Washington Insider -- Monday

Compromise on Chil Nutrition

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

DOT Secretary Calls for More Public Transit and Freight Proposals

More proposals for public transit and multimodal freight projects are needed, as roads alone will be unable to meet future transportation demands, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told an audience at the US Conference of Mayors winter meeting.

Enactment of the $350 billion FAST Act resolved the issue of providing funds for transportation proposals and now the focus should shift to soliciting proposals for infrastructure projects, especially multimodal freight and public transit projects, Foxx said.

“I would urge you not to waste any time. Don’t waste any time if you’ve got ideas for how to expand freight because in the first quarter of this year we’re planning to put out a [notice of funding availability] for the discretionary freight program, which is a $1 billion program. You’ll need to work with your state governments to move that forward,” Foxx implored.

Moves to eliminate subsides for Amtrak, which runs many commuter rail services, have been promoted by Republicans. Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Mark Sanford, R-S.C., have also introduced legislation which would remove the federal public transit program from the Highway Trust Fund, but they were not enacted.


European Parliament Committee Urges Halt on GMO Soy

Stopping European Union (EU) authorization of genetically modified (GMO) was the subject of draft resolution by the European Parliament, adopted Jan. 21.

A non-binding resolution which revokes authorization for three varieties of GMO soybeans, including Bayer CropScience’s FG72 soybean and for Monsanto’s MON 87708 x MON 89788 and MON 87705 x MON 89788 soybeans was passed by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee.

The non-binding objection to EU authorization for the GMO soybeans is not likely to stop the authorization but is none-the less seen as a major repudiation of GMO crops in the EU.

Biotechnology firms say they are not concerned about the vote because it’s non-binding and the authorizations are “clearly within the commission’s powers”, according to EuropaBio, which represents biotechnology companies including Bayer and Monsanto.


Washington Insider: Compromise on Child Nutrition

Bloomberg reported last week that after a half-decade of sometimes emotional debate, “peace is at hand on child nutrition,” the result of a truce on one front of the ag “culture wars.”

The group reported what it called “split-the-difference, good-faith negotiations” among Democrats and Republicans on school lunch rules that it considered “remarkable by Washington standards.”

Bloomberg’s celebration was over compromises to keep first lady Michelle Obama’s prized healthy school meal standards in place while giving schools more flexibility, as the Senate ag committee approved a child nutrition reauthorization bill to the floor for a vote. “Folks said we couldn’t come to an agreement on child nutrition reauthorization, let alone a bipartisan agreement, but we did,” Committee chair Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said.

A committee spokeswoman said there are clerical and procedural steps that still need to be taken to formally introduce the legislation in the Senate. She said no specific date has been set for a vote on the Senate floor.

While it applauded the compromise bill, Bloomberg stopped short of suggesting that these talks might “provide a template for resolving other contentious issues.” It thinks that child nutrition differs from other controversies facing Congressional agriculture committees in that “the scope was limited to a single set of federal programs, and neither side was as immovable as they seemed.”

While some lawmakers painted the issue as a clash between the nanny state and individual freedom, the school nutrition debate at heart was about “how hard it might be to pay for an all-whole-grains school lunch, with a side dish of White House-bashing,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg even suggests that “criticizing the First Lady is fading in President Obama’s last year.” In addition, enough schools have figured out whole-grains to give others ideas on how to get to 80 percent adoption, the compromise standard, it said, and noted that the GOP went along with recommendations from the School Nutrition Association in an effort to avoid “the risk of being portrayed as anti-kid, and that’s no good in an Obama-less election year.”

Bloomberg then contrasts the school lunch fight with the one over GMOs, a debate that dates to the Bill Clinton administration, and before. On GMOs the group says that “battle lines are so well-established that “grassroots dissent would be automatic” in reaction to whatever compromise Congress could find, even on the sub-issue of labeling, which Bloomberg thinks is, on its surface, less complex than child nutrition.

Food-safety and animal-welfare issues show similar tendencies toward absolutist stances since however few foodborne illnesses there may be in the US, there will always be a push for fewer. “And until all Americans go vegan, Bloomberg says, there will always be advocates pushing for more humane treatment of livestock.”

That’s why the moment of good feeling will be fleeting, but it’s real, Bloomberg insists, “and the Senate Agriculture Committee is justifiably proud.”

Well, a report of agreement on a set of important nutrition issues is good news, but it is tempting to suggest that this Bloomberg report stops far short of serious analysis. For example, it argues that the split over school lunch issues was never “that deep” and that the compromise was based heavily on recommendations from professional groups involved in the dispute.

Bloomberg is probably right about the fight over GMOs, since it is based on unusually widespread impressions held by consumers that conflict directly with those of scientists who have studied the issue in depth. Still, there are a lot of ag issues that really are more like the nutrition debate than like the GMO fight in that they have bipartisan support for at least some important components when the crunch comes. And, that’s why it is still possible to still pass expensive farm bills and why nutrition programs in general continue to be important to producers.

As a result, it seems far too early to write off the “nutrition template” effect, as Bloomberg does. It could well have important future impacts on important legislation that producers should watch carefully throughout the coming months, Washington Insider believes.

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