Industry-in-Brief: GMO Labeling Bill Dies, Precision Ag Partnerships Signed, Senate Addresses Honeybee Decline, more

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GMO Labeling Bill Dies in Senate Cloture Vote; General Mills to Begin Labeling GMO Ingredients

A GMO labeling bill designed to preempt states from enacting their own GMO labeling laws failed to secure the 60 votes necessary for cloture on Capitol Hill this week. The bill was introduced by Senator Pat Roberts and would have given food companies two years to enact voluntary labeling schemes. If at the end of two years less than 70 percent had done so, a mandatory labeling scheme would kick in, requiring food producers to use QR codes to tell consumers whether their food products contain GMO ingredients.

A few days later, food giant General Mills announced that it will begin voluntarily labeling products with GMO ingredients. The company will continue to advocate for a national federal standard. In January 2016, Campbell Soup’s adopted a voluntary GMO labeling program and called for a mandatory federal GMO labeling scheme. General Mills remained noticeably mum about whether the company would prefer a national scheme to impose a voluntary or mandatory standard—something that is at the heart of the ongoing debate over GMO labeling.

Farmers Edge Teams up with The Weather Company 

Precision ag data services provider Farmers Edge has launched a collaboration with IBM’s The Weather Company. The partnership will allow Farmers Edge to integrate hyper-local forecasts from The Weather Company’s Forecasts on Demand (FoD) weather forecasting engine into its predictive modeling software. The company describes the move as an enhancement of real-time meteorological data analytics and another step towards the digitization of agriculture. Farmers Edge’s real-time data from the field aims to provide farmers with highly precise, predictive models that can better inform growers’ decisions.

Geosys Partners with Pessl Instruments and Precision Ag Company SST

In a similar deal, satellite imagery company Geosys, has partnered with German weather station company Pessl Instruments to provide clients with more localized weather data. The global partnership will incorporate data from Pessl Instruments’ FieldClimate platform into Geosys products, such as its monitoring platform Croptical.

On the same day it announced a partnership with SST Software to provide satellite imagery to SST’s agX Platform. This will allow users to monitor plant growth and identify in-field issues quickly.

“Geosys has set out to prove that the ‘Agricultural Internet of Things’ is not just hype, but a growing reality that is helping to improve decision-making across the agriculture supply chain,” said Damien Lepoutre, founder and president of Geosys in a statement.

Geosys also made a series of people moves including the relocation of two from the senior leadership team to Minnesota where Geosys’ parent company Land O Lakes is headquartered.

Senators Call for Action on Honeybees Following GAO Report

A group of democratic senators has called on the EPA and the USDA to take action after a report from the Government Accountability Office concluded that honeybees continue to die at a rate that will eventually drive the ag sector into an economic pinch. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) penned a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calling for new labels on pesticides; more efforts to track unregistered pesticides mixtures that may pose a threat; and improved data collection on bee health. The recommendations closely follow those made by the Government Accountability Office in a March 11 report.

Meanwhile, a group of nearly 100 scientists has vouched for a report from the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) published last year declaring glyphosate a carcinogen. Read more about the report and the EPA’s new investigation into the safety of glyphosate at Civil Eats.

Iowa Farmers Default on Cropland Rents

With commodity prices at sustained lows, some Iowa farmers have been experiencing trouble keeping up with their cropland rents. The Des Moines Register reports that “farm real estate debt across the United States [is] at its highest levels since the farm crises years of the early ‘80s…” The majority of farmland rent payments were due on March 1, roughly six weeks before the start of spring planting. Some farmers, however, are opting to give up their leases after efforts to cut costs proved unfruitful. Farm income in the United States is projected to fall during 2016, marking a three-year downturn. Plummeting soybean and corn prices and steadfastly high prices for inputs like fertilizer, seed, and land are mostly to blame.


USDA Announces $260m in Regional Conservation Partnerships; NIFA Announces $14.5m in Plant-Biotic Research Funding

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of up to $260 million for partner proposals to improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. The funding is being made available through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and applicants must be able to match the federal award with private or local funds. Created in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP investments of nearly $600 million have already driven 199 partner-led projects.

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to announce the availability of $14.5 million in funding for the NIFA-NSF Joint Plant-Biotic Interactions (PBI) program. PBI supports research on the processes that mediates beneficial and antagonistic interactions between plants and their viral, bacterial, oomycete, fungal, plant, and invertebrate symbioses, pathogens, and pests. This joint program supports projects focused on current and emerging model and non-model systems, as well as agriculturally relevant plants.

The first competition, with a proposal submission deadline of June 6, will be supported by $6 million from NIFA and $8.5 million by NSF. Both estimates depend on the availability of funds.

Whole Foods Implements Slow-Grown Chicken Rubric

Whole Foods Market is replacing its conventionally raised poultry products bred for rapid weight gain with slower-growing varieties. Hoping to achieve complete turnover by 2024, the transition falls in line with the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Rating Program, which the store implemented in 2011. Estimates suggest that the transition will impact nearly 280 million birds living in the 600 chicken farms subject to GAP auditing.

Advertising Sweet Snacks to Kids Comes Under Fire in US and UK

Six confectionary companies have signed onto the Children’s Confection Advertising Initiative (CCAI) and committed to not directly target advertising material to children under the age of 12. The initiative is the product of a partnership between the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and the National Confectioners Association (NCA). Comprising the first signatories to the initiative, these companies include Ferrara Candy Co., Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., Jelly Belly Candy Co., Just Born Quality Confections, The Promotion In Motion Cos., Inc., and R.M. Palmer Co.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the UK Committee on Advertising Practices (CAP), which enacts standards for TV advertisements in the UK, is preparing to ask the public whether it thinks junk food advertisements should be banned from online streaming children’s content like Youtube and ITV Hub.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew:

  • The House Committee on Agriculture is holding a full committee hearing today to examine the USDA’s organization and program administration.
  • The Wall Street Journal tackles the tough subject of transparency in our food system.
  • Major poultry producer Tyson has released the first part of what it dubs a “comprehensive sustainability report” assessing the producer’s animal welfare standards. Find out what animal welfare advocates think of the report over at Food Dive.
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