Washington Insider-- Wednesday

Meeting Growing Demand for Meat

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

EPA Violated Law by Using Social Media to Push Water Rule: GAO

EPA engaged in a social-media campaign that broke the law as it developed a water regulation issued earlier this year (WOTUS), according to a report released on Dec. 14 by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report concluded that EPA broke at least two laws in the way it was promoting and responding to criticisms about its water regulation.

The report said the agency didn’t properly disclose its role as the source of information, and it engaged in what the report described as grassroots lobbying that federal agencies are forbidden from undertaking.

Also running afoul of the law was an EPA blog post that linked to external websites containing public appeals to contact Congress in support of the WOTUS, the report said. The websites linked to by the EPA’s blog intended to promote contacts to Congress in opposition to pending congressional legislation related to WOTUS.

Other EPA social media campaigns were found to have been conducted legally, including those using the #DitchtheMyth and #CleanWaterRules hashtags and were found not to have violated the publicity or propaganda prohibitions, as the blog and Thunderclap campaign did.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Inhofe, R-Okla., was critical of EPA. “GAO’s finding confirms what I have long suspected, that EPA will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda,” Inhofe said in a statement. “This opinion from GAO also bolsters our oversight of EPA in other areas,” he added.


Lawmakers Urge Secretary Vilsack Take Action on Cottonseed

Suffering under combined pressures of natural disasters and predatory foreign competition by China, India, and others, financially struggling American cotton farmers received strong backing from Capitol Hill as 100 members of the House of Representatives on Dec. 14 urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to use legal authority provided under the 2014 Farm Bill to provide what they said was “crucial help”.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., led a coalition of rural and urban Democrats and Republicans from across the country, inside and outside of the cotton belt, in requesting that the Secretary use his authority under the Farm Bill to designate cottonseed an oilseed, allowing farmers who produce cottonseed to access the same risk management tools available under the Farm Bill to other oilseed farmers.

“America’s farmers are currently experiencing a 55% free fall in net farm income, with huge losses due in part to the culprits of natural disasters and the unfair trade practices of foreign countries that use high and rising subsidies, tariffs, and non-tariff trade barriers to elbow U.S. farmers out of world markets,” said Conaway. “Cotton farmers are getting hit the hardest right now and they are doing all they can just to hold on without access to key risk management tools under the Farm Bill.”

Last week, the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee held a hearing on the crisis unfolding in cotton country. Farmers from across the country urged lawmakers to join farmers in requesting the Secretary use his authority to provide relief.

“We are deeply concerned that unless the Secretary takes action, there will be significant economic consequences. We cannot allow the predatory trading practices of a few huge players in the world cotton market to destroy cotton production in this country, but that is exactly what will happen without action,” Conaway concluded.


Washington Insider: Meeting Growing Demand for Meat

While it is clear that many foodies would like to reduce or even end consumption of meat in the United States, the demand is actually growing. In addition, the sector focuses on meeting future global needs the Wall Street Journal reported recently.

WSJ sees a key challenge in producing protein for the additional 2.4 billion people that will join the global population by 2050. It discussed research underway at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and other land grant universities around the country and suggests this kind of research will play an important part in the plans of the agriculture industry for the future.

Now, geneticists like Dr. Siegel at Blacksburg see a new urgency in confronting two issues: preparing for a larger, more affluent populace with a growing taste for meat while addressing concerns about how agricultural practices affect the environment, animal welfare and human health.

WSJ describes the task as “monumental.” At current consumption rates, the world would need to generate 455 million metric tons of meat annually by 2050, when the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion, up from 7.3 billion today.

The Journal also thinks that boosting meat production will be critical because protein plays an essential role in the human diet, providing cells with amino acids that the body can’t produce itself. A key driver of the consumption growth is the rising household incomes in developing countries. Global meat production nearly quadrupled over the past 50 years, while the population slightly more than doubled. Over the next 35 years the world will need to increase meat production by another two-thirds as global GDP roughly doubles, according to UN projections.

Agribusiness executives, academics and farmers think they will be able to meet the challenge, but feeding a larger population while minimizing the environmental toll likely will require larger-scale production and better genetics and other technology, experts say.

Still, some environmentalists and others are attempting to limit access to modern technologies by raising concerns about some potential impacts on human health, though major government agencies and the World Health Organization say they are quite safe.

For example, in the U.S., Vermont passed a law in 2014 requiring food made with genetically modified crops to carry special labels, a move that food companies fear could prompt shoppers to avoid them.

Industry officials also believe larger scale operations will be essential to provide the necessary efficiency, another controversial development opposed by some critics who are working to export campaigns against large operations to developing markets. Still, massive broiler operations are being developed by companies like Cargill which slaughters and processes 2.6 million chickens weekly to supply international customers including McDonald’s Corp. in Japan and Europe. WSJ says Cargill is discussing large investments in new chicken operations in Indonesia and the Philippines and could start meat-processing operations in the near future in sub-Saharan Africa, where they expect meat demand to grow as city populations swell.

Agribusiness executives are confident that chicken will be the main meat of the future for several reasons. Its mild flavor and broad cultural and religious acceptance make it more universal than beef and pork. Chicken generally requires less land to produce and is cheaper. FAO expects chicken to overtake pork as the world’s most-consumed meat by 2020, and meat companies are investing to meet that challenge.

Still, the Journal says companies are cautious about chicken’s vulnerability to disease, a concern that has slowed anticipated growth in China’s poultry sector.

This is where the geneticists are expecting to help, WSJ says. Because of the birds’ rapid reproduction and quick maturation cycle, geneticists can effect changes in chickens relatively quickly. Today, a 5.3-pound chicken can be produced in 35 days using about 8 pounds of feed, according to Virginia Tech. Thirty years ago, it took a little over 7 pounds of feed to produce a 3-pound bird in the same time.

Most important, breeders are using the new genomic tools to breed chickens that can pass along strong immune systems and that respond to probiotics, beneficial living bacteria incorporated into diets which can prevent illnesses. Cargill says it expects, eventually, to be able to eliminate all antibiotics needed to treat human illnesses from its Thailand poultry operations.

The United States today has a highly diverse food supply and high productivity that allows the average consumer to meet family food needs for less than 10% of disposable income; the lowest in the world. Now, public and private R&D systems are preparing to meet future food needs as well as key social goals, including reducing future stresses on water and land resources as the climate shifts.

This enormously successful food policy is far from controversy free. But the WSJ was right to focus away from the fight over food labels to the current investment strategies that focus on meeting demands of the future, Washington Insider believes.

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