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April 2009 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Swine Flu

Apr 30, 2009

As if we didn’t have enough problems, out of the blue “swine flu” hits the headlines.

In the past year, the whole world has fallen into a suffocating global recession. Just when we get a little oxygen and have an indication that the recession is bottoming out, swine flu panic spreads.
 
Recessions limit exports and the American farmer suffers. We export 30 percent of what we produce. I don’t even want to think about the price our products would be worth if it were not for global markets. The recession has given an excuse for a lot of countries to accept protectionist policies. We are no exception. We stopped Mexican trucks from going into the U.S. to deliver and pick up product. The Mexican government immediately retaliated by putting a tariff on some of our exports to Mexico. Our soybean producers are very concerned about possible tariffs on their products.
 
The World Trade Organization estimates that global exports will contract by 9 percent this year. In addition, we are still talking about altering NAFTA. That could have serious repercussions. Not surprising – for every trade action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As a net exporter, that’s not good for American agriculture.
 
Now, with swine flu on the world stage, importing countries are using this as an excuse to restrict our products. Russia, China, and the Philippines have suspended imports of pork from Mexico and some parts of the U.S. An ironic fact is that there is no link between pork consumption and the swine flue virus. The virus is being spread person to person.
 
This is not the first time the world has faced a possible flu pandemic. In 1918, the Spanish flu hit Europe. 50 million people died. Then, we had Asian flu in 1957. Then, the Hong Kong flu in 1968. Swine flu in 1976. Russian flu in 1977. Avian flu in 1997.
 
“When it rains, it pours.”
 
Let’s hope this threat is short-lived, and we can get on with our economic recovery and keep the trade channels open.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, DC.

Listen to the report.

Family Gardens

Apr 24, 2009

It’s spring. Time to plant your garden. That is one way to contribute to the green revolution. Michelle Obama has set the example by digging up part of the White House lawn to plant vegetables. Family gardens are the way to go.
 
Listen to the Report.
I am all for this idea. Last year, I planted my tomato plants. Unfortunately, the squirrels ate the tomatoes just before they were ripe enough to pick. The squirrels, the little thieves, stole all the apples from my apple tree. The deer ate the tops off my pepper plants and my flowers. Back to nature gardening is not easy.
 
When I was a boy on the farm, my grandfather kept our garden. I was required to hoe the weeds that attacked the peas and beans. The potato bugs tried to eat the potato plants.
 
I am delighted to see the new emphasis on gardening. Some chickens in the back yard would be fine with me. Having a cow to milk might be a little much. Locally grown farmer markets are wonderful. I prefer to buy locally grown when I can.
 
The value in having more people trying their hand at growing their own food is educational. They realize how difficult it is. It is backbreaking work. Your plants are under constant attack from weeds, insects, disease, and animals.
 
You soon come to understand why most of our food is produced by commercial farms that specialize in the business. They have machinery and equipment – not just a hoe and a spade. They use crops armed with biotechnology traits to protect against pests. Our commercial businesses transport vegetables and fruit to us from California and Florida in the winter months.
 
We process our beef and pork in plants with all the necessary equipment to cool and preserve the product. When I was a boy, I remember butchering a pig on the farm and my mother would can the meat.
 
Today, we produce food that is safer, and more affordable than in the past. We’re not going back to the “good old days.” It might be fun. It might be good exercise, but it’s not how we feed a hungry world.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.

Policeman to the World

Apr 16, 2009

I think President Obama and his friends in Congress are spending too much money. Their budget plan is unsustainable. On the home front, I don’t like what I see.
 
However, for the most part, I like his international direction.
 
  • His announcement to liberalize travel to Cuba is a good first step.
 
  • I have no problem with cutting some of the expensive defense projects. One or two less ships or planes is not going to cripple us.
 
  • I’m encouraged to see the U.S. reach out to Russia. Let’s see if we can work something out. We don’t need to put a missile defense system in the Czech Republic or Poland. If it is that critical, let the Europeans do it. We don’t need to surround Russia with NATO and U.S. puppet states. Russia needs some room to breath. We’re not talking about the old Soviet Union.
 
  • Our tone of conversation with China sounds reasonable. We are wise not to antagonize China. That would be like picking a fight with your banker. He might foreclose. China is our banker.
 
  • President Obama’s plan to bring our troops home from Iraq is fine with me.
 
  • However, I don’t think sending thousands more U.S. troops into Afghanistan is a good idea. Every country that has ever tried to get control of Afghanistan has come home with their tail between their legs.
Examples – Brits and Soviet Russia.
 
In relative terms, there is far more value in having an influence in the Middle East where they have oil. What do they have in Afghanistan? Camels and poppy fields.
 
  • Did you know that we have 90,000 U.S. military troops stationed in Europe? They were stationed there to guard against Soviet aggression after World War II. That’s over. Bring them home. We have troops in South Korea. Troops all over the world.
 
This may sound like a military surrender, but we should not be expected to be “policeman to the world.” There are other strong nations that have a vested interest in a stable world – Europe, China, Russia, Japan are a few examples.
 
After World War II, the U.S. was the only country standing. Then, we took the lead in blocking the Soviet Union. The world is a far different place now. Today, there are a lot of countries that we should work with to promote stability and security. I’m saying that we can’t afford to do everything. I think President Obama sees it that way also.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, DC.

Listen to the report.
 

Animal Agriculture

Apr 13, 2009

It is time to sound the alarm. If the agriculture industry does not come together and aggressively defend our interests, we will see our ability to compete in the production of food diminish every year.
 
Animal agriculture is under attack. More laws and regulations are introduced every day to tie our hands. We need to understand, the ultimate objective of the animal rights activists is not ethical or humane treatment of animals. I know a lot of people give money to the Humane Society of the U.S. I don’t think they realize the real goal of that organization. According to J.P. Goodwin, Grassroots Coordinator: “My goal is the abolition of all animal agriculture.”
 
We need to wake up. They shut our horse slaughter plants down. They want to release the animals from the zoos. Let them run wild. No more elephants in the circus.
 
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is just as bad or worse than the Humane Society. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services reports that PETA killed 2100 pets last year and placed only 7 in adoptive homes. Since 1998, more than 21,000 dogs and cats have died at the hands of PETA.
 
David Martosko, Research Director for the Center for Consumer Freedom, had this to say: “PETA hasn’t slowed down its hypocritical killing machine one bit, but it keeps browbeating the rest of society with a phony ‘animal rights’ message. What about the rights of the thousands of dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens that die in PETA’s headquarters building?” Martosko added: “Since killing pets is A-OK with PETA, why should anyone listen to their demands about eating meat, using lab rats for medical research, or taking children to the circus?
 
PETA attracts a lot of money. They have a 32 million dollar budget. The Humane Society has 200 million dollars in assets.
 
The animal rights groups are strong and well-financed. We need to be pro-active in defending our interests. Why? I don’t want to be a vegetarian.
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, DC.
 

Card Check

Apr 03, 2009

One of the highest priority pieces of legislation championed by the Democratic Party and driven by the labor unions is the so-called Employee Free Choice Act. Sounds good. Sounds patriotic American.
 
Well, it’s not exactly the way it sounds. It is otherwise known as “card check” where employees of companies, by signing a card, can choose to unionize. What about the secret ballot? By law today, that’s the way employees decide if they want to unionize. A secret ballot is the American way.
 
The “card check” signature opens the door to union intimidation. Intimidate and threaten employees until they sign the card. Dissention among employees is inevitable if everyone knows what their fellow workers did. With a secret ballot, you can vote your conscience without fear of reprisal.
 
At this point, the legislation is on hold in the Senate because the Democrats don’t have the necessary votes to get it done. However, they only need one or two Republicans to support the bill and it will sail through. President Obama has promised to sign it.
 
The unions and the business community are lobbying and running ads waging a fierce battle on the issue.
 
Labor unions have helped employees in many cases in years past, but their ranks have been thinning. I think one of the reasons for the steady decline of unions is the fact that companies are far more responsible and concerned about their employees than they were 50 or 60 years ago.
 
Wal-Mart Stores recently awarded 2 billion dollars to U.S. hourly employees as a bonus. If you stock the shelves or work the check-out line, you got a bonus. In these times, we’ve heard a lot of criticism about Wall Street bonuses, but Wal-Mart bonuses are applauded.
 
Not surprising, Wal-Mart, our biggest retailer in this country – not unionized – is no friend of “card check.”
 
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, DC.
 
 
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