Washington Insider -- Friday

Moving Codex from Food Safety to Trade

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

China Responds Aggressively To Comments from USTR Lighthizer

Beijing is pushing back against U.S. Trade Representative's Robert Lighthizer’s remarks earlier this week that China represents an “unprecedented” threat to the world trading system. China said the criticism was “untenable” and said that “it’s actually the US that acts unilaterally.” The Chinese state-run Global Times said in an editorial, "Lighthizer should exhibit more common sense knowing that trade isn't sustainable if one side keeps profiting from the other. Washington doesn't need to act as if it has been taken for a ride.”

The commentary accused Washington of taking action that has led it to be a defendant in nearly a quarter of cases brought to the World Trade Organization. “It is the U.S.'s degeneration from leader of the international trade system to destroyer-in-chief that represents an unprecedented threat to global trade,” the piece noted. “Lighthizer better not think he can make China yield just because he leads a probe into alleged intellectual property violations,” it continued, referring to the recently launched Section 301 case. “China won't easily fall victim to U.S. bullying. Beijing also has sticks behind the door.”

USDA's Perdue In Texas Next Two Days To See Hurricane Damage

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is in Texas for the next two days, and joined by House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, in holding a roundtable with producers in El Campo, southwest of Houston. He will also visit the Houston Food Bank.

Cotton growers are expected to discuss the need for another round of ginning cost-share payments. Perdue will meet with the CEO of a cotton cooperative in the region as well as a board member of the Texas Farm Bureau, Bob Reed. On Friday, Perdue heads to west Texas with Conaway. Perdue will also speak to members of the Southwest Council of Agribusiness in Lamesa.

Following on this, members of the group were involved in an auto accident on Thursday afternoon near El Campo, Texas. Two members of the House Agriculture Committee staff and a USDA staff member suffered minor injuries. The three were riding in a separate vehicle from Perdue and Conaway.

Washington Insider: Moving Codex from Food Safety to Trade

Dr. Richard Raymond has strong credentials in food safety, since he was formerly USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety from 2005-2009 and held a number of senior positions in Nebraska’s health programs before that, including Chief Medical Officer. This week, he wrote an Op-Ed for Food Safety News in which he questions whether USDA’s shift of the U.S. Codex Office from its former home in the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to its new role in the Trade and Foreign Affairs Office. Raymond thinks that shift may not be “such a good thing.”

Almost nobody knows much about the Codex Alimentarius - the “Food Code” - but Raymond reminds that it is a set of “standards, guidelines and codes” countries use to protect food quality and safety. One example is the safe level of veterinary drug residues in meat and poultry. It is overseen by the Codex Alimentarius Commission that consists of 180+ countries, each with one vote, that make the decisions and set the standards that comprise the Codex Alimentarius.

The effort is co-sponsored by the UN World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. Its members meet frequently on food safety issues. It is, Raymond says, “a pretty big deal.”

The US Codex focus is about food safety for all nations, and it is about fair trade. But mostly, it is about public health. Now, however, Raymond worries that focus may be shifting and not be any longer front and center now that the group is housed by the Trade and Foreign Affairs Office.

In addition, part of his concern is the current political nominee, who he says he knows and thinks that he is a good man, “but he is not all about public health, Raymond thinks; he is about marketing agricultural products, and was formerly head of that post in the State of Indiana.”

Public health at the USDA is centered in FSIS and that is where the handful of individuals who work full time on Codex issues are currently located. The USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety chairs the US Codex Policy Committee that includes a group of high-ranking individuals from across the government including the EPA, US Trade Office, FDA, Commerce, State and others. It is the highest ranking US food safety official, Raymond says.

It is a long-standing belief that FSIS is strongly influenced by industry, Raymond asserts, and therefore “puts public health on the back burner.” Having been there, I can try to reassure folks that is not the case, he argues - but talk only goes so far, he says.

Now that the Secretary of Agriculture and his boss have said they are moving the Codex Office, which is a recognized force worldwide for food safety and protecting public health over to the Trade Office, Raymond worries that the agency’s status will be weakened and “U.S. leadership on controversial issues reduced.”

Are we emphasizing trade goals over food safety? Was the new USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agriculture affairs the first announced USDA nominee after Secretary Perdue? The answer to both questions is yes, Raymond says, and thinks that view is confirmed by the lack of an Undersecretary for food safety who might have advised against this move - and even campaigned in the halls of Congress to maintain the status quo, a status that had very high international respect.

Well, political officeholders often are critical of their successors and there may be some of that here. But, Dr. Raymond is clearly correct that the scientific integrity of the Codex is very important to the U.S., and deserves strong protection. The performance of the new office in a somewhat different role should be watched closely by producers as the food safety problems of the future are addressed, Washington Insider believes.

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