Influence Feed: Feedback on food and fuel policy

Stay current on the latest food and agriculture issues impacting your business with Influence Feed by Zoetis. Influence Feed tracks the top 1,500 most influential voices across all segments of food and agriculture to bring you insights in a convenient bi-weekly report.
calendar icon 7 March 2018
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1. Harvest Box:

Influencers continued to debate the Trump administration’s “Harvest Box” proposal — in which USDA would ship (PDF) boxes of pre-selected foods in place of a portion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) benefits. Politico reported that anti-hunger groups booed and jeered Brandon Lipps, acting deputy under secretary of food, nutrition and consumer services at USDA, when he spoke at the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference on Feb. 26.

Jim Weill, president of Food Research & Action Center, articulated, “SNAP is one of the nation’s very best investments, and it is unacceptable that this proven and effective program, with its widespread reach, is under attack.” Meanwhile, USA Today called the proposal a “digital-age innovation only Karl Marx would approve.” Bloomberg quoted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s defence: “Rather than dismiss this out of hand, let’s discuss how it can be improved.”

2. Health and Nutrition:

Several health- and nutrition-related stories drew attention in late February. On Feb. 26, USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requested public comments on topics of concern for the 2020 dietary guidelines. In its proposal, USDA called out issues such as added sugars, saturated fats and “dietary patterns to promote health, prevent disease, and meet nutrient needs.” NYU nutrition professor emeritus Marion Nestle noted that the process for formulating the guidelines has been updated to adhere to suggestions from the National Academy of Medicine.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Feb. 20 did not find a distinguishable difference between weight loss from low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of nutrition policy at Tufts University, told The New York Times, “It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.” Activist group Center for Science in the Public Interest countered, “If you find it cumbersome to count calories, eat as little white flour and added sugar and as many fiber-rich vegetables as possible. You’ll likely end up cutting calories without thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean that calories don’t matter” (emphasis added).

3. Pesticides in California:

On Feb. 22, a Sacramento County, California, Superior Court judge issued (PDF) an injunction, ordering the California Department of Food and Agriculture to stop using pesticides on private and public lands. Farmers will still be able to use pesticides, but state agricultural officials will be limited to non-chemical means of pest control. Environmental groups, including Environmental Working Group and Center for Food Safety, celebrated.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 27, U.S. District Judge William Shubb temporarily blocked California’s Proposition 65, which would have required pesticide products containing glyphosate to carry a warning label indicating the pesticide is known to cause cancer (Reuters). Shubb wrote, “Given the heavy weight of evidence in the record that glyphosate is not in fact known to cause cancer, the required warning is factually inaccurate and controversial.” National Association of Wheat Growers, lead plaintiff in the case, responded, “California’s erroneous Prop 65 listing of glyphosate is not based on data, facts or science and we look forward to continuing to make our case to the court.”

4. RFS Stalemate:

On Feb. 26, a coalition of six agriculture organisations, led by National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association, urged (PDF) President Trump to maintain the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). They wrote, “By any measure, the RFS has been successful not only for agriculture, but for our nation. … Any action that seeks to weaken the RFS for the benefit of a handful of refiners will, by extension, be borne on the backs of our farmers.”

AgPro reported that a summit the following day failed to reach a resolution between farm and refinery interests. Bloomberg noted that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — who favours oil refiners in this debate — had released a political hold on the confirmation of Bill Northey in advance of the summit.

5. Bill Northey:

After months of delay, the U.S. Senate confirmed former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to the position of under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural service (FFAS) at the USDA. Agriculture groups, including American Farm Bureau Federation, Renewable Fuels Association and USA Rice Federation, applauded the move. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Senate agriculture committee chairman, noted, “I have no doubt he will be a champion for farmers and ranchers at USDA. Our Committee worked in a bipartisan fashion to get Mr. Northey down the road to work at USDA.”

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