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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Obama Administration’s Feed the Future Initiative

Melissa D. Ho
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Charles E. Hanrahan
Senior Specialist in Agricultural Policy


The global food price crisis of 2007-2008 and the global economic crisis resulted in an increase in the proportion and absolute number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels, over 1 billion in 2009. In 2010, the estimate of hungry people in the world declined to 925 million, a decrease of about 9.6%. The vast majority of the world’s undernourished live in developing countries; South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa account for 63% and 26% of the total, respectively.

In June 2009, at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, President Obama pledged $3.5 billion over three years (FY2010 to FY2012) to a global hunger and food security initiative to address hunger and poverty worldwide. The U.S. commitment is part of a global pledge, by the G20 countries and others, of more than $20 billion. In May 2010, the Department of State officially launched the Administration’s global hunger and food security initiative, called Feed the Future (FtF). The Department of State was the lead agency initially in developing the Feed the Future strategy, while the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the primary agency responsible for coordinating its implementation. Feed the Future builds on the five principles for sustainable food security first articulated at L’Aquila and endorsed at the 2009 World Summit on Food Security in Rome: supporting comprehensive strategies; investment through country-owned plans; improving stronger coordination among donors; leveraging effective multilateral institutions; and delivering on sustained and accountable commitments. The two primary objectives of Feed the Future are (1) to accelerate inclusive agricultural sector growth, and (2) to improve the nutritional status in developing countries, particularly of women and children. Currently, Feed the Future is focusing activities in 20 developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Investments will take place in two phases, depending on the extent that country investment plans (CIPs) have been developed in a given host country.

The Administration’s FY2011 budget request includes $1.64 billion for FtF activities, which is about 3% of the total international affairs budget request, and is about 40% greater than the estimated FY2010 allocation to similar activities. The increase is largely due to a new request in FY2011 of $408 million for contribution to a newly created multilateral trust fund for global food security established at the World Bank. The Administration’s FY2011 budget request for Feed the Future represents only a portion of foreign assistance requested for food and agriculture activities. Separately, for FY2011, the Administration is also requesting an additional $4.2 billion for humanitarian and emergency assistance, which includes $1.690 billion for Food for Peace Title II emergency and non-emergency food aid; $1.605 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance; and $861 million for International Disaster Assistance. A significant portion of these programs include activities related to food security and agricultural development.

The 112
th Congress may be faced with several issues and policy options regarding agricultural development, global food security, food aid, and U.S. foreign aid reform. Congress plays a central role in funding foreign assistance programs, and will continue consideration of appropriations for agriculture development and food security-related activities for FY2011 and FY2012. Congress continues to consider leadership, technical capacity, and accountability issues related to the implementation of the initiative at USAID, in coordination with other U.S. development agencies in a so-called “whole of government” approach, and in partnership with other governments and institutions abroad. The current fiscal situation and the shift in congressional leadership in the House may result in additional debate and discussion about the Administration’s priorities and funding requests related to food security and agricultural development.


Date of Report: January 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R41612
Price: $29.95

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Biomass Feedstocks for Biopower: Background and Selected Issues

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Biopower—a form of renewable energy—is the generation of electric power from biomass feedstocks. Biopower, which comprised about 1% of electricity generation in 2008, may reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide energy security, and promote economic development. A large range of feedstocks can be used, from woody and herbaceous biomass to agricultural residues. Each feedstock has technical and economic advantages and challenges compared to fossil fuels.

Unlike wind or solar energy, a biopower plant is considered to be a baseload power source because some biomass feedstocks can be used for continuous power production. However, ensuring a sustainable supply of biomass feedstocks is a major challenge. Although there are multiple biopower technologies, few of them except combustion have been deployed at commercial scale nationwide.

Federal policymakers are supporting biopower through feedstock supply analysis and biopower technology assessments. However, there is limited comprehensive data about the type and amount of biomass feedstock available to meet U.S. biopower needs at a national level. If the use of dedicated biomass feedstocks to generate biopower were to develop into a sizeable industry, concerns would likely include the effect of the industry on land use (i.e., how much land would it take to grow the crops needed to fuel or co-fuel power plants) and the effect on the broader economy, including farm income and food prices. To date, these have not been issues: most existing biomass feedstocks have been waste products generated by the forest products industry or by farms, or municipal solid waste for which combustion served as both a disposal method and a source of energy.

Growing crops for use as a power source would be different from using waste. Under generally accepted assumptions regarding crop yields and energy content, approximately 31 million acres— roughly the amount of land in farms in Iowa—would be needed to supply enough biomass feedstock to satisfy 6% of total 2008 U.S. electricity retail sales. When added to the amount of land needed to meet the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a federally mandated transportation fuel requirement, the potential impacts could be significant: the RFS already consumes 35% of the nation’s corn crop, and its requirements will triple between 2010 and 2022 (although much of this fuel will come from feedstocks other than corn).

Beyond land use and economic impacts, others are concerned that the use of biomass feedstocks to generate biopower, particularly through combustion, could add to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels and exacerbate climate change concerns. They fear that certain areas may be unsustainably harvested to meet biomass feedstock demand, or that less biomass may be left for other purposes (e.g., wood and paper products). The concerns exist partly because biomass used for biopower does not face the same constraints as biomass used for liquid transportation fuels under the RFS. In addition, the idea that biomass combustion is carbon-neutral is under scrutiny. The Environmental Protection Agency has not exempted biomass combustion emissions from the Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule, although it announced plans to defer for three years GHG permitting requirements for carbon dioxide emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources (those produced by living organisms). In the PSD and Title V Permitting Guidance for Greenhouse Gases issued in 2010, EPA noted that biomass could be considered a best available control technology (BACT)—a pollution control standard mandated by the Clean Air Act.



Date of Report: January 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: R41440
Price: $29.95

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Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Richard K. Lattanzio
Analyst in Environmental Policy

Emily C. Barbour
Legislative Attorney


As a participant in several international agreements on climate change, the United States has joined with other nations to express concern about climate change. However, at the national level the United States has not yet developed a comprehensive climate change policy. In the absence of a comprehensive policy direction, technological advances are creating alternatives to the traditional approaches to climate change (mitigation and adaptation). If deployed, these new technologies could modify the Earth’s climate on a large scale. Moreover, these new technologies may become available to foreign governments and entities in the private sector to use unilaterally—without authorization from the United States government or an international treaty.

The term “geoengineering” describes this array of technologies that aim, through large-scale and deliberate modifications of the Earth’s energy balance, to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic climate change. Most of these technologies are at the conceptual and research stages, and their effectiveness at reducing global temperatures has yet to be proven. Moreover, very few studies have been published that document the cost, environmental effects, sociopolitical impacts, and legal implications of geoengineering. If geoengineering technologies were to be deployed, they are expected to have the potential to cause significant transboundary effects.

In general, geoengineering technologies are categorized as either a carbon dioxide removal (CDR) method or a solar radiation management (SRM) method. CDR methods address the warming effects of greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide (CO
2) from the atmosphere. CDR methods include ocean fertilization, and carbon capture and sequestration. SRM methods address climate change by increasing the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere or surface. Aerosol injection and space-based reflectors are examples of SRM methods. SRM methods do not remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but can be deployed faster with relatively immediate global cooling results compared to CDR methods.

In addition to seeking an understanding of the science behind the different geoengineering technologies, policymakers are considering policies and strategies for addressing geoengineering at the national and international levels. To date, there is limited federal involvement in, or oversight of, geoengineering. However, some states as well as some federal agencies, notably the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense, have taken actions related to geoengineering research or projects. At the international level, there is no international agreement or organization governing the full spectrum of possible geoengineering activities. Nevertheless, provisions of many international agreements, including those relating to climate change, maritime pollution, and air pollution, would likely inform the types of geoengineering activities that state parties to these agreements might choose to pursue. In 2010, the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted provisions calling for member parties to abstain from geoengineering unless the parties have fully considered the risks and impacts of those activities on biodiversity.

With the possibility that geoengineering technologies may be developed and climate change remains an issue of global concern, policymakers may determine whether geoengineering is an issue that warrants attention at either the federal or international level. If so, policymakers will also need to consider whether geoengineering can be effectively addressed by amendments to existing laws and international agreements or, alternatively, whether new laws and international treaties would need to be developed.



Date of Report: January 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: R41371
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Biochar: Examination of an Emerging Concept to Sequester Carbon

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Biochar is a charcoal produced under high temperatures using crop residues, animal manure, or any type of organic waste material. Depending on the feedstock, biochar may look similar to potting soil or to a charred substance. The combined production and use of biochar is considered a carbon-negative process, meaning that it removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Biochar has multiple potential environmental benefits, foremost the potential to sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years at an estimate. Studies suggest that crop yields can increase as a result of applying biochar as a soil amendment. Some contend that biochar has value as an immediate climate change mitigation strategy. Scientific experiments suggest that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced significantly with biochar application to crop fields.

Obstacles that may stall rapid adoption of biochar production systems include technology costs, system operation and maintenance, feedstock availability, and biochar handling. Biochar research and development is in its infancy. Nevertheless, interest in biochar as a multifaceted solution to agricultural and natural resource issues is growing at a rapid pace both nationally and internationally.

Past Congresses have proposed numerous climate change bills, many of which do not directly address mitigation and adaptation technologies at developmental stages, such as biochar. However, biochar may equip agricultural and forestry producers with numerous revenuegenerating products: carbon offsets, soil amendments, and energy.

This report briefly describes biochar, some of its potential advantages and disadvantages, legislative support, and research and development activities underway in the United States.



Date of Report: January 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: R40186
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer


Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Numerous federal, state, and local agencies share responsibilities for regulating the safety of the U.S. food supply. Federal responsibility for food safety rests primarily with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). FDA, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for ensuring the safety of all domestic and imported food products (except for most meats and poultry). FDA also has oversight of all seafood, fish, and shellfish products. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates most meat and poultry and some egg products. State and local food safety authorities collaborate with federal agencies for inspection and other food safety functions, and they regulate retail food establishments.

The combined efforts of the food industry and government regulatory agencies often are credited with making the U.S. food supply among the safest in the world. However, critics view this system as lacking the organization, regulatory tools, and resources to adequately combat foodborne illness—as evidenced by a series of widely publicized food safety problems, including concerns about adulterated food and food ingredient imports, and illnesses linked to various types of fresh produce, to peanut products, and to some meat and poultry products. Some critics also note that the organizational complexity of the U.S. food safety system as well as trends in U.S. food markets—for example, increasing imports as a share of U.S. food consumptions, increasing consumption of fresh often unprocessed foods—pose ongoing challenges to ensuring food safety.

The 111
th Congress passed comprehensive food safety legislation in December 2010 (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, P.L. 111-353). Although numerous agencies share responsibility for regulating food safety, this newly enacted legislation focused on foods regulated by FDA and amended FDA’s existing structure and authorities, in particular the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA; 21 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq.). This newly enacted law is the largest expansion of FDA’s food safety authorities since the 1930s; it does not directly address meat and poultry products under the jurisdiction of USDA. The 112th Congress will likely provide oversight and scrutiny over how the law is implemented, including FDA’s coordination with other federal agencies such as USDA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In addition, some in Congress have long claimed that once FDA’s food safety laws were amended and updated, it would be expected that Congress would next turn to amending laws and regulations governing USDA’s meat and poultry products. Food safety incidents and concerns regarding USDA-regulated meat and poultry products are similarly well-documented. A series of bills were introduced and debated in the previous few Congresses. These bills may be reintroduced and debated in the 112
th Congress.


Date of Report: January 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS22600
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nitrous Oxide from Agricultural Sources: Potential Role in Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction and Ozone Recovery


Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Gases other than carbon dioxide accounted for nearly 15% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, yet there has been minimal discussion of these other greenhouse gases in climate and energy legislative initiatives. Reducing emissions from non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide (N2O), could deliver short-term climate change mitigation results as part of a comprehensive policy approach to combat climate change.

Nitrous oxide is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its ability to affect the climate; and moreover, results of a recent scientific study indicate that nitrous oxide is currently the leading ozone-depleting substance being emitted. Thus, legislation to restrict nitrous oxide emissions could contribute to both climate change protection and ozone recovery.

The primary human source of nitrous oxide is agricultural soil management, which accounted for two-thirds of the N
2O emissions reported in 2008 (approximately 216 million metric tons COequivalent). One proposed strategy to lower N2O emissions is more efficient application of synthetic fertilizers. However, further analysis is needed to determine the economic feasibility of this approach as well as techniques to measure and monitor the adoption rate and impact of N2O emission reduction practices for agricultural soil management.

As the 112
th Congress considers legislation that would limit greenhouse gas emissions, among the issues being discussed is how to address emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. Whether such emissions should be subject to direct regulation, what role EPA should play using its existing Clean Air Act authority, and what role USDA should play in any N2O reduction scheme are among the issues being discussed. How these issues are resolved will have important implications for agriculture, which has taken a keen interest in climate change legislation.


Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: R40874
Price: $29.95

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