Washington Insider-- Friday

Progress Toward Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

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

China Ag Ministry Confirms Reopening of Market to Some US Beef

China has lifted its ban on imports of some U.S. boneless and bone-in beef, according to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.

China's action applies to imports U.S. beef from animals under 30 months of age, according to a statement from the ministry. However, the removal of the ban is conditioned on completion of quarantine requirements which the ministry said would be issued at a later time without providing any additional guidance.

Further, China also announced it has lifted its ban on some Canadian beef as it will allow in bone-in beef from Canada that comes from animals under 30 months of age. However, as with removal of the restrictions on U.S. beef, the quarantine and inspection measures for Canada will still have to be developed.

China in 2010 cleared imports of boneless Canadian beef.

The bans in place on U.S. and Canadian beef go back to 2003 and are linked to BSE.

The notation that the quarantine procedures must still be developed does potentially conflict with the statements from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang earlier this week in New York that the U.S. beef import ban was lifted. In addition, Li is to visit Canada this week, which may also have factored into the announcements.

German Lawmakers Call on Regulators to Curb the Bayer/Monsanto Deal

A parliamentary session in Germany clearly highlighted the backlash to Bayer’s proposed buy of Monsanto as a debate Wednesday in the lower house of parliament, called by the opposition Green Party, showed deep resistance to Bayer buying a U.S. company that many Germans view as a champion of genetically modified crops and a weedkiller they believe might cause cancer.

Eight of the 12 lawmakers who spoke, including parliamentarians from within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, cast doubt on the acquisition. “More than 70% of Germans say they do not want genetically modified food on their plates, but that’s exactly part of the strategy of this merger,” said Katharina Droege, a legislator from the Greens. She warned of “massive negative consequences” for consumers and called on regulators to block the takeover.

Lawmakers have no legislative authority to stop the deal. The deal faces antitrust reviews in some 30 jurisdictions worldwide.

The opposition was bipartisan in Germany as three Social Democrats from the governing alliance crossed the aisle to join opposition Greens and Left Party lawmakers to raise antitrust and environmental concerns. One lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Hermann Faerber, a farmer, also voiced skepticism. Faerber said that excessive consolidation among suppliers will put pressure on German growers who are already facing mergers among the food companies that are their customers. “The simple German farmer will be caught more and more between two millstones,” Faerber said.

But in Merkel’s government, Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt told Mittelbayerische Zeitung on Tuesday that the deal holds “great potential” for digital technology and innovation. “I have the firm expectation that Bayer will transfer its sustainability strategy to the new parts of the company,” Schmidt said.

In the Bundestag on Wednesday, four lawmakers -- all from Merkel’s CDU-led bloc -- either sided with Bayer or called on legislators to wait for an assessment from the European Union’s antitrust commission.

Washington Insider: Progress Toward Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

Bloomberg is reporting this week that the Chesapeake Bay is showing significant signs of recovery in response to the extensive program under way there. Some 37% of water met standards in 2015, marking a 10% improvement amid “signs” that cleanup the regional partnership that leads the bay restoration is making progress.

“I think we've reached a turning point in some respects,” Nick DiPasquale, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, told the press on Wednesday. “Resilience is starting to be built back into the system.”

He pointed to improvements in blue crab populations, bay grasses and water clarity and said these are “just a few of the signs that the health of the bay is growing stronger” as pollution levels drop. He noted that that dry weather and local anti-pollution efforts helped improve water quality in the bay between 2014 and 2015 when pollutants fell below long-term averages, according to the Annapolis, Md.-based Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Nitrogen pollution fell 25%, phosphorus fell 44% and sediment loads fells 59%, according to the most recent data the group collected in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The group’s technical analysis gave significant amounts of credit to “good weather” and also said that the reductions are the result of upgrades to wastewater treatment plants and reduced runoff from farmland. As a result, it sees “real, definitive signs pointing in the right direction,” Rich Batiuk, associate director for science, analysis and implementation at the US Environmental Protection Agency told Bloomberg. He said that bay observers see “not just one, not just two, but half a dozen indications that there's a sea change out there.”

While the drop in pollution is encouraging for the bay's health, long-term trends remain variable, and more must be done to meet 2025 clean water goals, the group said and noted that some states remain significantly behind in efforts to meet those goals.

One of the key cooperators in the Bay’s water clean-up program, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said it was pleased about the latest test results. “Farmers have been implementing a wide variety of costly best management practices on their properties in order to improve water quality locally and water that eventually flows into the bay,” the bureau's Mark O'Neill told Bloomberg. “The positive data show that over time some of this hard work is paying off, although it can take a long time to achieve and identify those improvements.”

It is “encouraging” that the bay is responding to reductions in pollution with increased growth in grasses and better water clarity, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group dedicated to the bay, said in response to the new data. However, the foundation's vice president, Kim Coble, she noted that efforts to meet the 2017 clean water goals in the bay are still mixed, with Maryland and Virginia “largely on track,” but with Pennsylvania “far behind,” she said.

“When the Bay Program's Executive Council meets next month, all eyes will be watching to see what they do to help Pennsylvania get back on track,” Coble added.

As expected, the progress toward environmental goals is being applauded, but the program itself remains quite controversial in some quarters. Producers, especially are watching closely to evaluate how the often intrusive land management rules affect their management options—and will be particularly interested to see what, if any, new steps are considered to boost Pennsylvania’s progress toward the regions environmental goals, Washington Insider believes.

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