Washington Insider-- Friday

New Rules on Livestock Antibiotics in California

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

Supreme Court Asked to Review Feedlot Emissions

Four Iowa residents have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether the Environmental Protection Agency has a nondiscretionary duty to update its list of criteria pollutants and sources of air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The petition requested that the court consider whether the citizen suit provision of the Clean Air Act allow for petitioners to challenge the EPA's failure to revise its list of regulated air pollutants and regulated sources "from time to time," as required under Sections 108 and 111 of that law.

The four Iowa residents sued the EPA over a failure to regulate emissions of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from concentrated animal feeding operations. Their lawsuit alleged the EPA had a nondiscretionary duty to list animal feeding operations as stationary sources and to list ammonia and hydrogen sulfide as criteria pollutants, a move that would have triggered a responsibility for the EPA to set national ambient air quality standards for those pollutants.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in April ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to state a valid claim for relief under the citizen suit provision and dismissed the litigation.

In the petition, the Iowa residents said animal feeding operations are a "serious health hazard" that should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The citizen suit provision is designed to allow citizens to force the EPA to take action, as the agency has on concentrated feeding operations, the petitioners said. "EPA should not be allowed to take the position that it never has to comply with the mandates of Sections 108 and 111," the petitioners said.

The Supreme Court has not yet determined when it will consider the petition. The first conference of the court's 2015-2016 term is scheduled for Sept. 28, with the first arguments of the term set for Oct. 5.

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Russia to Reduce Wheat Export Tax: Deputy PM

The Russian government is proposing to reduce the floating wheat export tax from Oct. 1, said Russia Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

The government plan, forwarded by the Ag Ministry, would set the formula for the wheat export tax at 50% of the customs price minus 6,500 rubles (around $97.60) per metric ton, but not less than 10 rubles ($0.15) per mt, Dvorkovich said.

The current tax is 50% of the customs price minus 5,500 rubles (around $82.60) per mt, but not less than 50 rubles ($0.75) per mt. And, he noted that hard wheat would be excluded from the export tax.

"The (tax) easing is for 1,000 rubles," Dvorkovich said, but did not indicate if the plan was approved yet by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Earlier this week, reports said the Russian Economy Ministry was opposed to the change, but that opposition apparently is not enough to block the changes proposed by the Russian Ag Ministry.

The changes come as Russia could export 30 million metric tons of grain for 2015/16 if the total grain output reaches 100 mmt to 101 mmt, Russian Ag Minister Alexander Tkachev told reporters.

Russian grain exporters have been complaining the export duty was hampering wheat exports from the country and have been pushing for a change in the way the tax was calculated or to have the tax removed completely. Russian customs data showed July 1-Sept. 18 grain exports were 7.7 mmt, including 6 mmt of wheat. The export level is down 23% versus year-ago.

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Washington Insider: New Rules on Livestock Antibiotics in California

One of agriculture's hottest issues concerns antibiotic use by livestock and its potential impact on growth of drug resistance in bacteria. Livestock account for the bulk of U.S. antibiotic use and nearly three-fourths are "medically-important" drugs also used in humans.

In recent years, increasing numbers of public health experts have argued that the heavy use of antibiotics in cattle, pigs and other farm animals has contributed to the worldwide spread of drug resistance in bacteria and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that such pathogens now kill 23,000 Americans and sicken another 2 million each year.

Recently, FDA has implemented new industry guidelines that restrict the use of medically-important drugs to uses that are considered "necessary for assuring animal health" and will require veterinary oversight in that process.

In addition, the State of California is poised to impose even tougher restrictions on antibiotic use for livestock, according to FairWarning, a nonprofit investigative news organization. It has passed a new law that would exceed federal recommendations and requirements and effectively stop ranchers from regularly giving antibiotics to healthy animals. Starting next month a veterinarian's prescription would be required to put at least some antibiotics into livestock feed and water.

The law would curtail use of antibiotics for promoting growth and even restrict their use for preventing disease, observers say, although producers could treat animals that face an "elevated risk." Bob Martin, director of the food systems policy program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future called the new law "significant," in part because he thinks it will influence both Oregon and Washington which have been looking at curtailing the use of antibiotics in livestock, he told the press.

Martin also said he would not be surprised if California eventually banned the sale of meat not raised under these standards, as has been done with out-of-state egg producers that don't comply with its prohibition on small chicken cages.

Industry is not fighting the legislation. Justin Oldfield, vice president of government relations for the California Cattlemen's Association, said. He believes the bill "doesn't restrict our ability to use antibiotics in livestock production. It just puts a framework around that use in a way that promotes judicious use within the industry. [The legislation] is not an all-or-nothing type of bill."

Brown, the California governor, has repeatedly shown interest in cutting the use of antibiotics in livestock, especially since last year when Democratic State Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo authored legislation that would have codified the FDA's recommendation to stop using antibiotics to fatten animals. Brown vetoed that bill on the grounds that he wanted lawmakers to send him legislation that went further.

Now, the California press is speculating Brown will sign Hill's legislation fairly soon so it can go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018 -- the first such law in the nation.

Several things are clear regarding this issue. Concern regarding bacterial resistance to current antibiotics is enormous, global and growing rapidly. And, regardless of the intensity of opposition to rules on livestock use, the public widely holds the industry to blame primarily because it is such a heavy user.

A second factor in the debate is that the California livestock industry has reviewed the pending law and is not opposing it, suggesting that it would "promote judicious use" of antibiotics. That suggests a possible role that could put livestock industries in the lead in working to head off bacterial drug resistance, rather than persist as the health industry-wide bad guy as in the past, Washington Insider believes.


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(GH/CZ)