Industry-in-Brief: Glyphosate Debate Deepens, USDA Offers More Research Grants, Cultivate Ventures Launches, more

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Vermont GMO Labeling Clock: 56 Days

On July 1, 2016, Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling will take effect. Opponents are still hopeful that a federal bill preempting the law is possible, but Congress will only be in session for roughly half the days that remain until July 1. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group vehemently opposed to Vermont’s bill, has taken to the press wires to remind folks that the working days left to pass a federal measure are limited. Read more from GMA here.

Hain Celestial Launches Venture Unit, Cultivate Ventures

Hain Celestial, a natural and specialty snack food and tea company, has launched a venture arm called Cultivate Ventures. The fund will make strategic investments in small, high-performing brands and will facilitate the incubation of smaller startups, assisting them with scaling to integrate the company’s ethos. The fund will also look for opportunities to invest in products, concepts, and technologies focusing on health and wellness. The brand has also launched Project Terra, an effort to restructure its core platforms. This will involve divestment of brands totaling roughly $30 million ins ales that don’t fit within the brand’s new core platforms: Fresh Living; Better-for-You Baby; Better-for-You Snacking; Better-for-You Pantry; and Pure Personal Care.

The Glyphosate Debate: EPA Report Briefly Leaks; Quaker Defends “Natural” Labeling Lawsuit Challenging use of Glyphosate

The US Environmental Protection Agency released and then quickly withdrew a posting on the regulatory docket that included a final report from the agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee indicating that the herbicide glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” Controversy over the chemical, which is commonly sold under the brand name Roundup, arose when the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report suggesting that glyphosate is likely carcinogenic to humans in March 2015. According to the Committee’s briefly-disclosed report, existing epidemiological studies and lab tests performed on animals do not provide a sufficient basis for concluding that glyphosate is a carcinogen.

“Documents on glyphosate that are still in development were taken down from the agency’s docket because our assessment is still ongoing and not final,” said Nick Conger, a spokesman. “EPA has not completed our cancer review. We will continue to look at the work of other governments as well as work by HHS’s Agricultural Health Study as we move to make a decision on glyphosate. Our assessment will be peer reviewed and completed by the end of 2016.”

Across the pond, the European Parliament is making a move to cut the approval for glyphosate in half—reducing it from 14 years to seven years. The European Commission is calling for only 10 more years of approval. Meanwhile, Quaker Oats is defending itself in a legal battle over whether the presence of glyphosate in its products invalidates the company’s “all natural” claims, the New York Times reports.

Iowa Cartoonist Fired Over Cartoon Depicting Salary Disparities in Iowa Farming

A cartoonist and farmer in Iowa has made headlines and gone viral this week after posting a cartoon on his Facebook page that got him fired. Rick Friday, who has been drawing cartoons for Farm News for 21 years, reports that a seed dealer who purchases advertisement space complained to the newspaper and withdrew its business. The cartoon depicts one farmer stating, “I wish there was more profit in farming,” with the second farmer stating: “There is. In the year 2015, the CEOs of Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and John Deere combined made more money than 2,149 Iowa farmers.” In response to his termination, Friday says he did his research before sketching the cartoon and “only submitted the facts.” To see the controversial cartoon, click here.

Perkins Coie to Offer 15% discount to startups with female executives

Perkins Coie, a Seattle-based law firm, is offering a 15% discount on legal services for startups that list at least one woman as a senior executive. Dubbed Leadbetter, the program is intended to ease some of the challenges that female entrepreneurs must overcome. The discount can be used toward a variety of services that startups commonly require, including IP, real estate, and employment law. The program, which gets its name from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, will also provide mentoring events and networking channels for female entrepreneurs. Passed in 2009, the law amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to soften some of the requirements attached to bringing an equal-pay discrimination lawsuit.

Open Prairie’s Latest Fund Receives USDA RBIC Licence

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced this week that Midwest-focused investment firm Open Prairie Ventures will head up the fourth Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) to receive agency approval. The fund is slated to raise $100 million that will be invested into agtech businesses across rural America,including those in the crop protection, agricultural production and processing, precision agriculture, and information and data management sectors. Launched in 2014 as part of the White House’s Made in Rural America imitative, the USDA’s Rural Business Investment Program (RBIP) is geared toward drawing capital and investment to America’s rural regions.

USDA Awards $16 Million for Research into Sustainable Crop and Livestock Production Methods

The US Department of Agriculture has awarded $16.5 million in grants to support research into methods for boosting agriculture productivity and ensuring food security in the face of pests, diseases, and a changing climate. In addition, USDA announced that it is seeking applications for the next round of projects, which will focus on pollinator health and plant and animal phenomics. The grants are made available through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). During the fiscal year 2016, food security project proposals should emphasize pollinator health as well as breeding and phenomics of food crops and animals. Applications are due July 7, 2016, for a total of $16.8 million in available funding. For the first time, grant awards will be equally co-funded by eligible national and state commodity boards as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. See the request for applications for more information.

USDA Announces $6 Million for Antimicrobial Resistance

The USDA has also announced the availability of $6 million to fund research to address antimicrobial resistance (AMR) this week. This funding is available through the AFRI authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by NIFA. This funding announcement is one of the ways that USDA supports the Combating Antimicrobial Resistant Bacteria (CARB) National Action Plan and work of the Task Force for Combating Antibiotic Resistance, which USDA co-chairs. Specifically, this program priority promotes the development of sustainable and integrated food safety strategies that reduce public health risks along the entire food chain, from producer to consumer. Applications are due August 3, 2016. See the request for applications for more information.

Amazon will Start Fresh Food Deliveries in the UK This Month

Rumors are flying that major online retailer Amazon will launch a fresh food delivery platform in the UK this month, throwing its hat in the massively competitive food e-commerce ring. Sources suggest that Amazon has been making deliveries of fresh food from its East London depot and that it’s asked suppliers to start making deliveries during the next few weeks. Amazon Fresh has already been operating in the US for seven years. The UK expansion follows the inking of a deal between Amazon and British supermarket chain Morrisons.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew:

– 7-Eleven is the latest company to announce that it’s switching to cage-free eggs. The company has set a target date of 2025 for the swap.

– Beyonce is investing in a company that sources watermelon seconds to create a high-pressure processed watermelon beverage called WTRMLN WTR. Some 800 million pounds of watermelons are discarded each year due to blemishes and dents. According to the company, 99 percent of each melon is utilized and the skin is recycled into livestock feed.

– Indian food tech startup FoodCloud has been accepted into Facebook’s FB Start program.

  • To attract more startups to NYC, executives, entrepreneurs, and big tech companies are launching a new policy and advocacy nonprofit organization called Tech:NYC, the New York Times reports.
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