Washington Insider -- Monday

New Trend in Antibiotic Resistance

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

US Pushed China to Resume Ethanol Imports: Bloomberg

Trade talks between the U.S. and China saw the U.S. push for the country to resume its imports of ethanol.

China hit U.S. ethanol with duties of 70% even before the trade tensions accelerated between the two countries, effectively halting U.S. exports of the corn-based fuel to China. Bloomberg reports that the U.S. called on China to resume imports of ethanol at a level consistent with demand before trade tensions increased, according to those familiar with the talks.

US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data show that China bought about 200 million gallons of US ethanol in 2016.

China also placed import duties on U.S. distillers dried grains (DDGs) as the trade tensions ratcheted up, but it is not clear if the ethanol byproduct was included in what the U.S. sought from China.

US, Turkey Spar Over Metals Tariffs, Retaliation at WTO

U.S. and Turkish representatives sparred over retaliatory tariffs Turkey imposed after the U.S. levied Section 232 duties on steel and aluminum during the January 11 meeting of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).

Turkey blocked a first request by the U.S. to establish a dispute panel to review retaliatory tariffs imposed by Turkey. Such requests can be blocked the first time but subsequent requests must be granted. The U.S. has already sought and been granted dispute panels to examine similar retaliation by Canada, China, the European Union (EU), Mexico and Russia.

The U.S. continues to insist the metals duties are national security actions and not safeguards as defined under Article XIX of the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Safeguards are intended as emergency actions to address an "absolute increase" in imports that threatens domestic industries. In response to safeguard measures, affected countries are allowed to suspend equivalent trade concessions on the nation taking the safeguard actions. Conversely, actions taken for the purpose of protecting "essential security interests" are not considered safeguards and are not subject to countervailing action by other WTO members.

Turkey, as other members before it, insisted the U.S. actions are in fact safeguards and that it had no option but to react to the "unwarranted and unjustified" actions taken by the US in imposing the metals duties. It rejected the U.S. national security argument and said the tariffs are clearly intended to protect U.S. domestic steel and aluminum producers from foreign competition.

Washington Insider: New Trend in Antibiotic Resistance

The Washington Post is reporting that “very promising news about antibiotic use in farm animals has come from the Food and Drug Administration.”

The problem of resistance — the tendency of bacteria to fight back against antibiotic drugs — has grown decades, fueled by overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human health, as well as “widespread and often indiscriminate use in farm animals.” But new data shows the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture has taken a marked downward turn.

The Post report reflects a report from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb who noted in mid-December that resistance to antibiotics is an important and costly public-health problem affecting some 2 million Americans every year—and leading to 23,000 deaths.

Gottlieb correctly pointed out that it is impossible to outrace resistance, but efforts must be made to “slow its pace and reduce its impact on both human and animal health.” Otherwise, antibiotics, the “miracle drugs” of the 20th century, will become useless, and a foundation of modern medicine could crumble, he said.

A large share of antibiotics, including those medically important to human health, are also given to food-producing animals.

While this use is “proper for sick animals,” a frequent industry practice for decades has also been to “use antibiotics so animals will grow faster and larger on the same amount of feed, and for prevention of disease in a whole herd or flock.” The agriculture industry defended these practices by saying they were not the culprit in the rising tide of resistance. However, the Post says “studies show key factors in resistance are overuse and abuse of antibiotics on the farm, as well as in human health.” Farms and people do not exist in a world apart but in a “linked ecosystem,” as pointed out by a predecessor of Gottlieb, Commissioner Donald Kennedy, in 1977.

The Obama administration proposed that manufacturers stop selling antibiotics for growth promotion and that veterinary oversight be strengthened for other uses. The FDA data now shows the fruits of this wise step that the Post links to a 33% decline between 2016 and 2017 in domestic sales and distribution of all medically important antimicrobials for use in food-producing animals — and a drop of 43% since 2015 .

The report says there are “still some unknowns in the data,” which reflects sales and distribution, not actual use—so, more research and data are needed, the Post thinks. But it says “the trend does seem to herald a new direction and fresh thinking about the problem.”

Importantly, change is being driven by the market and consumers, the Post says. Fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s are demanding meat with less use of antibiotics.

Also, there are signs of greater consensus. In an impressive joint effort, major food companies, retailers, livestock producers, and trade and professional associations announced last December a comprehensive “framework” aimed at strengthening stewardship of antibiotic use in food animals, the result of a two-year discussion moderated by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Farm Foundation. While much more needs to be done to protect antibiotics for future generations, having so many players at the table is a great first step.

Well, it is not usual for the Post to report ag efforts with such enthusiasm — but the current trends do seem quite impressive, and to reflect many of the market trends and accomplishments the Post lauded. This is a development producers should watch closely for the positive impacts it promises, Washington Insider believes.

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