Washington Insider - Thursday

USDA Offers Details on 'Systems Approach' for US Soybeans to China

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

USDA Offers Details on 'Systems Approach' for US Soybeans to China

Reducing the level of weed seeds in U.S. soybean exports to China to meet import requirements in the world's largest soybean importing country is the goal of a "systems approach" unveiled by USDA. The approach unveiled by USDA this week and outlined in a brochure from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) focuses on steps from the farm to trade channels.

The new systems approach is in response to China putting new rules in place on the import of U.S. soybeans as of Jan. 1. The "systems approach" unveiled this week relies on integrated weed management, harvesting best practices, storage and handling best practices, routine monitoring across the supply chain and trade support, APHIS said. Under procedures put in place as of Jan. 1, APHIS notifies China when a soybean shipment exceeds 1% foreign material via an additional declaration on the phytosanitary certificate that says, "This consignment exceeds 1% foreign material."

Conaway Wants March Action on New Farm Bill

All that is waiting for House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to release proposed text of a new farm bill is an okay from House GOP leadership. The House ag panel wants to mark up the measure just ahead of the Easter recess that starts the last week of March, meaning House floor action in April.

Meanwhile, the House Ag Committee said that House budget writers should not come looking for additional cost savings in the next farm bill, the House Agriculture Committee said in its budget views and estimates letter for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. The panel said in a letter unanimously approved Feb. 27 that the House Budget Committee should consider the weakening farm economy as it writes a Fiscal Year 2019 budget resolution.

Washington Insider: European Watchdog Has New Findings on Bee Problem

Reuters, and others, are reporting this week that a new scientific review has found that wild bees and honeybees are put at risk by three pesticides from a group known as neonicotinoids. The new report confirms previous concerns that prompted an EU-wide ban on use of the chemicals.

The European Food Safety Authority report, which covered wild bees and honeybees and included a systematic review of scientific evidence published since EFSA's 2013 evaluation, is seen as crucial to whether the European moratorium on neonicotinoid use remains in place.

The updated risk assessment found variations due to factors such as species of bee, exposure and specific pesticide, "but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed," said Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA's pesticides unit.

The European Union since 2014 has had a moratorium on use of neonicotinoids -- made and sold by various companies including Bayer and Syngenta -- after lab research pointed to potential risks for bees, which are crucial for pollinating crops.

But in the past, crop chemical companies have argued that "real-world evidence is not there to blame a global plunge in bee numbers in recent years on neonicotinoid pesticides alone." They said it is a complex phenomenon caused by a number of factors.

Two major field studies in Europe and Canada published last year that sought to examine real-world effects with mixed results. They found some negative effects after exposure to neonicotinoids in wild and honeybee populations, and also some positives, depending on the environmental context, Reuters said.

This week's new EFSA report looked in detail at three specific neonicotinoids -- clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam --and assessed bee exposure to them via three routes: residues in bee pollen and nectar, dust drift during sowing or application of treated seeds, and water consumption.

Some scenarios, such as when the pesticides are used on crops inside glass greenhouses, present a low risk to bees, Tarazona told Reuters. But others, such as using neonicotinoids on flowering field crops that attract bees, are high risk.

He said EFSA's findings would now be shared with European Commission risk managers and then with EU member States, who will decide on any potential changes to current restrictions.

The report found that while the risk to bees varied depending on the crop and exposure route but that "for all the outdoor uses, there was at least one aspect of the assessment indicating a high risk." Neonicotinoids, which are nerve agents, have been shown to cause a wide range of harm to bees, such as damaging memory and reducing queen numbers.

Many media outlets across the EU featured the new study's findings. For example, the Guardian reported that EFSA's pesticides unit found that, "The availability of such a substantial amount of data has enabled us to produce very detailed conclusions. There is variability in the conclusions [and] some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed."

The assessment includes bumblebees and solitary bees for the first time, the Guardian noted, and also identified that high risk to bees comes not from neonicotinoid use on crops such as wheat, but from wider contamination of the soil and water, which leads to the pesticides appearing in wildflowers or succeeding crops. A recent study of honey samples revealed global contamination by neonicotinoids.

The assessment was welcomed by many scientists and especially by environmentalists. However, a spokesman for Syngenta, a neonicotinoid manufacturer, said: "EFSA sadly continues to rely on a [bee risk guidance] document that is overly conservative, extremely impractical and would lead to a ban of most if not all insecticides, including organic products."

There has been strong evidence that neonicotinoids harm individual bees for some years, the Guardian said, but this has strengthened in the last year to show damage to colonies of bees.

In November, environment secretary Michael Gove overturned the UK's previous opposition to tougher restrictions on neonicotinoids. "The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our 100 billion pound food industry, is greater than previously understood," Gove told the Guardian. "I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk."

So, we will see. This new finding certainly will intensify the ongoing pesticide use debate in the United States over what should be done to protect pollinators here and will involve many of the same factors that are being debated in Europe. Certainly, the new EU report will be heavily scrutinized here, a process that producers should watch closely as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

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