USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), in an audit report, concluded that the USDA, along with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for harmful residues.” A 1984 memorandum of understanding requires the three agencies to cooperate on the national residue program to keep veterinary antibiotics, pesticides, heavy metals and the like out of commerce. The report indicated, “Together, Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS), FDA and EPA have not established thresholds for many dangerous substances (e.g. copper, dioxin3), which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce.” The report makes four key recommendations to the agencies and USDA is accepting and implementing the recommendations. They are: 1) expand the substances the agencies test for; 2) improve methodology for sampling hazardous residues; 3) determine more efficient ways of approving newer methods of testing for drug residues; and 4) collaborate to set tolerances for additional residues. The report focused on dairy cows and bob veal.

A Call for Permanent Estate Tax Relief — A coalition of agricultural organizations is calling on Congress for permanent and meaningful estate tax relief for farmers and ranchers. In a letter to the Senate leadership, 28 agricultural organizations state that “inaction on fixing the looming estate tax challenge would be disastrous for agriculture.” The groups noted, “We support permanently raising the exemption to no less than $5 million per person and reducing the top rate to no more than 35%. It is also imperative that the exemption be indexed to inflation, provide the spousal transfers and include the stepped-up basis.” Those signing the letter included the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Farmland Trust, American Sheep Industry Association, American Soybean Association, Farm Credit Council, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmers Union, National Grange, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, and U.S. Apple Association.

Illinois Study Addresses Ethanol Mandate, Corn Shortfall — A University of Illinois study reveals that if the U.S. corn industry experiences a weather-induced shortfall, which typically has a 10% chance of happening in any given year, the price of corn could rise to more than $7/bu., and the price impact could be felt throughout the agriculture sector. The authors of the report suggest a more flexible renewable biofuels policy, including relaxing the annual renewable fuels mandate during an “emergency” situation. The report says, “In extreme circumstances, the removal of the biofuels mandate, tax incentive and import tariff might be insufficient to limit ethanol production since the economics of blending would remain favorable. In such cases a cap on ethanol production, exports, or both, might have to be considered.”

USDA Extends Emergency Assistance for Livestock Sign-Up — USDA announced it will accept applications for the Emergency Assistance Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) for losses that took place in 2008 and 2009. ELAP sign-up had expired, but due to eligibility changes, USDA is accepting late-filed applications for 2008 and 2009 losses through May 5. ELAP, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish that experienced losses due to disease, adverse weather or other conditions, including losses due to blizzards and wildfires. For more information or to apply for ELAP, producers can contact their local FSA county office or www.fsa.usda.gov.

USDA Grants for Obesity Prevention — USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is awarding $11 million in grants to develop effective obesity prevention strategies along with behavioral and environmental instruments for measuring progress in obesity prevention efforts. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “The health of our nation depends on the health of our families and it’s imperative that we address the obesity crisis impacting our country. I’m optimistic that these research grants will help develop effective obesity prevention strategies and the tools that we need for measuring our progress in the battle against obesity.”

P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.