With the help of Helena Bottemiller Evich
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PUT AN ARC ON THIS: The Senate passed the $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Saturday after an overnight vote marathon, sending it back to the House for final approval of a handful of relatively minor changes. That vote is expected on Tuesday – which would send the package to President Joe Biden’s office before unemployment benefits expire on March 14.
What’s up? The bill passed by the Senate excludes a provision to increase the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, and it changed unemployment benefits to $ 300 per week until September 6 (instead of the $ 400 per week original until August approved by the House). Stimulus checks of $ 1,400 will also be eliminated at lower income levels.
The result : The move to the Senate, via a 50-49 vote for the party line, pretty much seals the deal on Biden’s No.1 legislative priority – and one of the largest federal aid packages in the country. story.
– Agricultural provisions: The bill includes billions of dollars to strengthen the food and agricultural supply chain; further expansion of food aid for hungry families; historic debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers; and funds for the USDA to establish a racial equity commission.
– About this debt relief: The provisions have survived despite an amendment by Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) To remove them from the bill. The amendment failed 49-50 depending on the party, leaving $ 5 billion in aid to farmers of color intact.
What happens next? The Senate is back to confirm Biden’s cabinet candidates this week, including a procedural vote Tuesday on the appointment of Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge as HUD secretary. Majority leader Chuck Schumer also filed a dossier on Saturday on the appointment of Michael Regan to the post of administrator of the EPA.
IG SEEKING USDA WARRANTIES FOR MEAT INSPECTORS: Agriculture Department’s internal watchdog investigates whether authorities have taken adequate steps to protect food safety inspectors during the pandemic, after hundreds of federal employees were ill and several died , reports our Liz Crampton.
How we got here: At the start of the pandemic, as the coronavirus ravaged major meat-packing plants, the White House ordered slaughterhouses to continue operating – allegedly to avoid potential meat shortages. But federal factory inspectors have warned that the USDA is not doing enough to protect their health while they conduct food safety checks at these facilities.
Now USDA Inspector General is investigating what steps the Food Safety and Inspection Service has taken to prevent employees from getting sick on the job, as well as other issues raised by Agriculture Senate member Michael Bennet. The Colorado Democrat raised concerns about “federal actions that may have contributed to the spread of the virus at these facilities.”
THE FDA TO COMBAT TOXIC METALS IN BABY FOOD: The agency said on Friday it would begin the long process of tightening standards for heavy metals commonly found in baby food, after a House panel found that large companies were selling food products containing the levels. much higher in arsenic, lead and cadmium than what health experts consider safe. for infants, reports our Helena Bottemiller Evich.
The backstory: House Oversight’s findings last month sparked panic among parents and sparked class action lawsuits against companies like Beech-Nut and Gerber. The companies named in the report have tried to reassure parents that their products are safe, but efforts have done little to stop the backlash. Exposure to metals is considered a risk to brain development in infants and young children.
The FDA has also been criticized for being slow to act. The agency has taken years to establish voluntary standards for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals, although health advocates still view them as too lax. A separate voluntary limit on the metal in apple juice has yet to be finalized after the publication of the draft guidelines in 2013. (Recall Helena’s story here.)
Now the FDA says it’s a high priority and tells baby food manufacturers they should take steps to reduce metal levels as part of their own food safety controls – a move that builds on existing requirements under the Modernization Act. food safety.
But don’t expect the pressure from the Hill to ease: Congress has historically allowed public health agencies like the FDA to set their own safety limits, but lawmakers seem ready to step in and impose limits if the agency does not move forward on that point.
– Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, The chairman of the oversight subcommittee that released the landmark report last month said on Friday he was “disappointed” that the FDA did not commit to imposing rules that would eliminate toxic metals from all foods for. babies.
– “This highlights the need for Congress to pass legislation with strict standards and deadlines, ”said the Illinois Democrat. “Babies don’t have time to wait for the FDA to fill in the details. Parents: I encourage you to keep getting things done with us. “
NEW AGRICULTURE ADVISOR OF BIDEN: The White House on Friday appointed Kelliann Blazek as the president’s special assistant for agriculture and rural policy – another sign that rural development issues could gain traction under the Biden administration, Liz reports.
Blazek was most recently director of the Office of Rural Prosperity in Wisconsin. She previously served as legal counsel to Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), taught at George Mason University law school and worked at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the White House said.
His appointment comes after agricultural state lawmakers and rural advocates urged Biden to appoint a rural White House envoy to focus on health and economic challenges in those communities.
PROCEDURE OF TRANSATLANTIC TARIFFS: The Biden administration has reached a deal with the EU to temporarily suspend tariffs on billions of dollars in cargo resulting from the long-standing airline subsidy dispute, following a similar deal with the UK last week. This is one of Biden’s first steps to ease trade tensions with Europe that have built up under former President Donald Trump, writes Pro Trade’s Doug Palmer.
In both cases, the functions will be suspended for four months. while the White House is negotiating a long-term settlement with Brussels and London. The thaw brings some relief to many importers and exporters, especially agribusinesses caught in the crossfire of a dispute unrelated to their industries.
Do not descend smoothly: Sales of American whiskey to the EU, however, are still subject to a 25% tariff that was imposed in retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum. The whiskey tariff is also expected to double in early June if US tariffs on metals remain in place.
– Lisa Hawkins, Senior Vice President of the Distilled Spirits Council, said the new deal was a “promising breakthrough”, but the group is “extremely disappointed” that the whiskey tariffs remain in place.
For what it’s worth: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday that tariff easing could “open the door” to trade deals with the EU and the UK if those governments are willing to allow increased access to products US agriculture – a major sticking point in previous discussions.
– Trump administration last minute plan that would give USDA regulatory power over genetically modified livestock is in limbo after the Biden administration reopened the public comment period on Friday. Livestock trade groups have long lobbied for the department to take over the jurisdiction of genetically modified animals from the FDA, which the industry says has stifled innovation with its slow approval process.
– USDA Economic Research Department and National Institute of Food and Agriculture remain severely understaffed after the agencies were abruptly relocated from the Beltway area to Kansas City in 2019, causing an exodus of career workers, the AP reports. Vilsack told POLITICO last week that department heads “have to be aggressive in filling these vacancies, especially in science.”
– More than 12,000 meat packaging workers will have access to coronavirus vaccines at major meat factories in five states, including JBS, Tyson Foods, Cargill, National Beef and Smithfield Foods, in partnership with state officials and the United Food and Commercial Workers. More details from UFCW.
– Prices for chicken thighs jumped to around 39 cents a pound in Northeast wholesale markets, nearly double the pandemic low of around 20 cents in September, according to USDA data. Poultry legs are more dependent on exports and institutional food services than other parts of meat such as wings. Bloomberg has the story.
– Missouri state lawmaker pushes to ban foreign companies from buying farmland in the state, a policy that could have major implications for global food conglomerates with a strong footprint in the Midwest, Modern farmer writing.
– After an influx of home gardeners during the pandemic that led to seed shortages in 2020, there is a new seed sharing initiative created by the nonprofit Slow Food USA with the aim of facilitating access this year: Share a Seed. More from Washington City Paper.
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