NFU News Clips, May 24
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In this edition:
Lawsuit Challenges Nebraska Keystone
May 23, 2012
DTN/ Progressive Farmer
A group of Nebraska citizens has sued the state of Nebraska claiming the recently passed LB1161, which provides direction to state agencies to work with TransCanada on a new route for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, is unconstitutional and violates legislation passed during a special session of the Nebraska Legislature in 2011.
Nebraska residents, Randy Thompson of Lancaster County, Susan Luebbe of Holt County and Susan Dunavan in York County, have asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to declare LB1161 unconstitutional and the law null and void.
The bill signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman gives the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality authority to review pipeline routes and gives Heineman authority to approve a pipeline route, while granting TransCanada eminent domain authority without having to wait for federal permits to be issued for the project.
State officials, along with representatives from TransCanada and an engineering firm involved with the pipeline project have been holding public information meetings in the Sandhills region of the state in recent weeks.
The project has drawn criticism from agriculture and environmental groups alike, who have expressed concern that potential oil spills along any pipeline route in the state could harm the Ogallala Aquifer and threaten the state's ag-based economy.
The lawsuit contends that ultimate approval of a pipeline route is up the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
The lawsuit alleges that LB1161 is unconstitutional because it violates Nebraska's requirement that state government be divided into executive, legislative and judicial departments, and the law contains "no provision for judicial review of decisions of the governor to approve or to disapprove, or to decline to act upon applications for authority to acquire property and erect crude oil pipelines across Nebraska."
The suit claims the law violates the legislature's "plenary authority over the power of eminent domain" by empowering the governor to "decide what company shall be approved to build a pipeline and use the power of eminent domain to acquire real property rights."
The citizens claim in the lawsuit that LB1161 unlawfully allocates $2 million to implement "unconstitutional provisions."
"The threat of harm is great and irreparable," the lawsuit said. "If eminent domain is used and land is taken, it is committed to pipeline use and potential remedial cost will be great. Lands with common ownership will be severed by the easements sought; uses and rights to use land will be diminished. The land will be adversely affected on a long-term basis.
"On the other hand, the harm to defendants is not great and delay assures that only lawfully enacted statutes are enforced.
"Defendant Heineman has publicly declared his support for the proposed pipeline even before the company threatening to apply has made any filings in Nebraska. He threatens to act to approve a pipeline and allow use of eminent domain if not enjoined. This court's doctrinal pronouncement concerning the validity or invalidity of LB 1161 is necessary to deal with the issues raised in this verified petition.
"This court is well positioned to do so with due deliberation and reasonable responsiveness. This court's action in an original proceeding will avoid the necessity of action at the district court level, which regardless of the outcome, is highly likely to result in an appeal of the district court's decision to this Court for a doctrinal pronouncement."
When contacted by DTN a spokesperson for Gov. Heineman declined comment, saying the governor was out of state on Wednesday.
A couple of landowners attending one of the public information meetings in O'Neill, Neb., earlier this month, told DTN that the newly proposed corridor for the pipeline route has done little to address their concerns.
The first proposed route drew criticism because it traversed across environmentally sensitive ecosystems in the Sandhills. The newly proposed corridor is said to go around the Sandhills, but north central Nebraska residents who spoke to DTN said it would be nearly impossible to avoid the Sandhills.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com/dtnag/common/link.do;jsessionid=B33A9AD891DA04C48B9BA9E6BF7C881F.agfreejvm2?symbolicName=/ag/blogs/template1&blogHandle=policy&blogEntryId=8a82c0bc372e8fba01377b65d055030e&showCommentsOverride=false&blogRegionCode
Brazil, U.S. Cotton Leaders Meet
May 24, 2012
The United States and Brazil have not always been on speaking terms when it comes to cotton. Trade issues, World Trade Organization disputes and shear competition have been the name of the game. But this week the National Cotton Council met with its Brazilian counterpart ABRAPA and issued a joint statement.
Worries over the declining use of cotton have both countries talking about ways to work together to show the sustainability of the crop as a key fiber source for textile users. What follows is the complete statement issued Wednesday explaining the importance of the meeting. Here's the joint statement:
Cotton industry leaders from Brazil and the United States met in Atlanta, Georgia, to discuss issues of mutual concern and to search for avenues of greater cooperation. Sergio De Marco, President of ABRAPA, Brazil's national cotton producer organization, led a delegation of Brazilian cotton leaders. Chuck Coley, Chairman of the National Cotton Council, led the U.S. delegation.
The meeting focused on risk management, cotton's sustainability and international promotion. Every cotton producer has been impacted by the extraordinary price volatility exhibited by the cotton futures market since early 2008. Price volatility disrupts orderly market activities and creates costly uncertainty that market participants must address.
Cotton is being challenged in the retail market to demonstrate its sustainability. The Brazilian and U.S. cotton industries have individually taken steps to address these concerns. It was recognized that collaborative actions would produce greater recognition of cotton's contribution to environmental improvement.
Cotton's share of the world fiber market has been eroded as synthetic fibers have gained ground. Promotion programs acquainting the world's consumers to the benefits of the cotton apparel and textiles are vital to securing cotton's future. Brazil and U.S. cotton industries are strong supporters of promotion programs. They will explore opportunities to jointly enhance consumer awareness.
The joint statement appeared on both the NCC and ABRAPA's website.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://farmfutures.com/story.aspx/brazil-cotton-leaders-meet-17/60046
Consensus ahead for committee exploring coexistence?
May 23, 2012
The next meeting of the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) organized by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, which addresses the issue of coexistence between the biotechnology and organic industries, is next Tuesday and Wednesday.
AC21 member and Center for Science in the Public Interest Project on Biotechnology Director Greg Jaffe said that he is “cautiously optimistic that we’ll have some sort of consensus,” or at least provide Vilsack with an outline of opinions and pros and cons of coexistence solutions.
“It’s not as big of a problem now as it may be in the future,” Jaffe said. “It is important to set policies at the national level to help farmers deal with this.”
The group is attempting to address four steps of Vilsack’s charge: Identifying the extent of the genetic contamination problem, establishing the best type of payment mechanism if it is needed, establishing the standards for that mechanism and identifying who pays within that mechanism in the event of crop contamination.
Another member of the AC21 panel, Indiana farmer and American Soybean Association President Alan Kemper, said efforts to improve coexistence need to be done “through incentives, not regulation.”
“I still don’t see the need for a compensation mechanism,” he said, noting that no data exists that demonstrates true economic loss to an operation from genetic drift. He said education efforts through the land-grant extension system would be better than establishing government mandates in the effort to strengthen coexistence.
Illinois farmer and AC21 member Leon Corzine echoed similar sentiments that “there just isn’t any data in regards to economic harm.” He suggested that USDA could help producers analyze costs and cost premiums of organic contracts.
“Coexistence is there,” he said. “There are always cases where neighbors don’t communicate, and we can always enhance that. The place for USDA is to help with contract language and the training of both parties in the contract.”
While he believes a majority of the AC21 panel is not in favor of a compensation mechanism, Corzine noted that there are still various issues to address, including the implication of any policy to worldwide markets and risk assessment in contract policies.
The subject of AC21’s progress came up during the biotechnology panel of the Consumer Federation Association’s National Food Policy Conference last week, where NCGA Pubic Policy Director Sarah Gallo maintained that “farmers can coexist.”
“As farmers plant for the market, we have growers with organic, conventional and GE all within the farm they own,” she said. “Maintaining the ability for growers to have that choice is very important to us.”
However, Consumers Union Food Policy Initiatives Director Jean Halloran reiterated a complaint from the organic perspective regarding coexistence in the marketplace, stating that “it’s increasingly difficult for organic growers of corn to obtain seed without GM (genetically modified) traits.”
After this month’s meeting, the next AC21 is scheduled for August of this year, where some members hope a draft document of recommendations for the Agriculture Secretary will be finalized.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://agri-pulse.com/consesus-committee-exploring-coexistence-05232012.asp
Congressman says pizza is NOT a vegetable, introduces SLICE Act
May 23, 2012
Los Angeles Times
The notion that Congress could consider pizza a vegetable may be just too much to digest.
The SLICE Act, for School Lunch Improvements for Children’s Education, has been introduced in response to congressional action last fall ensuring that two tablespoons of tomato paste slathered on pizza could continue to be classified as a full vegetable serving in the federal school lunch program.
"Pizza certainly has its place in school meals, but equating it with broccoli, carrots and celery seriously undermines this nation’s efforts to support children’s health and their ability to learn because of better school nutrition," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a letter to colleagues seeking their support for the measure. "Its nutritional content should be accurately reflected in school meal standards."
Congress’ action last fall drew widespread attention -- and ridicule.
"Daily Show"host Jon Stewart, citing Congress’ struggle to come up with a deficit-reduction plan, joked: "So the one thing that you've all been able to sit down and agree upon is that pizza is a vegetable."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) mused that as candidates hit the campaign trail, maybe voters should "pin them down on whether or not they believe pizza is a vegetable."
But Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, said, "Congress did not declare pizza a vegetable ... and no one has ever, or will ever, ask that pizza be considered a vegetable."
Lawmakers blocked the U.S. Department of Agriculture from requiring that food contain half a cup of tomato paste to qualify as a vegetable serving, he said.
Polis’ bill would allow the department to count 1/8 of a cup of tomato paste as 1/8 of a cup of vegetables instead of as half a cup of vegetables.
The food institute opposes Polis’ bill, saying it would "all but remove foods made with tomato paste from school cafeterias, in spite of the significant nutritional value offered by tomato paste."
“Unfairly downgrading the nutritional classification of tomato paste would have severely hindered the ability of school nutritionists to serve a wide range of healthy, affordable meals that schoolchildren enjoy eating," Henry said in an interview.
Chris Fitzgerald, an aide to Polis, responded: "They got their loophole because they want to sell the school meal program lots of frozen pizza, which is in no way banned from the school meal program by the rule. It just shouldn’t count as a vegetable serving."
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, welcomed Polis’ bill.
"It sends a good message about the importance of healthy school foods, and that these decisions should be based on what’s best for kids, not what’s best for business,’’ she said in an interview.
The issue is expected to come up again soon when the House takes up the annual spending bill for the Department of Agriculture.
But Wootan doesn’t expect Polis’ bill to go far in the current Congress.
Federal government wants to give states more power to combat food stamp fraud
May 24, 2012
Food stamp recipients are ripping off the government for millions of dollars by illegally selling their benefit cards for cash — sometimes even in the open, on eBay or Craigslist — and then asking the government for replacement cards.
The Agriculture Department wants to curb the practice by giving states more power to investigate people who repeatedly claim to lose their benefit cards.
It is proposing new rules Thursday that would allow states to demand formal explanations from people who seek replacement cards more than three times a year. Those who don't comply can be denied further cards.
"Up to this point, the state's hands have been tied unless they absolutely suspected fraudulent activity," said Kevin Concannon, the department's undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.
Overall, food stamp fraud costs taxpayers about $750 million a year, or 1 percent of the $75 billion program that makes up the bulk of the department's total budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Most fraud occurs when unscrupulous retailers allow customers to turn in their benefits cards for lesser amounts of cash. But USDA officials are also concerned about people selling or trading cards in the open market, including through websites.
Last year, the department sent letters urging eBay and Craigslist to notify customers that it's illegal to buy and sell food stamps. USDA officials followed up last month, saying they are still getting complaints that people are using the websites to illegally market food stamps.
Both eBay and Craigslist have told the government they are actively reviewing their sites for illegal activity and would take down ads offering food stamp benefits for cash. The USDA also has warned Facebook and Twitter about the practice.
South Dakota, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., Minnesota and Washington state have the highest percentage of recipients seeking four or more replacement cards over a year. But USDA officials said that doesn't necessarily indicate a high rate of fraud. All states are required by law to reissue lost or stolen cards to those who are eligible for benefits.
Wyoming, Idaho, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Alabama have the lowest percentage of households requesting four or more cards in a 12-month period.
In North Carolina, the state already issues warning letters to people who request four replacement cards in a year, letting them know that officials are monitoring them closely. Dean Simpson, chief of economic family services for the North Carolina Division of Social Services, said the new rules would give her state even more of a boost in curbing food stamp fraud.
"I think it would help with the trafficking and let individuals know they are being observed and watched," said Simpson, who oversees the state's distribution of food stamps.
More than 46 million people receive food stamps, nearly half of them children. The average monthly benefit is $132 per person.
Benefit cards work like debit cards, allowing users to swipe them for food purchases at some 231,000 stores around the country that are authorized to take part in the food stamp program. Once a card is reported lost or stolen, it can be disabled immediately. But the USDA does not require photo identification, since several members of a family, including children, may use the cards at different times.
Concannon stressed that the USDA wants to be sensitive to vulnerable people who may lose their cards for innocent reasons. While it may sound suspicious for someone to lose a card two or three times a year, food stamp recipients include many people who are homeless or have dementia or mental illness, he said.
"Our concern is that in many instances, it may point to a trafficking issue," he said.
Last year, about 850,000 people were investigated for possible food stamp fraud. About 2,000 stores were sanctioned for illegal conduct, and 1,200 stores were permanently removed from the food stamp program.
Large supermarkets are seldom involved in illegal activity, Concannon said. The vast majority of fraud is found in smaller shops and convenience stores.
The USDA is currently developing tougher sanctions and penalties for retailers engaging in food stamp fraud. It is also taking steps to make sure that people disqualified from the program for illegal activity are not able to use it again in other states.