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An eminent domain fight, a Pigford sign-up deadline and catfish inspections

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Folks tend to get upset when land they own is forcefully taken over by outside interests claiming eminent domain. Government projects, infrastructure needs, and economic health may be legitimate reasons to invoke the law but it doesn’t leave those whose lands are taken any less aggrieved. And what if it isn’t the government that takes your land or land-use rights, but a private company?

Folks tend to get upset when land they own is forcefully taken over by outside interests claiming eminent domain. Government projects, infrastructure needs, and economic health may be legitimate reasons to invoke the law but it doesn’t leave those whose lands are taken any less aggrieved. And what if it isn’t the government that takes your land or land-use rights, but a private company?

The New York Times has a new story up on a northeast Texas family farmer, Julia Trigg Crawford, who ran up against the Keystone XL pipeline that will carry crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas coast. Crawford, whose 600-acre farm was handed down from her grandfather, is worried that the pipeline could pollute a valuable water source the farm uses for irrigation.

Now locked into legal actions, Crawford just wants to be left alone by the energy company. “We may lose the case. Hell, we’ll probably lose,” she said. “But I played basketball for A&M. I was raised to compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to get your teeth kicked in. You go out there and fight.”

Read the story here.

The sign-up deadline for the $1.25 billion Pigford II settlement – more commonly known as the “black farmers’ lawsuit – is set for May 11. Some have predicted around 40,000 sign-ups.

For more coverage on Pigford, see here.

When does trade and commerce trump food safety?

A recent story on the last farm bill’s mandated USDA catfish inspection program – and the various obstacles to implementing the program – provided seafood importers a chance to push against food safety worries. Despite only the slightest percentage of imported seafood being inspected and documented chemicals and carcinogens in shipments that have been, one lobbyist claims the issue is a “fake food scare.”

See the story here.

Naysayers also claim the USDA inspection of Asian catfish imports long advocated by U.S. catfish producers, will lead to a trade war with Vietnam. Arizona Sen. John McCain, once tortured in Vietnam and now a leading proponent of trade with the nation, has been especially vocal about his opposition to strengthened inspections.

For more on the catfish inspections, see here.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on May 10, 2012

The importance of understanding what is at stake when it comes to the 2012 Farm Bill and the now infamous catfish provision from 2008 cannot be understated. Cavalierly linking to a Beltway write-up on this wasteful, duplicative inspection program in a manner that suggests Western growers and agribusinesses in the region might consider supporting the provision exposes an unfortunate lack of understanding.

For starters the 2008 catfish provision is in fact part of a fake food safety scare designed to benefit domestic catfish producers by regulating their competition out of the market. Switching “catfish” inspection from FDA to USDA and then falsely calling imports, like the pangasius fish, “catfish,” erects a trade barrier but doesn’t make the food any safer.

And who bears the brunt of the trade fallout from such a move? The very growers and agribusinesses who read this publication, that’s who.

A literal who’s who from the agricultural world has spoken out strongly against the catfish provision in correspondence directly with the USDA. Opponents include American Soybean Association, Cargill, Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Hormel Foods, National Council of Farmer Coops, National Meat Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Restaurant Association, National Turkey Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Smithfield Foods, United States Dairy Export Council, United States Grains Council, United States Meat Export Federation, USA Poultry and Egg Export Council and of course the Western Growers Association.

So let’s answer the question posed by the above headline-- When does trade and commerce trump food safety? It doesn’t because this provision has never been about food safety; it has always been about a campaign to unnecessarily exclude imports from the market, a strategy that would ultimately restrict U.S. agricultural exports to growing foreign markets.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 11, 2012

I know that you, as an NFI affiliate/employee, are stating exactly what you are supposed to be stating. This being said, and to cherry-pick one of your small points, it is absolutely ridiculous from a scientific and taxonomic standpoint to state that any fish in the Pangasiidae family are not catfish. They are catfishes, as is any fish in the Siluriform order.

I know there can be some legal mumbo jumbo to rearrange and define pangasiid catfishes as something other than catfishes but this exists solely in the otherworldly realm of Washington DC including politicians on both sides as well as advocacy/lobbying groups such as NFI.

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