Washington Insider-- Tuesday

GMO Media Pushback

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

Supreme Court Will Not Pause Obama WOTUS Rule

The Supreme Court will not pause a case concerning the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. Rule in a blow to the Trump administration. The justices' decision came with no explanation.

The White House opposes the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers’ rule and asked the court to hold off on the case while the agencies formally consider repealing it.

The Supreme Court case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, does not concern the merits of the controversial regulation.

Instead, the industry groups opposed to the rule want the high court to overturn the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s opinion that it has the primary jurisdiction over the case. The Sixth Circuit decision had consolidated cases filed in dozens of other federal circuit and district courts.

Supporters of the WOTUS rule, including environmental groups and some Democratic states, want the case to stay consolidated at the Sixth Circuit. They also asked the Supreme Court not to delay its case.

President Trump formally asked the EPA and Army Corps to reconsider the rule in February, calling it “a horrible, horrible rule.” The agencies began reconsideration process shortly after Trump signed an executive order.

The Supreme Court has asked litigants to submit their first briefs later this month. The justices have not scheduled oral arguments.

Some observers say the best way to deal with this is via legislation, where the outlook for such action is good in the House, but Senate Democrats in the past have not given support to anti-WOTUS rule legislation.


USTR Announces Win for US Poultry Exports To Guatemala

Guatemala has agreed to lift tariffs on U.S. poultry four and a half years ahead of schedule, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced.

The decision means that a 12.5% tariff will be eliminated on a tariff rate quota of 1,000 metric tons of fresh, frozen and chilled chicken leg quarters from the US. “This notable achievement for U.S. poultry exporters is a result of negotiations that USTR commenced in February 2017,” said the USTR announcement. “This market opening benefits US poultry exporters and expands trade for US agriculture producers.”

Both the tariff and the TRQ will be completely eliminated on January 1, 2022.

The U.S. exported $82 million worth of poultry to Guatemala last year, making it the sixth largest export market for the U.S., according to government data.

Washington Insider: GMO Media Pushback

Last July, Congress passed a law requiring all food manufacturers to label products containing GMOs. Companies could words use or a Quick Response Code, a type of machine readable barcode or optical label that contains information about the item.

USDA was tasked with deciding what these labels could say about the GMOs they contain, but there was no standard for conventional, non-GMO products. However, as the anti-technology food label wars have expanded, an indication that a product does not contain GMOs seems to have turned out to be a valuable brand. This week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that some groups argue that more conventional labels are too narrow, so they are choosing third-party verifiers that products are GMO free as a widely sought-after standard.

As a result, Cargill, the large Minnesota company, recently announced that an outside group had certified more than a dozen of its ingredients as non-GMO. This led to “flack” from some of its closest allies, the paper said, and pitted familiar factions against one another: those for and those against genetically modified foods.

This seems to have been somewhat surprising almost all concerned, including ag observers. The result was some heavy duty tough love from aggies who dislike the certifier Cargill chose, which is often outspoken about GMO technology. The Star Tribune says the situation highlights the tricky balance large food companies are trying to strike among competing interests; its customers and its suppliers.

Critics took aim especially at the Non-GMO Project. Since Minnetonka-based Cargill is one of the world’s largest producers of genetically modified foods, many of its suppliers, as well as some in the science community, were upset.

“The Non-GMO Project regularly uses attacks on family farmers to promote its verification process. It is disappointing that Cargill thought it was acceptable to work with Non-GMO Project and support that messaging,” wrote Amanda Zaluckyj, an attorney and self-described “ag-vocate” whose family farms in Michigan,” the paper said.

Cargill defended its choice; Randy Giroux, Cargill’s vice president of food safety, argued that, “Like many other companies, Cargill’s affiliation with the Non-GMO Project is strictly limited to its rigorous verification process. Since there is no federal standard for non-GMO products in the US, companies like ours use private standards that the market recognizes. This is the most requested third-party certification among our food and beverage customers.”

“We can understand why this feels threatening. There is a big paradigm shift happening. The largest food companies in the world are looking for non-GMO ingredients and it is changing the supply chain. However, we see this as a positive shift,” said Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project. “The Non-GMO Project is partnering with other large companies, not just Cargill, in efforts to grow the supply chain for non-GMO ingredients.”

With the federal label law set to go into effect in summer 2018, Cargill’s customers, like other large packaged-foods companies, are looking for ways to draw more attention to non-GMO products in their lineup to appeal to a certain shopper segment. The company’s “KnownOrigins” identity preservation process is designed for customers who look for non-GMO products.

Traceability is increasingly important to shoppers, argued Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst with NPD Group, who recently completed a study on consumers and GMOs.

While Cargill may be accused of supporting an organization that is trying to change its supply chain and activities, the company has never been shy about its support of farmers and GMO technology, the Star Tribune said.

“We fully recognize that GMO technology is essential and indispensable to sustainably feed the world’s rapidly expanding population,” Giroux said. “We have thousands of scientists and agronomists working to enable new biotech crops. We are unshaken in our belief in the safety of GMOs and are wholly committed to our GMO partners.”

Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a report that said the consensus among scientific experts is that genetically modified foods are safe. Because of this, the pro-GMO faction often labels the non-GMO faction as “anti-science.”

But, the public is not convinced, the Pew Research Center recently concluded. Many say they are skeptical as to whether or not scientists fully know the health effects of GMOs. Just 19 percent of Americans think scientists understand the health effects of genetically modified foods “very well” while more than one-third of Americans say scientists do not understand the health effects “at all” or “not too well.” In the last three years, the amount of meals or snacks that include a food item with a non-GMO label jumped from 1% to 11%, Seifer said, “that’s a pretty large increase.”

Still, that likely means that many people still don’t know what to think, said Cary Funk, associate director of research on science and society at Pew. “A large portion doesn’t really have a strong view and they might make a choice in either direction once they become more informed.”

So, the fight goes on and once Sonny Perdue is formally confirmed, the GMO labeling issue will be one more hot potato he will need to juggle very, very carefully. That's especially true since the battle seems to have gone beyond science to involve advocates who admit they can’t find any health threats, but want to kill GMOs anyway for one social reason or other. Perhaps it will take the spread of new consumer health or other benefits to change the public mind. However, this is a fight producers should watch carefully as it continues, Washington Insider believes.

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