June 26, 2020
Send Lawyers, Bees and Money
Programming note: Friday by Noon will be back July 10, after a brief recess.
Influential voices in food production were able to squeeze in some important conversations, focusing heavily on agriculture, before the holiday:
- Influential legal decisions on price-fixing, pesticides and animal care will guide future food policy.
- National Pollinator Week brought about more discussion on improved numbers of bee colonies.
- Trade representatives from the U.S. and China debated pandemic-related delays in the “Phase One” trade deal.
“Price-fixing is like food fraud, strictly speaking, it is not about food safety but still makes you queasy in your stomach when you hear a food company is involved.”Dan Flynn, editor, Food Safety News
Food Court … of Law
A spate of legal developments caught our eye the past two weeks. The lawsuits addressed food prices, farm practices and environmental regulations. Each case has its own intricacies, and we invite you to learn more at the links below:
- In Food Safety News, editor Dan Flynn explained that price-fixing cases rely on corporations cooperating with federal officials to suss out bad actors.
- On June 22, a federal judge ruled that the Navigable Waters Rule would take effect under the Clean Water Act (Ag Professional). The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) supported the rule for being less restrictive than the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, while environmentalists and Native Americans argued the new rule overcorrected.
- Feedstuffs compared and contrasted different states’ approaches to protecting farmers from undercover activists. Iowa passed a third attempt at such a law (commonly called an “ag gag” law) on June 10, while a court struck down North Carolina’s law on June 12.
- In a June 19 ruling, a court upheld the EPA’s decision to allow farmers to use existing stocks of dicamba until July 31 (see our June 12 issue for more details).
- The herbicide glyphosate (commonly known as Bayer’s Roundup) drew attention for two developments this week. On June 22, a federal judge blocked California from placing warning labels that are “not backed up by regulatory findings.”
- On June 24, Bayer set aside $10.9 billion for settling class-action lawsuits that link glyphosate to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, the company did not admit wrongdoing and continues to fight earlier lawsuits in appeals courts.
- On June 19, National Hog Farmer reported that the National Pork Producers Council and AFBF appealed a ruling that supported California’s Proposition 12 requirements that impose “unconstitutional” animal housing requirements on out-of-state operations.
The Bees Are (Kind of) Back in Town
It’s National Pollinator Week and groups like the National Corn Growers Association used the opportunity to “think about the best management practices you have in place to protect critical pollinators like honeybees and Monarch butterflies.”
- Pollinators are critical to agriculture and sustainable ecosystems. Since bee colony counts began to fall a decade ago, critics have blamed production agriculture practices for causing a lack of forage and nutrition and incidental pesticide exposure for bees. For more background, check out the USDA’s page on pollinators.
- Good-ish news made the rounds on June 22, when Bee Informed, a nonprofit dedicated to studying bee colony decline in the United States, reported that the winter collapse rate dropped from 37.7% in 2018 to 22.2% in 2019. This marked the second-lowest loss since the survey began in 2007.
- On the same day, Los Angeles Times covered the findings, adding that beekeepers may be taking colonies indoors this winter to further help survival rates.
- The EPA’s research arm directed traffic to a U.S. Forestry Service article about “prairie strips,” which serve to divide large row crop fields using native flowers and other plants to encourage pollination and prevent soil erosion.
- Ahead of National Pollinator Week, on June 17, The Guardian profiled the release of “The Pollinators,” a documentary that “follows the frenzied, relentless work of the commercial honeybees, whose biological stability is threatened by a host of interlocking factors.”
- Finally, Second Lady Karen Pence shared a video on Twitter to explain her pollinator garden and give some rudimentary home beekeeping tips.
Questions of Commitment
Mounting pressure to ensure China honors its commitments as part of the “Phase One” trade agreement has sparked discussion over the last two weeks. Agriculturalists pushed for more exports amid the pandemic, while China unveiled a new policy that could derail progress and break their previous agreements.
- Feedstuffs shared U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s optimistic testimony to the Senate finance committee: “If you had to bet right now, you would say they were going to do it.”
- After a White House trade advisor stirred confusion, President Trump quelled concerns: “The China Trade Deal is fully intact. Hopefully they will continue to live up to the terms of the Agreement!” The exclamation point seemed to undercut the assertion.
- Earlier this week, USA Today revealed China’s customs authority suspended poultry imports from Tyson Foods over confirmed COVID-19 cases at an Arkansas plant.
- Bloomberg reported that China is now testing all imported meat for coronavirus using nucleic acid tests.
- In a joint statement, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, responded to China’s testing policy: “There is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging. The U.S. food safety system, overseen by our agencies, is the global leader in ensuring the safety of our food products, including product for export.”
- Reuters turned attention to Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who sent letters to leading meat companies asking them to disclose meat exports to China during the outbreak when domestic supply was tight.
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia penned an article in sustainable business journal Green Money explaining why the climbing-equipment-turned-clothing-company will turn its innovation attention to food. Critical of many modern production methods, Chouinard explains, “We still need to eat. In fact, I think the only revolution we’re likely to see is in agriculture, and I want to be a part of that revolution.”
Buy Me Some Peanuts, Please!
Calling peanuts the real victims of a shortened baseball season, The Hustle posted on July 25 about Virginia’s peanut farmers, who are responsible for stocking our nation’s ballparks. At this point, they are scrambling to find buyers for their crop and hoping they don’t have to wind up as “cheap peanut butter.”
You Want PPE With That?
New York Times Moscow correspondent Anton Troianovski published a story on June 20 about the Eastern European custom of wearing rubber gloves while eating burgers and explained how this may gain wider traction amid the coronavirus pandemic.
[Flavortown] Discovers America
On June 22, Food & Wine shared news about a Change.org petition urging Columbus, Ohio, to change its name to Flavortown. The name, the petition suggests, pays homage to the fact that Columbus is home to a good deal of food product market testing. Also, Columbus is the birthplace of food celebrity Guy Fieri whose rallying cry is “Welcome to Flavortown!”
Palm Oil, Recontextualized
In a post on Heated, chef Yewande Komolafe addressed palm oil, an ingredient maligned for its role in deforestation. Komolafe highlights the ingredient’s West African roots and notes that “Palm oil criticism is well-intentioned, but it is founded upon ignorance — ignorance of how colonial systems have evolved into our current global trade. … Please don’t include my food in your soul searching.”
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