Washington Insider-- Friday

The Pentagon and Climate Change

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

Senate GMO Labeling Deal Would Preempt, Ban State Disclosure Mandates

The Senate deal would create the first nationwide standard for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

But consumers will likely have difficulty figuring out if the food they are buying is genetically modified because it would not mandate a printed disclosure on the exterior. Instead, the agreement offers three options for disclosure: text on the packaging, a symbol, or an electronic link that would direct consumers to a website for more information.

Score a win for the disclosure language to Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and many in the food industry and a loss on that matter to ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who still got her release on the matter out before Roberts, as did some farm groups and lobbyists. When Roberts finally issued his statement/release he said, “In negotiations with Ranking Member Stabenow, I fought to ensure this standard recognizes the 30-plus years of proven safety of biotechnology while ensuring consumer access to more information about their food. “I urge my colleagues to support this approach. It is a far better alternative than Vermont’s law with its destructive ramifications up and down the supply chain.”

The agreement calls for banning state-imposed labeling requirements, and detail what the national GMO label should include.

In a statement, Stabenow said the agreement “covers tens of thousands of food products exempt from Vermont’s law, and protects the integrity of organic food.”

In a concession to the biotech industry, the bill would tightly define genetic engineering in a way that does not include new techniques like gene editing.

Also, beef, pork, poultry and eggs would not be subject to labeling, though the deal would cover many other grocery staples.

Producers who’ve secured a “certified organic” designation from USDA would be allowed to clearly display a “non-GMO” label on their products.

Timing of floor action in Senate, House. As previously reported, the goal is to have the Senate vote on the measure as soon as next week.

Reuters: Egypt Rejects US Wheat for Ergot; Gov't Decree Delayed

Egypt has rejected 33,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat due the presence of trace amounts of ergot (0.006%), according to Reuters.

The decree expected to be issued by the Egyptian government to allow up to 0.05% ergot in wheat shipments has been delayed, with a government spokesman telling Reuters additional actions are needed on a months-old judicial order from the prosecutor banning all ergot from entering the country.

"The prosecutor needs to remove that order first before a decree can be issued," Eid Hawash, agriculture ministry spokesman, said.

The initial rejection of the U.S. wheat shipment took place on June 12, according to Reuters, based government documents. Those from the ministries of health and agriculture detailed the 0.006% ergot level, the report said, noting trading firm Venus appealed rejection and was hoping the cargo would be accepted after the now-delayed government decree was issued.

The 33,000 ton shipment was HRS wheat and was exported the week ended April 14. But Egypt's purchases of U.S. wheat only totaled 41,800 metric tons for the 2015-16 marketing year.

Washington Insider: The Pentagon and Climate Change

Well, there are plenty of fights to go around in Washington these days, amid efforts to toughen gun rules, pass spending bills and take account of the UK vote on leaving the European Union (EU). At the same time, the Pentagon is being revealed as embroiled in a battle over climate change that hasn’t received much notice, Politico reported this week.

It seems that the Defense Department, along with other federal agencies, has long been concerned about climate change and its threats to U.S. national security and is urging the military to make preparations, Politico says. This year it also spelled out specific assignments for top officials to figure out how climate change could shape everything from weapons acquisition to personnel training, and what needs to be done about expected problems.

Last week, however, those plans attracted even more political attention. The House passed an amendment to prohibit the department from spending money to put its new plan into effect. It passed with only Republican votes, the second time in just a few weeks that the House GOP has tried to halt the Pentagon’s climate policies, Politico says. A similar measure attached to the House’s Defense Authorization bill passed without Democratic support.

Supporters of the amendment say it’s necessary to keep the DOD focused on “the biggest threat facing the U.S. today — the Islamic State.” But critics say the provisions, if they become law, would dangerously limit Defense Department preparations for future threats. The Senate’s version of the DOD authorization bill doesn’t include the amendment, so whether it will survive the conference is unclear.

DOD officials have been warning for years that climate change could have dire consequences for U.S. national security, Politico says. Increased refugee flows, which are already straining Europe, are likely to accelerate as the climate heats up and have the potential to destabilize large swaths of the world, including the Middle East and South Pacific. The “oil wars” of the 20th century could give way to “water wars,” with countries competing for scarce natural resources. Higher energy costs may further strain the military’s budget and rising water levels could force the DOD to adjust locations of critical infrastructure facilities like ports.

Politico cites David Titley, a retired rear admiral who spent 32 years in the military and is the founding director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University. He compared earlier climate change plans to the Department of Defense’s quadrennial very high level security review which sets out top-level defense policy. By contrast, Titley says the “DOD [climate] directive gets pretty specific.”

Republicans insist that the DOD directive is a distraction. “The military, the intelligence community [and] the domestic national security agencies should be focused on ISIS and not on climate change,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who sponsored the amendment to block the funding. He says, “The president has talked about an increase in the climate temperature on the planet. It is a fraction of a degree every year. How that is a current threat to us is beyond me.”

Other opponents argue that the directive will require additional resources to implement, a costly effort in a time of tight budgets that risks overloading the military with yet more tasks.

Military experts argue that the directive would save money in the long run by ensuring the Defense Department accounts for climate change in its routine plans, Politico says. It cites Titley who argues that the department is capable of fighting the Islamic State and preparing for climate change at the same time and thinks Buck’s is a very narrow “stereotype of the military’s job, that it is [only] to kill people or break things. “...when you are running an adult organization of $600 plus billion, you have a lot of people and you need to consider a lot of things,” he told Politico.

The Senate’s defense spending bill, which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee in late May but has not yet received a vote on the floor currently leaves the climate change directive intact, so this particular fight may be bypassed, at least for the time being. Still, the effort to prevent DOD planning for an unpopular possibility clearly reflects the toxicity of the issue. It does not bode well for Congressional efforts later this year, especially for a smooth conclusion for the FY 2017 budget process, Washington Insider believes.

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