Food & Ag Policy Briefing: Bayer strikes back, water directive, CAP support
Also, USMCA clears House hurdle
Bayer has fired off its first legal salvo in an appeal of a federal court ruling that awarded a cancer victim some $80 million in damages because of alleged exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.
The agricultural science company alleges that the judge in the case, heard in California earlier this year, made a series of errors and that the claims are preempted by federal law as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared a cancer warning on a glyphosate-based product would constitute misbranding under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.
The stakes are high for Bayer. The company is facing some 5,000 other cases in federal court — as well as thousands in state courts across the country — brought by cancer victims who allege Monsanto failed to warn of the carcinogenic risks of its glyphosate products.
In addition to the federal case under appeal, the company has lost the two other cases that have made it to trial. In August 2018, another California jury awarded a former school groundskeeper some $289 million in a similar case and a second state jury, also based in California, awarded an elderly couple $2 billion in damages in May. Bayer has appealed both those rulings.
California, meanwhile, has hit back at a bid by food and agriculture industry interests to upend its decision to add glyphosate to the state’s Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals, suggesting the plaintiffs’ concerns about the impact of the listing are speculative and unwarranted.
State officials recently filed their brief with the US District Court for the Eastern District of California refuting the request by the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and others for summary judgment. US District Judge William Shubb is set to consider the competing motions early next year.
USMCA on its way to Senate, but may be delayed
The US House has voted to approve the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by a wide, 385-41 margin in what has been described by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as a “major milestone”.
The USMCA deal will serve as “the template for US trade agreements going forward,” Lighthizer said, and he praised the pact’s “coalition” of supporters representing “workers, farmers, Republicans, Democrats, business and agriculture groups, organized labor and much more.”
A deal on new environmental, labor and other enforcement tweaks was reached last week and then signed off on by Mexican and Canadian officials. Once implementing legislation was introduced in the House, Mexico expressed surprise over provisions authorizing Department of Labor attachés but relented after further assurances from Lighthizer.
However, despite pressure to ratify the pact this year – in particular from Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he will wait to take up the matter until after the Senate conducts an impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
It is unclear at this stage whether suggestions that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may delay transmitting articles of impeachment to the Senate may impact McConnell’s timeframe for USMCA consideration.
Meanwhile, following on from the success of the ‘phase one’ trade agreement between the US and China last week, our colleagues at IEG Vantage have been analysing whether it is realistic for the Asian country to boost its imports of ag produce to $40bn in the first year of the deal.
This would mean an additional $16bn on top of the $24bn the country was purchasing before the current import tariffs were applied on a host of US exports.
While some sectors will undoubtedly benefit from the agreement, the overall purchases will likely fall short of the USTR target, the IEG Vantage analysts conclude.
Major EU powers back Commission on CAP
Agriculture ministers from France, Germany and Spain have thrown their weight behind the European Commission’s proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy as they feel it can help achieve the objectives set out in the EU executive’s ‘European Green Deal’.
In a joint statement, they said they “strongly support” the Green Deal’s requirement that the CAP should be doing more to protect the environment and address climate change in the bloc. In particular, they agreed that enhanced conditionality is the best way forward – in other words, raising the minimum level of sustainable practises that farmers must implement in order to earn direct payments.
While the Commission will welcome the support, it does further expose a rift between EU member states over the future direction of the CAP.
A leaked draft of a recent Council position on the CAP clearly showed that most member states want weaker environmental ambition than is currently being presented by the Commission.
The Finnish Presidency also said at the latest AgriFish Council meeting that countries have only agreed on five out of 10 Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions, such as preserving carbon rich soils and crop rotation, for the next CAP.
Despite the joint statement’s support for the CAP reform, the three member states still want the Strategic Plans to be more simple and flexible in how they can be implemented on a national level.
Germany, Spain and France feel that the Commission’s blueprint has too many indicators to determine progress and do not consider these measures easy to report on.
The Commission will monitor Strategic Plans annually to determine progress, but the three member states suggest this is unrealistic and said they should be assessed less frequently.
The member states also said greater green ambition has to go “hand in hand with providing appropriate funds” in the next EU budget.
Water Directive update
An EU deal last week on drinking water will limit endocrine disruptors and see microplastics monitored to encourage consumers to switch from plastic bottles to tap water and drinking fountains to quench their thirst.
A deal was finalised last week (December 18) on a proposal to revise the 1998 drinking water directive (98/83/EC) in talks between representatives from the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.
It ended with stricter limits for lead and endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenol A (BPA), in drinking water. The agreement also foresees free access to drinking water in public buildings and stronger consumer rights.
The directive revolutionises the way drinking water is regulated. Currently, drinking water is controlled “end-of-pipe” but the newly agreed rules implement the so-called ‘risk-based-approach’, allowing for prevention and mitigation measures to protect drinking water sources.
Another important change is that the legislation will give the public easy, user-friendly access – including online – to information about the quality and supply of drinking water in their area, improving confidence in tap water.