- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

Activists upset with organic 'loophole'

Environmental Working Group officials are upset over what they perceive as a flaw in a federal spending bill that will allow livestock producers to use lesser criteria for raising livestock that qualify for the Agriculture Department's "Organic" label.

The Washington-based activist group sent a letter last week to Fieldale Farms, expressing its displeasure and accusing the company of having Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., put a loophole in the spending bill that Congress recently passed.

Deal represents the congressional district where Fieldale is located.

Activists say the loophole will allow livestock to carry the "organically raised" label, even if they do not use organically developed feed to raise the livestock. Such a move reduces the expenses incurred by livestock producers, which can result in boosting their profits.

"Will Fieldale be selling this ersatz organic product under its own brand, and, if not, which conventional grocery chains will be selling it as "USDA Organic" under their own labels?" the group's letter reads.

Fieldale officials were not available to comment. But they previously have said they are trying to increase the amount of livestock that is organically raised by reducing the expense incurred.

They also have said that activists are distorting the effects that the changes will have on the quality of the poultry products they produce.

Working group officials are not convinced, calling the reasoning "disingenuous."

"We are curious to know if any other food companies share this concern to 'level the playing field' by supporting your position?" the letter reads. "We have heard of none.

"Indeed, we have observed universal opposition to, and condemnation of, the Fieldale Loophole in the food industry and among organic farmers and consumers."


Feds to begin signup for livestock, tobacco programs

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said sign-up for an expanded Livestock Compensation Program will begin April 1 and benefits from the Tobacco Payment Program will begin March 17.

Veneman said an implementation team is working on details concerning other program benefits. The Agriculture Department also has added to its Web site information about programs included in agriculture-related assistance.

The Agriculture Department "is committed to providing these disaster program benefits to producers as quickly as possible," Veneman said. "Our implementation team is examining ways to cut the red tape and expedite the process where possible, and the new Web site provides the ability for producers to make suggestions on how we might work more efficiently in meeting that goal."

The tobacco and livestock programs were able to begin operations more quickly because program systems were in place and both are considered relatively easy to administer.


Russia tops U.S. for Egypt's wheat purchases

The United States' agriculture attach in Egypt said the country has purchased 4.11 million metric tons of wheat since July, only about 20 percent coming from U.S. sources.

Officials noted Russia has become Egypt's major wheat supplier (1.03 million metric tons compared to 840,000 from the U.S.) Egypt and Russia have negotiated a barter deal involving various Egyptian agricultural goods, leading to greater purchases from Russia.

Officials say they expect United States eventually to become Egypt's No. 1 supplier. Egypt also has purchased wheat from Australia, France, Pakistan, the Ukraine, Poland, Yugoslavia, India, Bulgaria and Romania.


ADM stops use of Baltimore grain elevator

Archer Daniels Midland Co. discontinued operations at its Baltimore export grain elevator, effective Saturday.

Under terms of a 40-year lease with the Maryland Port Administration, the Decatur, Ill., firm has operated the export grain elevator facility. During June 2001, a part of the pier collapsed. This collapse severely impacted operation of the elevator and prevented export operations.

Negotiations for restoration of the pier and extension of the lease agreement have been unsuccessful.


Feds may close farm-related offices

Agriculture Department officials said they are considering closing up to 200 offices around the United States in a cost-cutting measure.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told a House appropriations subcommittee some services may also be moved to sites where farmers can get help in obtaining conservation money and other subsidies.

Officials said that office closings are part of a continuing effort to encourage farmers to file more of their paperwork through the Internet.


Grains mixed on CBOT

Grain futures were mixed at the close Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Soybeans fell on profit-taking and traders' efforts to position themselves for the coming of a new month.

Corn rose on beliefs price declines earlier in the week were overdone.

Wheat rose on weather-related concerns for the crops in France and the Ukraine. Oats were mixed.

The prices:

Soybeans: Mar 5.77 off 4 , May 5.75 off 7, Jul 5.74 off 6 , Aug 5.62 off 6.

Corn: Mar 2.31 up 1 , May 2.33 up 1, Jul 2.35 up , Sep 2.37 unch.

Wheat: Mar 3.12 up 3 , May 3.10 up , Jul 3.04 up , Sep 3.09 up .

Oats: Mar 2.21 up 1, May 2.03 off 2 , Jul 1.88 off 2, Sep 1.64 unch.

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