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June 2013 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.

The Farm Bill: Ag’s Stunning Defeat

Jun 27, 2013

Last week, I said the farm bill was fighting its way to the finish line. Well, it didn’t make it. In a vote of 234 to 195, agriculture was dealt a stunning defeat.

What happened? Only 21 Democrats voted for the bill. Congressman Peterson couldn’t deliver the votes he had promised. Even a larger number of Republicans that were supposed to be in the "yes" column rejected the bill. I think the real problem with the bill was that a lot of members from both parties didn’t like the bill very much anyway. They were going to vote for it just to get it off the table.

The Democratic members hated the fact that the bill cut spending on food stamps by 20 billion dollars over the next decade. That’s only 2 billion dollars per year. Republicans felt that we are already spending too much on food stamps. The number of people receiving food stamps has spiked 70 percent in just the last 5 years. It is still going up.

A lot of Members didn’t like the dairy supports. An amendment to delete the supply-management language from the bill was passed by a huge margin (291 to 135). The sugar section of the bill is very unpopular.

But, the final straw that broke the camel’s back was the adoption of an amendment from Florida Congressman Steve Southerland to give states the option to experiment with work requirements for those receiving food stamps. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, but the Democrats couldn’t accept it.

So, what next? We could just extend the current bill, but we’re farming under an extension now. Senator Harry Reid said, "There will be no extension." Even Republicans don’t want an extension.
I think we have reached a point in time when we should split the farm bill from the food bill. Over all of these years, this legislative process of "you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours" has worked to deliver more to both sides – food and agriculture. Maybe it’s time to get that divorce.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the House deals with their mess now Agriculture’s safety net and food security for the hungry are looking to a very uncertain future.


GE Wheat and Smithfield Sale

Jun 07, 2013

Japan and South Korea slammed the door on our wheat exports. Not because they were sent any bad wheat. Not because anyone got sick. Not because there is any risk to anyone. The reason is that we discovered a field of genetically modified wheat in Oregon.

Japan and South Korea have overreacted because there is nothing inherently wrong with GE wheat. If there is anything wrong, it would be that we don’t know how that GE field suddenly appeared in Oregon. Where did that wheat come from? I’m sure that we will eventually sort this out.

Back to the real issue – we have been eating GE crops for almost 20 years. Beyond that – read the Washington Post – "Humans have been genetically altering foodstuffs for millennia. That’s how we got modern wheat." I would add – that’s how we got watermelons without seeds. You know that God didn’t make them that way. It’s time the critics of GE crops got over their suspicion. I am optimistic that the trade interruption with Japan and South Korea will be resolved soon. It’s going to take longer to educate the suspicious public.

Turn the page – new subject. As I ate my delicious Smithfield pork loin for dinner last night, I could imagine the doubters wondering if Smithfield pork next year will be as delicious, or as safe, or as reasonably priced -- because the Chinese are buying Smithfield, by far the biggest pork producer and processor in the U.S. Smithfield operates 460 company farms and 2,100 contract farms in 12 states. If completed, the Chinese purchase of Smithfield will be the biggest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. company costing more than $7 billion.

U.S. foreign investment regulators will probably approve the sale. Why not? How much national security sensitive intelligence can be found in a pork chop? The new Smithfield will still have to meet all of our food safety regulations.

After paying $7 billion, the company under new ownership has every incentive to protect the brand name by producing a quality product. Finally, the more cross border ownership, business, and trade between different countries, the more interdependent we become and the safer the world will be.


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