Push Back Against Non-Dairy Products That Use Words Like ‘Milk’ or ‘Cheese’

Earlier this month, Bloomberg writers Deena Shanker and Lydia Mulvany reported that, “Miyoko Schinner is a perfect illustration of the American dream. To the U.S. dairy industry, however, she is something altogether different.

“A Japanese immigrant, Schinner started a small company that blossomed into a wildly successful vegan cheese maker, one with the potential to do for dairy alternatives what Beyond Meat is doing for beef substitutes. Her business, Miyoko’s Kitchen, began in 2014 as an e-commerce platform, trading on the popularity of her vegan cheese cookbook. After one weekend in which she received $50,000 worth of orders, Schinner knew her 40-pound batches wouldn’t be enough to satisfy demand.

So she figured out how to make 1,500 pounds an hour, raised $25 million and built a 30,000 square-foot facility in Petaluma, California. ‘It was very difficult to scale,’ said Schinner, now 61. Making dairy alternatives out of ingredients like cashews and rice miso doesn’t always work as planned.”

The Bloomberg writes explained that, “Until recently, the U.S. dairy industry had been relatively quiet about the proliferation of non-dairy products that use words like ‘milk’ or ‘cheese.’  But lately it’s been pushing back. Wisconsin, which calls itself America’s Dairyland, is one of the biggest dairy producers in the country. It’s also America’s biggest maker of actual butter.

“So when it came to the kind of ‘butter’ Schinner makes, Wisconsin and its powerful dairy lobby decided to draw the line.”

The article noted that, “[Dire circumstances in the dairy farm economy] have led some in the dairy industry, most notably lobbying groups like the National Milk Producers Federation, to campaign against alternative dairy products—specifically their use of dairy terms on labels. Changing consumer tastes are regularly cited as a chief cause of dairy’s slow demise, but vegan products using labels such as ‘milk’—or in this case, ‘butter’—are seen by the milk lobby as misleading consumers to unfairly steal market share.”

The article added that, “Senators Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a Democrat, and Jim Risch of Idaho, a Republican, are pushing the Dairy Pride Act, which would require the FDA to create a system of stricter nationwide enforcement for product labeling and the use of certain words. Under the proposal, labeling something ‘milk,’ for example, must mean the product comes from a ‘hooved mammal.‘ A bipartisan House version has also been introduced by Representative Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, and has 33 cosponsors.”

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Survey: Winter Hit U.S. Honeybees Hard

The Associated Press reported recently that, “Winter hit U.S. honeybees hard with the highest loss rate yet, an annual survey of beekeepers showed.

“The annual nationwide survey by the Bee Informed Partnership found 37.7% of honeybee colonies died this past winter, nearly 9 percentage points higher than the average winter loss.

“The survey of nearly 4,700 beekeepers managing more than 300,000 colonies goes back 13 years and is conducted by bee experts at the University of Maryland, Auburn University and several other colleges.”

The AP article indicated that, “Bees pollinate $15 billion worth of U.S. food crops. One-third of the human diet comes from pollinators, including native wild bees and other animals, many of which are also in trouble, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

‘We should be concerned on multiple levels,’ said University of California, Berkeley, agricultural social scientist Jennie Durant, who has a separate study this week on loss of food supply for bees.

“Year-to-year bee colony losses, which include calculations for summer, were 40.7%, higher than normal, but not a record high, the survey found.”

“For more than a decade, bees have been in trouble with scientists blaming mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food,” the AP article said.

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Minnesota Grain Elevator Manager Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison for Bilking Farmers

Dan Browning reported in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune that, “The former manager of a western Minnesota grain elevator whose longtime embezzlement bankrupted the business and cheated its 200 member-farmers out of millions of dollars to pay for his exotic big-game hunting trips was sentenced Friday in Fergus Falls to eight years in federal prison.

“Jerome ‘Jerry’ Hennessey, 56, worked for the Ashby Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. for nearly 30 years, rising to its general manager. His skillful options trading initially helped the co-op recover from a precarious financial position, his lawyers said in court documents. But it didn’t last.

Since 2003, Hennessey had been writing checks from the business to cover his personal expenses for big-game hunting, jewelry, furniture, clothing, entertainment, travel, real estate and improvements to his home and hunting cabin. He also used the co-op’s money to buy all-terrain vehicles and to pay property taxes and large balances on his credit cards.”

The Star Tribune article noted that, “Hennessey concealed the payments as legitimate expenses for the co-op, figuring he could cover them from his trading activities, his lawyers said. He couldn’t. He eventually obtained a line of credit of about $7 million for the co-op by misrepresenting the amount of grain it had in storage and used that account to cover $5,338,922.21 that federal prosecutors say he stole from his employer before last August, when the bank called the co-op’s line of credit due, exposing the fraud.

“Hennessey disappeared for two months before turning himself in to federal authorities in December. He admitted the embezzlement and his failure to report $3.5 million in income between 2011 and 2017, resulting in a loss of $1.2 million in revenue to the IRS and $400,000 to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

“The advisory sentencing guidelines suggested a prison term of 78 to 97 months, supervised release of one to three years, and a fine of $25,000 to $250,000. Hennessey agreed not to appeal the prison sentence if it does not exceed 97 months and the government agreed not to appeal if it’s at least 78 months.”

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On Falling Mortgage Rates, Sales of Previously Owned Homes Rose in May

Wall Street Journal writer Laura Kusisto reported today that, “Sales of previously owned homes rose in May, a sign that falling mortgage rates could be nudging the housing market toward a modest spring performance after a sluggish start to this prime selling season.

Sales rose 2.5% in May from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.34 million, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.

The spring is crucial to the housing market because roughly 40% of the year’s sales take place in March through June. May was the first month this spring when sales rose from the prior month, but compared with a year earlier sales in May still declined 1.1%.”

The Journal article stated that, “The housing market struggled late last year even as the rest of the economy boomed, in part because higher mortgage rates priced some buyers out of the market.”

“Mortgage rates are now below 4% for the first time since January of last year, according to Freddie Mac. That is down from nearly 5% in the fall, a saving of roughly $200 a month for the typical home buyer,” today’s article said.

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Bayer Battling Wave of Litigation over Weedkiller

Last week, Bloomberg writers Tim Loh and Naomi Kresge reported that, “Bayer AG will pump about 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) of its research and development budget into alternatives to its weedkiller glyphosate over the next decade as it battles more than 13,000 lawsuits claiming the herbicide causes cancer.

Trying to ease concerns about the controversial compound, the German chemical and drug company said it will seek more public feedback during the coming safety certification process in Europe. Bayer wants to offer farmers new products to combat weeds while standing behind glyphosate-based Roundup, which it acquired via its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto.

The Bloomberg article explained that, “Bayer is working to rehabilitate its image as it battles a wave of U.S.-centered litigation that has spread to other countries such as Australia. Last month, the German company suffered a third straight trial loss over claims that exposure to Roundup caused cancer, prompting some analysts to raise their estimates for settling the litigation to as much as $10 billion.

“The 5 billion euros in spending on new herbicides over the next decade does not represent new money. It’s part of Bayer’s existing 2.5 billion-euro annual budget for crop science research and development, spokesman Tino Andresen said. The company expects more growth from seeds and digital farming businesses in coming years, where innovation is expected to yield greater rewards.”

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Increased Safeguards for Tenants in New York, Come as Other State Legislatures Consider Limiting Rent Increases

Last week, Wall Street Journal writers Will Parker and Jimmy Vielkind reported that, “In passing a sweeping overhaul of rent laws on Friday, New York state lawmakers gave a boost to a movement among state capitals to try to address rental-housing affordability.

“The New York legislation brings increased power to tenants in roughly one million rent-regulated apartments in New York City. It makes it more difficult for the owners of those apartments to increase rents, while enabling more tenants to sue landlords for rent overcharges. Also, tenants around the state will have more protections against eviction.

Proposals to limit rents are advancing in a number of state legislatures, including in California, where a statewide cap on rent passed the California Assembly in May, and in Oregon, which passed the nation’s first statewide rent control in February, limiting annual rent increases to 7% plus local inflation.”

The Journal article noted that, “The wave of policies isn’t an exclusively blue state phenomenon: The Republican-controlled Georgia state Legislature passed a bill in March protecting tenants who complain about poor building conditions from being evicted in retaliation.

Rent has become an important part of the conversation early in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. A handful of 2020 Democratic hopefuls have released rent-policy proposals. Most recently, Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) this month floated a federal tax credit to help renters struggling with housing affordability.”

Last week’s article also pointed out that, “New York state Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens who voted in favor of the bill, said the lack of affordable housing needed to be a part of a national conversation, pointing to San Francisco, Seattle and urban centers along the East Coast as proof of the lack of affordable housing.

Without any changes, he said, ‘We’ll be living in a world where the very wealthy are occupying the city centers and the people who have less means will be traveling hours back and forth just to get to work.'”

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Secretary Perdue Announces New Dairy Margin Coverage Signup Begins June 17

A news release on Friday from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announces that signup begins June 17 for the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program, the cornerstone program of the dairy safety net that helps dairy producers manage the volatility of milk and feed prices, operated by [FSA].

“The 2018 Farm Bill allowed USDA to construct the new DMC, which replaces the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy). This new program offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all-milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.

“‘In February I committed to opening signup of the new Dairy Margin Coverage program by June 17, I am proud to say that our FSA staff worked hard to meet that challenge as one of the Department’s top Farm Bill implementation priorities since President Trump signed it last December.’ said Secretary Perdue. ‘With an environment of low milk prices, high economic stress, and a new safety net program with higher coverage levels and lower premiums, it is the right time for dairy producers to seriously consider enrolling when signup opens. For many smaller dairies, the choice is probably a no-brainer as the retroactive coverage through January has already assured them that the 2019 payments will exceed the required premiums.'”

The FSA update added that, “Dairy producers also are reminded that 2018 Farm Bill provisions allow for dairy operation to participate in both FSA’s DMC program and the Risk Management Agency’s Livestock Gross Margin (LGM-Dairy) program. There are also no restrictions from participating in DMC in conjunction with any other RMA insurance products.

“On December 20, 2018, President Trump signed into law the 2018 Farm Bill, which provides support, certainty and stability to our nation’s farmers, ranchers and land stewards by enhancing farm support programs, improving crop insurance, maintaining disaster programs and promoting and supporting voluntary conservation. FSA is committed to implementing these changes as quickly and effectively as possible, and today’s updates are part of meeting that goal.

“For more information, visit farmers.gov DMC webpage or contact your local USDA service center. To locate your local FSA office, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.”

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Germany’s Infarm Escalates Fight for Supremacy in Indoor Farming

Wall Street Journal writer Marc Vartabedian reported earlier this week that, “Venture investors are firing another salvo in the increasingly competitive field of indoor farming, a growing market that has already drawn interest from powerhouse firms like SoftBank Vision Fund and GV.

Infarm, a Berlin-based startup, said Tuesday it raised $100 million in a Series B investment led by Atomico. As part of this investment round, Atomico Partner Hiro Tamura will join the company’s board.

“Existing investors of Infarm, legally known as Indoor Urban Farming GmbH, including Balderton Capital, Astanor Ventures, Cherry Ventures and TriplePoint Capital participated in the round.”

The Journal article stated that, “Vertical farming has fetched hundreds of millions in venture-capital dollars in recent years. Plenty Unlimited Inc., based in South San Francisco, Calif., has raised $260 million, according to PitchBook Data Inc., including a $200 million financing led by SoftBank Vision Fund in 2017. New York-based Bowery Farming Inc. has raised nearly $120 million, including a $90 million Series B led by GV in 2018, according to PitchBook.

Now with its latest funding round, Infarm has collected $135 million since it was formed in 2013 by Chief Executive Erez Galonska with his brother Guy Galonska and Osnat Michaeli.

“The 250-person company—with operations in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and France—says it plans to expand its farming to the U.K. in September and the U.S. next year. Its herbs and leafy greens are sold through 25 European retail partners such as Edeka, Metro, Migros, Casino, Intermarche, according to Infarm.”

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Indigo Agriculture Initiative Will Pay Farmers to Store Carbon

Emiko Terazono and Leslie Hook reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Indigo Agriculture, a Boston-based agritech start-up, will start paying farmers to store carbon in soil, as it seeks to spur a novel market that could help address climate change.

“The new initiative is part of a growing field of climate-related agricultural practices — which have been supported by companies including General Mills and Cargill — that seek to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

“Indigo, which has raised $650m from investors including Baillie Gifford and the Investment Corporation of Dubai, said the initiative was part of its efforts to encourage sustainable agricultural practices and address climate change.”

The FT article noted that, “Founded five years ago, Indigo sells crop microbials to replace chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and operates a digital marketplace for grains akin to an ‘Ebay for farmers,’ as well as a grain transport service.

“Indigo said it hoped to sign up more than 3,000 growers, covering more than 1m acres this year. They will be paid $15 for every tonne of carbon dioxide that is stored underground.

It plans to sell the carbon credits that can offset a company’s inherent emissions to the food and agriculture sector.”

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Trump Signs Directive to Ease Approval of New GMO Crops

Bloomberg writers Mike Dorning and Jennifer A Dlouhy reported yesterday that, “President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday directing federal agencies to ease rules for approving genetically modified crops and other agricultural biotechnology.

“The order instructs the U.S. Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency — all of which have jurisdiction over genetically engineered agricultural products — to review their biotechnology regulations to streamline approval processes, according to a White House fact sheet.

“Trump signed the order Tuesday during a stop at an ethanol plant in politically important Iowa. The order is intended to speed approval of new agricultural biotechnology, reduce developers’ costs and encourage more investment in GMO crops, the White House said in a fact sheet.”

The Bloomberg writers added that, “The Agriculture Department last week proposed a broad overhaul of biotech rules that would exempt from regulation genetically edited farm products with traits ‘similar in kind’ to modifications that could be produced through traditional breeding techniques.”

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