Washington Insider-- Tuesday

USDA Working on Possible New Cotton Ginnings Aid Program

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

Mexico Rejects US Request for WTO Consideration in Tuna Dispute

A request by the U.S. for a special meeting of the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement body (DSB) to consider changes made to the U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labeling program has been rejected by Mexico.

The WTO previously determined that Mexico was discriminated against by the program. The U.S. says the changes it made to its dolphin-safe program address the previous findings by the WTO and requested that the revisions be reviewed by the dispute settlement body. However, Mexico rejected the request during a meeting of the DSB on Apr. 22.

The WTO is also currently evaluating Mexico’s request for $472.3 million in annual retaliatory tariffs for U.S. non-compliance with WTO rulings in the tuna labeling dispute, with sugar among the products targeted by Mexico.

The next meeting of the DSB is scheduled for May 23.


USDA and Lawmakers Meeting on Possible New Cotton Ginnings Aid Program

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s staff has been looking at what authorities exist under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Act and other authorities to see if there are tools there that could help the cotton industry.

One of the options would provide support to help facilitate the marketing of commodities. Since cotton has to be ginned to be able to market it, USDA could provide a cost-share option to producers to help pay for part of their ginning costs.

Vilsack recently noted the details of such a program need to be worked out, including having the cotton industry provide the numbers on ginning costs and the amount of cotton being ginned annually – that has apparently been provided USDA. The secretary mentioned a figure of $300 million with $150 million being made available to cotton producers to help offset ginning costs.

USDA and cotton industry action on the possible if not likely program has accelerated in recent weeks. USDA sent a proposal to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) several weeks ago. OMB has asked questions about the proposal, which reportedly would involve just the 2015 cotton season, and could cost an estimated $500 million, a figure OMB apparently wants lowered. That will likely be part of the discussions.

Subject to change, any program would be based on 2015 crop acreage, and not on bales produced. However, some differentials to the payment formula would be based on yields.


Washington Insider: Help for Local Foods

In spite of their reputation for cold hearts, lawmakers and USDA regulators often show at least some signs of sensitivity. An example is lawmakers’ willingness to exclude the smallest farm operations from many of the FDA’s new requirements and rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

However, not everyone is happy with the initial approach. Some have suggested that recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses have links to heavy reliance on local supplies. Retailers, restaurants and school districts, among others, are increasingly demanding that local products meet certain food-safety requirements, Food Safety News reports. As a result, USDA is using federal funds to help local producers comply. A new program costing nearly $5 million for food safety grants is the result.

In addition to small and mid-sized farms, the grant program is intended to help beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, small processors, small fresh fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers, food hubs and farmers’ markets.

“As growing demand for local food creates new economic opportunities for small farms, beginning farmers, and others, we are committed to ensuring that all types of farmers and businesses have the tools they need to be successful,” Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack argued in the grant announcement. “By supporting projects that offer tailored training, education, and technical assistance for producers and processors of local food, these grants will benefit producers, the entire food supply chain, and consumers.”

The grants will be offered through the USDA’s Food Safety Outreach Program and administered by its National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Three types of projects are eligible to receive funding through the new grant program, FSN says, including those that support the development and implementation of new and potentially “high-risk, high-impact food safety education and outreach programs in local communities aimed at small, specialized audiences from among the various target groups.”

Community outreach projects also are to focus on the growth and expansion of already-existing food safety education and outreach programs currently being offered locally while multistate education and training projects also will be offered that focus on broader food safety concerns.

Well, who can be against food safety; and, who can oppose a small program to help small operators? Still, who can miss the fact that this is a program to spend federal money to accomplish safety objectives the Congress was unwilling to assign to the certain participants in the food system, as it does to larger operations.

And, while it won’t cost much—now—it may revert to bureaucratic principles of growth in later incarnations. In fact, one might think that there are already lots of facilities and programs available to help provide the support needed, perhaps through the land grant system or other public or private programs—perhaps sponsored by the retailers themselves. One wonders why a separately supported system is needed.

The fact is, there is something a little shaky about the idea of excluding some small producers from food safety rules, as if they were a matter of convenience rather than human health. This new program may be well worth the cost, but the strategies and policies behind it seem somewhat odd, Washington Insider believes.

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