Pope, Presidents and Politics
Washington, D.C is high profile in national and international headlines this week. Pope Francis comes from Cuba to Washington to meet with President Obama, address Congress, speak to huge crowds on the Mall, conduct mass and participate in several meetings. On the heels of the Pope’s tour comes President Xi Jinping of China for meetings with President Obama and congressional leaders. Liberals in the nation’s capital hope the Pope will address poverty, immigration and climate change. Conservatives hope the Pope will have abortion, selling fetal tissue, tax dollars to Planned Parenthood and the moral fabric of the nation on his agenda. Lawmakers are hopeful the dialogue with Chinese President Xi includes common agricultural objectives, trade and science-based regulatory decision-making for biotech crops and grains.
Waters of the Unites States (WOTUS) Rule Opposition Grows
The 197-page regulation from the EPA and Corps of Engineers designed to control practically all waters and land mass in the country has received a barrage of opposition from many quarters. A federal judge in North Dakota blocked the implementation of WOTUS in 13 states. At total of 31 states and a dozen farmer, rancher, land owner and business organizations have filed various legal actions for WOTUS relief. The House of Representatives has approved a bill to block the bill. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed S. 1140 to kill the rule but supporters are still looking for the 60 votes necessary to move it to the floor. The best chance of blocking the rule short term is likely to be an appropriations rider that would bar funding for the rule’s implementation during fiscal 2016.
Could the Monarch Butterfly be a Naturally Occurring GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)?
Research with DNA is opening up all kinds of new frontiers. Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is a molecule which contains the genetic instructions that makes each species unique. DNA samples have become routine in criminal investigations to identify individuals. Genetic markers, called DNA barcodes, are the latest technology used to identify the genetic origin of plants, animals, bacteria and fungi. The food industry is poised to use DNA barcodes to test authenticity of an ingredient or whether a food might be contaminated by microbes or an allergen. A monarch butterfly’s genome contains DNA sequences that come from another species of insect. Researchers in Spain and France found that a particular species of parasitic wasps has the ability to inject viral DNA into the caterpillar and the monarch butterfly that emerges will have its genetic makeup altered by the wasp through a process known as Horizontal Gene Transfer. The GMO monarch’s offspring are now better able to build immune defenses against the egg-laying wasp.
Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has concluded hearing arguments from Canada and Mexico regarding the amounts of retaliatory tariffs to be levied against the United States stemming from the country of origin labeling dispute. Previously, in four separate rulings, WTO confirmed the U.S. law requiring label disclosure of where animals were born, raised and harvested was protectionist and gave less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock. Canada and Mexico are seeking combined retaliatory tariffs of about $3 billion annually. A final ruling on the arbitration is expected in November. The House of Representatives voted in June to repeal COOL. The Senate is considering a separate bill to replace COOL with a voluntary label specifying born and raised in the USA.
Rail Service Improving for 2015 Harvest
The frustration from inconsistent and tardy rail service that plagued the 2013 and 2014 harvests doesn’t appear to be a factor for the fall of 2015. Elevator operators are reporting good availability of rail cars and cooperation from the railroads. This is a stark contrast to reports in 2013-14. The seven largest railroads are expected to spend a combined $29 billion on network improvements this year. That’s almost as much as the $35 billion from the Highway Trust Fund for the federal interstate system.
Laid-Off Workers Shun Ag Jobs
With crude oil prices in the tank and oil field workers out of jobs, one would think AG jobs, even at lower pay, would be an attractive alternative to unemployment. Not so say farmers and ranchers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada. Ag jobs such as livestock handling, equipment operation, truck driving and welding seem to be of little interest to laid-off roughnecks. The workers have been accustomed to wages up to $25/hour and are drawing Canadian employment insurance benefits until those benefits expire.
If Your Health Insurance is Great, Watch Out for the “Cadillac” Tax
Beginning in 2018, a 40 percent non-deductible excise tax on high cost health plans goes into effect. Under the Affordable Care Act, both fully insured and self-funded employer health plans will be assessed a 40 percent tax on the dollar amount of any employee premium that exceeds the annual limits of $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. These amounts do include employer and employee contributions to flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts.
Congress to Reauthorize Mandatory Price Reporting
The Senate has approved reauthorization for USDA to continue to require meat packers to report the prices they pay for cattle, hogs and lambs, and the prices they receive for wholesale meat cuts. The Senate also reauthorized grain inspection standards which are necessary for grains entering the export market. The House has already passed similar reauthorization. Previous authorization for both services expires at the end of this fiscal year September 30.
What Else is Your Grange Working On?
Tele Med Act – To allow a Medicare physician licensed in one state to treat a Medicare patient regardless of location.
Spectrum Reallocation – Legislation to reallocate spectrum (broadband connectivity) from unused government licenses to commercial (and rural) broadband.
Medicare Part D and Part 340B issues.
Patent Reform – To protect patents from infringement and frivolous lawsuits
Modernizing the Universal Lifeline Program – Continue to guarantee low cost phone service to the nation’s most vulnerable and needy citizens.
149th Annual Convention – Lincoln, Nebraska November 10–14, 2015.