Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 3.30

Monday, March 30th, 2020


March 30, 2020

A quick look at what’s happening in Washington, D.C. that’s impacting food and agriculture. If you would like to subscribe to the receive the updates right to your inbox, please contact Marissa Dake

Big Picture Outlook

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– On Wednesday night, the Senate passed a “phase three” supplemental appropriations bill after several days of negotiations. The $2.2 trillion and 880-page bill, entitled “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” addresses the economic impacts of this novel virus. Provisions in the bill include direct payments to taxpayers, unemployment benefits, federally guaranteed loans to small businesses, and other mitigation measures. The bill also includes $34.9 billion for USDA and FDA, of which $14 billion is provided for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Another $9.5 billion will go towards disaster assistance for livestock, dairy, specialty crops and farmers markets. After the vote, the Senate began an extended recess and will reconvene on April 20.

The House passed the CARES Act by voice vote Friday afternoon. Some members were unable to vote on the bill, as more than three dozen are self-quarantined after potential exposure to coronavirus, and others were unable to travel on short-notice. The House broke for recess following the vote and will also reconvene on April 20.

This stimulus bill is the largest emergency aid package in US history. A bill of this magnitude may need technical corrections in the future, especially because the 880-page text passed through both chambers so quickly. These technical corrections will likely appear as “phase four” legislation.

Government Update– The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making updates to their “critical infrastructure” memo, after receiving hundreds of questions asking for clarification. Over 110 groups signed a letter requesting DHS to provide a consistent definition of “critical infrastructure” across the country. DHS and the State Department also agreed to accelerate farmworkers’ H-2A visa application approvals, since they play a critical role in America’s food system.

On the nutrition front, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has been issuing waivers to ease child nutrition programs, SNAP, and WIC operations and ensure vulnerable populations remain fed and healthy. Additionally, FDA released temporary policy that waives the requirement for restaurants to provide nutrition facts labels on their products that are sold to consumers.

Trade Update– USDA and USTR reported progress on implementation of the US-China “phase one” trade agreement last week. US food and agricultural exports began experiencing relief from Chinese tariffs when the agreement entered into force on February 14. Corn and wheat are among the top commodities that have seen increased exports to China. This comes as welcome news after years of retaliatory tariffs and depressed trade relations with the east Asian country.

Despite the progress on the US-China trade deal, USMCA implementation may be delayed by a month if North American countries miss the March 31 deadline to exchange letters, stating they have met all necessary obligations. The delay is due to the countries focusing on their coronavirus efforts, rather than preparing industries to meet guidelines outlined in the trade agreement.

Lastly, in Brazil, some farm towns have issued coronavirus measures that may impact the global grain trade. One of the Brazilian towns is in the peak of its soy harvest, and stringent public health measures may delay or prevent harvest. The COVID-19 crisis could cause global trade disruptions, as some countries turn to hoarding food and placing trade restrictions on certain commodities.

Despite the threats to global trade, the Trump administration has denied rumors that said officials are considering pausing or delaying tariffs.

Dietary Guidelines Debate Heats Up– The final meeting for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee took place on March 12-13. Now, the Committee is tasked with drafting the final report to present to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar – the two officials responsible for producing the final 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). USDA and HHS are accepting public comments until May 11, and industry groups are heavily engaged in the final opportunity to influence the standards. For example, The Nutrition Coalition is fighting for the removal of the current limits on saturated fats, claiming it is “no longer justified” based on the most up-to date understanding on saturated fats and their effects on health. Another group, the Food4Health Alliance, argues that current recommendations focus mainly on healthy people, and the studies do not consider the 60 percent of Americans living with diet-related diseases, predominantly in minority and underserved communities.

Nominations & Confirmations
  • The Senate confirmed Mindy Brashears to serve as USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety on Monday, March 23. Brashears has been serving as Deputy Undersecretary while awaiting for confirmation. She was nominated two years ago.
  • Robert Johansson, Chief Economist of USDA, has appointed Dr. Mark Jekanowski as the World Agricultural Outlook Board Chairman.

MTA In Action

March 22-28 was National Ag Week, and the importance of our agricultural system is especially poignant during these challenging times that the industry faces in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. MTA joined in the celebration by continuing our support of the farmers, ranchers, food processors, and distributors that work hard to supply a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply.

MTA’s Director of Public Affairs, Kerry Lynch, wrote a feature piece on Zurich Insurance North America’s blog to commemorate National Ag Week. In the article, Lynch discusses the importance of protecting crop insurance as we celebrate American agriculture.

A Quick Look Back