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May 2012 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.

Obesity and Hunger

May 17, 2012

Just this week on Tuesday, May 15, we celebrated the establishment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation 150 years ago. It has been a very successful 150 years. Our citizens enjoy the most reasonably priced, safest, and best tasting food in the world. We need to continue to serve up that kind of abundance as we look to the future.
 
There is one undesirable side effect of cheap, delicious food – obesity. I have visited countries all over the world and you won’t find any obesity problem in the poor countries. Food there is too expensive.
 
We have a paradox here in the U.S. that defies any solution – obesity on one hand and hunger on the other. However, according to an op ed in the New York Times newspaper, obesity is a far more serious problem. In New York City schools, 40 percent of the children are overweight while only 2 percent aren’t getting enough food.
 
This country is very generous in making food available. All of the New York schools have a cafeteria where the children can get breakfast if they don’t get any at home. Of course, we know all the schools serve lunch. Until recently, the schools in New York were also serving breakfast in the classroom (BIC Program). Add to all of that the fact that now we have 46 million people on food stamps. I would suggest that we have gone too far. The abundance of free, delicious food is contributing to our obesity problem.
 
I confess that I don’t have an acceptable solution. I have suggested in the past that the schools could weigh the kids. If they are overweight, send them to the salad bar. No biscuits and gravy for them. That doesn’t get very much support.
 
There is no easy answer. We don’t want to be a poor country that is "food insecure" but with skinny citizens. At the same time, if we keep eating our delicious food and watching television, we’re going to get fat.
 
Maybe you have some answers.
 
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 www.johnblockreports.com.
 


 

Ag Issues of the Day

May 10, 2012

As you know, we win a few and lose a few.
 
After thousands of comments criticizing the Department of Labor’s proposed rule to disallow children under 16 years of age to work on farms, they withdrew the rule. If that rule had gone into effect, my grandchildren would not have been allowed to help sort hogs. They could not have shown a calf at the 4-H show. This is an election year. Could it be that the political price of such an unpopular regulatory overreach was not worth the price?
 
There is good news on the horse slaughter front. In 2006, animal rights advocates pushed the Congress to cut off funding for inspection of our horse slaughter plants. Without inspectors, the plants had to close. No place to go with unwanted horses.
 
Some have been shipped to Mexico and Canada. Some are just turned loose on the range or the road. Common sense has reappeared and our government will fund the inspections. Hopefully by the end of this year, we will be able to process and ship our horsemeat to France and Italy and wherever. You will be able to sell your horse for money now, and someone in another country can benefit from the meat.
 
Don’t get your hopes up but the Senate Ag Committee did pass a farm bill. Direct payments are gone and a stronger risk management safety net is in. The House Ag Committee is getting ready to pass a bill also. After that, what’s going to happen? Not much. In this election year, I will be surprised if the full Senate and House even vote on their bills. Although we do have an indication of where farm policy is headed, it’s too soon to get very excited about a farm bill.
 
Now a word or two about "pink slime." Iowa Governor Terry Branstad criticized ABC News and others. He said, "It’s a sad day when a false, misleading smear campaign can destroy a company." I would add the smear campaign effectively is resulting in the wasting of lean, finely textured beef. The company processing the product (Beef Products, Inc.) has been forced to close down 3 of its 4 plants. 650 dedicated and good employees are now out of work. I hope the news organizations responsible for this are happy. It’s your fault, totally without justification. Lean, finely textured beef is safe, nutritious, and pure beef.
 
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 www.johnblockreports.com.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

NAFTA

May 04, 2012

Let me review with you a success story that has been a major plus for the U.S. and especially for our ag industry. I’m talking about the North American Free Trade Agreement between U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
 
This all began in 1989 with the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Then, in 1993 (4 years later, almost 20 years ago), Mexico was brought in to the fold with Canada and the U.S. to create the North American Free Trade Agreement.
 
NAFTA has succeeded beyond imagination. Over that time, total U.S. and Mexican trade has exploded by more than 5 times to $460 billion in 2011. Ag exports to Canada have tripled and our ag exports to Mexico are up 4 times. This year, our ag exports to Canada will reach $20 billion and Mexico, $17 billion. Mexico is our second largest export market. Mexico buys more U.S. goods than all the rest of Latin America combined.
 
NAFTA’s success has been contagious. Countries all over the world are cutting tariffs and writing trade agreements. Fortunately, at long last, we completed our Colombia, Panama, and South Korean agreements. There is no question but countries that have serious trade relations are less likely to start a war.
 
Back to NAFTA – perhaps one of the more important side effects of the Agreement is beginning to bear fruit. In 1993, President Clinton, in support of bring Mexico into NAFTA, had this to say: "Slashing tariffs will create jobs and increase incomes in Mexico, resulting in much less pressure on them to come to the U.S. in the form of illegal immigration.
 
That didn’t happen right away. In fact, at first, illegal immigration increased, but not today. The number of illegals in the U.S. has stabilized. As many are leaving as coming in.
 
Mexico has a dynamic job-creating economy with a growth rate of more than 5 percent. We know that NAFTA is not the only reason Mexico is moving up the ladder to become a middle class democracy, but trade is a big help.
 
Our ag industry exports nearly 30 percent of what we produce. It’s obvious how important trade is to the American farmer, but don’t forget all the other side benefits.
 
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 www.johnblockreports.com.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

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