Federal Labeling Law on GMOs Does Not Pass the “Laugh Test”

 A protester in San Francisco, California, advocates for the labeling of GMO constituents in foodstuffs. Photo courtesy of Daniel Goehring.

A protester in San Francisco, California, advocates for the labeling of GMO constituents in foodstuffs. Photo courtesy of Daniel Goehring.

Due to pressure from the processed food industry, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a new federal law requiring QR codes on the labels of products containing genetically modified foods, or GMOs. For activists, especially in Vermont, this was very bad news.

After years of activism Vermont became the first state in the United States to pass a law to require manufacturers to state on product labels if the food within contains GMOs. The law passed in Vermont’s legislature in 2014 with an overwhelming majority, and went into effect on July 1st, 2016.

As the law was challenged in court during the summer, unsuccessfully, activists in New York and Massachusetts took heart and gained momentum to pass similar laws. In addition, several food companies decided that it would be easier to put labels on their products throughout the country rather than just creating a different label just for their small Vermont market. Some companies even decided it would be easier to just leave out GMOs altogether.

Then, in mid-July, congress took the side of processed food, pesticide and biotech companies. With little debate and no hearings, first the Senate, and then the House, passed a much less potent law for disclosing GMOs in food. But not only that: the law also prevents individual states, including Vermont, from making their own labeling requirements. President Obama signed this law into effect on July 29th.

The weaker federal law makes it more difficult for consumers to find out what is in their food, requiring them to either have a smart phone to read the QR code, or look up the ingredients on a web site, or make a phone call.

“The idea that this will provide right to know is ridiculous,” says Andrea Stander, the executive director of Rural Vermont, which pushed for Vermont’s labeling law. “It doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

Jimmy John Liautaud’s Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop Bought by Roark Capital

Jimmy John's Storefront in Pasadena, California. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jimmy John’s Storefront in Pasadena, California. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jimmy John Liautaud started his mega-business, Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shops, in the Chicago area in 1983. Fresh out of high school, his father loaned him the seed money to open his first sandwich shop in Charleston, Illinois, close to the Eastern Illinois University dorms. On the menu of that first shop were just four kinds of sandwiches; but Jimmy John’s attention to detail and willingness to offer free delivery, not to mention an enormous amount of hard work, insured Liautaud profitability within his first year of operations.

Within just 10 years Jimmy John Liautaud had ten stores in his growing empire. Soon he was selling franchise outlets. This is not to say the enterprise has not also had its down moments. In 2002 there were 160 Jimmy John’s shops, but 70 of those were losing money. That was the signal for Liautaud to put a freeze on selling franchises and hit the road. He spent a year and a half visiting the failing outlets and getting them back on track. Seven were beyond repair and were forced to close, but the overall outcome was positive for the business as a whole.

That experience changed the way Liautaud sells his franchises.

“I learned a lot from that experience so I changed the rules for allowing people to buy into my system as a franchisee,” Liautaud says on the company website. “I explained in detail how tough running a Jimmy John’s can be. I explained the long hours, the unforgiving weather, the late nights, the weekends, and all of the sacrifices that go along with the industry. I made it tough for people to get into the system.”

This new attitude helped catapult Jimmy John’s into becoming one of the best franchise ideas in the United States. In 2015 Entrepreneur Magazine named Jimmy John’s as the country’s Number One Business on their Franchise 500 list.

Now Liautaud is taking Jimmy John’s up a notch or two. In early September Roark Capital Group signed an agreement to purchase a majority stake in the company. Although an exact price has not been disclosed, the company was valued in 2015 at $2 billion when it prepared to, but did not follow through with, an IPO.

“I’ve spent two years getting to know the Roark team,” Liautaud said last week. “They are best-in-class people that have the knowledge and expertise that will help us take this brand to the next level.”

Roark is a private equity firm which owns majority shares in several popular food chains, including Arby’s, Miller’s Ale House, and CKE Restaurants (parent company of Carl’s Jr, Hardee’s, Green Burrito and Red Burrito.)

Jimmy John Liautaud will continue as the chairman of Jimmy John’s board of directors. He will also remain as the company’s largest single individual shareholder.

Obama Cancels Meeting After Philippine President Insults Obama’s Mom

Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

You don’t mess with the POTUS and then expect a meeting, as US President Barack Obama proved to his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte.

Affronted by the possibility that Obama was going to express disapproval of the extrajudicial killings that have been taking place by the thousands in the context of the Philippine “war on drugs,” Duterte was said to have called Obama’s mother an insulting epithet. In response, President Obama cancelled the scheduled meeting which was going to discuss agribusiness issues and other issues of relevance to the US and other Asian countries.

President Duterte express regret about his comments insulting President Obama. It is estimated that about 1,300 people have been killed since the Philippine President launched is war on drugs, most of them without the benefit of a trial. An additional 650,000 have turned themselves in as drug addicts, hoping to get treatment instead of a bullet. Unfortunately, the country is not in a position to offer any real assistance to these addicts.

Land O’Lakes Buys Biotech Company Ceres

This grass is grown as an annual crop for biofuel, burned at Drax power station to generate electricity. Photo courtesy of  alh1

This grass is grown as an annual crop for biofuel, burned at Drax power station to generate electricity. Photo courtesy of

US agribusiness giant Land O’Lakes announced its acquisition of Ceres, a California-based biotechnology firm for $17.2 million.

Ceres develops and manufactures seeds from genetically modified crops that are used in the production of biofuels. The company will become part of the forage business unit of Land O’Lakes which is now made up of Forage Genetics International (FGI.)

The deal will enable FGI’s research and development division to further its plant breeding and biotechnology goals. The company will better be able to bring new forage characteristics to the marketplace as well as placing the company in a position to better expand and become a holistic forage provider to its customers.

FGI said that the partnering of Ceres and FGI brings together complimentary capabilities which will speed up the process to the creation of new forage solutions for farmers around the world.

Wisconsin Welcomes Participants to 18th Annual National Value Added Agriculture Conference

2011_logo_7594642DD4086The Park Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, will be the venue for the 18th yearly National Value-Added Agriculture Conference, to be held on July 21st and 22nd. The event is designed to focus on the interests of farmers, service providers, extension specialists and community leaders.

According to business development specialist Kietra Olson of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, there will be participants from across the country as well as experts from far and wide.

“We have speakers coming from around the United States to talk about agri-tourism and rural and urban economic development, local and regional food systems, alternative-energy technology, supply-chain issues, and a lot more,” Olson said.

Wisconsin is the perfect place for a meeting of this kind. With 77,000 farms, almost all of which are family owned, Wisconsin has more farms than any other state. In addition, it is the leading state in terms of diversity of produce.

The state’s agriculture industry generates close to $60 billion each year in economic activity. This year’s conference theme is entrepreneurship and expanding rural economies through innovation and outreach to new markets. Olson pointed out that today’s farmers need to know much more about their industry than just planting and harvesting.

“Outreach programming for market expansion as it’s related to value-added processing: grant writing, entrepreneurship, aquaponics and soil-health topics, financing value-added products, things like that,” she said.

Mars Exploration Fertile Ground for Agricultural Innovation



According to Dr. Gernot Groemer, president of the Austrian Space Forum and the head of the PolAres Mars simulation program, exploration of space, and especially the possibility of Mars colonization, is likely to stimulate innovation, especially in the industry and agriculture sectors right here on Earth.

“It’s a clean sheet approach that provides reflections on what is really needed to sustain a community somewhere, anywhere,” explained Dr Groemer. “We use cutting-edge emerging technologies, and what you find with all of the controlled conditions and brain power being applied is that there are applications here on Earth.”

There is a long history of deriving new technologies and products from space programs. Even movies like “The Martian” can inspire creativity. Researchers from Wageningen University & Research Center in the Netherlands grew certain crops in media made to simulate the soil of Mars.

“The food crops were grown in soil that would otherwise be considered unplantable,” Groemer explained. Here on Earth this can translate to improving productivity on land which is marginal or even barren.

“What we know about Mars has progressed massively in the past 15 years, and I strongly believe that the first human to walk on Mars is already born,” stated Dr Gernot Groemer. “We could see permanent human settlement on the Red Planet several generations from now, and they may not be happy eating canned food,” he noted.

There are other issues space exploration forces mankind to investigate.

“The way our body processes food is different enough to matter a great deal. A person’s sense of taste changes in zero gravity. There are medical implications to different gravity effects,” remarked Dr Groemer. “In our work we’re verifying whether the ideas and designs to survive on Mars work in practice, and the gaps between theory and practice that we observe range from trivial to serious matters.”

Orangeburg County Offering Incentives to Agribusiness Development

Orangeburg, SC. Photo by JayeeDior12

Orangeburg, SC. Photo by JayeeDior12

Councilman Harry Wimberly of Orangeburg County in South Carolina announced that his county is creating development incentives to encourage new agribusiness investment.

The idea began back in December, 2015 when the S.C. Department of Agriculture asked Wimberly if his county could support such incentives.

Winberly said he always gets behind any initiative which supports agribusiness coming into and growing in Orangeburg County.

“Anytime we can bring new industry into Orangeburg County is a plus,” he said. “I am glad they entertained us first before any other county.”

At the beginning of May the county became the first in the state to say yes to a resolution backing incentives to grow agribusiness.

Any new businesses entering the county will be joining those who are already present and flourishing, such as: Cactus Farms, Dempsey Wood Products, Cox Industries, Bimbo Bakeries, Carolina Fresh Farms, Orangeburg Pecan, Mars Petcare, Lee’s Sausage and Super-Sod.

US Agribusiness Sees Potential in Cuba

Official photo of United States Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Official photo of United States Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

With the lifting of the US embargo on trade with Cuba US agribusiness is anticipating some benefits to their own economic sector. The American Farm Bureau and other farm groups are pushing for increased trade in agricultural goods when the embargo is nullified.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa senator, is refraining from participating in the flurry of excitement the lifting of the trade embargo has been generating. Even if the end of the embargo means more agricultural products will be sold to Cuba, Grassley is still not moved to support the historic event. He believes that when it comes to the “give and take” of negotiations of the new trade arrangement, Cuba is going to get the better end of the deal.

The Senator points out that even with the embargo still in place farm sales to Cuba has been improving.

“There’s already a provisions that have even been liberalized beyond what they’ve been through maybe ten years for agricultural foods to go there along with medicine, pharmaceuticals, medicinal things. So I don’t know whether we have to be so concerned just for agriculture,” said Grassley.

Senate Taking Steps to Open Cuban Market to US Agribusiness

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Prices for essential commodities such as wheat, corn and oil have been heading south for quite some time due to their current global surplus. One way to bring prices up would be to open new markets, which can often be elusive. However, one such new market is hovering just over the horizon: Cuba.

At the moment the US, under the initiative of US President Barak Obama, some decades-old restrictions on trade with Cuba have been, or are in the process of being lifted. Unfortunately, that trade embargo continues to disallow the crucial financing that agribusiness in the US would need to send agricultural products to the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida. Agribusiness is hoping that this status-quo will change.

There is a revisiting now in the US Senate of bi-partisan support for legislation which could help agriculture exporters sell their wares in Cuba. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, along with 13 co-sponsors are energetically pushing the Senate to pass Heitkamp’s bill. The Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015 would lift the present ban on companies and private banks which supply the financing for the export of agricultural products to Cuba.

Further support for agricultural trade with Cuba is coming from US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Vilsack has requested the funding of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) field office in Cuba as part of the upcoming federal budget which was sent to Congress on February 9, 2016.

All good news for agribusiness in the US and in Cuba.

Canadian Agribusiness Looking for Workers

Need a job? The place to look might just be in the world of agribusiness, especially in Canada. One industry researcher has discovered that although more people have been applying for jobs in Canada’s agribusiness sector in recent months, there is still a critical labor shortage in some sectors of agribusiness.

“People have said that they have received more resumes this year than in previous years,” said Debra Hauer, project manager at the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).

The majority of the jobs available are in the business end of agriculture, such as input suppliers, truck drivers, and marketing, sales and finance.

Job losses in the oil industry could be contributing to the increase in job applications in agribusiness, but Hauer did not want to speculate on what this trend means for agribusiness on a long-term basis.

The collapse of crude oil prices led to the loss of about 30,000 jobs during 2015 in Alberta, Canada’s natural resource industry, says Statistics Canada.

“There may be some people who are running out of EI (employment insurance) at this point in time, and may be running out of other options — that’s just starting out,” Hauer said.

Michael LaPlant to Become VP for Agribusiness of UMB

UMB Bank announced that it was elevating Michael LaPlant to the position of vice president of its agribusiness division.

As vice president LaPlant will be responsible creating new agribusiness relationships while simultaneously guiding clients to a focused strategy. LaPlant was previously a commercial lender with UMB.

LaPlant has a double degree in finance and real estate from the University of Missouri. He also spends time volunteering with Young Friends of the Zoo, Young Friends Marian Middle School, and United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Texas Farmers Unhappy with Rainfall Swings

Rain clouds approaching cattle. Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke

Rain clouds approaching cattle. Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke

According to Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent for Gregg County Randy Reeves, the weather has swung from the two extremes of “heavy rain to drought and back to rains again.”

He continued: “It has delayed just about everything. Hay harvest, spraying for weeds, fertilizing. Going from almost one extreme to the other has made it difficult for producers to adjust.”

Hay farmer Dwight Berryhill from Kilgore said that the lack of summer rain and the overabundance of rain in the autumn, made it difficult just to bring in the hay for harvest.

“You have to wait so long before you can get at it, and that affects the quality as well as when you’re able to get a return from it,” he said. “It’s not the only crop that pays my bills, but if it was I’d been in a heck of a state right now.”

Delays in hay production in turn effects cattlemen and ranchers who are forced to supplement their feed sooner than what is normal, and the rain prevented them from planting clover and rye grasses for the winter pasture, Reeves added.

Beef and forage producer from Longview, Edward Mansinger said he did not even bother to plant a winter pasture due to the summer drought. “I figured it wouldn’t even be able to come up,” he said.

The overly rain-filled soil is also a challenge for the health of the cattle.

“In weather like this, it takes a lot more nutrition to keep them going,” Mansinger said. “There are spots with standing water that, no sooner does it start to dry up that you’ve got another rainfall making things wet and muddy again. It can be hard on your cattle.”

There is some good news among all the bad: groundwater reserves are being replenished.

“The rain has certainly filled our ponds and waterways up, in some cases to overflowing,” Reeves said.

Ekiss to Head BARS for Berkley Corp

Insurance giant WR Berkley Corporation announced its appointment of Michael Ekiss to be president of Berkley’s Agribusiness Risk Specialists division, (BARS.) The appointment of the 30-year veteran of the insurance business is effective immediately.

Ekiss has focused on agribusiness insurance through the years, with his most recent appointment in leadership roles in the Midwest region of a large US insurance company.
He has a BA in economics from the University of Nebraska. He is also designated as a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) and is an Associate in Commercial Underwriting (AU™).
The chairman and CEO of WR Berkley Corporation, William R Berkley, had this to say about the Ekiss appointment:

“Mike brings a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in all aspects of agribusiness insurance. Since its inception in 2009, the exceptional team at BARS has generated strong growth and profitability. We are confident that Mike’s leadership will enable the unit to further expand nationally while developing their strong differentiation from competitors.”

Lisa Johnson Appointed as Interim Director of Agribusiness Division of the Wyoming Business Council

In the wake of the resignation of Director Cindy Garretson-Weibel of the Agribusiness Division of the Wyoming Business Council, the CEO of the Council has appointed an interim director, Lisa Johnson.

Garretson-Wiebel resigned from the position as of October 9, 2015. She left so she could dedicate herself to launching her own small business. Starting on October 12 Johnson will take over as interim Agribusiness Division director. She was previously the Regional Director of the Southesat Region of the Business Council.

Johnson was appointed to her new position by Shawn Reese, the CEO of the Wyoming Business Council.

“Lisa comes to this position with a strong agricultural background. She has worked closely with producers and is one herself,” Reese said. “She has helped develop rural agricultural economies for much of her professional life.”

Agriculture Secretary Statement

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has recently made a statement as a result of the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fourth quarter Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade. Here is what he had to say:

“The strong pace of American agricultural exports continues. Fiscal years 2015 and 2016 exports are forecast to be the third- and fourth-highest on record, respectively. Bulk export volumes are expected to rise in fiscal year 2016 and reach near record levels, and horticultural and livestock product exports are also expected to be higher. Today’s forecast provides a snapshot of a rural America that continues to remain stable in the face of the worst animal disease outbreak in our nation’s history and while the western U.S. remains gripped by drought. Thanks to the resilience of our farmers and ranchers, fiscal years 2009 to 2015 represent the strongest seven years in history for U.S. agricultural trade, with U.S. agricultural product exports totaling more than $911 billion.”

“We expect that new trade agreements, made possible thanks to Trade Promotion Authority, will allow American farmers and ranchers to better reach the 95 percent of consumers who live outside of our borders and drive the continued strength of American agricultural exports. USDA will continue to fight to get the best trade deals for farmers and ranchers that open new markets and new customers to them. Expanded trade strengthens the agricultural economy, supports more than one million good paying American jobs, and helps to preserve the rural way of life.”

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