bruijn said. Certainly, the reauthorization of glyphosate in the EU had become "the subject of a political and emotional debate rather than a scientific one."

In a non-binding vote in March 2016, the European Parliament's environment committee said the substance should not be reauthorized in the EU, and European Commission efforts to find agreement on reauthorization in a regulatory committee of EU country experts have so far not succeeded.

Environmental groups in February started a European Citizens' Initiative opposing the reauthorization of glyphosate. The initiative could oblige the commission to make a formal response if 1 million validated signatures of EU residents are collected.

Green groups condemned the RAC decision. Greenpeace said the RAC had "rejected glaring scientific evidence of cancers in laboratory animals, ignored warnings by more than 90 independent scientists, and relied on unpublished studies commissioned by glyphosate producers."

Genon K. Jensen, director of the Brussels-based Health and Environment Alliance, said the International Agency for Research on Cancer ultimately "will be recognized as having been right" to say glyphosate is probably carcinogenic, and that the European Chemicals Agency's assessment "feeds public suspicion about the reliability of EU scientific agencies' opinions."

Tim Bowmer, chair of the RAC, speaking at the same briefing as de Bruijn March 15, said the RAC had assessed a very wide range of evidence and that the International Agency for Research on Cancer did not have strong data proving carcinogenic effects of glyphosate. "Depending on how it's analyzed statistically, there's either no effect or very little effect," Bowmer said.

European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said the Commission "takes note" of the RAC assessment and expected to receive the finalized RAC opinion by the middle of 2017. Thereafter, the commission would "restart their discussions with the member states as regards the approval of glyphosate as an active substance in plant protection products," Brivio said.

So, the debate over how ag science should be evaluated continues, along with the key question of how to evaluate products that perform safely when used as intended. Glyphosate is popular because it is effective and less threatening than competing products. It likely will continue to be controversial because it does require use with care, a not unreasonable requirement, Washington Insider believes.

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