January 4, 2017
As of January 1, President-elect Trump has yet to name his nominee for Secretary of Agriculture. The position is one of three cabinet-level jobs that remain to be filled. President-elect Trump spent much of the week of December 26 interviewing candidates. Among those being vetted are four Texans: former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, current Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Henry Bonilla and former President of Texas A&M University Elsa Murano. All four of these candidates spent time with Trump and senior members of his team discussing agriculture and food policy issues. In addition, former California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado has been interviewed. Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue was interviewed in late November and has re-emerged as a strong contender for the position. A decision on the nominee is expected soon.
On December 22, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its annual report on the sales of antibiotics for use in farm animals. The data show a 1% increase in sales from 2014 to 2015. “Medically important” antibiotics represented 62% of all sales and grew by 2% over 2014 levels. The growth in sales drew criticism from consumer groups and some in the medical community, as concerns over antibiotics increase. A copy of the FDA report can be found here.
On December 16, a bipartisan group of 34 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding policies for labeling plant-based products as “milk.” The letter expresses concern that using the term “milk” for plant-based products is misleading to consumers and harmful to the dairy industry. In addition, the term “milk” carries the expectation of a certain level of nutritional value. The nutritional profile of plant-based “milk” is not equivalent to the level of nutrition found in milk from animal sources.
The letter states that using the term “milk” violates the clear identity standard defined in the Code of Federal Regulations, which should make the marketing of plant-based products as “milk” illegal. The representatives are urging the FDA to require companies to use a more appropriate name before allowing for further marketing of the products. The letter was met with strong support from the dairy industry.
On December 14, the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) published the Farmer Fair Practices Rules. According to the USDA, the rules are intended to target the most harmful practices hurting farmers and clearly outline commonsense protections to restore fairness and reduce the burden for farmers seeking justice under the Packers and Stockyards Act.
The USDA asserts that the new rules would level the playing field for farmers by proposing protections against the most egregious retaliatory practices harming chicken growers. The Farmer Fair Practices Rules comprise an interim final rule and two rules proposed by GIPSA. The interim final rule affirms the Department's long-time position that it is not necessary to demonstrate that an unfair practice harms the entire market in order to prove a violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act. One of the proposed rules would clarify what GIPSA views as practices that clearly violate the Act and would establish criteria to protect the legal rights of farmers. The other proposal would establish criteria that GIPSA would consider in determining whether a live poultry dealer has engaged in a pattern or practice to use a poultry grower ranking system unfairly. A copy of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules can be found on the GIPSA website.
The rule was met with strong criticism from industry. Responses from various groups can be found here: National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
On December 7, FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel spoke to the Washington, DC, area ARPAS group. During his presentation, Randel discussed the results of the 2016 elections and their potential impacts on agriculture and research policy. Randel also provided an update on appropriations for fiscal year 2017 and preparations for the 2018 Farm Bill.