Zoetis Influence Feed: Tracking Influential issues in Food and Agriculture - May 15 - 29.

Zoetis has created a bite-size brief of the 5 topics that are having the biggest impact on food and agriculture in the US.
calendar icon 31 May 2017
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Top 5 Influencer Topics.

1. Proposed Budget: “President Trump’s budget request managed to do something few could have imagined: unite farmers and foodies,” said Environmental Working Group Vice President of Government Affairs Scott Faber on May 24. On the previous day, the Trump Administration proposed its 2018 budget, with significant cuts to crop insurance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka “food stamps”). Readers can find an Associated Press primer on how each federal agency would be affected here.

The proposed budget cuts were met with broad opposition from food and agriculture leaders. American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall commented: “This budget fails agriculture and rural America,” and Politico agriculture correspondents asserted, “President Donald Trump is all but declaring war on the farm bill.” In line with Duvall, crop agriculture groups opposed the budget outright. Meanwhile, Mother Jones argued against SNAP cuts. Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and food safety advocates such as Center for Science in the Public Interest challenged the budget as well.

Budget discussions next move to Congress, where Agriculture Committee Chairmen Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) already issued a joint statement: “We will fight to ensure farmers have a strong safety net so this key segment of our economy can weather current hard times and continue to provide all Americans with safe, affordable food. … we need to take a look at our nutrition assistance programs to ensure that they are helping the most vulnerable in our society.”

2. NAFTA: In a May 18 letter, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer officially notified (PDF) Congress that renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) will begin in August. Lighthizer explained that the deal “was negotiated 25 years ago, and while our economy and businesses have changed considerably over that period, NAFTA has not.” National Association of Wheat Growers exemplified industry sentiment with its response: “Wheat Industry Looks for New NAFTA Opportunities, But Priority Remains Do No Harm.” Activist groups were less vocal about the move; however, Friends of the Earth urged, “Any trade agreement that the U.S. enters must protect public health and our environment.”

3. USDA Restructuring: Discussion of the USDA’s reorganization, proposed on May 11, continued into subsequent weeks. NYU professor Marion Nestle urged blog readers to file comments on whitehouse.gov: “Now is our chance to tell this administration how important USDA agencies are and why they need to be strengthened.” In Food Safety News, Brian Ronholm, former deputy undersecretary of food safety at USDA, worried about the plan’s effect on food safety policy. U.S. Meat Export Federation wrote in Drovers CattleNetwork of promising potential collaboration with the new USDA undersecretary of trade. Reactions to the USDA’s proposed reorganization ranged widely, but the plan’s continued prominence hints at its weight for influential food and agriculture players.

4. JBS Bribery Scandal: On May 17, Brazilian newspaper O Globo revealed (source in Portuguese) that JBS SA Chairman Joesley Batista entered a plea bargain for paying $150 million in bribes to Brazilian President Michel Temer and more than 1,800 other politicians over the course of 15 years. U.S.-based media organizations paid close attention, because roughly half of the company’s revenue comes from its operations in the United States. As the scope of the company’s corruption scandal expanded to include seven executives, Food Business News covered the financial fallout, Chris Clayton of DTN Progressive Farmer analyzed the impact of the news on commodity trading and Meatingplace examined (paywall) how Pilgrim’s Pride will (or won’t) be affected. The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that Batista and his brother, Wesley Batista, resigned on May 26.

5. Immigration: On May 15, Reuters covered an April 25 White House roundtable on farm labor. Meeting attendee Zippy Duvall said, “[Trump] assured us we would have plenty of access to workers.” In addition, NPR: The Salt reported on the rise in temporary H-2A visa — a visa program that Western Growers CEO Tom Nassif contended should be reformed (transcript via Marion Nestle). Nassif warned, “I think several of the smaller to midsize operators are in danger of either having to cease farming or sell their operations to larger producers who have the wherewithal to withstand some of the things that are happening because they are able to invest in and develop more mechanical harvesting and other robotic operations.” Meanwhile, Civil Eats reported a team of Democratic senators have introduced a bill for a “Blue Card” program, which would protect undocumented worker with a history of working in the United States.

Issues Rank

Trade and regulation was top of mind for influencers in May, as evidenced above. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget stirred (PDF) complaints beginning May 23, while recent trade policy conversations have centered around NAFTA renegotiation (PDF) and the USDA reorganization, which includes the creation of a USDA undersecretary of trade. Attention to farming methods was driven by a group of activists and academics lobbying WHO to “recognize industrial animal farming as a challenge for global health.” On May 10, market researchers NPD Group published a report on meat and dairy alternatives, finding plant-based products remain niche, despite substantial growth.

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