Washington Insider -- Thursday

Defending American Food Standards

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

NGFA, NAEGA Outline Trade Priorities for Trump Administration

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and the North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) submitted a joint statement to the Trump administration this week regarding the performance of free trade agreements.

Responding to a request for comments from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) regarding the administration's assessment of free trade agreements and the nation's trade relations with other members of the World Trade Organization, the NGFA and NAEGA identified opportunities to update and modernize US free trade agreements and highlighted the urgency in initiating trade negotiations with key Asia-Pacific markets.

Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement "has created a void that foreign export competitors are aggressively exploiting to the detriment of U.S. agricultural exports and our nation's economy," stated the NGFA and NAEGA.

The two groups said key areas that would preserve and enhance U.S. agricultural competitiveness and facilitate trade include not only expanded market access and tariff concessions, but also:

improved regulatory consistency and cooperation;

removal of non-tariff barriers that lack scientific merit;

enabling innovation of information technologies;

recognizing comparable regulatory systems for assessing the safety of plant breeding technologies;

developing a consistent approach for managing low-level presence (LLP) of biotechnology-enhanced products that have undergone a safety assessment and are approved for use in a third country, but not yet approved for import by a U.S. free trade agreement-member country; and

ensuring safe and orderly passage for rail and truck freight transportation.

EPA Now Looking Into Dicamba Situation

Directions on use of the chemical dicamba are being reviewed in the wake of hundreds of reports of crop damage from chemical drift, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed to Reuters.

"We are reviewing the current use restrictions on the labels for these dicamba formulations in light of the incidents that have been reported this year," EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said in an email to Reuters.

EPA approved new formulations of dicamba late last year for two years as older formulations were known to drift from their initial target field.

Scores of states are investigating damage reports from dicamba and some states have taken action to either bar its use or set restrictions on conditions under which it can be used.

Washington Insider: Defending American Food Standards

Well, as if there are not enough political fights around over almost everything, the International Business Times’ Daniel Hannan is opining this week that those delicious chlorinated American chickens have turned “Europhiles into chauvinists, internationalists into bigots, rationalists into Luddites.”

Then, he raises an important question: “Do you really suppose that America's FDA, a body whose first instinct is to ban things, would approve unsafe meat?” Americans are as fussy about hygiene as any people on Earth: their food is so zapped that they can get upset stomachs abroad from microbes that the rest of us take for granted. They eat 186 million chickens every year with – guess what? – no deleterious effects whatever.

Goung further, Hannan asks, why, after all, should washing chickens be dangerous?” We wash our salad in chlorinated water. We glug down comparatively vast amounts of chlorine when we drink. Americans consume around 90 times as much chlorine in tap-water as from the traces in chicken. Every regulatory agency, including the European Food Safety Authority, agrees that American poultry poses no risk to human health.

So who disagrees? Quite a few people, as it turns out. If you want to believe something badly enough, you'll eventually convince yourself. And it turns out that several people want to believe that American chicken is poisonous.

They're a rather eclectic alliance. Some of them dislike eating meat in principle, and especially dislike the way in which American chickens are reared. Others are straightforwardly anti-American. Yet others hate trade and imagine that we'd be better off with barter and self-sufficiency. These three groups overlap to some extent and, collectively, are not especially numerous. To give a very broad sense of what their numbers might be, the UK Green Party polled 1.6% at the recent general election.

They are joined, though, slightly incongruously, by a fourth group, made up of people who, consciously or unconsciously, want Brexit to fail, and so don't want a successful UK-U.S. trade agreement.

The politician Nick Clegg, for example, has described American chicken as "bleached, bloody horrible stuff which is not allowed in the EU" and the Times observes that “the defeated Lib Dem leader is a prime example of how Europhilia can lead you to strange positions.” Though a liberal, he wants to constrain consumer choice. Though a cosmopolitan, he is happy to bore on about supposedly disgusting foreign food. Though a man who believes in science, he is whipping up superstitious fears against a kind of meat which I'll wager a pound to a euro he has eaten quite contentedly when in the United States himself.

Yet Clegg will genuinely now have convinced himself that there is something dodgy about American hens, the Times says. It's an extreme form of the confirmation bias to which almost all human beings are prone.

Without realizing it, most of us tend to look for findings that back up our hunches, and to screen out those that challenge them. If you're a doctrinaire Leftist, for example, you might light on surveys that deny the heritability of intelligence. If you're a strict Catholic, your eye might be caught by studies showing that the contraceptive pill damages women's health. Either way, you'll think you reached your view quite impartially.

This is no less true of people who like to boast that "the scientific consensus" is on their side. On the contrary, I've noticed that those likeliest to accept the scientific consensus when it comes to, say, climate change are often the first to reject it when it comes to fracking being deemed safe – and, of course, vice versa.

People are allowed their opinions, obviously, and no less so just because the rest of us deem those opinions baseless. “So how's this for a compromise? If you don't like the idea of chlorine-rinsed American chicken, don't buy it. Me? I look forward to tucking in.”

In general, Americans give back as good as they get in arguments over food safety, eagerly pointing out the strangeness of basing policy on the “precautionary principle” that denies the necessity of science in regulating food safety altogether.

However, the “science gap” illustrates the difficulty of working out trade agreements with the Europeans, including, of course, the British. In fact, they seem quite happy to spend a much larger share of their disposable income on food than we do—and, have long had a much worse safety record.

So, we will see if the post-Brexit Brits are any more mindful of economics and food safety than they were previously. This will take some time to work out, and certainly will not be easy—and, should be watched closely by producers throughout the process, Washington Insider believes.

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