A group of 57 agricultural organizations sent a letter to Congress supporting President Barack Obama’s initiative to double U.S. exports within five years. The organizations said they believe the most effective means of reaching this goal is for Congress to pass the pending free trade agreements (FTAs) with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has estimated these three FTAs would increase U.S. agricultural exports by $3 billion. The organizations reminded Congress that other countries are not waiting on the U.S. to pass our trade agreements. The letter said, “While the U.S. continues to debate approval of its FTA with South Korea, that country has already concluded, is negotiating or is planning FTAs with the ASEAN (10 countries), Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, the European Union (27 nations), India, Japan, Mexico, Mercosur (four nations), Peru, Pakistan and Russia.” According to the World Trade Organization, there were 230 bilateral or regional trade agreements in place at the end of 2008. The United States was a party to 17 of these agreements. Those organizations signing the letter included American Farm Bureau Federation, American Meat Institute, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Corn Growers Association, National Grange, National Meat Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Pork Producers Council, and National Turkey Federation.
Senators Urge USDA to Reopen China for U.S. Pork — It has been five months since China pledged to reopen its markets to U.S. pork. Thus, 22 U.S. Senators in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, “We believe it is important that China honor the agreement to open its export market to U.S. pork and we urge you to do everything within your means to ensure this market is reopened as promised.” This is becoming more critical now that Canada and China have reached an agreement. Those Senators signing the letter were Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD), Kit Bond (R-MO), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), George Voinovich (R-OH), Roland Burris (D-IL), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Richard Burr (R-NC), Al Franken (D-MN), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Max Baucus (D-MT), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and Evan Bayh (D-IN).
Eliminate Market Access Programs – Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA) and Scott Garret (R-NJ) have introduced H.R. 4683, “Scrap the MAP Act,” which would eliminate the Market Access Program (MAP). As in the past, the National Taxpayers Union, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste and Taxpayers for Commence Sense have endorsed the legislation. The MAP program has been successfully used by U.S. agriculture to promote agricultural products overseas. MAP was reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill.
School Lunch Priorities – Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has outlined the administration’s priorities for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. Vilsack said, “The health of our nation – of our economy, our national security, and our communities – depends on the health of our children. We will not succeed if any of our children aren’t learning as they should because they are hungry and cannot achieve their potential because they aren’t healthy.” The administration wants to improve the nutritional quality of the meals served children in the school lunch and breakfast programs. Specific priorities include:
• Establishing improved nutrition standards for school meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and taking additional steps to ensure compliance with these standards;
• Providing tools to increase participation in the school nutrition programs, streamline applications and eliminate gap periods;
• Providing parents and students better information about school nutrition and meal quality to provide education about healthy eating;
• Creating national baseline standards for all foods sold in elementary, middle, and high schools to ensure they contribute effectively to a healthy diet;
• Promoting increased consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low- and fat-free dairy products, and providing additional financial support in the form of reimbursement rate increases for schools that enhance nutrition and quality;
• Strengthening school wellness policy implementation and promoting physical activity in schools;
• Ensuring that child nutrition professionals have the skills to serve top-quality meals that are both healthful and appealing to their student customers;
• Helping schools with financial assistance to purchase equipment needed to produce healthy, attractive meals; and
• Expanding the current requirements of the food safety program to all facilities where food is stored, prepared and served.
P. Scott Shearer