Tag Archives: USDA

Tyson, one of the country’s largest meatpackers, is petitioning the Trump administration to reduce the number of government inspectors at a Kansas beef plant — a proposal that has raised alarms among some consumer and food safety advocates, who fear the changes could jeopardize public health.

In the request, Tyson Fresh Meats proposes using its own employees, rather than independent Department of Agriculture inspectors, to take a first look at the meat being prepared at its factory in Holcomb, Kansas. Tyson’s employees would identify unsuitable beef carcasses and trim away defects, before USDA inspectors check every carcass that is allowed to go forward for disease and contamination, Tyson said in its March waiver proposal, which was obtained by the advocacy group Food and Water Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request. The shift would allow Tyson to speed up its factory line.

The USDA is considering Tyson’s request — the first of its kind for a beef plant — as part of a broader overhaul of beef inspections that aims to shift quality control from government inspectors to factory workers, while focusing the USDA’s attention on more targeted safety checks.

“We have to utilize our resources in order to do those tasks that have a direct impact on public health,” Carmen Rottenberg, administrator for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said.

Image: Workers sit outside the Tyson Fresh Meats processing plant after a fire damaged the facility in Holcomb, Kansas, on Aug. 12, 2019.
Workers sit outside the Tyson Fresh Meats processing plant after a fire damaged the facility in Holcomb, Kansas, in August 2019.Adam Shrimplin / Reuters

Consumer advocates warn that the changes could threaten food safety by keeping red flags out of the sight of expert inspectors. Dr. Pat Basu, the USDA’s former chief veterinarian, said that Tyson factory workers without adequate training might miss critical signs of disease, drug injections or bacterial contamination — and remove the evidence before USDA inspectors can examine the carcasses.

“They are bypassing safeguards,” Basu, who retired from the USDA in early 2018, said. “It could be devastating for the whole country — you cannot turn it over.”

Tyson’s request comes as the Trump administration is finalizing a similar overhaul for pork plants, which will allow them to reduce the number of USDA inspectors by having factory workers take over more quality control tasks.

James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center for Progressive Reform, believes the USDA’s efforts are the latest example of federal agencies “moving forward further and further towards industry-led oversight.” Industries play a significant role in the routine work performed by many regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, which has manufacturers test new drugs, then send the results to the government for approval. But Goodwin warns that the hazards of the broader shift are clear, pointing to the Federal Aviation Administration’s practice of delegating critical safety assessments of planes to the airline industry — a policy that’s now under investigation in the case of the fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes.

Tyson declined to answer specific questions, but emphasized that the company was “proactive” in working with USDA officials to alter the inspection process.

“Tyson Foods is committed to ensuring a safe work environment for our team members, food safety for our consumers, and responsible care and treatment for animals in our supply chain,” the company said in a statement.

The company is currently rebuilding the Holcomb plant, which stopped production last week after being damaged in a fire.

A decision made behind closed doors

The USDA has been testing these changes in pork and poultry plants since the late 1990s, through pilot programs based on extensive public input.

But the administration isn’t planning to create a formal pilot program to overhaul beef inspections, which in the past has created opportunities for public comment. Instead, USDA officials said they would rely on individual company requests like Tyson’s to inform the agency’s next steps, praising the industry’s role in driving innovation.

“If you have an interest in waiving the regulation to test a new technology or approach, then we’re happy to consider that,” Rottenberg said.

Food safety advocates have slammed the USDA for making such decisions behind closed doors, without public input. The agency has privately met with beef industry representatives at least six times since May 2018, according to public calendar records. Tyson, which attended two of those meetings, spent more on lobbying and campaign contributions than almost any other meatpacking company in 2018, according to data from OpenSecrets.org.

A Wisconsin lawmaker is demanding changes to Department of Agriculture trade aid distributions. Democrat Ron Kind, a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin, says the current Market Facilitation Program favors large farmers.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Kind says a study shows the top one percent of large farms received an average of $183,000 in trade aid, while the bottom eighty percent received under $5,000, on average. Additionally, 82 large farms received more than $500,000 and 95 percent of all payments went to the top 50 percent of farms.

The report also found that over $38 million in payments were sent to those living in large U.S. cities. In the letter, Representative Kind asked Secretary Perdue to outline what changes USDA would be making to ensure the second trade aid package is “effectively spending taxpayer dollars” and ensure the payments will be provided “solely to farmers facing the current difficult trade environment to export their products abroad.” USDA expects to send the next of payments soon.

Corn was rated 57% in good-to-excellent condition and soybean condition was rated 54%, both unchanged from the previous week, according to this week’s USDA NASS Crop Progress report.

Corn silking was estimated at 90%, and corn in the dough stage was 39%. Soybeans blooming were pegged at 82%, and soybeans setting pods reached 54%.

Check this page throughout the afternoon for additional highlights from this week’s report.

To view weekly crop progress reports issued by National Ag Statistics Service offices in individual states, visit http://www.nass.usda.gov/…. Look for the U.S. map in the “Find Data and Reports by” section and choose the state you wish to view in the drop-down menu. Then look for that state’s “Crop Progress & Condition” report.

Clay Patton breaks down the report here: https://post.futurimedia.com/krvnam/playlist/futures-one-crop-progress-report-a-snack-for-the-bulls-7386.html

National Crop Progress Summary
This Last Last 5-Year
Week Week Year Avg.
Corn Silking 90 78 96 97
Corn Dough 39 23 71 61
Corn Dented 7 NA 24 16
Soybeans Blooming 82 72 95 93
Soybeans Setting Pods 54 37 83 76
Winter Wheat Harvested 89 82 93 96
Spring Wheat Harvested 8 2 32 30
Cotton Setting Bolls 77 59 75 76
Cotton Bolls Opening 20 NA 12 10
Sorghum Headed 61 45 77 74
Sorghum Coloring 26 23 36 35
Sorghum Mature 19 NA 21 23
Barley Harvested 15 3 37 39
Oats Harvested 48 32 65 64
Rice Headed 76 60 90 85
Rice Harvested 7 NA 10 9

**

National Crop Condition Summary
(VP = Very Poor; P = Poor; F = Fair; G = Good; E = Excellent)
This Week Last Week Last Year
VP P F G E VP P F G E VP P F G E
Corn 3 10 30 47 10 3 10 30 47 10 3 7 20 50 20
Soybeans 3 10 33 46 8 3 10 33 45 9 3 7 24 50 16
Spring Wheat 1 7 23 57 12 5 22 63 10 1 4 20 62 13
Cotton 1 9 34 47 9 1 12 33 44 10 14 20 26 32 8
Sorghum 1 5 28 52 14 1 5 26 54 14 5 12 34 42 7
Barley 6 20 57 17 5 19 64 12 3 16 67 14
Oats 2 6 28 52 12 2 6 27 54 11 4 3 22 58 13
Rice 1 5 24 47 23 1 6 25 45 23 1 6 24 57 12

**

National Soil Moisture Condition – 48 States
(VS = Very Short; SH = Short; AD = Adequate; SR = Surplus)
This Week Last Week Last Year
VS SH AD SR VS SH AD SR VS SH AD SR
Topsoil Moisture 10 27 57 6 9 28 57 6 15 28 53 4
Subsoil Moisture 7 24 63 6 6 23 65 6 14 29 53 4

A federal employees union charged Tuesday that recent comments by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney confirm the Trump administration’s “grand strategy” to cut the federal workforce by relocating agency offices out of Washington.

Mulvaney said last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to relocate several hundred of jobs from Washington to the Kansas City area is “a wonderful way to streamline government.” Speaking to a group of fellow Republicans in his home state of South Carolina, he said it’s “nearly impossible” to fire federal workers but added that many will not move to “the real part of the country.”

Within days of taking office, President Donald Trump declared a hiring freeze, and within months, Mulvaney, as director of the Office of Management and Budget, outlined a plan for reducing the civilian workforce. But he said in his South Carolina remarks that he’s tried to fire workers and “you can’t do it.”

The USDA said in June it would move most of the employees of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture partly to bring the two agencies closer to farmers and agribusinesses. The Interior Department has offered a similar rationale for breaking up the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters and putting employees in 11 western states.

Mulvaney said “the quiet parts out loud,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a Denver-based nonprofit critical of the Trump administration’s Interior Department. Weiss sees an “intentional brain drain” to “get rid of expertise across the government.”

“This is part of their grand strategy,” said Dave Verardo, president of the American Federation of Government Employees local that represents the USDA workers. “Reduce government so that people can come into power and do whatever they want without any checks and balances.”

Spokesman John Czwartacki defended Mulvaney’s comments Tuesday as “commentary through a political lens at a political event.” He noted that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said relocating the two agencies’ employees will save money on rent and employee costs, freeing up more money for research.

“If some career bureaucrats would rather quit or retire than move closer to the people they serve, despite knowing that the relocation will allow USDA to spend less money on rent and more on research, then that is indeed a wonderful way to streamline government,” Czwartacki said.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt described the Bureau of Land Management move as a “realignment” to “better respond to the needs of the American people.”

“Under our proposal, every Western state will gain additional staff resources,” Bernhardt said in a statement Tuesday. “This approach will play an invaluable role in serving the American people more efficiently.”

Officials in Kansas and Missouri and their congressional delegations were delighted with the USDA’s plans, believing the research agencies to be a good fit for the region. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said she understands that USDA employees are hesitant to uproot their families but they will find advantages in the Kansas City area such as “a reasonable cost of living and strong public schools.”

The Economic Research Service examines issues including the rural economy, international trade, food safety and programs that provide food assistance to poor Americans. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides grants for agricultural research. The USDA said nearly 550 of the agencies’ roughly 640 jobs would move by the end of September.

The USDA says it is not cutting research. Deputy Undersecretary Scott Hutchins said the department has an aggressive hiring plan to fill vacancies.

“Universities have contacted us and asked us, ‘We can help support you and so forth,'” he said. “A lot of groups at this point are starting to rally together to see how we can make sure we do this.”

The agency’s own inspector general’s office concluded this week that the USDA may have violated federal law by moving forward on the relocation without advancing funding approval from Congress. The agency disputed that, contending that the department’s internal watchdog was misinterpreting federal law.

U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who has criticized the relocation plans, said Tuesday in a statement that Perdue “must halt” them. He also said Mulvaney’s comments signal the Trump administration’s “true intentions.”

“This administration’s continued assault on federal employees is part of a broader pattern to undermine the government agencies that serve the American people every day,” Hoyer said in a statement.

Verardo said at least 55% of the affected USDA workers — some 330 of them — won’t move. And Laura Dodson, an Economic Research Service employee and union steward, said the USDA’s plans force people who spent years studying agricultural economics to decide between pursuing their careers or uprooting their lives to move to a location that may not be final.

“Morale has never been lower,” she said.

Chad Hart, an economics professor and crop-markets specialist at Iowa State University, said he worries about the loss of institutional knowledge. He said the agencies being moved don’t tend to interact with individual farmers so, “it doesn’t matter if they are 10 miles or 1,000 miles from farmers.”

“You’re losing that expertise you can’t just buy back,” he said.

Jim Myers, a professor at Oregon State University who studies vegetable breeding and genetics, said research grants from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture have done “amazing things” to support his research into new varieties of organic vegetables.

“This is a move to cripple an institution that’s vital to the researchers in the U.S. and ultimately U.S. agriculture,” he said. “It just hollows it out and weakens it.”

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. – House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson hosted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a bipartisan listening session with members of the House Agriculture Committee and other members of Congress this morning at the annual Minnesota Farmfest.Peterson issued the following statement after the listening session:

“With all of the stress in farm country, it was important for Secretary Perdue to be here at Farmfest so Minnesota farmers could share directly with the Administration the issues they are having first-hand. At the forum farmers shared serious concerns about the trade war; the potential benefits of USMCA, which I support; the ongoing need for labor on dairy farms and other agricultural operations; and issues brought on by bad weather in the spring and throughout planting season, among many other topics. We talked about new programs in the Farm Bill and ways those programs will help farmers, with a particular focus on the dairy folks and what the new Dairy Margin Coverage program can do for them.

“We heard loudly and clearly that farmers don’t want to get their revenue from the government, but we also know that we at the federal level have a responsibility to make sure folks aren’t left behind as a result of forces beyond their control. There is still a lot of work to be done, and I’m going to continue do what I can as Chair of the Agriculture Committee as well as work with the Secretary to help.”

Following the release of a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of the Inspector General concluding that the USDA may have broken the law in relocating key research agencies (the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture) without obtaining congressional approval, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released the following comment:

“If USDA can ignore the appropriations acts that Congress passes and the President signs by saying, after the fact, that they are unconstitutional, then there is little reason to continue to have appropriations bills,” said Juli Obudzinski, Interim Policy Director at NSAC. “The new report from the Office of Inspector General brings into sharp relief the need for Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to re-assert its authority. We urge Congress to take this information as an opportunity to end once and for all Secretary Perdue’s strong-arm tactics and stop all action on the relocations until Congress has given its formal approval – or denial.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service proposed changes to how the agency manages greater sage grouse in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah after hearing concerns from states and land users. The changes strive to improve the clarity, efficiency, and implementation of the current sage grouse plans.
“The Forest Service continues to promote our multiple use mission while ensuring conservation of greater sage grouse habitat,” Secretary Perdue said. “We are sharing the stewardship of the lands with western state governors – their extensive participation throughout this process was the key to landscape-scale conservation that aligns our policies and practices across local, state, and federal jurisdictions.”
The Forest Service published the final environmental impact statement in the Federal Register, and the objection period will last 60 days from the date of the publication of the notice of availability. After considering objections, the Forest Service intends to continue the planning process by issuing a final decision document regarding the revised plan amendments in the fall of 2019.

Corn silking was estimated at 58% and soybeans blooming were pegged at 57% as of Sunday, July 28. Corn was rated 58% in good-to-excellent condition, up 1 percentage point from the previous week, and soybean condition was rated 54%, unchanged from the previous week, according to this week’s USDA NASS Crop Progress report.

Check this page throughout the afternoon for additional highlights from this week’s report.

To view weekly crop progress reports issued by National Ag Statistics Service offices in individual states, visit http://www.nass.usda.gov/…. Look for the U.S. map in the “Find Data and Reports by” section and choose the state you wish to view in the drop-down menu. Then look for that state’s “Crop Progress & Condition” report.

Clay Patton has the report details here: https://post.futurimedia.com/krvnam/playlist/futures-one-crop-progress-report-no-huge-changes-week-to-week-7262.html

National Crop Progress Summary
This Last Last 5-Year
Week Week Year Avg.
Corn Silking 58 35 90 83
Corn Dough 13 5 35 23
Soybeans Blooming 57 40 85 79
Soybeans Setting Pods 21 7 58 45
Winter Wheat Harvested 75 69 84 86
Spring Wheat Headed 97 92 99 98
Cotton Squaring 86 78 87 87
Cotton Setting Bolls 45 33 48 48
Sorghum Headed 33 27 52 50
Sorghum Coloring 21 16 25 25
Barley Headed 96 90 97 98
Oats Headed 97 94 100 100
Oats Harvested 21 12 36 35
Rice Headed 42 31 61 57

**

National Crop Condition Summary
(VP = Very Poor; P = Poor; F = Fair; G = Good; E = Excellent)
This Week Last Week Last Year
VP P F G E VP P F G E VP P F G E
Corn 3 9 30 47 11 3 10 30 47 10 3 6 19 50 22
Soybeans 3 10 33 45 9 3 9 34 46 8 2 6 22 53 17
Spring Wheat 1 5 21 62 11 4 20 63 13 1 3 18 64 14
Cotton 1 10 28 46 15 2 8 30 50 10 11 19 27 34 9
Sorghum 1 3 25 59 12 1 2 23 60 13 4 11 33 44 8
Barley 5 18 62 15 5 19 58 18 1 2 17 66 14
Oats 2 6 26 53 13 3 5 28 52 12 4 3 22 58 13
Rice 1 6 25 48 20 1 6 28 46 19 1 7 23 55 14

**

National Soil Moisture Condition – 48 States
(VS = Very Short; SH = Short; AD = Adequate; SR = Surplus)
This Week Last Week Last Year
VS SH AD SR VS SH AD SR VS SH AD SR
Topsoil Moisture 7 24 61 8 5 19 64 12 12 27 56 5
Subsoil Moisture 4 19 69 8 3 15 70 12 12 27 57 4

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today proposed closing a loophole that allows states to make participants receiving minimal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits automatically eligible to participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 

The proposed rule published today in the Federal Register would limit SNAP/TANF automatic eligibility to households that receive substantial, ongoing TANF-funded benefits aimed at helping families move towards self-sufficiency. The proposed rule would fix a loophole that has expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don’t need it. In fact, the depth of this specific flexibility has become so egregious that a millionaire living in Minnesota successfully enrolled in the program simply to highlight the waste of taxpayer money. This proposal gives USDA the ability to save billions of dollars, ensuring nutrition assistance programs are delivered with consistency and integrity to those most in need.

 

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient, and to have integrity – just as they do in their own homes, businesses, and communities. That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”

 

Currently, benefits may be as minimal as simply providing a household with an informational brochure describing social services or access to hotline numbers. These nominal benefits are often given without conducting a robust eligibility determination. Congress has established clear eligibility standards. It is USDA’s responsibility to make sure those who receive benefits are eligible.

 

To confer automatic eligibility for SNAP under the proposal, a household must receive TANF-funded cash or non-cash benefits valued at a minimum of $50 per month for at least 6 months. In addition, non-cash benefits that could convey automatic eligibility would be restricted to subsidized employment, work supports, or childcare. By establishing clear standards and requiring that benefits be ongoing and substantial, the proposal will ensure SNAP benefits go toward Americans most in need.

 

USDA encourages all interested parties to provide input on the proposed rule throughwww.regulations.gov. The comment period will be open for 60 days.

 

To learn more about this proposed rule, view this fact sheet.

Corn silking was pegged at 35% as of Sunday, July 21, still far behind the five-year average of 66%. Corn was rated 57% in good-to-excellent condition, down one percentage point from last week and way down from the 72% rating seen last year at this time, according to this week’s USDA NASS Crop Progress report. This could be good for the grain bulls as many analysts were expected a 58% good to excellent rating. In a Statewide look Nebraska’s crop was rated at 77% good to excellent, Kansas was rated at 57% good to excellent. The best corn in the nation looks to be in Tennessee with a rating of 85% good to excellent.

Soybeans nationally have reached 40% blooming. A far cry from a year ago’s 76% blooming and about 26% behind the five year average. Soybeans setting pods is also behind nationally at 7%. Nebraska soybeans have set 8% pods, 17% less than a year ago. Kansas soybeans have set 6% pods, 9% behind a year ago. Analysts expected soybeans to be unchanged week to week at 54% good to excellent. The USDA confirmed these numbers. Nebraska’s crop is rated at 73% good to excellent. Kansas is rated at 50% good to excellent.

Winter wheat harvest rolled across Kansas with last week’s heat. Nationally the harvest is still 10% behind at 69% complete. Rains may have delayed a few harvesters in Nebraska as harvest nears 33% complete, as compared to 76% a on the five year average.

Topsoil moisture remained fairly similar with Kansas rated 73% adequate to surplus and Nebraska at 87% adequate to surplus.

Clay Patton breaks down the report here: http://bit.ly/32GiyLb

To view weekly crop progress reports issued by National Ag Statistics Service offices in individual states, visit http://www.nass.usda.gov. Look for the U.S. map in the “Find Data and Reports by” section and choose the state you wish to view in the drop-down menu. Then look for that state’s “Crop Progress & Condition” report.