February 05, 2008
Ed Schafer sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture
From the USDA press release:
Ed Schafer was sworn in as the 29th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on January 28, 2008.
Secretary Schafer brings a record as an innovative two-term governor of North Dakota to USDA along with extensive private sector experience as both an entrepreneur and a business executive.
Schafer served as North Dakota's governor from 1992 to 2000 and made diversifying and expanding North Dakota's economy, reducing the cost of government and advancing agriculture his top priorities in office.
February 01, 2008
Horrible Dairy Cow Abuse -- Shocking videos
I had read about the treatment of dairy cows, so the Humane Society's undercover video came as no surprise.
HSUS Investigates Slaughterhouse -- Cruel and Unhealthy Practices Uncovered:
The one below made me sob right here in my office. WARNING: it's pretty bad. If you care about animals at all, this will be upsetting.
January 30, 2008
Pollinating Our Future: Urban Agriculture Conference Feb 28 in Milwaukee
From Businesswire.com: The Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network announces its first annual “Pollinating Our Future: Urban Agriculture Conference” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin February 28 – March 1, 2008 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Keynote speaker, Michael Ableman, award-winning urban farmer, author and educator heads a line-up of leading sustainability experts in presenting the revolutionary power of urban agriculture.
Conference speakers and attendees will address important and controversial issues facing cities today focused on Food Justice, Garden as Community, Policy and Planning and Enterprise Development with workshops, forums, film, exhibits, and Town Hall meeting.
From the Urban Agriculture Conference website:
- Urban agriculture(UA) supports food security and healthy nutrition.
- UA provides employment and income.
- UA can turn urban wastes into a productive resource.
- UA can positively impact the greening and cleaning of the micro-climate.
- UA provides a powerful learning experience for school children.
- UA creates community.
“To grow your own food gives you a sort of power and it gives people dignity. You know exactly what you’re eating because you grew it. It’s good, it’s nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community.” Karen Washington
January 28, 2008
Remarks by Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner to the International Dairy Foods Association Annual Conference Luncheon
SEC. CHUCK CONNER: Thank you, Brian, for that kind introduction. Good afternoon everyone. It's a pleasure to be here. I have to say I'm very impressed by the variety of golf opportunities available here at La Quinta. You've just had the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament nearby and I know many of you have attacked some of the local courses. I really do admire your courage. I've always found golf a very frustrating game.
I'm afraid I follow in Gerald Ford's footsteps-when I play golf it's a contact sport for the other people on the course. But chasing a ball around the course can be a lot easier than passing a Farm Bill in Washington.
I am now working on my sixth Farm Bill since I first came to Washington from Indiana in the 1980s and started working for Senator Richard Lugar. I can tell you they don't get easier as time goes by. In fact they are never easy ... and often the toughest choices get left to the very last minute. I am hoping that will be the case this year as well.
December 29, 2007
USDA -- Monsanto GE seed corn deal
From the Dec. 26 Chicago Tribune --
Seed Controversy Sprouts, by Stephen J. Hedges
While the federal government doesn't usually endorse products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has struck an unusual arrangement with agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. that gives farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota a break on federal crop insurance premiums if they plant Monsanto-brand seed corn this spring.
The arrangement has raised some eyebrows, particularly among organic farm groups that argue the government agency should not be promoting corn that contains an herbicide; the Monsanto brands contain chemicals that kill weeds and insects.
December 09, 2007
Study finds ethanol from distillers grain causes E coli 0157 in cattle
Cooking raw meat kills E coli present in the meat, but the presence of E coli in the first place seems to have increased. Researchers at Kansas State reportedly have found that cattle fed distiller's grain (from ethanol production) have more E coli in the hindgut. (Disclaimer: I have no idea what the hindgut is, and the article I'm about to link to does not say whether those cattle have more, less, or the same levels in their other guts.)
Feeding cattle byproduct of ethanol production causes E. coli 0157 to spike
MANHATTAN, KAN. -- Ethanol plants and livestock producers have created a symbiotic relationship. Cattle producers feed their livestock distiller's grains, a byproduct of the ethanol distilling process, giving ethanol producers have an added source of income.
But recent research at Kansas State has found that cattle fed distiller's grain have an increased prevalence of E. coli 0157 in their hindgut. This particular type of E. coli is present in healthy cattle but poses a health risk to humans, who can acquire it through undercooked meat, raw dairy products and produce contaminated with cattle manure.
"Distiller's grain is a good animal feed. That's why ethanol plants are often built next to feedlots," said T.G. Nagaraja, a professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine.
November 29, 2007
Comment period on proposed leafy green handling rules expires next week
The Comment period on proposed leafy green handling rules ends December 3. Cornucopia Institute has posted criticism of the proposed rules on its website:
Cornucopia, WI: In response to the E. coli 0157 outbreak last year in bagged spinach, the USDA is considering federal rules that could potentially require growers of all leafy green vegetables to follow specified guidelines in the fields and during postharvest handling. Farm advocates are concerned that small and medium-sized growers will be placed at an unfair competitive disadvantage.
The USDA has released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that they are accepting public comments on. Members of the public have until December 3 to weigh in on the controversial proposal.
“Such one-size-fits-all requirements, while unproven in terms of their impact on food safety, would be disastrous for wildlife, biodiversity, and for the family-scale farmers who are producing some of the nation's highest-quality produce,” says
, Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy and research group. “If regulations dictate uniform growing practices and food safety measures, which might be appropriate for large-scale ‘factory farms’ but onerous and unnecessary for diverse family farms, we risk losing the very farms that grow leafy greens in a healthy and environmentally sustainable way,” she adds.
The following is from the Federal Register Notice. There is much more at http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main. The document number is AMS-FV-07-0090-0001.
This advance notice of proposed rulemaking invites comments on a potential regulatory program intended to maintain the quality of leafy green commodities by reducing the risk of pathogenic contamination during their production and handling. AMS is considering implementation of a marketing agreement (agreement) in response to heightened public and industry concern about the safe production and handling of leafy greens. Under the program being considered, handlers could voluntarily enter into the agreement, but signatories would then be required to comply with the agreements regulations, which would specify Best Practices for minimizing the risk of pathogenic contamination of leafy greens. The Best Practices could include commodity-specific production and handling guidelines that would be developed in cooperation with the industry and based upon FDA's voluntary Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards in Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards in Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables, and other FDA-issued guidance (http://www.fda.gov).
November 13, 2007
Farm Bill metaphor fun
The Senate will probably vote on the 2007 Farm Bill soon, and this morning's editorial page, not surprisingly, featured two Farm Bill pieces: Bush should veto farm bill, if need be and Subsidizing obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and a higher cancer risk .
Excerpt from Bush should veto . . .
. . .The farm bill gets recooked every five years. The new one is just about done. It's a thick stew of policy that ranges from food stamps to subsidies for wheat growers. . .
Excerpt from Subsidizing obesity, by Neal D. Barnard
Last month, the American Institute for Cancer Research unveiled the most detailed report ever produced on how healthy diets can prevent cancer.
This month, the Senate will ignore every word of it.
In the next few days, lawmakers will likely vote on the farm bill, a complex piece of legislation that greatly affects public health. At issue are ever-increasing rates of childhood obesity. Sixteen percent of elementary schoolchildren are overweight. And it only gets worse as kids reach high school and adulthood. Along with those extra pounds comes diabetes - eventually striking one in three people born since 2000 - as well as hypertension and a higher risk for several types of cancer.
November 06, 2007
Farm Policy a cause of obesity?
From the Danville Register Bee:
Fat? Blame Congress, at least partly
By SEAN MUSSENDEN, Media General News Service
. . .
It costs far less to get the calories from unhealthy foods with added oils or sweeteners than it does from nutritious foods like fresh vegetables. Energy-dense foods made with subsidized crops like soybean oil and high-fructose corn syrup have been linked to heart disease and diabetes.
"There's a huge cost disparity. It's not a coincidence that low-income people will gravitate towards cheaper, energy-dense foods that are nutritionally poor," said Adam Drewnowski, director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington.
His studies have found that foods made from subsidized crops - like cookies and soda -- cost five times less per calorie than unsubsidized foods -- like carrots or orange juice.
Drewnowski finds it ironic that the Agriculture Department encourages people to eat vegetables like lettuce or carrots that are not subsidized, and therefore more expensive, while giving people an economic incentive through subsidies to buy foods it says they should eat sparingly.
"The farm bill is geared to production of calories, not nutrients," he said. "It's resulted in a diet that is energy rich but nutritionally poor."
October 31, 2007
Former ND Governor Ed Schafer nominated for Agriculture Secretary
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush selected former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer as agriculture secretary on Wednesday amid an overhaul of U.S. farm subsidies and heightened scrutiny of food safety rules.
"Ed Schafer is the right choice to fill this post," Bush said at the White House. He would succeed Mike Johanns, who resigned six weeks ago to run for the Senate from Nebraska.
If confirmed by the Senate, Schafer, 61, would take charge of one of the largest federal departments with little more than a year left in the tenure of an unpopular president.
October 28, 2007
Food Law and Agricultural Law/ LLM Applications
This is from Susan Schneider, Director of the Agricultural LLM program at the University of Arkansas National Agricultural Law Center. Posted on Agricultural Law blog:
Each year in the Agricultural Law LL.M. Program that I direct, we receive more applications from people interested in studying agricultural law because they are interested in issues of food law and policy. This year for the first time, a majority of our LL.M. candidates are in the program because of their interest in food from the perspective of a consumer rather than producer. Makes for very interesting farm policy discussions . . .
Now Reviewing Applications for LL.M. Program for Fall 2008
While issues involving food and agriculture have always been important, recent concerns about food safety have highlighted critical issues concerning agricultural law. Similarly, environmental issues, biotechnology, food labeling, international trade, and other compelling new challenges face our food system. The Graduate Program in Agricultural Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law offers the nation's only advanced LL.M. degree in agricultural law. We take pride in offering a curriculum covering the full spectrum of law and policy from the perspective of the farmer, the processor, the retailer, and the consumer, and we are now including food law issues as a core aspect of that curriculum.
Our nine month course of study attracts attorneys from throughout the United States and from abroad. While many of our students are recent law school graduates, others enter the program as experienced practitioners. Our alumni are among the leaders in the agricultural law community.
The University of Arkansas School of Law is located in Fayetteville, Arkansas, "a fast-growing college town of 62,000 in the Ozark foothills . . . flush with youth, culture and natural beauty." 36 Hours, by Julie Besonen, N.Y. TIMES, April 21, 2006.
We are now reviewing applications for the 2008-2009 academic year. Interested students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Visit our website at http://law.uark.edu/llm/, e-mail us for information at email@example.com or call 479-575-3706.
Students can also visit our new LL.M. blog.
Susan A. Schneider
Professor of Law and Director
Graduate Program in Agricultural Law
University of Arkansas School of Law
October 27, 2007
Senate Farm Bill markup and comments
The Senate Agriculture Committee completed its version of the Farm Bill this week. Here are some links:
Congressional Quarterly.com -- Senate Agriculture Panel Approves 2007 Farm Bill
October 25, 2007
Sen. Chambliss's opening marks at Senate Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Markup session
From the Senate Agriculture Committee press release:
WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today made the following remarks during his opening statement at a committee business meeting to markup the 2007 farm bill:“As Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee, I am looking forward to debating the 2007 farm bill in the Senate. This markup is the result of many, many long hours of field hearings, meetings and negotiations dating back almost a year and a half ago. My staff, Senator Harkin’s staff and Senator Conrad’s staff has been working tirelessly for the past few months to craft a bipartisan bill which, we believe, strikes accord with essentially every Member of the Committee. In this process, we have reached out to Committee Members to determine the best direction for the agriculture policy that will govern how American farmers and ranchers operate for the next five years.“America has very diverse agricultural landscape. Whether it’s peanut farms in Georgia, asparagus farms in Michigan, or growing energy crops in South Dakota, we all have parochial interests around this table and every part of the farm bill has a large impact on agribusiness and the U.S. economy as a whole. Keeping that in mind, we must ensure that the farm bill provides balance among all involved in order to pass new legislation. I will admit that there are some provisions in this bill that I typically would not support if they stood alone. But, I am committed to getting a strong, bipartisan farm bill passed out of the Committee and passed in the Senate. I support this legislative package that has been carefully negotiated and deliberated.
AUDIO: Conner Discusses Farm Bill, California Wildfires and Pending Free Trade Agreements
October 23, 2007
2007 Farm Bill Issues on Open CRS
The federal government has relied primarily on two policy tools in recent years to help mitigate the financial losses experienced by crop farmers as a result of natural disasters -- a federal crop insurance program and congressionally mandated ad-hoc crop disaster payments. Congress has made several modifications to the crop insurance program since the 1980s, in an effort to forestall the demand for supplemental disaster payments. Although the scope of the crop insurance program has widened significantly over the past 25 years, the anticipated goal of crop insurance replacing disaster payments has not been achieved. The federal crop insurance program is permanently authorized and hence does not require periodic reauthorization in an omnibus farm bill. However, modifications to the crop insurance program are being discussed in the context of the omnibus 2007 farm bill currently before Congress. Some policymakers have expressed interest in expanding the crop insurance program and/or complementing it with a permanent disaster payment program. Others view the crop insurance program as a potential target for program cost reductions, and propose using these savings to fund new initiatives in various titles of the farm bill. The Administration's farm bill proposal contains several crop insurance recommendations that it claims will enhance participation; address issues of waste, fraud and abuse; reduce costs; and reduce the need for emergency supplemental disaster payments. The Administration is opposed to a permanent disaster payment program, and contends that its proposed supplemental crop insurance coverage for the deductible portion of a policy would help preclude the need for supplemental disaster payments. The House-passed version of the farm bill (H.R. 2419) contains several revisions to the crop insurance program, most of which are cost-saving measures. Farmers would be required to pay higher fees for catastrophic coverage and participating insurance companies would see smaller reimbursements for their operating expenses and would be required to share more of their potential underwriting gains with the government. To date, the Senate Agriculture Committee has not yet marked up its version of the 2007 farm bill. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation that, among its many provisions, would authorize a permanent trust fund to make agricultural disaster payments available on an ongoing basis over the life of the next farm bill. According to CBO, the program would cost $5.1 billion over five years, which is approximately equal to the annual average amount of ad-hoc disaster payments that have been provided by Congress over the past 20 years.
Grass fed beef labeling standards
The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is establishing a voluntary standard for a grass (forage)fed livestock marketing claim. This standard incorporates revisions made as a result of comments received from an earlier proposed standard. A number of livestock producers make claims associated with production practices in order to distinguish their products in the marketplace. With the establishment of this voluntary standard, livestock producers may request that a grass (forage) fed claim be verified by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Verification of this claim will be accomplished through an audit of the production process in accordance with procedures that are contained in Part 62 of Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR part 62), and the meat sold from these approved programs can carry a claim verified by USDA.
One of the issues was the percentage of an animal's diet that had to come from grass (forage). The original proposed rule was 80 percent but after an initial comment period, the proposal was changed to 99 percent. The final rule announced in the notice removes the percentage altogether:
Therefore, AMS will not adopt any of the other suggested percentage levels and will remove any reference to a percentage in the standard. Accordingly, the grass (forage) fed marketing claim will only apply to ruminant animals whose diet throughout their lifespan is derived solely from grass (forage), with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning.
University of Wisconsin to lead Farm-to-School efforts in Midwest
UW news release:
The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been named as lead agency in a six-state area for a new national program to encourage schools to serve more locally grown food.
As regional lead agency for the National Farm-to-School Network, CIAS will be the hub for farm-to-school activities in the Great Lakes region, encompassing Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Indiana.
The national network is supported by a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The national network allots funds to the regional agencies with the proviso that its contributions be matched dollar-for-dollar with funds from other sources.
October 21, 2007
More on Animal ID -- the Rebel Cow Farmer
Northern Michigan Express weekly has an editorial feature, The Rebel Cow Farmer, showing the tensions around the national animal ID issue. Excerpt:
Greg Niewendorp was a passing blip on the TV news last week, but it’s a blip that will likely balloon. Niewendorp has started a needed conversation about the industrialization of our food supply, and the liberties of people—both farmers and consumers—who don’t want to be part of it.
Last week, in an act of civil disobedience, Niewendorp forced the Michigan Department of Agriculture to obtain a search warrant before coming onto his farm to put radio frequency ID chips on his cattle and to test his cattle for bovine tuberculosis. Read more
Collin Peterson: paying more for organic or local food is "dumb"
Today's headline from the Organic Consumers Association: Congress Agriculture Committee Head, Colin Peterson, Says U.S. Consumers Who Buy Organic Food Are 'Dumb'.
The quote actually comes from a MSNBC.com Financial Times article by Alan Beattie, US farm bill unlikely to aid good nutrition. Excerpt:
But those in charge of farm policy largely disagree [that research on organic production needs more subsidy], and their view is almost certain to prevail. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House of Representatives agricultural committee, says the farm sector that raises organic produce and grass-fed beef for local consumers needs little federal help. "It is growing, and it has nothing to do with the government, and that is good," he told the FT. "For whatever reason, people are willing to pay two or three times as much for something that says 'organic' or 'local'. Far be it from me to understand what that's about, but that's reality. And if people are dumb enough to pay that much then hallelujah."
October 19, 2007
Farm Bill Markup October 24
The California Coalition for Food and Farming website includes a table of Farm Bill Priorities and proposed funding amounts. After a number of delays, the Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to take action on their version of the Farm Bill next week. The full Senate could vote as early as October 29.