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January 2011 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

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

A Look at Biofuels

Jan 27, 2011

I like the Wall Street Journal. I read it every day. And I join them in being critical of government subsidies. Our government spends too much money throwing dollars at every hand that reaches out.

However, the Wall Street Journal seems to have a thing about biofuels. Just last week, their lead editorial attacked subsidies for ethanol. Fine. They could be adjusted or reduced, but what about all the other energy subsidy programs? What about the billions spent on oil? What about the money thrown at solar and wind? If we are going to protect our energy security, we need all sources of energy. Let’s produce as much of it here at home while at the same time creating jobs.
I don’t accept the assumption that ethanol is the driver of rising food prices. Energy prices are. When prices of energy soared in 2006, food prices skyrocketed. But, when energy fell in 2008, so did food prices, even though ethanol production continued to increase.
Don’t ignore the productivity of the American framer. We are producing record crops for food and fuel, using the same acreage as two generations ago before ethanol was blended into 90 percent of American gasoline. Can you just imagine how the price of gasoline would explode to probably $4.00 per gallon if that 10% ethanol fuel contribution were taken away? Ethanol replaces 450 million barrels of imported oil while creating thousands of jobs in rural America.
Ethanol is a clean fuel, even though some of our critics don’t want to accept that fact. The EPA (not always our best buddy) reports that ethanol reduces carbon monoxide emissions, reduces benzene emissions, and reduces carbon dioxide.
As President Reagan used to say, “Facts are stubborn things.” Big city news media should check the facts before bashing the only fuel that can replace imported oil.
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.



Jan 21, 2011

Today’s commentary is about predictions. To start, I have some predictions from other former Cabinet Members. For more than 20 years, I have put together a “Cabinet Secretaries Luncheon” during the Christmas holidays. Lunch is at the Blair House, just across the street from the White House. This year, we had 42 Cabinet Members from Administrations going back as far as President Jimmy Carter. We had 5 Secretaries of Agriculture. 

Besides a nice holiday lunch, I always ask each Cabinet Member to make a prediction. Some are serious. Some are just funny. Here are some of the predictions.
Alice Rivlin (Democrat; served on President Obama’s Debt Commission). I complimented her for her work on that Commission which recommended bold, courageous action to reduce our debt. Here is what she said: “The Republicans and Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House will get along a lot better than you think. There is no choice. They’ll act like grown-ups.” Oh, let’s hope so.
Gale Norton: “The price of oil will go over $100 per barrel and the price of gold will continue to rise until I buy some.”
Clayton Yeutter: “We’re well on our way to a U.S.-Japan free trade deal.”
Mike Johanns (former Agriculture Secretary and now a Senator): A Republican dark horse will win the Iowa caucus next year.”
John Sununu: He didn’t exactly agree with Mike Johanns: “New Hampshire picks presidents. Iowa picks corn.”
Dan Glickman (Bill Clinton’s Agriculture Secretary): “The next big citizen’s movement will attack the surge of dollars in politics that distort decisions.”
That’s just a few of the many predictions.
Now, here are some that I have to offer as we move into this new year.
  1. After all of this time, we will get a U.S.-South Korea trade agreement passed.
  2. The farm bill will be written next year – not this year. However, when the deal is cut to increase the debt limit, agriculture will be on the chopping block. Direct payments are a target.
  3. Secretary Ray LaHood and the Department of Transportation will fix our trucking-trade dispute with Mexico. We have failed to live by the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement, costing us millions of dollars in pork exports as just one example.
  4. We may have snow and cold in the country, but the grain markets are hot. Pressure will grow to release some of the Conservation Reserve program acres for crops as a “relief valve” in the food vs. fuel competition.
I was on the farm this week. Really cold, but pigs are happy, seed is on order, fertilizer plan is in place, planter ready – spring is just around the corner. Can’t wait.
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.


Food Safety Legislation Enhances Already Safe Food Supply

Jan 13, 2011

Last week the President signed the Food Safety Modernization Act. It was passed by a united lame-duck Congress in the waning days of 2010. The new food safety law enhances FDA’s authority to make an already safe food supply safer. The new law does a number of things:

  • It requires all processors to develop and implement a comprehensive food safety plan;
  • For the first time, it authorizes FDA to mandate a food recall where public health is at risk;
  • It increases the frequency of inspection for all high risk domestic facilities; and
It requires importers to verify the safety of food brought in from foreign countries.
  • The new law represents an important and positive change for food safety. Both Congress and the Administration deserve credit.
Having said that, it is important to put food safety in America in proper context. We currently have the world’s safest food supply despite sensational media stories to the contrary.
Let’s consider some numbers. According to the Census Bureau, there are 310 million people living in the U.S. If the average American eats three meals a day, then we are talking about approximately 325 billion meals consumed annually. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year roughly 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and nearly 3,000 die from food borne illness. Thus, well over 99.99% of meals served in the United States are safe. Eating is not only a necessary and satisfying activity but also a very safe activity. Much of the credit should go to American farmers, processors, distributors and retailers.
The new food safety law makes a number of constructive changes. But Congress must closely oversee FDA’s implementation of the law, particularly with respect to obligations imposed on small farms and small businesses. To the extent fiscally possible, Congress should provide adequate funding.
In closing, I would encourage you to access Secretary Block’s website, which archives his radio commentaries dating back ten years, soon to be 20. Go to
Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in with John Block in Washington.

GE Crops Under Attack

Jan 07, 2011

I remember as a boy hoeing weeds in our corn fields and pulling weeds in the bean fields. I recall the plant damage that our corn suffered from root worms and corn bore. Along came biotechnology and genetically engineered seeds. The weeds are gone and the corn stands straight and strong.

We have been successfully utilizing this remarkable technology to increase our farming efficiency and productivity for nearly 20 years. We have 60 million acres of GE corn and soybeans in the U.S. today. Countries all over the world are ramping up their use of genetic engineering to increase yield.
Environmental groups can’t stand to see modern agriculture prosper. They would like for us to farm as we did when I was a boy.
Two law suits threaten our industry – beets and alfalfa, and that’s just the beginning. The Center for Food Safety sued USDA back in 2006 to stop the distribution of a Round Up Ready alfalfa. After all these years with no hint of harm from GE crops, no danger to humans or livestock, the USDA appears to be unwilling to issue a stamp of approval for Round Up Ready Alfalfa. This nuisance litigation has USDA frozen in place. Sec. Vilsack seems to be trying to pacify the anti-biotech activist crowd by suggesting that perhaps there could be a minimum planting distance between GE alfalfa and organic alfalfa.
This is the “camel’s nose under the tent.” Can you just imagine all of the tiny organic gardens all over the country that could threaten all of our GE crops? Not just alfalfa or sugar beets but corn, soy bean, cotton, on and on. The regulatory result could be devastating.
The anti-biotech crowd refuses to acknowledge the scientifically proven safety of biotech crops. They don’t care. They don’t care if our food output could be cut by 1/3 or more. They ignore the inevitable surge in the cost of food and global starvation that could occur.
Write, call, E-mail your Congressmen and your State Ag Commissioner, unless you want to go back to farming as I did as a boy.
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.
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