Washington Insider- Thursday

WSJ and Genetic Progress

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

More Countries Lift Restrictions on US Poultry

Countries are continuing to remove their restrictions on imports of U.S. poultry/products put in place in response to the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak in the U.S., with several removing their restrictions on Iowa and South Dakota along with some other states as the states and US have gone more than six months since the last confirmed finding.

· Canada: Restrictions on Iowa and Minnesota removed as of Dec. 14.

· Hong Kong: Restrictions on Iowa and South Dakota removed as of Dec. 22.

· Singapore: Restrictions on Iowa and South Dakota removed as of Dec. 29.

· Ukraine: Restrictions on Nebraska lifted as of Dec. 23.

· Barbados: Restrictions on South Dakota removed as of Dec. 13 and Iowa as of Dec. 21.

· Uruguay: Restrictions on South Dakota removed as of Dec. 13 and Iowa as of Dec. 21.

· Kazakhstan: Restrictions removed from several counties in several states.

· French Polynesia (Tahiti): Restrictions removed from Iowa counties as of Dec. 21; from South Dakota counties as of Dec. 13.

· Kuwait: Restrictions on U.S. poultry removed as of Dec. 28.

At the height of the outbreaks this year, more than 50 countries banned imports of U.S. poultry/products from individual states or counties within individual states. Only 15 countries put total bans in place on all U.S. poultry.

It’s not clear how many restrictions remain, but the number of areas where poultry still faces limits due to HPAI continues to decline. The U.S. has not seen additional confirmed cases of HPAI even as officials were prepared for the virus to reappear as the fall migration took place. The vigilance will continue as we are now in the time frame when the first discoveries were made in the HPAI outbreak over the course of the period from Dec. 19, 2014, through June 17, 2015, impacting more than 48 million birds in 15 states.


States Tell Supreme Court to Stay out of Lawsuit Challenging Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration

Texas and 25 other states filed a brief Tuesday urging the Supreme Court to stay out of their lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s executive actions on immigration. The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to decide by June whether a federal appeals court in New Orleans erred in blocking implementation of those executive actions, which could affect millions of undocumented immigrants. The court’s term ends in June. The justices’ decision could determine if President Barack Obama gets to implement the deferred-deportation program (DAPA) that was announced in November 2014, before he leaves office.

Texas, leading the challenge, asked the justices to decline to review the case for several reasons. The states argue in part that Congress is the branch to make changes to immigration policy. The Obama administration’s “asserted justification for review — that DAPA is an important new federal program — is at odds with their own submission that DAPA is merely a general policy statement advising the public of the Secretary of Homeland Security’s tentative intentions,” Texas wrote in the brief. “In reality, of course, DAPA is a crucial change in the nation’s immigration law and policy — and that is precisely why it could be created only by Congress, rather than unilaterally imposed by the executive,” the brief stated. The Supreme Court also could decline to hear the case if the justices decide that the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit correctly rejected the government’s “sweeping and unprecedented assertion of executive authority,” the brief stated

Texas also argued that no other appeals court decision differs from the Fifth Circuit’s, so there is no split that justices look for when deciding whether to hear a case. In November, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, declined to lift an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen that prevents the implementation of the executive actions. The injunction keeps the status quo until the legal challenge from the states — which claim Obama does not have the authority to take the actions — is finally decided.

The brief also argued that the immigration overhaul, which the president announced in November 2014, did not go through the notice and comment procedures required for major rule changes by government agencies. “The Fifth Circuit’s decision is correct,” the brief said, adding that blocking the president’s immigration plan is “necessary to uphold the separation of powers and ensure the proper functioning of the administrative state.”

The administration’s actions would grant deferred deportation for parents of US citizens and legal residents and expand on the deferred deportation program the Obama administration created in 2012 for immigrants who came to the United States as children, called DACA. The Supreme Court agrees to hear a case if four of the nine justices vote to do so. The justices are expected to meet privately in the first few weeks of 2016 to decide whether or not to hear the case.


Washington Insider: WSJ and Genetic Progress

As the year winds down, it becomes apparent that most of the lingering controversies in agriculture are making a running start toward even more intense fights in the New Year. For example, the Wall Street Journal, which typically supports technology that boosts productivity, carried an OpEd by Julie Kelly, “a contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project and a cooking instructor and food writer in Illinois.”

Kelly says that while it is commonplace to hear that most consumers mistrust biotechnology, she has a different take. She opines that no matter what the culinary elite say, genetic engineering is winning the day and gradually overcoming fear-mongering. The cites what she calls “a flurry of good news” this year and thinks it ought to convince the public, more than ever, of the safety and the tremendous promise of this technology.

She notes that FDA approved a new chicken that produces eggs that treat a rare and potentially fatal disorder called lysosomal acid lipase deficiency. “Add it to the small but growing class of “farmaceuticals,” including drugs made by transgenic goats and rabbits,” she says. She could have added Golden Rice with its enormous health potential, but her point is clear.

Then she talks about approval of an Atlantic salmon modified to grow faster with less feed that may ease pressure on overfished salmon stocks in the wild and moves on to modified fruits like apples that prevent spoilage and waste. She also includes a second-generation Innate potato, which includes a gene from a wild variety that resists late blight, bruising and browning.

She sees more progress on the way and discusses the rapidly developing genome editing method known as Crispr that Science magazine called “breakthrough of the year” and which is seen as holding amazing potential for agriculture. An example is research at the University of Missouri and Kansas State University on hogs that resist a viral respiratory diseases that costs the pork industry more than $600 million a year.

Are anti-GMO activists happy about these consumer oriented products? Well, no, she says. In fact they are spending heavily to force food manufacturers to label products, even though such mandatory requirements failed in ballot measures in Oregon and Colorado last year after similar failures in California and Washington State. Now, these several different state efforts are attracting the attention of Congress and led to a House of Representatives passed a bill to pre-empt state and local GMO-labeling laws. Kelly cites Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, who said earlier this month that a similar bill is on the radar in her chamber: “I think it will be the first thing we have to work on in January.”

Kelly also wonders about the effectiveness of company policies that rely on non-GMO products to deliver safer foods. She notes the recent cases of food-borne illnesses that have hit Chipotle locations across the country and somewhat snidely suggests that supporters of “traditional agriculture, who have felt maligned by the burrito company, have started keeping a tally of the number of people sickened by Chipotle’s food (ongoing, but more than 300) versus the number sickened by foods from GMOs (zero)."

She concludes that, “GMOs never looked so harmless” and predicts that, “…as science advances and consumers become more informed about genetic engineering’s benefits for human health, animal welfare and food safety, the anti-GMO movement will look ever more like an outdated ideological crusade as it becomes increasingly certain that renouncing technology doesn’t make your food safer or healthier.” She sees this as a lesson now being learned.

We’ll see. The fight against GMOs was never fact based but was heavily influenced by European and U.S. foodies who hate the technology. Even more basic is the feeling the elitists peddle that the less technology of any kind applied to food, the better—in spite of the fact that without historical plant and animal modification, our foods would nearly all be woody, often tasteless, frequently dangerous and certainly more scarce.

So, Kelly is probably on the right track in pointing out consumer benefits—especially, since many ag products already use GMOs in processing with mainly good results.

Still, agriculture is in a fight with foodies who actually know that scientists think GMOs are safe, but still want to kill the “mammoth corporations that produce them” for reasons known mainly to each other. In such a situation, perhaps a little hand-slapping by the Congress is in order, or even overdue, to avoid unnecessary consumer costs. However, it is far too early to conclude that the GMO battle is anywhere near over, Washington Insider believes.

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