A tarnished animal rights movement

The animal rights movement isn’t having a good year, mainly because the 800-lb. gorillas of the movement aren’t having a good year.  Despite lots of noise and heavy spending, there have been no congressional or state victories of any note, and generally speaking, very little media attention.

A glance at the HSUS website shows press statements boasting cat and horse rescues and urging the residents of Hawaii, as two hurricanes bore down on the islands, “to prepare.”  New Jersey banneds ivory and rhino horn, federally illegal for decades, and HSUS portrays the move as monumental.  PETA continues the tired old “girl-in-a-lettuce-leaf-bikini” publicity stunts, trumpeting endorsements by minor Hollywood types, but to the public and the media, such stunts are becoming so much white noise.

In March, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt opened an investigation into HSUS fundraising in the state connected to the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado relief effort last year and issued a “consumer alert” relative to national animal charities.  Pruitt is talking to other states about conducting similar investigations, according to humanewatch.org.  Oklahoma is one of several states suing California over its egg production law – heavily supported by HSUS – and the state House approved a “right-to-farm” constitutional amendment.

May was a real bugger for HSUS, when it and an army of B List animal rights groups were whacked with a nearly $16-million court judgment won by Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus.  HSUS, et al, sued Feld for abusing its elephants and lost for a whole lot of kind of skeezy reasons; Feld countersued and won.  This comes on the heels of an earlier multimillion judgment in the same case against the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

For his part, HSUS’s Wayne Pacelle said no donor dollars will go to Feld, as insurance will cover “a substantial portion, if not all” of the settlement.  The truth of that statement is again in the hands of courts as HSUS sues various insurance companies for refusing to cover the judgment.  Pacelle confirmed the legal actions in an interview with the Washington Examiner, published July 7, which said:  “Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society’s president and CEO, shrugged off the insurance companies’ refusal to cover the settlement, saying in an interview, ‘denial of coverage is a standard posture within the industry.’  Pacelle, who was previously the organization’s chief lobbyist and spokesman, said they have a ‘commitment’ from one carrier ‘to cover the bulk of what our responsibility is.’”

The original Feld judgment led to even greater public image and perhaps pocketbook injury as Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org), a well-respected national non-profit charity rating group, nixed HSUS’s rating and issued a “donor advisory.”  Charity Navigator explains the advisory: “Charities can receive a Donor Advisory for a variety of reasons such an investigation by the Attorney General, a lawsuit against the charity and an atypical item…reported on the Form 990.  Donor Advisories replace a charity’s rating and typically remain in place for a minimum of a year.  In order for a charity’s rating to be restored, it must provide public domain documentation or similarly reliable and accessible information that demonstrates that the issues identified in the Donor Advisory have been resolved.”  We’ll see.

PETA this week had one of its “undercover” videos blown out of the water, but nonetheless was able to vilify the dairy industry through accusation rather than fact.  The radical animal rights group claimed it had video of a small 30-cow North Carolina dairy showing “emaciated and lame cows trudging through a pool of their own liquefied manure…with excess waste so high that the cows must wade through it up to their knees.”

The state Department of Agriculture rightly conducted an inspection, and short of loose ceiling tiles and some rust in the milking parlor, found no public health hazards and no milk storage problems.  “That area was not similar to what was depicted in some parts of the video,” a department official said.  This was followed by an investigation by county animal control officials who told the Charlotte Observer the PETA complaints of cruelty are unfounded.  Harris Teeter grocery stores, now owned by Kroger, was alleged by PETA to have received milk from the farm.  It got all flustered and issued all kinds of denials before the state officials’ investigations were completed.

Perhaps we’re witnessing classic cases of what goes around comes around, or a manifestation of the old biblical admonition that “pride goeth before a fall.”  PETA doesn’t care – it’s certainly proved that enough times – but in the case of HSUS, it’s clearly a case of the emperor has no clothes, and more people are beginning to notice.

Climate Change Corporate Challenge

Anyone who’s been on the planet longer than 15 or 20 years can’t deny the weather of the last few years has been odd, and in some cases, a little scary.  Droughts are more widespread and last longer; some parts of the country seem to be constantly underwater.  This summer, at least in Washington, DC, is cooler and wetter than what we expect; last winter was milder.  Our local weather coverage treats summer storms and weather fronts as if the next storm could be our last.

Whether caused by the hand of man or the result of natural phenomena, the climate is “changing.”  Whether the change is a five-year or a 50-year shift, steps to adapt are prudent.  If temperatures are trending higher in your part of the world, then crop production and animal husbandry need to accommodate the change; if growing seasons are contracting, steps must be taken.  Whether you believe in climate change or not, if you’re smart, you mitigate risk.  Look to what works elsewhere and adapt it was a message from Cargill a few weeks ago.

If climate change is part of the planet’s normal weather cycle or the product of industrial greed and indifference, I can’t say.  The scientific community is split. One bunch of folks sure climate change is real, long-term and is a slippery road to perdition without immediate heavy shifts in human behavior are those who man the Climate Data Initiative at the White House.  President Obama has identified climate change as a big part of his personal political “legacy.”

This week media buzzed with news General Mills has new policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce water use, primarily through “science-based” changes in how its supply chain operates. It is also committed to support “political action” to stop climate change.  No details were given.  At the same time, the White House gathered Kellogg Corp., Mars, Inc., Nestle USA, Coca-Cola, Monsanto and Walmart – the king of corporate sustainability mandates – along with other corporate giants and announced similar “commitments” from these companies on corporate actions, including supply chain requirements.

Whether the White House is talking to farmers and ranchers, i.e., the “supply chain,” in the context of these corporate proclamations is unclear.  If it’s not, the effort is set to fail or fall far short of hoped-for goals.  Assuming the buyer can force the seller to do whatever it is the buyer wants is wrong, and says to me White House climate mavens have never attended a national producer group meeting.

Jerry Hagstrom, publisher of the daily Hagstrom Report, put it this way in his report on the White House meeting:  “The groups meeting at the White House today do not include farm groups, and it would appear some of the commitments corporations are making would put more pressure on farmers and other suppliers to be more efficient in their uses of water and energy.”

This fuels my concern over how food companies and retailers sometimes relate to the farmers and ranchers who supply them.  Corporate mandates to farmers and ranchers never go down well in the country.  Talk to a dairy processor who tried to order dairy farmers to abandon BST, or a fast food chain ordering a producer to abandon a science-based, proven production practice to appease an activist group, with nary a word about cooperation or financial assistance.

If a company is naïve enough to believe it can lock public relations, sustainability officers and ingredient buyers in a room and come up with a pragmatic set of climate-friendly producer requirements, it will find itself over time buying U.S.-grown ingredients from the Third World.  A handful of years ago I sat in a meeting with some of the same companies attending this week’s White House meeting.  We were discussing on-farm practices in the context of a different issue, but I was frustrated to hear one company rep opine, “If farmers don’t want to do it our way, we just won’t buy from them,” or words to that effect.  You could sense others were thinking the same thing, but were smart enough not speak.

This kind of arrogance bares the inherent flaw in the White House formula:  The disappearance of direct, personal and professional relationships between most national and multinational food companies – and retailers – and the folks who supply them.  Perhaps the good news in all of this is that those lost relationships can be recaptured.

My advice to companies is to play this smart.  Approach this climate change mitigation challenge as a partnership with farmers and ranchers, engaging in discussions with farm and ranch groups immediately about what is achievable in the real world and what may be politically or media attractive, but undoable long term.  Do this before, not after the company has developed supply chain requirements.

The economics of on-farm production, geography, whether crop or animal, the ability of individual producers – no matter how large – to adapt or change production practices is limited not only by economics, but by the very force these companies are trying to control – Mother Nature.  Not every prospective solution that looks good on paper or “should work” actually works in the real world.   The cost of prospective solutions if impractical will have to be borne by one end of the food chain or the other.

Note:  President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative and the corporate role therein can be found by going to the White House website:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/07/29/fact-sheet-empowering-america-s-agricultural-sector-and-strengthening-fo

Gently, Mr. Ryan; security first, rural citizen

A musing and a warning this week, unrelated to one another, but still important.

Sometimes a friend can make your life difficult.  Such is the case with Rep. Paul Ryan (R, WI), unsuccessful vice presidential candidate, a talked-about 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, and the outgoing chair of the House Budget Committee.  Ryan is the man both sides of the aisle credit with being budget thoughtful, and certainly he does not lack the fortitude to put forward strong budget resolutions, then sit at a table with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D, WA), and hammer out what at least looks like a compromise.

So when Ryan this week unveiled his plan to take most federal welfare programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) – you remember it as the food stamp program, proposed cuts to which almost killed the 2014 Farm Bill – and roll them into a new state block grant program, it was less the concept than the details that made me nervous.

Capitol Hill reaction to the plan was as expected; Dems generally scoffed, mid-range Dems and GOPers scratched their heads, and the Tea Party folks did a serious happy dance.  I looked to see how Ryan proposed pay for the cost of this grand transition.

As he did three and four years ago, Ryan looked to the ag budget as one of the deep wells of “unnecessary or outmoded” federal spending into which he could dip to find the money to pay for his scheme.  He would rejigger a number of authorized unrelated as well as ag programs, kill off the Market Access Program (MAP) – a major success story, a program that returns $35 in export sales for every $1 invested by the federal government – and not look back.

I do not pretend to understand the ins and outs of the various federal welfare, food assistance and similar programs, nor do I know what the impact on the states would be, so I can’t comment on the specifics or wisdom of Ryan’s proposal.  But as a Wisconsin Representative with at least a few of rural communities in his district, Ryan would do well to better understand ag spending, and do whatever Treasury raid he contemplates surgically, as with a scalpel, and not ham-handedly, as with a hatchet.

***

Most of you likely aren’t aware that in the state of Washington over the last few months, there have been four reported cases of vandalism to mobile slaughter trucks.  Not just silly spray-painted slogans, but the addition of bleach and acid to the vehicles’ fuel tanks with all of the expected results those “fuel additives” bring.

These vehicle attacks are part of the self-proclaimed “Freedom Summer 2014,” a strategy of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).  It is the ALF which ignores both law and human safety in pursuit of “liberating animals,” seeking to end all animal use in all endeavors.  The group has sent emails taking credit for the temporary out-of-commission status of the trucks, the property of two different companies.  One anonymous grasp at headlines said, “Until the last slaughterhouse truck is idled and the last butcher’s blade is snapped.”  The ALF has always enjoyed drama.

Both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are involved as these acts are violations of the federal criminal code under both agencies’ domestic terrorism law enforcement authority.  This is thanks to the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AETA) enacted in 2003, and its precursor, the Animal Facility Protection Act (AFPA) signed into law in 1991.  Both sets of protection were developed, lobbied and pushed over the finish line by a coalition of animal interests led by the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, and the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR).  Attacks on food and medicine may have been the impetus for the law, but the federal protections extend to all legitimate users of animals.

Most importantly, these attacks give lie to the belief by many in production ag that if you live in or around a small town – “in the middle of nowhere,” as one farmer described his location to me this week – you’re magically protected or immune from such attacks.  The trucks in question are owned by companies in Castle Rock and Battle Ground, Washington.  Castle Rock is about half way between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.  Battle Ground is a small town a far bit north of Seattle.

All operations which make money off the raising, slaughtering, processing and retailing of meat, dairy and poultry should be vigilant.  Walk your operation or review your corporate security plans to ensure you know where the weaknesses are and how to strengthen them.  Talk to your employees, families and local law enforcement about the threat, no matter how remote, so vigilance is high.   Take note of strangers around your facilities. At the very least, install fencing, lights and other security measures. Make sure your hiring practices include thorough and deep background checks on every single employee you hire no matter the status or whether they’re permanent or day labor.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and you likely won’t become a victim.

It’s later than you think

Unless you work in DC, it’s tough to understand some of the unspoken signals that received from Capitol Hill.  In recent days, lobbyists sniffing the air like animals anticipating a storm, immediately understood the latest message:  We’re 100% into the race to October and recess until after the November 4 election.

We’re now feverishly calculating what, if anything, can/will be accomplished between now and the early October recess date.   The man/woman on the street would assume Congress would try and get as much done as possible to have a stellar record at which to point as they campaign.  Not so much; in fact, the mindset is more “do nothing, apologize for nothing.”

Consider the following:   There are less than 80 calendar days until the October 2 target recess date; of that total, there are less than 20 congressional “work days,” keeping mind Congress works a short Tuesday-Thursday week.   This tells us very little will be done prior to 535 members scuttling to airports in October, their party leaders having saved the controversial, the contentious, the ugly and the complex issues until the post-election lame duck session likely to begin just before Thanksgiving and end just before Christmas.

I heard this week the House GOP leadership told its caucus members to collect all solid candidates for what’s called the suspension calendar.  This means bills so noncontroversial, American and apple pie that 218 votes – a majority of the House – is a given.  Similarly, Senate leadership is putting together a list of noncontroversial issues and presidential appointments – judges, cabinet folks, and members of commissions, boards and the like, as well as the odd ambassador – to  fill its calendar so as to appear busy.

As the end-of-July drop-dead date pre-August recess approaches, there will appear to be a frenzy of legislative activity because Congress acts only with a looming deadline.   The same will happen toward the end of September as the October recess approaches.  Whether all of the activity and noise leads to achievement is anyone’s guess at this point.

Major legislation that must be done includes the bill to give the administration more money to deal with the Texas immigration crisis. This issue will consume the rest of July.  While there will be lots of public outcry, with noise very similar to that surrounding the broader immigration reform debate, this action should not be confused with comprehensive immigration reform, because that won’t be happening.  Reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) will be achieved, but FY2014 spending bills are dead in the water.  Short of a miracle of bipartisanship and compromise, Congress will act in September to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running until well after the November election.  Even then, it’s likely very few individual spending bills will be passed, rather another omnibus spending package will be enacted.

There will be no action to modify or repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and while the House continues to tack language onto bills to curtail EPA rulemakings on Clean Water Act (CWA) authority and greenhouse gas/carbon capture, the Senate will ignore those efforts.  There will be no legislative remedies to FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rulemakings, and no energy legislation of any substance will see the light of day.  This week it also became clear reauthorization of federal highway programs, those that fund state highway, bridge and urban commuter projects, could be reauthorized, likely during lame duck.  Pre-election may see a short-term funding “fix” for the near-bankrupt Highway Trust Fund (HTF) through March or May, 2015, but no long-term funding solution.

Any legislative action in the lame duck session, of course, depends on how the numbers fall in November.  If voters decide they like the GOP House, Democrat Senate set-up, it’s pretty the same ballgame.

However, while the House looks pretty safe for Republicans right now, if the GOP takes the Senate, then the lame duck could be the shortest in history.   Only absolute must-pass legislation, such as an omnibus spending package, will be done; the rest will get punted into the 114th Congress in January.  No Senate Republican will be of a mind to give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) any kind of “legacy” wins.

For lobbyists — and I think the public at large — the good news is that anything not accomplished by the end of the session dies.  All bills must be reintroduced, but all mischief ended.

Vermont’s Avenging Angel of Technology

I was fortunate this week to meet a woman named Joanna Lidbak. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy in this fact, save for where I met her and who she is.  She was a witness for the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) as a Vermont member of Agri-Mark, Inc. at a House Agriculture Committee subcommittee hearing on the “societal benefits of biotechnology.”  She was the only witness who didn’t have a PhD, nor a teaching/research position at a major university.  I wish there were a million more like her out there.

Her resume puts me and most I know to shame; consider the following next time you even think about complaining you have too much to do and not enough time:

Ms. Lidbak and her husband are first-generation farmers, running a 45-cow dairy in northeast Vermont.  They rent 200 acres from her husband’s aunt and uncle, cut extra hay, raise/process Jersey steers for local beef sales, and sell a bit of composted manure.  There are two young sons involved – a  three-year old and one just sixteen months – and she has a full-time job with a farm credit association, she’s first vice president of the county farm bureau, and a dairy cattle judge for youth and 4-H dairy shows across New England.   She’s got a degree in agri-business management and a master’s in business administration.  Did I mention she’s got a serious blog?  Yes, it’s called farmlifelove.com, and she’s on every social media outlet there is.  Go there, read it, tweet her, follow her.

She hauled herself to Washington, DC, ostensibly to talk about the benefits of biotechnology to both farmers and consumers, but delivered, I think, one of the most eloquent, simple and well-reasoned strategies for dealing with the average Joe and Jane naysayer about technology in agriculture broadly.  Her message was simple:   Without the technologies allowing her and her husband to grow corn in a short season, use genomic cattle testing, maintain and enhance animal welfare and health, keep their land fresh for pasture, control production costs so they can produce high quality, safe and affordable foods, they’d be out of business.

Empathy was evident in her testimony when she stated so much of the “information” the average consumer carries into a supermarket about biotech, animal welfare, organic versus conventional is misinformation, gleaned from social media, irresponsible or lazy general media or promoted by one activist group or another.  “No one likes to be told their wrong,” she said to me in a short conversation after the hearing.  “People don’t like to be told what they believe to be true isn’t.  You have to be patient, listen, provide direct information directly, and hope they have an open mind.”   Biotech companies, food companies, are you listening?

She’s an equal opportunity farmer, believing there’s room for as many kinds of farming and ranching as there are folks who want to engage.  Her egalitarianism extends to her organic producer neighbors, and to support her community she’ll buy their products at farmers’ markets.  However, she draws the line at buying organic in supermarkets.  “I generally do not believe in paying the higher premium for these foods because they provide no added nutritional or other health benefits.  With a growing family and a growing farm business, we have lots of other places to spend our hard-earned money,” she said in her hearing testimony.  I love her for that philosophy alone.

I’ve been to her blog a couple of times and she’s being attacked as a “traitor” on Twitter by the anti-technology, label-everything gang for even testifying.  Based on her responses, she’s taking it all in stride.   When it comes to accusations the use of technologies is not “sustainable,” here’s her take:

“To us, sustainability means living and farming in a way that meets today’s needs while ensuring future generations also can meet their needs.  Every time I look into my sons’ eyes, I realize they are that next generation, which makes our responsibility that much more tangible.”

Her plans?  Here’s what she told the House subcommittee:

“I am happy to continue to speak up for our right to farm in the best way we know possible, which in our case includes biotechnology and the use of GMOs.  I will continue to pursue an active presence (on social media)…via newspapers, church meetings or everyday conversations, sharing articles and ideas along with my knowledge about the opportunities and challenges we face as modern-day farmers and parents.  If I reach one person or 10 people reach out to me for a question or appreciating my hands-on and practical perspective from farm, then I have succeeded.  And I have.”

I wish there were a million more like her.

The full House Agriculture Committee biotech hearing video and testimony can be found here:

http://agriculture.house.gov/press-release/subcommittee-highlights-benefits-biotechnology

The House v. President Barack Obama

House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) this week announced he’ll introduce a bill to instruct the House General Counsel to sue President Obama for failure to “faithfully execute his oath of office” to “protect our system of government and our economy from continued executive abuse.”

Blame it on the upcoming midterm elections and the GOP’s manic zeal to retain the House and take control of the Senate, or agree with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) it’s all just “subterfuge” to distract from a do-nothing Congress, anyway you cut it, this is not action to be taken lightly.

This shouldn’t have been such a shocker.  In March, a House bill to make it easier to sue a sitting President was approved 233-181, a party line vote save for five Dems who jumped on the GOP train.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) said the measure was “dead on arrival” in the Senate; the President vowed to veto it if it ever landed on his desk.

This week White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters: “They are considering a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against the President of the United States for doing his job.  This lawsuit is nothing that’s going to consume the attention of the White House,” adding “we feel completely confident” the President acted in his authority.”  For himself, President Obama says he “works around Congress” because he must when the legislative branch refuses or can’t act on issues of the day.

The legal action is being taken, Boehner said, because President Obama “ignores some statutes completely, selectively enforces others, and at times, creates laws of his own.”  He cited Obama actions on the health care law, gay marriage, climate/energy, foreign policy, education and immigration where “President Obama has repeatedly run an end-around on the American people and their elected legislators…”

“If the current President can selectively enforce, change or create laws as he chooses with impunity…his successors will do the same…giving the president king-like authority at the expense of the American people,” the Ohio lawmaker said, adding he’s constantly asked by citizens why the House hasn’t acted before now.  “We elected a president, Americans note; we didn’t elect a monarch or a king,” he says.

This comes down to Boehner’s faith in the judicial branch of government to referee a dispute between the legislative and executive branches, and that the outcome will somehow change the hearts and minds of parties on both sides of this dispute.  The House can take this action only if it can demonstrate no one else can challenge the President, harm is being done to the general welfare and trust in execution of the law, there is no legislative remedy, and there’s “explicit House authorization for the lawsuit, through a vote authorizing litigation against the President.”

I see both sides of this issue, but I’ve still not fully digested the implications of the suit per se, nor the implications of the President losing, or for that matter, the House losing the suit.

Frustration with Congress being unable to find its backend with both hands and flashlight is palpable in this town and across the country.  I empathize with the President.  The likes of Reid and Boehner automatically rejecting the actions of the opposite chamber for purely partisan reasons is childish and short-sighted.  Immigration reform is an excellent example; there’s no logical reason the House should continue to reject out-of-hand the Senate’s comprehensive, bipartisan reform bill.

However, impatience and frustration with the system are no justification to ignore the law you’ve sworn to uphold.  We are all taught that without the rule of law and a citizenry which obeys the law, we’d have chaos.  The President is an attorney who taught constitutional law.  Shouldn’t he be the model to whom we turn?  But he almost boasts when he ignores chunks of this or that law, modifies enacted bills to suit his own interpretation of what they should require rather than what they do say and require, and he effectively creates “orders” with the force of law as if Congress didn’t exist.

The President, Boehner and the rest of Congress weren’t elected because we all truly believe these are the smartest people in the room all the time.  We deemed them the best of who was on the ballot at the time; implicit in that is our assumption they should be smart enough to sit down is a room, check their egos and partisanship at the door and work this stuff out without all the schoolyard taunts, name calling and the blame game.  Certainly extra-legal actions are unnecessary on both sides.

Said President Franklin D. Roosevelt:  “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

So who’s Kevin McCarthy?

Rep. Kevin Owen McCarthy (R, CA), 49, the small businessman with an MBA representing the 23rd District of California and current House majority whip, moves up to the number two GOP leadership slot on August 1.  Elected House majority leader this week by an overwhelming majority, McCarthy, first elected in 2006, has for four years been the boyish gray-haired acolyte standing in the background at House Speaker John Boehner’s (R, OH) press conferences.

It was sitting Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R, VA) stunning defeat in the state GOP primary a couple of weeks ago that gave McCarthy his shot at becoming second-in-command of the House GOP caucus. It also maintains his distinction as having risen to House leadership faster than any other member in the history of the U.S. Congress.

Here’s how the Clerk of the House describes the majority leader’s job:  “…scheduling legislation for floor consideration; planning the daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consulting with Members to gauge party sentiment; and, in general, working to advance the goals of the majority party.”

As majority whip – the most thankless job in leadership – it fell to McCarthy to keep the troops in line on legislation moving to the floor.  One news report refers to him as “manically social,” and this affability may be why he was able to pull off the job of bridging a caucus with conservatives on one end who claim they don’t care if they’re reelected in pursuit of their ideological goals, to the opposite pole, homeland to more “liberal” Republicans, those who cynics refer to as “Republicans in name only” (RINOs).

Cantor’s departure is not mourned by most national agriculture groups who put the blame for two years of Farm Bill delay squarely on his shoulders a sign of the low priority he assigned food and agriculture generally. As to McCarthy, so far these same groups view his ascension with cautious optimism.

McCarthy doesn’t hold an agriculture committee seat – he sits on the Financial Services Committee – but as the grandson of a California cattleman, he represents a district north and east of Los Angeles, extending to the heart of the state’s Central Valley, the nation’s “salad bowl.”  The largest industry in his district is agriculture yielding cotton, citrus, grapes, all things found on salad bars, alfalfa, sheep and cattle.  The second biggest industry in the 23rd District is energy, and one county – Kern County – produces more oil in a year than the state of Oklahoma, says McCarthy’s official website.

Given the economic makeup of his district, it shouldn’t surprise anyone McCarthy understands the need for immigrant labor to plant and harvest crops, work dairies and processing plants.  He supports a pathway to legal status for undocumented workers as part of federal immigration reform.  Some say this positon is a political ticking time bomb; others say McCarthy is representing the folks who voted for him.

The media say McCarthy holds many of the same political views as Cantor.  However, the difference is Cantor always seemed to be working for Cantor, an impression confirmed by his district’s primary vote.  McCarthy seems to understand his success is a direct result of GOP success.  I met him briefly back when he was the youngest Republican leader in the California Assembly.  Definitely a nice guy, he struck me as a “moderate conservative,” definitely right of center but a pragmatic Republican in the Boehner mold.   Unlike Cantor – who Boehner publicly referred to as his “friend and colleague” – McCarthy and the Speaker are personally closer.  McCarthy is a team player; Boehner won’t have to look over his shoulder to see what his majority leader may be doing or saying and to whom.

Boehner says he’ll run for a third term as Speaker if the House stays in GOP control come the November election.  McCarthy, who won reelection in 2012 with nearly 74% of the vote, will come in as his heir apparent.

Nearly all sources of various political persuasions interviewed in the post-leadership election stories on McCarthy’s win calls him as “a nice guy,” “a gentleman,” and on and on.  Worse things can be said, but don’t forget no one rises from deli owner in Bakersfield, to the youngest GOP leader in the California assembly to freshman House member, to House majority leader if they’re not politically gifted, wicked smart, a bit “clever” and tough.  Fingers crossed.

Too much Eric Cantor

As a chronic victim of Potomac fever, I watched House Republicans and Democrats duke it out this week over their chamber’s version of the FY2015 agriculture/FDA spending bill.  My interest was admittedly disproportionate to most C-Span viewers as there were expected amendments I was working to kill.

The floor debate was a good old back and forth, one side accusing the other of any number of sins against the American people, but generally said in the nicest possible way.  The big issue was House GOP language allowing schools/school districts to obtain waivers allowing them to opt out of the new federal school breakfast and lunch nutrition requirements – more fruits and veggies, “local” purchases, etc. – if they could show a net operating loss for a six-month period going back to July, 2013.  Many schools say they’re losing money, the foods are too expensive and hard to find, and when they do serve the new USDA menu, kids won’t eat the food and throw the lunches away.

Facing down the schools was none other than First Lady Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” program designed to head off/reduce childhood obesity.  Her minions kept pointing at the “science” underlying the new menus.   Her former White House assistant chef Sam Kass, now unexplainably a senior advisor to the President on food policy, kept admonishing folks to “follow the science,” and Rep. Sam Farr (D, CA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on agriculture, was his acolyte, pushing an amendment to strip the waiver language from the bill.

As the GOP assured one and all they aren’t trying to force kids to eat cake, candy and sugar-laden soda pop for lunch, and as the Democrats tried to convince everyone they stand on the side of the angels in retraining children what to eat, the House Republican leadership pulled the plug on the debate.  Why?  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R, VA) lost the Virginia Republican primary to a college professor, or as I like to call it, the best example of what goes around, comes around in quite a while.

The first scheduling announcement said debate would resume next week; then late Thursday, it was formally declared the bill was off the floor schedule indefinitely and “may be taken up at some later time this summer.”   One House GOP staffer told me senior Republicans on the floor were “emotional and distracted” by Cantor’s stunning defeat, and the GOP needed to “regroup” to move on.  A Democrat staffer, acknowledging the Cantor defeat was unsettling, said scuttling the bill had more to do with potentially losing the vote on school lunch waivers.

Cantor’s fate is admittedly a game changer of sorts in the House.  I still blame Cantor for mishandling of the floor action on the House Farm Bill that delayed that legislation for over a year in his zeal to cut federal food stamp rolls, a rather extreme example of politics over policy.  Street talk say Cantor plays to the ultraconservative side of the House and had his sights set on becoming House Speaker one day.  House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) speaking to reporters with unusual candor this week, said all the right things about his “friend and colleague,” but refused to get sucked into the “why” of Cantor’s defeat, declaring “it’s just one election” and “they’re all different,” and saying the Majority Leader would be chosen – as such folks are always chosen – by a vote of the caucus.

The original one-hour debate recess so Republicans could meet, assess, talk process, etc., made sense, but the scheduling did not.  What also surprises me is unending dithering by reporters, Democrats and other Republicans over why Cantor lost, what his defeat means to the party nationally and its prospects in the November elections, and what the fate of the free world might be with Cantor out of House leadership.

Being the round-headed Midwesterner I am, and being one of those who prefer to view most glasses as half full, I think House GOP leadership has indefinitely delayed the bill to “regroup” over how to win the school lunch battles, and ultimately, pass the bill it wants to pass.  Unfortunately, an analysis by an appropriations committee veteran, now an industry lobbyist, is probably the correct one.

She contends House ag approps won’t come back to the floor, but rather will become part of an omnibus FY2015 spending package – all the spending bills too controversial to make it on their own. This “minibus” will be rushed through the process during the post-election lame duck session.  If she’s right, chalk it up to another opportunity lost.

Inside D.C.

I’ve spent the morning talking biotechnology policy issues specifically and food production/processing technologies generally, mostly in the context of prospective congressional hearings to talk about various societal impacts of and political issues surrounding biotech. The morning’s discussion has generated a tremendous frustration with those who oppose food production technology advances, basing their views on little more than rumors/propaganda/urban myths they’ve picked up on social media.

Biotechnology and its implications for the betterment of the planet are issues I’ve been involved in for over 25 years, back to the days when I was a reporter/editor. To be able to scientifically and safely improve plants and animals which feed us by eliminating diseases, overcoming the need for chemicals, to get crops to grow and move to market faster, or to discover crops and animals which can survive and thrive in environments which heretofore wouldn’t support food production is breathtaking in its implications for the overall future of the planet.

I’ve represented the company which proved livestock cloning could create a genetic twin of the barnyard rock stars and do it safely. I’ve taken on other “challenges” in shepherding biotech applications through the FDA approval process while holding off congressional interference in what’s supposed to be an objective, science-based review of safety and efficacy. I’ve worked biotech issues for so long I feel like I’ve earned a PhD in genetics.

This experience taught me most folks are schizophrenic about technology. If a biotech company announced today FDA has approved a biotech-derived cure for or a vaccine against cancer, Alzheimers or HIV-AIDS, the world – and the media – would cheer. Make the same announcement about a faster growing, drought-tolerant, saline-tolerant, insecticide/herbicide-resistant plant variety, and the opponents would be out in force – with full media attention — filing complaints and lawsuits, seeking legislation to ban the products and generally scaring the crap out of the general public. Make an announcement about a genetically improved cow, pig, sheep or other four-legged food animal, and morally superior among our activist friends would declare war.
Biotech has benefitted this country for going on 40 years. Folks forget or never knew the entire wine industry is the result of plant cloning. They forget biotechnology benefits corn and soybean production to the point over 90% of those crops are biotech varieties, removing millions of gallons and thousands of pounds of chemicals from the growing process. Because of these successes those who scream for the labeling of genetically modified foods should understand their demand would result in about 95% of U.S. food production being labeled.

What disturbs me most are folks who purport to be bright individuals, but who are in a position to withhold technology benefits for the rest of us based on their “personal discomfort.” I’ve listened to members of the House and Senate say they’re “uncomfortable” with a technology breakthrough, or as one senior Senator said, “I don’t want to eat a Dollyburger.” Well, Senator, then don’t. Last time I looked there was no one forcing you to accept the product of any technology with which you aren’t personally at east.

However, lawmakers aren’t elected to make technology decisions for the rest of us based on their personal views. They were elected to evaluate the process, the agency deciding safety, efficacy and equivalence, and to make the best objective policy decision on behalf of their state or district.

I understand being skeptical because something sounds “too new,” odd or is out of your comfort zone. However, commonsense should prevail along with a personal responsibility to learn, and trust in those whose job it is to evaluate and approve or disapprove the technology.

My mother used to tell my brothers and me that when the Salk oral polio vaccine was developed, she wasn’t sure she wanted her boys “drinking that stuff.” I did, and I’m glad I did. My mother didn’t let her “discomfort” get in the way. She read every word she could find on Dr. Salk’s breakthrough and did the smart thing.

Next week it’s all EPA all the time

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has to be wishing next week was over already. It’s expected on June 2, she’ll roll out the incredibly controversial first-ever federal attempt to regulate and limit greenhouse gases (GHG). Then, likely midweek, she gets to announce her agency’s final decision on how much ethanol and other biofuels must be blended with gasoline during the rest of 2014, and probably into 2015.

This second major announcement will cap months of furious lobbying by the biofuels industry, stunned last November when EPA announced it would ignore the statutory levels for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and recommend reducing how much corn ethanol, biodiesel (plant or animal-based), renewable diesel and non-corn ethanol must be blended with gasoline in 2014.

For the livestock and poultry industries the silent prayer is EPA will stick to its guns and roll back to 13 billion gallons the amount of corn ethanol that must be blended. However, word on the street is the proposed 13 billion gallon mandate will edge up to 13.6 billion gallons or thereabouts when the final announcement is made. EPA’s reasoning will be that last fall, gasoline consumption numbers were way down, so to avoid the so-called “blend wall” – the point at which a refiner, to meet the total number of gallons it must legally blend, has to blend at a rate higher than the 10% legal maximum – the agency drastically reduced the RFS mandate. Today, gasoline demand numbers are up, so more ethanol will be needed. McCarthy has hinted at this shift for weeks in speeches and appearances on Capitol Hill.

For advanced biofuels – biodiesel, renewable diesel, cellulosic ethanol, sugar-based ethanol – the overall RFS mandate will be around 2.2 billion gallons, insiders say. Of that, the biodiesel RFS will be stay very close to the proposed 1.28 billion gallons, and if true, this will be a major disappointment for the biodiesel industry because it’s production this year is expected to be north of 1.7 billion gallons where it believes the RFS should be set.

The political fall out of the RFS announcement will be renewed calls for “fixing” the RFS. Most agree Congress was wrong to set in law specific gallon figures for the annual RFS mandate. However, among those who believe corn ethanol is the single largest cause of the last two years’ run-up in meat prices, the diehards want the RFS repealed, with those claiming the middle ground on this issue wanting to see at the very least an update in the formula for RFS calculation, with a “trigger” based on available corn stocks, requiring the RFS be waived in whole or in part.

On the GHG proposed regulation, this maiden attempt will aim at existing coal-fired power plants for two reasons. First, the President has apparently decided that controlling climate change will a big part of his presidential “legacy.” And if that’s the case, then it’s logical to go after the nation’s largest source of carbon and GHG emissions and that would be public utilities. The opposition is fierce – utilities and general industry – are throwing out number after number on increased costs of electricity to consumers, lost jobs and a major hit to the economy overall.

It’s important to watch how this plays out. In true Obama fashion, he’s first gone after the giant in the GHG game. If he can successfully get emissions control/technology rules on the books for existing power plants, then it’s a lot easier to roll up rules on future power plants, and then to impose similar rules on all other GHG emitters. However, there are those so convinced EPA is overstepping its legal authority with this rulemaking that lawsuits will abound, likely holding up any final rulemaking until well after President Obama has retired.

For production agriculture, the largest GHG source is the animals we raise. The good news on this front is the White House has said publicly more than once it won’t try and regulate the GHG emissions from this nation’s livestock and poultry farms, but rather work on a voluntary approach to get technology on farm that will aim at cutting emissions 25% in the next six years. It’s unclear how the rest of the food chain will fare.

Next week will seem like all EPA all the time. Let’s just hope Ms. McCarthy has a good public relations team trained and ready and can keep her talking points straight.