USDA’s Growing Food Label Problem  |  The Progressive Farmer

By DTN’s Washington Insider

While welcoming the recent statements by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue that word on year-round sales of E15 was coming soon, a collection of U.S. farm and biofuel groups expressed cautioning that such a move without changes to how EPA has operated the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) would end up negating benefits from E15.

“With ethanol prices hitting a 13-year low and net farm income plummeting to half of the record $123 billion achieved in 2013, such an announcement could not come at a more critical juncture for rural America,” the groups said. “However, we remain concerned that any benefit from year-round E15 sales and proper implementation of the RFS could be nullified if refiners are given further regulatory bailouts that undercut the spirit and intent of the law.”

Year-round sales of E15 and “other mid-level blends in conventional gasoline markets” and ensuring that “RFS blending requirements erased by small refinery exemptions are prospectively reallocated to larger refiners, as required by law” are two key actions needed given the current climate, the groups said in the letter to President Donald Trump.

The groups said that both biofuel producers and farmers are suffering, and that “thousands of manufacturing and farming jobs in America’s Heartland are now at risk due to the EPA’s recent mismanagement of the RFS and inexplicable delay in removing the de facto summertime ban on E15.”

Citing the 2.25 billion gallons of “biofuels demand destruction” created by the small refiner waivers, the groups said, “it is rural America’s turn to get its end of the deal.”

Groups signing the letter included the National Corn Growers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Renewable Fuels Association, National Farmers Union, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the National Sorghum Producers and Growth Energy.

McConnell: Senate Is Up For Grabs

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R., Ky., is warning Republicans that their majority in the upper chamber is at risk with eight weeks to go before the election.

Speaking to reporters this week, McConnell called the electoral landscape as “very challenging” and warned of the “storm” Republicans face in the first midterm election since President Trump took office. He said nine Senate races are up for grabs. The 2018 midterms are setting up to be like a “knife fight in an alley,” McConnell said.

He noted a list of 2018 Senate races he considers “dead even” include Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida.

“All of them too close to call and every one of them like a knife fight in an alley, I mean just a brawl in every one of those places,” McConnell said. “I hope when the smoke clears, that we will still have a majority in the Senate.”

McConnell was asked about the prospects for Sen. Ted Cruz, R., Texas, to win re-election. “I think Ted’s got a competitive race by all indications. We certainly expect to win in Texas, but I think he does have a competitive race,” he said.

Washington Insider: USDA’s Growing Food Label Problem

There are litigation issues ahead for USDA, Food Safety News is reporting this week. It says that the Center for Food Safety and Center for Environmental Health sued U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Bruce Summers, administrator of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) for “failure to enact federal regulations on labeling genetically modified foods.”

Then, in part because it took until mid-August before the plaintiffs could show Perdue, Summers and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions were served with notices of their status as defendants in the case, the two environmental nonprofits say they want federal Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte to give them a summary judgment against USDA and its officials as soon as Oct. 16.

They argue that Secretary Perdue has unlawfully withheld regulations implementing the labeling of genetically engineered foods under the Federal Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act that took effect on July 29, 2016, and gave USDA two years to issue the implementing regulations.

Attorneys for the two nonprofit centers argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because USDA has failed to implement the final mandatory federal standards for genetically engineered food disclosure by the deadline.

By not meeting the deadlines, USDA is seen as violating both the Federal Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standards Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. Plaintiffs say Americans are being denied the information they need to make informed decisions.

They argue that a nationwide “bioengineered,” food disclosure standard is critical and was enacted by Congress under “an express statutory deadline, a rare legislative command.” Congress imposed the deadlines, the advocates say, because states have begun to impose their own mandatory GE labels. The federal law preempts any state action on the issue.

Without the regulations, the nonprofit centers say the new GE Labeling Act is just “an empty vessel.”

“People are left without any information on whether their food is genetically engineered,” the plaintiffs say. “People want to know if food is produced using GE for numerous reasons: health, personal, economic, environmental, religious, and cultural.”

While USDA has not responded to the lawsuit, it has both a proposed rule, the “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard” and “proposed Bioengineered labels” pending. During a 60-day period ending on July 3, USDA received 14,019 public comments on the proposed standard.

FNS says that AMS is charged with developing a national mandatory system for disclosing the presence of the bioengineered material. The two-year deadline passed without the implementation of a final rule.

A USDA working group is reportedly working on a timetable for rule-making “to ensure an open and transparent process for effectively establishing this new program, which will increase consumer confidence and understanding of the food they buy, and avoid uncertainty for food companies and farmers,” according to AMS.

Food experts tend to see the arguments for special actions on these labels as overblown, especially the “health concerns,” and that the anti-GMO advocates are using the same arguments as they have traditionally used.

Still, the law requires labels and the government likely will proceed to mandate labels. What the nationwide impacts of such a rule will remain to be seen, but most food experts say they expect the impacts to be small, and possibly negative, to the extent they increase overall food costs, Washington Insider believes.

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