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February 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.

Musings about Mislabeled Products

Feb 27, 2013

Mislabeling food products has consumers up in arms in the U.S. and Europe. You can understand the customers’ concerns. Stop at the supermarket and pick up some beef stew. You would be angry to find that it was really horse meat stew. If you order red snapper fish in your restaurant and find out that it is really tilapia, you wouldn’t like that either.

Europe has horse meat showing up in dishes that are supposed to be beef and it appears that as much as 1/3 of the seafood sold in the U.S. is mislabeled.

Mislabeling meat is not new. When I was Secretary of Agriculture, one morning in 1983, my Chief of Staff came into my office and said, "We have a problem. We have discovered that an Australian meat company that imports beef into the U.S. has been labeling the product beef but it is really kangaroo meat."

Well, needless to say, the Australian plant was shut down.

One thing that I would say about the current mislabeling scandal is that it’s not really surprising. If you can sell cheap tilapia fish as expensive red snapper you make more money. And, in Europe, any time you can slip in a little cheap horse meat for beef, you make more money.

How do we fix the problem? One way would be for us to butcher our own beef, cut it into steaks and roasts, etc. and freeze it. That’s what we did when I was a boy. Of course, we’re not going to do that now.

Some would suggest that the FDA should have more inspectors checking the DNA of meat. That’s not going to work either. We can’t afford to hire that many inspectors. I think the retail store chains like Safeway and Walmart have the incentive to unsure that what they sell is not mislabeled. Same goes for McDonald’s and other big foodservice restaurants. They have a reputation to protect. We will never completely fix the problem. Feeding the world is too complicated and complex.

At least the mislabeled substitutes, although cheaper, won’t hurt you, and they will taste better than kangaroo meat.

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

The Case of Bowman v. Monsanto

Feb 21, 2013

The Supreme Court is very selective in the court cases that they choose to hear and decide. A recent really big one was the question whether certain features in the new health care law passed by the Congress were constitutional.

But, this week the Court heard the case pitting an Indiana farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, versus Monsanto. Agriculture production rights are in the headlines. Mr. Bowman bought Monsanto Roundup Ready soybean seed, like we all do, for spring planting.


But, the thing that he has been doing different the last 7 years is – he has gone to the grain elevator and bought some additional soybeans from the elevator to plant his double crop of soybeans following wheat. Seed beans from Monsanto are expensive. Bulk soybeans at the elevator are relatively cheap.

They both grow and they both have the Roundup Ready trait. Looks like Mr. Bowman has found a way to save some money. However, when a farmer buys Monsanto Roundup soybean seed, he signs an agreement that he will not use the harvested soybeans for seed. Well, Mr. Bowman got around this by buying from the grain elevator (someone else’s beans) knowing that 95% of those soybeans would be Roundup Ready. That means herbicide-resistant. He sprayed the soybean field and killed the weeds.

What’s wrong with all of this is that Monsanto has a patent which is supposed to protect their costly innovation. If farmers are allowed to save their harvested soybeans and use them for seed, companies like Monsanto would not be able to afford to commercialize their inventions. Most major farm organizations support Monsanto on this.

We remember the old days when we were hoeing by hand the weeds in our soybean fields. We remember the days when our corn fields had serious weed and grass problems. Our crop yields suffered. Not anymore. Now, we have genetic engineering – clean fields, better yields.

I am hopeful the Supreme Court will find in favor of Monsanto. We probably won’t know what they decide until June. Their decision will have ramifications beyond the soybean field. Patents of all kinds need to be protected if we expect companies to invest in our future.

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


[Disclosure: OFW Law filed an amicus brief on behalf of American soybean, corn, wheat, and sugar beet farmers supporting Monsanto’s position in Bowman v. Monsanto.]

Our Poster Child of Government Dysfunction

Feb 14, 2013

Do you know where to look for the poster child of government dysfunction? You don’t have to look very hard. Just look down the street in your little town, in your community. I’m talking about the Postal Service.

The Postal Service is supposed to operate independently of the federal government. However, it’s not independent at all.

Last year, the Postal Service lost 15 billion dollars – losing 25 million dollars every day. Stamp sales represent the most important source of revenue but sales are down 25% over the last 6 years. It’s a new world of communications out there with the internet and cell phones.

You might expect the Postal Service to do something to fix the problem. But, every year the Congress passes legislation which ties the hands of the Postmaster General. They won’t let him end Saturday delivery of mail which would save about 2 billion dollars per year. He has been saddled with some weird legislation paying in 1.4 billion dollars into future union member benefits.

The U.S. Congress refuses to allow the Postal Service to be run like a business. Given the fact that last year the Congress never passed a Postal Service bill, the Postmaster General, Mr. Donahoe, decided he could act on his own, and he just announced that starting in August, he would discontinue Saturday mail delivery. Some Members of Congress have complained that his actions are not legal, but we’ll see. He desperately needs flexibility to stop the bleeding.

I don’t think we need Saturday delivery of mail. I know we hate to think about some of our little post offices being closed. And the union mandates will have to be dealt with. Keep in mind some would suggest that the Postal Service should be privatized. Sell it to FedEx. Some countries in Europe have done just that.

Too many of our politicians refuse to deal with our debt and spending problem. Just look at the Postal Service.

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


EPA Attacks Chicken Farmer

Feb 12, 2013

EPA cannot bring itself to leave farmers alone. Lois Alt, a West Virginia chicken farmer, has spent months fighting off the demands of EPA that her poultry operation had to have a clean water discharge permit. Here is what EPA argues. Dust particles containing manure and feathers were on the ground outside the poultry house. That’s terrible. How could she allow that to happen? EPA’s position is absurd. I confess that there is probably some dust and manure outside my hog barns. That’s just part of the normal operation of a livestock farm.

Fortunately, the case that EPA brought against Lois Alt was withdrawn by EPA. I think they were surprised when she filed a counter suit against them. Then, the American Farm Bureau and the West Virginia Farm Bureau joined in support of her counter suit.

EPA must have been shocked that a small chicken farm would put up a fight. They like to pick on individuals and operations that don’t have the resources. It’s pretty clear that EPA withdrew the suit because they didn’t want to run the risk of losing the case in court. Bob Stallman of the American Farm Bureau said, "This is a personal victory for Lois Alt, but it should not have taken a federal lawsuit to convince EPA to withdraw an order that was illegal from the start."

Lois Alt has not withdrawn her suit against EPA. Why let EPA off the hook? A federal judge will decide where we go from here.

In the meantime, EPA will be looking around to attack some other poor farmer who’s just doing his job.

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

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