Foresight on Food Politics

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Saturday March 24, 2018

Nebraska farmers breathed a cautious sigh of relief when U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced this month the agency would not follow through on suggestions it tighten air-pollution controls on agricultural sources of  "Course Particulate Matter," or what we in the country call dust. In a letter to Michigan Senator and chair of the Senate's ag committee Debbie Stabenow, Jackson said EPA was leaving farm dust regulation in its current state. 

Farmers and Congressional representatives, including Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns, had vehemently complained that tougher standards on dust would hurt the farm economy, increase food costs and kill jobs in already hurting rural America. Johanns introduced the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 in early September, which would limit EPA “from burdening farmers and small business owners in rural America with additional dust regulations.”

EPA and environmentalists claimed the intention to regulate farm dust was "myth and misperceptions," in Jackson's words, and that the agency had only been conducting a normal review of the regulations required every five years. However, agriculture's concern flaired when EPA's final policy assessment--the document that outlines the legal basis for agency actions--came back earlier this year with the conclusion science would support EPA whether it decided to leave farm dust regulation alone or to cut permissible by as much as half. Many were skeptical EPA would leave regulations alone.

"When the Administrator says she has not proposed a rule yet and they have no intention of regulating farm dust, we take no comfort in that statement because of the path they are currently on," the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's lawyer told the farm press.

 "It was nonsensical to include farm dust in this category," Johanns following Jackson's letter to Congress. "The announcement provides clarity to ambiguous and sometimes conflicting comments previously made by the agency."

New Compromise Layer Hen Welfare Agreement Stands to Put You in the Spotlight

The Humane Society of the United States, the $160 million per year Washington political organization that aims to end much of animal-based food production as we know it, caught agriculture by surprise when it announced in early July it had reached an “unprecedented agreement to work together” with the United Egg Producers to craft federal legislation mandating new laying-hen welfare standards.

One important aspect of the agreement that went under-reported will likely suddenly thrust the grocery retailer to the front of this ongoing fight between the two organizations. The agreement, promoted as an exercise in compromise to end piecemeal state legislation and lawsuits aimed at large egg farms, intends to draft and pass federal legislation by year's end, calling for replacement of the conventional cages used in more than 90 percent of egg production. It will instead mandate confinement that permits hens roughly double the current voluntary standard space, along with perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas that allow hens to express natural behaviors. It would also set out certain care standards ranging from ammonia levels in barns to how to put non-viable birds out of their misery, and would prohibit anyone from selling eggs that don’t meet the standards. Estimates have predicted the legislation would require anywhere from $4 billion to $10 billion in industry investment.

Egg producers will have up to 18 years to transition to the new systems once legislation passes. But virtually unnoticed in the proposed compromise legislation is a requirement that all eggs sold at retail in the United States must be labeled with specific information on the system under which those eggs were produced. Spokesmen for both UEP and HSUS declined Farmer Goes to Market's request for copies of the draft legislation, saying the details are confidential between the two organizations. However, an insider close to the compromise agreement said those label standards would be mandated by the legislation within not the 18 year window, but within just three years.

A spokesman for UEP's public relations agency also has yet to respond to our request for details about what, if any, information the association plans to provide to assist grocers in explaining to consumers the details of the housing system labels, saying only "UEP will support its members with retailer communications and consumer outreach throughout the implementation cycle..." and that "...outreach efforts are currently being developed."

Livestock industry groups were immediately wary of the collaboration, in an apparent unified effort to protect farmers from the potential financial impact of mandatory changes to standard production practices. Washington, D.C.’s, Animal Agriculture Alliance expressed concerns about more costly regulation. “Burdensome legislation will add costs--not only to farmers and ranchers--but to consumers” it said. The Des Moines-based National Pork Producers Council likewise expressed concern over one-size-fits-all regulatory over-reach, noting it would “…set a dangerous precedent for allowing the federal government to dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals. …[It] will take away producers’ freedom to operate in a way that’s best for their animals, make it difficult to respond to consumer demands, raise retail meat prices and take away consumer choice….”

UEP’s President and CEO reassured those groups, not to mention several of his own members, that his compromise recognized the reality that farmers cannot continue to win against HSUS' "...massive dollar lawsuits, ballot initiatives that would obviously force many of them out of business, and a number of different state laws that impacted trade....” No public comment has been made regarding the affect the welfare-based labeling requirements will have on grocers and other retail channels.

Although industry sources are skeptical the compromise legislation will actually pass Congress to become law, it's possible the labeling regulations may survive even if the legislation fails, via USDA regulation. If history is any indication, the label terms will cause a new wave of consumer concerns, as the labels pull back the cover on previously unexamined aspects of how eggs are grown and hens are cared for. Although the egg organization may have pushed back on HSUS enough to give its members some breathing space for the next two decades, it has done so by, in part, dumping the necessity to explain the details of the fight into the lap of the grocer.

We will follow up and bring you details of the labeling requirements as they become available. In the meantime, use the comment window below to leave a comment or question, or to inquire about opportunities to meet face-to-face with Nebraska egg farmers about this issue and others.

Note to consumers: This Humane Society is not your local pet shelter, and its agenda is bad for your food budget

The Humane Society of the United States is not about helping local pet shelters“If they want to come to Nebraska, we’re going to fight them and we’re going to beat them,” Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman said in December. Who was this group that attracted such atypically strong words from a politician? The Humane Society of the United States. So does that mean the governor hates puppies?

On the contrary. The Humane Society of the United States is a $160 million-plus per year Washington political organization that, at its root, aims to end much of animal-based food production as we know it. And some have accused the activist organization of purposely hiding behind confusion over the “humane society” name, in order to solicit charitable donations which it then uses to attack, even cripple, animal agriculture.

The governor has always been a strong supporter of all small business entities, including the food industry. He understands the importance of those involved in our industry, from the farm to the grocery store. “The Humane Society of the United States is not connected with our local humane societies, who do a good job,” Heineman told the Brownfield Radio Network. “The Humane Society of the United States is anti-agriculture and they’re out to destroy animal agriculture…. They’re making a mistake if they think they come to Nebraska and defeat us.”

A coalition of Nebraska livestock farmers’ groups expects HSUS to attempt to introduce a petition to place restrictions on animal agriculture on a statewide ballot, as the group has done recently other states, like Missouri. For your meat, dairy and egg customers expressing concern about the welfare of farm animals based on exposure to the HSUS messages, it’s important you remind them of a few facts about the organization:

  • Although most people mistakenly assume HSUS’ primary mission is to find homes and care for abandoned dogs and cats, HSUS is not an umbrella group for pet shelters. In 2008 and 2009, HSUS shared less than one percent of its budget with local pet shelters.
  • HSUS’ massive public relations machine gets great mileage from its message that it simply wants to improve the welfare of animals, including both pets and farm animals. However, HSUS has formally acknowledged in the past that part of its mission is to establish “the rights of all animals within the full range of American life and culture.” Animal rights doctrine is a radical agenda that is separate from the normal desire for animal welfare which Nebraska’s farmers pursue every day. It ultimately calls for the abolition of all animal uses for human purposes, including food. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told the newsletter Animal People in 1994 that his aim for HSUS was to create “a National Rifle Association of the animal rights movement.”
  • Although the organization has held at arms’ length any official stand calling for abolition of use of animals for food, Pacelle is a strict vegan who has vowed to never eat meat, eggs, or dairy. In a June 2005 interview with Satya magazine, Pacelle boasted HSUS was working on a guide to vegetarian eating, in order to help build a case against meat eating. “Reducing meat consumption can be a tremendous benefit to animals,” he said. Meanwhile, the organization’s website urges consumers to cut back on meat and other animal-based foods, and to replace meat and other animal-based foods in the diet with plant-based foods.
  • In 2008, HSUS spent $4.1 million to pass a ballot proposition in California that within the next four years will make it against the law for California farmers to raise egg-laying hens in cages. If the measure goes into effect as passed, it is expected to drive up the cost of eggs by 50 percent due to increased labor demands and increased feed waste. That kind of cost jump will likely destroy the California egg industry, the nation’s fifth largest producer, by driving up costs so high that egg farming will migrate to other states or Mexico.

Have a question you’d like answered about the Humane Society of the United States or how Nebraska farmers care for their animals? Use the comment link to ask, and we’ll get an answer straight from the source…your Nebraska farmers.

Is the Current Regulation Strong Enough to Protect the Welfare of Animals? What the Latest Survey Shows

As witnessed by the recent animal cruelty video, the welfare of farm animals has become an issue for Nebraska farmers. Agricultural groups in the state are wary of a growing animal welfare movement, and its most powerful advocate, the Humane Society of the United States. It has the potential to make a large impact on how animal farmers operate, their competitiveness and the cost of food inputs.

But one of the contentious question is this: How much does the average food consumer accept the arguments that farm practices are inhumane, and that they need additional regulation. One recent survey helps answer that question for rural Nebraskans. 

Based on 2,490 responses to the sixteenth annual 2011 Nebraska Rural Poll, conducted by University of Nebraska's Center for Applied Innovation, most Nebraskans living outside major cities disagree more regulation of livestock farmers is necessary to ensure the welfare of food animals. The survey found only one in three believe stricter regulation is needed.

'Do you agree or disagree that regulation is sufficient to protect animal welfare?'

Do we have enough animal welfare regulation? What rural Nebraskans said. 

Most of the rural Nebraskans surveyed also said they believe regulation will impact the cost of food. Over one-half agree that regulation of Nebraska livestock practices will raise the cost of livestock production and the cost of food.

For more details of the report, click here (Adobe Acrobat file). 

Want to hear more about how Nebraska farmers care for their animals? Use the comment link to ask, and we’ll get an answer straight from the source…your Nebraska farmers.

A perspective for grocers on the link between biofuel production and commodity prices

With increasing food inflation comes the continual claim that using Nebraska farm crops to support domestic biofuel production is leading to crop shortages. You may find customers raising the old question: Does "diverting" crops to fuel production cause rising food costs? Some would even have you believe that using farm products to produce biofuels is depriving people of food.

Here's some background that might help explain the complex issue:



1. Oil used to be only a byproduct of using soybeans for feed.

First off, remember, there is no food vs. fuel issue when it comes to biodiesel. Traditionally, (that is, before researchers discovered ways to use the oil that naturally results when soybeans are processed), soybean oil was for all intent and purpose a byproduct of that processing. Because the weight of every ton of soybeans was composed of only 20 percent oil--the rest being soy protein meal and hulls--the system made money off the solids, but struggled to find value for the remaining oil.

Now, with the development of the biodiesel industry boosting demand for soybeans to be crushed first and foremost for their oil value, it's actually put pressure downward on the value of the 80 percent solids left over from the process. Remember Econ 101: As supply goes up, price tends to go down (unfortunately for us farmers, but fortunately for you and your consumers.) Using soybeans for oil has not robbed from the overall supply of animal feeds (the largest use of soy solids)--it has actually contributed to the supply.


2. Biofuel demand has encouraged soybean production, creating more animal feed, leading to more meat, milk and egg production.

Second, the decrease in feed prices that has resulted from higher supplies of soy protein has helped grow the supply of animals, which also helps keep the prices you pay for animal-based commodities relatively lower. The more demand we create for soybean oil, the greater the volume of beans that are crushed domestically and the more feed that enters the market for livestock producers. In order to use up the soy products left after crushing a ton of soybeans, Nebraska farmers need to add one hog to use up the meal resulting from every 4 gallons of biodiesel production. Likewise, we need two turkeys for every gallon of biodiesel, 10 chickens for every gallon, or one dairy cow for every 17 gallons of biodiesel produced. Again, our loss as farmers through the increasing supply of food animals is your gain as the grocer, through the decrease in price that results.


3. Cheaper energy sources ultimately means cheaper food.

Third, we certainly don't have to tell grocers how higher energy prices have greatly added to the costs of transporting, processing, manufacturing, storing and distributing the food you sell. What you may not realize is that those higher energy prices also have dramatically increased the prices we farmers are paying for the inputs we need to plant, grow and harvest our crops. Compared to just two years ago, farmers today are paying twice as much for the diesel fuel they need to run their tractors, combines and grain trucks. That's not even the worst of it. Fertilizer, which requires a great deal of energy to produce, has quadrupled in price.

Biofuels, not only biodiesel from soybeans but ethanol from other grains, are making a contribution to the world’s fuel supply, helping hold gasoline and diesel prices lower at the pump for us all. According to International Energy Agency data, global biofuels production has cut consumption of crude oil by 1 million barrels a day, offering savings of $120 million dollars a day. That’s more than $43 billion in savings per year. And while these homegrown, renewable fuels are helping to reduce dependence on imported petroleum, the demand for biofuels is contributing to commodity prices well above government support levels, strengthening rural economies by creating jobs--without requiring an increase in the price of food commodities.

For more than 40 years, the United States has known that it needs to reduce its energy consumption and find alternative energy sources. As other voices call for increased public investments in mass transit, denser cities, mandatory efficiency standards and other fuel-saving schemes outside the free market, even as they attack support for biofuels, we believe investing in increased production of home-grown alternatives are the most innovative energy solutions. The use of biodiesel and other biofuels is only the beginning.

Use the comment window below to leave a question or comment for a Nebraska farmer.
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In patnership with the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

The Nebraska Grocery Industry Association was formed in 1903 by a group of Omaha grocery store owners, wholesalers and vendors to allow them to promote independent food merchants and members of the food industry, and to promote education and cooperation among its membership. NGIA continues to represent grocery store owners and operators, along with wholesalers and vendors located throughout Nebraska, by promoting their success through proactive government relations, innovative solutions and quality services. NGIA offers efficient and economical programs. NGIA also lobbies on both a state and national level, ensuring that the voice of the food industry in Nebraska is heard by our representatives.

Supported by the Nebraska Corn Board

The Nebraska Corn Board, on behalf of 23,000 corn farmers in Nebraska, invests in market development, research, promotion and education of corn and value-added products. The board aims to work closely with the farmer-to-consumer food chain, to educate everyone about the role corn has in our everyday healthy lives. The Nebraska Corn Board is proud to sponsor the Farmer Goes to Market program to help bring its mission of expanding demand and value of Nebraska corn to the consumer, through the strongest touch point in that chain: the Nebraska retail grocer.

Supported by the Nebraska Farm Bureau

The farm and ranch families represented by Nebraska Farm Bureau are proud sponsors of the Farmer Goes to Market program. We take great pride in supporting Nebraska's agricultural foundation. A key part of that effort is to make sure we produce safe and affordable food. This newsletter is an important part of our effort to connect the two most important parts of the food chain -- the farmer and the grocer -- with the goal of increasing consumer awareness and information about how their food is raised in Nebraska.

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