Washington Insider-- Thursday

Turning Pink Over GMO Pineapple

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

Decision Still Pending on USDA Cabinet Position

Current Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller reportedly remains in the running to lead USDA, with spokesman Mark Loeffler confirming that Miller has been in touch with Reince Priebus, the outgoing Republican National Committee chairman and Trump's appointed chief of staff, about "setting a meeting for next week."

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, a former president at potato giant Simplot, was recently mentioned as a possible USDA leader, with Bill Flory of the Idaho Wheat Commission, a member of Trump's 64-member agricultural advisory committee, telling the San Antonio Express-News that Otter was an energetic and pro-trade leader who "ran the state like business" and "would really complement the [Trump] administration."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, also has been a serious contender, though her reported vetting upset some Trump supporters.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is backing Susan Combs, a Texas politician who served as the state's agriculture commissioner and comptroller, for USDA Secretary, one of the few remaining Cabinet posts to be filled. Combs met with VP-elect Mike Pence Tuesday.

There was a photo yesterday of Iowa businessman Bruce Rastetter at Trump Tower. A reporter Wednesday asked a Trump spokesman whether he is being considered for any administration post. Jason Miller, the transition team's communications director, said, "Do not know if Rastetter is being considered for a particular post. Obviously someone who comes with a wealth of knowledge and is very well known in Iowa politics, but don't have any particular updates on his meeting with transition officials."

The president-elect reportedly has vetted only two members of the advisory committee to lead USDA, Nebraska cattleman Charles Herbster and former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue.

Georgia Dock Price Suspended Indefinitely

Citing a lack of submissions of new requirements for Georgia Dock price for broilers and fryers and the Georgia Poultry Market News has been suspended indefinitely, the Georgia Department of Agriculture announced December 21.

"To assure the industry maintains a reliable pricing tool, the Georgia Department of Agriculture anticipates the introduction of the Georgia Premium Poultry Price Index (GPPPI) the week of January 4, 2017," the agency said in its Georgia Poultry Market News publication. "Official reporting for this index is expected to begin February 1, 2017."

In response to the announcement, Sanderson Farms said it has notified customers of the change and "are committed to determining an appropriate pricing formula as quickly as possible." The company reported that for Fiscal 2016, 10.15% of its overall product mix was priced using the Georgia Dock Whole Bird price. "For the past 40 years and until recently, the Georgia Dock price was seen as a fair reflection of the dynamics of the retail grocery store market for chicken," the firm said.

Until the new benchmark is established, Sanderson Farms and its customers have agreed on a pricing formula that is similar to what is already in place -- pricing formulas will be negotiated based on a customer's mix, location, volume and needs.

Washington Insider: Turning Pink Over GMO Pineapple

Food Safety News tends to be long on articles that report food safety problems and other ultra-serious developments. Thus, its somewhat carefree treatment of FDA approval of Del Monte's "extra sweet pink flesh pineapple" has been unusual, to say the least. The group called the new product "pretty in pink." And, it observed "that brilliance will no doubt be eclipsed when the multi-national company begins marketing its genetically engineered, pink-fleshed version of the fruit." It is not quite clear just what brilliance FSN had in mind.

FSN also spent considerable time describing what it calls the "gestation period for the agency's approval." It has been about 22 months since the company submitted its request for FDA evaluation in February 2015. However, it also noted that the Del Monte genetics experts have been working on the pink version of their fruit much longer, since at least 2005.

More recently, much of the development work has been in Costa Rica where the GMO pink pineapple's development stages have been carried out. That nation gave Del Monte permission to expand its plantings of the fruit there in 2011 and USDA OK'd the genetically modified organism or genetically engineered tropical fruit in January 2013.

Still, FSN says the "extra sweet pink flesh pineapple" likely is still years away from local grocery stores, although FDA scientists concluded that there were no unresolved safety or regulatory issues under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It also noted that although Del Monte will market this pineapple in the United States, it does not plan to grow it here.

The new pineapple has been genetically modified with tangerine genes to produce lower levels of the enzymes already in conventional pineapple that convert the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene, FSN says. "Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink, so it is commonly and safely consumed," according to FDA's letter.

In addition, FSN notes, fruit from the Del Monte Rosé pineapple cultivar does not have the ability to propagate and persist in the environment once they have been harvested.

In documents filed with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Del Monte reported 65% of the pineapple it imports to the U.S. is sold fresh. About 15% goes to fresh-cut, with the balance sent to juice and frozen food processors. The new genetically modified pink variety is planned to be sold through about the same channels, according to the documents filed with USDA.

It will be interesting to see the details about how Del Monte plans to market its new pineapple and then to note consumer reactions. U.S. genetics providers often concede that they were mistaken in focusing their initial efforts on increasing production efficiency with "Roundup Ready" products, or plants that are parasite resistant--rather than producing products with better flavors or pharmaceutical properties like added vitamins or other health aids.

The argument is that such a focus might have avoided some of the negative reactions that have followed the introduction of GMO products. As a result, the industry now is working quietly on a broad range of products with "consumer qualities" including longer shelf-life apples and potatoes and Golden Rice that reduces night blindness, especially for children, among many others.

So, it will be interesting to see how the industry markets its pink pineapple, and what traits it emphasizes—and how well that succeeds. This is expected to have an impact on the future focus of GMO improved products, and especially the fight to break down consumer resistance by producing products that more directly benefit consumers, an effort that will be increasingly intense in the future, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN's Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

If you have questions for DTN Washington Insider, please email edit@dtn.com