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News for May 5, 2010

White House Highlights National Rural Summit

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with President Obama in farm country. 

At stops in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois we heard from the men and women who make their living in rural America about issues ranging from commodity prices, to job creation initiatives, to the environment. 

And we were reminded that a vibrant national economy depends on a healthy rural America.

Over the last year, I heard about many of these same subjects as I visited dozens of communities in 20 states while leading President Obama’s Rural Tour – an effort to engage in a more robust dialog with folks living in rural America.

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USDA, EPA expand methane program for farmers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency recently entered into an agreement that may be of interest to those who use farm equipment.

The agreement expands the AgStar program, which works to reduce methane emissions from livestock operations. Through the departments' efforts, as much as $3.9 million will be made available in the next five years to help farmers try and collect methane gas, which can be used as an alternative fuel.

"The farms and ranches that dot our countryside can contribute greatly to addressing America's long-term energy challenges and the partnership we are announcing today will not only help generate renewable energy, but provide new income opportunities for farmers and ranchers," Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said.

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Senators question aim of USDA's Know Your Farmer effort

A recently launched U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative subsidizes hobbyists and urban “locavore” markets at the expense of the rural communities the program was designed to support, three Republican Senators said.

Funds from the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program don’t appear to be “geared toward conventional farmers who produce the vast majority of our nation’s food supply,” Sens. Saxby Chambliss, John McCain and Pat Roberts said in an April 27 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Instead, program funds are “aimed at small hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets,” the senators wrote.

The senators, citing an Aug. 26 memo from USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, said ag officials were encouraged to “re-imagine” rural health care and public safety efforts as grant money for community cooking classes or refrigeration units in urban areas.

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Dairy industry pushing hard to outlaw raw milk

(NaturalNews) The mainstream dairy industry has gone on the offensive against raw milk, aggressively lobbying Congress to impose further regulations upon unpasteurized milk producers.

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized (exposed to high heat to kill off a high proportion of microbes) or homogenized (a technique used to prevent separation). Pasteurization advocates claim that it makes food safer, while critics allege that it kills off beneficial microbes and reduces food's nutritional content.

The major trade groups International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) have urged Congress to bring raw milk producers under federal authority and subject them to the same expensive inspection and certification processes as pasteurized milk.

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Food Safety Bill Would Ban BPA

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which is headed for a Senate vote this week, enjoys bipartisan support, in part because of the recent rash of foodborne illness events over the last few years.

But a recent amendment to the bill, outlawing the chemical BPA in plastic food containers, has drawn opposition from the food industry, which has generally been supportive of the bill.

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