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BUSINESS & REGULATION: U.S. agricultural giant Land O’Lakes’ supports Congressman demanding swift GE crop approvals



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   HOUSE FRESHMEN PUSH BILLS THAT BENEFIT BIG DONORS

SOURCE:  USA Today, USA

AUTHOR:  Fredreka Schouten & Alan Gomez

URL:     http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2011-08-30/House-freshmen-push-bills-that-benefit-big-donors/50196680/1

DATE:    30.08.2011

SUMMARY: "Five months after taking office, Rep. Stephen Fincher, a cotton farmer from a mostly rural swath of Tennessee, introduced a bill to mandate swift federal approval of genetically modified crops for commercial sale. Fincher has received more campaign money from agribusiness than any other industry. Two months after he filed the bill, the political action committee of the Minnesota-based agricultural giant Land O?Lakes? staged a $500-a-head fundraiser to benefit the Republican?s re-election campaign. The company spent more than $740,000 on lobbying last year on a range of issues, including federal regulation of its genetically modified alfalfa seeds."

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HOUSE FRESHMEN PUSH BILLS THAT BENEFIT BIG DONORS

WASHINGTON ? Several House freshmen who swept into power vowing to change Washington?s ways are pushing legislation that could benefit some of their most generous campaign contributors, a USA TODAY review of legislative and campaign records shows.

Five months after taking office, Rep. Stephen Fincher, a cotton farmer from a mostly rural swath of Tennessee, introduced a bill to mandate swift federal approval of genetically modified crops for commercial sale. Fincher has received more campaign money from agribusiness than any other industry.

Two months after he filed the bill, the political action committee of the Minnesota-based agricultural giant Land O?Lakes? staged a $500-a-head fundraiser to benefit the Republican?s re-election campaign. The company spent more than $740,000 on lobbying last year on a range of issues, including federal regulation of its genetically modified alfalfa seeds.

Other freshmen who have crafted legislation backed by the industries helping to underwrite their campaigns include Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. Duffy, who gets a significant portion of his campaign funds from financial services companies, is the lead sponsor of a measure that would dilute the powers of a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Gosar would end health insurance companies? protection from anti-trust provisions, a step applauded by doctors, dentists and health professionals who have donated nearly $74,000 to his campaign in the first six months of this year.

For the most part, the lawmakers, who were elected on a wave of voter discontent with Washington, say their measures are aimed at advancing a small-government agenda and promoting free-market ideals, not helping donors. Eighty-two Republicans and 11 Democrats were elected for the first time to the House last year.

Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen said the proposed legislation is a sign that ?the incoming freshmen have learned business-as-usual on Capitol Hill. They are very quickly moving into the ranks of normal incumbents.?

They also are setting fundraising records. House freshmen collected $37.2 million during the first six months of the year, a 34.3% jump over the campaign money raised by new House lawmakers at the same point in the 2010 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data.

A third of the donations this year to House freshmen who have joined the Tea Party caucus came from political action committees, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Fincher, one of 15 freshmen in the House Tea Party group, has received more than $87,700 from agribusiness interests between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. In July, Land O?Lakes hosted a Capitol Hill dinner to aid Fincher?s campaign. Its subsidiary, Forage Genetics, had been at the center of a protracted legal battle over commercial cultivation of a genetically altered alfalfa seed it helped develop. It won final federal approval this year.

The decision to host the Fincher event ?was based on a wide range of issues affecting agriculture,? Land O?Lakes spokeswoman Jeanne Forbis said in an e-mail. ?Since being elected to Congress, Rep. Fincher has been supportive on a wide range of issues, including trade policy, support for farmer cooperatives and environmental regulations.?

Fincher, who also is a gospel singer, touted his outsider credentials during the campaign, calling Congress ?out of touch? and proclaiming in his campaign literature, ?My roots run deep in Tennessee, not in politics.?

Fincher?s proposed legislation would require automatic approval for genetically engineered crops if the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to act on an application within 240 days. His spokeswoman Sara Sendek said there?s no connection between campaign contributions and legislation. ?He?s acting in his capacity as a congressman who?s here to represent his district,? she said.

Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety, called Fincher?s effort ?an end run around the regulatory process.? The environmental advocacy group has waged legal battles over engineered seeds and their potential to contaminate conventionally grown crops.

Sendek said the bill was shaped by Fincher?s experience as a ?farmer who understands the way that burdensome regulation can stall growth.?

Other legislative efforts by freshmen:

- Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., is the lead sponsor of legislation that recently passed the House that would curb the powers of a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He has received nearly 40% of his political action committee donations this year from the financial services and insurance PACs. The bureau, which has broad authority to protect consumers from financial fraud, is backed by consumer advocates and opposed by banks.

Duffy spokesman Brandon Moody said his boss wants to rein in regulatory overreach and protect small banks ?suffering under onerous rule-making requirements.?

Campaign contributions play no role, he said. ?People give to Congressman Duffy because they support his ideas and his issues,? Moody said. ?They don?t give because he?s doing what they ask.?

- Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who was a dentist before heading to Capitol Hill, is pushing a bill that would strip health insurance companies of their protection from federal antitrust scrutiny. Proponents of the measure say it will limit the ability of insurance companies to reach agreement on the amount they reuimburse health providers for services or charge for medical malpractice insurance.

?We want to see more competition in the marketplace,? Gosar said.

The American Dental Association, Gosar?s top contributor this year, is among the groups endorsing the measure. Overall, donations from health-care professionals top Gosar?s contributor lists. William Calnon, a dentist in Rochester, N.Y., and president-elect of the American Dental Association, said the Gosar measure would require insurance companies to ?compete fairly and honestly for every single patient dollar.?

Insurance companies say they already are subject to antitrust regulations at the state level.

Why do doctors and dentists contribute so heavily to Gosar?s campaign?

?They see somebody who is passionate about getting things done,? Gosar said. ?I see where problems exist, and I?m not afraid to take on entities to make sure we get a solution process.?

- Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., has introduced legislation to extend Medicaid incentive payments to physician assistants. Currently, they are excluded from the program, which pays doctors and nurse practitioners up to $63,750 over six years for building and using electronic health records.

Bass, a former physician assistant, counts health care professionals among the top contributors to her re-election effort. The political action committee of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, which has pushed to extend the payments to its members, donated $10,000 to her 2010 campaign, federal records show. The PAC has donated $2,500 this year.

Bass spokesman Adam Sharon said the congresswoman has long ties to physician assistants that transcend her brief time in Congress. ?Her relationship with the profession defines her career,? Sharon said. ?She?s been on the front lines of health care, especially serving the uninsured, since the early 1980s.?

- Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., introduced a bill last month that would eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, not long after the non-profit group won a ruling that an agricultural company in his state favored foreign workers over U.S. employees. Scott now counts agribusiness as the top industry backing his re-election campaign, data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show.

Scott?s chief of staff Joby Young said the measure reflects the frustration Scott hears from small businesses and farmers in his congressional district over the Legal Services? ?constant barrage? of lawsuits that ?cripple job growth and stunt our economy.?

- Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., has championed proposed legislation that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to overturn Army Corps of Engineer permits. Earlier this year, the EPA vetoed a West Virginia mountaintop coal removal permit, deciding the project would cause too much environmental damage.

Contributions to his campaign from the mining industry have skyrocketed since he assumed office. In the first six months of this year, the mining industry has contributed more than $176,000 to McKinley?s re-election effort ? nearly double the amount he received from those interests in the two years leading up the 2010 election.

McKinley spokeswoman Katie Martin said Republicans and Democrats alike in the West Virginia congressional delegation support the measure, ?which would protect West Virginia jobs.?

Contributing: Christopher Schnaars



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   A CALL FOR COMMON SENSE BIOTECH CROP REGULATION

SOURCE:  Truth About Trade and Technology, USA

AUTHOR:  Ted Sheely

URL:     http://www.truthabouttrade.org/component/content/18276?task=view

DATE:    11.08.2011

SUMMARY: "We must restore common sense to biotech regulations. If you?re late for your job, the boss docks your pay. If you?re late for school, the teacher marks you tardy. If you?re late with your mortgage, the bank charges extra. Yet the federal government can ignore its own self-imposed regulatory deadlines. Fortunately, a first-term member of Congress has proposed a bill that offers a solution that merits discussion."

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A CALL FOR COMMON SENSE BIOTECH CROP REGULATION

Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology

Once a year, I file an application with the federal government for my water supply. If I miss the deadline by just a day, my farm in California?s Central Valley won?t receive even a trickle of water for crop irrigation. Nothing will grow and my livelihood will be ruined.

So I always make sure this paperwork is done properly and submitted ahead of schedule. Perhaps you experience something similar on April 15, as you scramble to pay taxes.

It would be nice if the government returned the favor by performing important work in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, its refusal to do so now threatens our country?s economy and food security.

Federal regulators are supposed to take about six months to approve new biotech crop traits that benefit both farmers and consumers. This is according to the government?s own guidelines. In reality, the process now takes an average of almost three years.

Instead of trying to speed up this dawdling performance, however, Washington may allow the Environmental Protection Agency to build new hurdles that will turn a bad situation worse, threatening our country?s economy and food security.

It shouldn?t be this way. President Obama said so earlier this year, in his State of the Union address. He announced a review of government regulations ?to reduce barriers to growth and investment.? Then he made a promise: ?When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on business, we will fix them.?

Obama should fix the delays in biotech crop approvals immediately.

Biotechnology has revolutionized farming, allowing us to grow more food on less land and at lower costs. It has strengthened our nation?s food supply and energized rural economies. For years, the United States has led the world in the research, development, and commercialization of these outstanding products. We?re on the verge of even greater progress, as scientists develop crops with traits such as drought tolerance and the benefits of biotechnology spread to minor crops.

Yet instead of capitalizing on this success, we?re letting our competitive advantage slip away. Last year, Brazil approved eight new biotech traits for corn, soybeans, and cotton, according to Agri-Pulse. The United States managed to approve only two new traits. At this rate, a dozen years will pass before the USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) gets through the 24 applications it already has pending. A petition submitted this year would receive an answer in 2023.

The delays will grow even longer if the EPA gets involved, adding redundancy to inefficiency. America?s leading scientists agree.

?The increased regulatory burdens that would result from this expansion would impose steep barriers to scientific innovation and product development across all sectors of our economy and would not only fail to enhance safety, but would likely prolong reliance on less safe and obsolete practices,? wrote a group of 60 scientists, including two Nobel laureates, to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson last month.

We must restore common sense to biotech regulations.

If you?re late for your job, the boss docks your pay. If you?re late for school, the teacher marks you tardy. If you?re late with your mortgage, the bank charges extra.

Yet the federal government can ignore its own self-imposed regulatory deadlines. Fortunately, a first-term member of Congress has proposed a bill that offers a solution that merits discussion.

Rep. Stephen Fincher is from a town with an improbable name: Frog Jump. It?s a real place--and Fincher has suggested a way for biotech crops to leapfrog a sluggish regulatory process. His legislation would require APHIS to make a decision on crop applications within 180 days (or a little longer if reasonable extensions are required).

?As a farmer myself, I understand that a more efficient approval process will result in increased investment and jobs,? says Fincher.

Best of all, this legislation would boost our lousy economy at no cost to taxpayers or the government. At a time of 9 percent unemployment and shattered debt ceilings, it may not be the perfect solution but it?s a creative and potentially effective response to a nagging problem.

Fincher proposes a deadline but what he?s really offering is a lifeline.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   ARE U.S. GROWERS LOSING THEIR COMPETITIVE EDGE BECAUSE OF REGULATORY HURDLES?

SOURCE:  High Plains / Midwest Ag Journal, USA

AUTHOR:  Sara Wyant

URL:     http://www.hpj.com/archives/2011/aug11/aug15/0808Wyantsr.cfm

DATE:    11.08.2011

SUMMARY: "Just last week, APHIS gave the public another month to comment on Monsanto?s petition to deregulate corn that has been genetically engineered for drought tolerance. Most of the public docket is filled with comments from anti-GMO activists, who want all biotech traits banned, although a few farmers also weighed in to support biotech benefits. Large biotechnology companies like Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta aren?t ready to export their research and development to South America or other developing countries, but ?it could become a real problem if we don?t get things fixed here in the U.S.,? says Val Giddings, a senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation."

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ARE U.S. GROWERS LOSING THEIR COMPETITIVE EDGE BECAUSE OF REGULATORY HURDLES?

Sara Wyant publishes Agri-Pulse, a national electronic newsletter focused on farm and rural policy

With the challenges of feeding a rapidly growing global population, farmers are looking for new seed traits that can improve yields, withstand extreme weather, and provide greater end-user value. Brazil, where regulators are steadily approving new biotech seed traits, has signaled that it is open for biotech business.

That?s unlike the United States, where the regulatory approval process has slowed to a snail?s pace. Brazilian regulators approved eight new genetically engineered traits for corn, soybeans and cotton in 2010 and two more this year, bringing their total to 30 since 2005. U.S. regulators deregulated a paltry three new traits last year and only two new traits in 2011. Twenty-four petitions are currently pending a determination by USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a process that often takes three to four years.

What?s the holdup?

?The time frame for completion depends on the complexity of the genetically engineered traits and the type and number of public comments,? explained a USDA spokesperson. Just last week, APHIS gave the public another month to comment on Monsanto?s petition to deregulate corn that has been genetically engineered for drought tolerance. Most of the public docket is filled with comments from anti-GMO activists, who want all biotech traits banned, although a few farmers also weighed in to support biotech benefits.

Large biotechnology companies like Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta aren?t ready to export their research and development to South America or other developing countries, but ?it could become a real problem if we don?t get things fixed here in the U.S.,? says Val Giddings, a senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Giddings worked for APHIS when biotech companies first started filing petitions for the non-regulated status of specific biotech traits in the early 1990s. He says that deadlines for decisions on regulatory status, which are required by statute to be made within 120 days, were ?routinely met or beaten? at that time. ?That is definitely not the case today. Lately, petitions have taken years, not months.

?The main effect has been to disadvantage academic researchers and drive them away from biotechnology because they believe they can?t get stuff through the regulatory process,? explained Giddings. ?The big companies still have the boots on the ground to navigate through the regulatory process. It?s the little guys, the academic researchers, who have really been disadvantaged so far.?

Giddings said ?minor? crops, like almonds, grapes, stone fruits and other crops important to California agriculture, have really great biotech solutions that could be employed, but they are not being pursued the way they were 15 years ago because researchers are discouraged and think the regulatory hurdles are insurmountable.

?The difference is not that the regulators have become incompetent,? he said. ?The real problem is that we have seen a multiplication of harassment lawsuits from career opponents of biotechnology.? For example, Giddings pointed to the Center for Food Safety, which routinely files lawsuits in the Ninth Circuit Court in California to stop biotech approvals, even though most challenges are eventually overturned on appeal.

?You?ve had a series of highly dubious judicial decisions that have ignored the facts and put biotech sugar beets and alfalfa in a state of uncertainty, casting a pall over the entire regulatory process because now APHIS is worried about how this will play out when they are sued.?

Giddings suggests APHIS has been poorly served by USDA?s Office of General Counsel and the Justice Department, who opted to take a defensive posture, similar to physicians worried about malpractice lawsuits. ?They order additional tests--even though they know they aren?t necessary--just to document a paper trail for use in the courts when you have a lawsuit arising,? he added.

?What we?ve got now is a situation where the degree of regulatory scrutiny applied to biotech products is grossly out of proportion to the potential hazards of those products,? said Giddings.

Agricultural biotechnology is actually bringing to life the vision Rachel Carson articulated in the last chapter of her book ?Silent Spring,? where she sees agricultural research being poised to follow a new path, he said. Carson?s vision ?is one that relies not on conquering nature with synthetic chemistry, but by harnessing our increasing understanding of the principles of biology to make natural selection and biological phenomena, physiology and everything like that work for us in producing the food, feed and fiber that a growing population demands,? said Giddings.

?But we won?t continue on that path,? he added, ?unless regulatory decisions can be based on their merits and not on the basis of paranoid lawsuit management strategies.?