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News for February 8, 2010

A look at Obama's 2011 budget for govt agencies

WASHINGTON -- PresidentBarack Obama's multi-trillion-dollar budget would boost spending for several government agencies while slashing the account for others. Here is an agency-by-agency glance:


Agency: Agriculture

Spending: $148.6 billion

Percentage change from 2010: 9.7 percent increase

Mandatory Spending: $122.8 billion


ASPCA: Organic Milk Industry Harms More Cows Than Once Thought

SACRAMENTO - The American Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals is targeting an unusual group of people they claim is mistreating animals -- the organic milk industry.

The ASPCA alleges more than one-quarter of organic milk is produced in large factory farms where cows are confined in barns and dry lots.

"These cows never see a blade of grass in their lives," a statement sent Monday morning from the ASPCA read. "The milk they produce is probably less healthful, and certainly less human, than consumers are led to believed."


Soil Association confronts image of organic food as elitist and expensive

In the beginning the organic movement struggled to shed its image of wonky carrots sold by hippies with dirty cuffs and sandals. Now it has the opposite problem: associated with high-priced jars of chutney and biscuits sold by slick marketing men to the dinner party classes.

Now the UK's biggest organic body, the Soil Association, is confronting its posh image problem with a special session at its annual conference this week devoted to debating "organic elitism".


How Do We Stop Hollowing Out the Middle of America?

Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America by Patrick Carr & Maria Kefalas

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the majority of our readership doesn’t live in a rural area. I mean, the majority of America’s population doesn’t live in a rural area—that’s what makes it rural, right? Up until about two years ago, neither did I. But since moving to a small rural town in western Kansas (population: 800) just over two years ago, I’ve become very interested and involved in community development, and particularly in the issues surrounding youth and young adults. One significant issue that comes up again and again is this: Is there a solution to the “brain drain”—that is, the reality that the brightest kids often leave for bigger cities and don’t come back? Is the solution to attract more kids back after college, to improve the education of the kids who are planning to stay, or something else entirely?


Mr. Farmer goes to Washington: Black farmers march to rally support for restitution

What does it take for a farmer to get the federal government to make good on a promise – particularly if it’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture and it involves restitution for years of racial discrimination in rural America?

Patience. A lot of patience. And when that runs out, rallying for some help from Congress and the White House.


WWII program enlisted for war on child obesity

Washington -- A federal program that began in 1946 to remedy the shocking malnutrition among World War II recruits is being transformed into ground zero in the nation's new war against obesity.

The national school lunch program and other food programs under the Child Nutrition Act may be the most promising avenue to improve the nutrition of a generation of children who think food comes out of a wrapper and who face shorter lives because of their rising weight.


Farm to School Program Changes Kids' Views on Food

The third and fourth graders at Sharon Elementary know where the veggies in their soup come from because they've visited the farms. They know the nutritional value of the carrots, onions and cabbage because they've studied them in class, and they know how they're grown because they've nurtured them in raised beds out back.

The 105-student school is part of the National Farm to School Network, aimed at getting healthier meals into school cafeterias, teaching kids about agriculture and nutrition and supporting local farmers.

About 40 states have farm-to-school programs, but Vermont is a leader in incorporating all three missions into its programs.


Proposal in federal budget aims to boost organic food labels

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's record $3.8 trillion budget proposal includes a $3.1 million boost in a program important to Vermont's organic farming industry.

Obama's budget, which must be approved by Congress, would increase spending for the National Organic Program by 44 percent, to $10.1 million. The program certifies that organically produced foods meet national standards. The increase includes $2.1 million for regulatory review and enforcement and to forge agreements with other countries to help expand exports.


Message to President Obama: Why Trade Will Not Save Rural America

In Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s op-ed this week in the Des Moines Register, he recognized that hunger could not be solved by raising production, because production is in fact at record highs. Grappling with how these increases in productivity have not led to increases in profit, he explained that even though we’ve lost a million farmers in the last 40 years, “income from farming operations declined as a percentage of total farm family income by half.” He continued, “Today, only 11 percent of family farm income comes from farming, which may explain why fewer young people go into farming and why many families rely on off-farm income opportunities to keep their farms.” Vilsack gets the situation right, but his remedy is wrong. Instead of encouraging diversity and altering the pattern of overproduction which pits large farm owners against small by shrinking margins, the Obama administration’s way of dealing with the discrepancy in rural America is through increasing trade.


The First Lady and Sam Kass Talk Child Nutrition on Today (VIDEO)

One of the advantages we enjoy here in Iowa is that we get to see our presidential candidates and their families up close and personal during our caucus process.  While I had seen then-Senator Obama give that stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, it was really a speech here in Iowa by his wife Michelle that made me a fan of his.  I figured if a lady this smart and classy married him he must be worth a look.


Justice is the Best Stimulus

As the nation strives to put people back to work, now is the time to honor our promise to black farmers. President Obama asked Congress in May for $1.15 billion for black farmers to compensate them for discrimination by the Department of Agriculture, but Congress has failed to act. This month, the National Black Farmers Association will hold rallies throughout the South to urge immediate government action on behalf of discriminated farmers.


The Morning the Milking Was Finished

Late in the afternoon, a light snow falling like frozen mist, the landscape of small dairy farms, grain silos and rolling fields is a study in gray and white, beautiful, cold and ghostly.

In this town, tipping downhill since before the old movie theater burned down in 1990, almost as many businesses, it seems, are vacant as are open. The bulletin board by the antique clock and modest war memorial in the small traffic circle features one pressing item. “Help Decide the Future of Copake!!” it reads. The meeting date was Nov. 7.


Fewer Than 1% of U.S. Farms Are Organic, USDA Says

Fewer than 1% of American farms are organic, and generated $3.16 billion in sales in 2008, the U.S. Agriculture Department found in its first in-depth survey of organic farming.

The USDA said Wednesday that it tallied 14,540 organic farms and ranches that were either certified by the USDA or exempt from those rules because their annual sales fell below $5,000.

While organic products have been one of the hottest growing areas in the supermarket, the USDA survey found that they were still a tiny enterprise in the farm belt.


Urban farmers fight local laws to sow green biz

Urban farmers are challenging city halls across the country to rewrite zoning laws that govern residential gardens.

They want to feed fellow urbanites locally grown vegetables and fresh eggs, put city green spaces to good use and develop sustainable business models.

But problems can develop, such as when an urban farmer's neighbor prefers a tidy lawn.


Sticker Shock: Experts Say World Food Program's Afghan Relief Effort Overpriced

The United Nations’ World Food Program, or WFP, is preparing to launch a mammoth, three-year relief operation in Afghanistan this year for 7.4 million people at a cost of $1.2 billion — but less than half of that amount will actually go to purchasing food for the war-ravaged country.

The majority of the money — nearly $730 million — is being spent on shipping, land transportation, handling, office construction and U.N. staffing and administration costs, according to program documents obtained by Fox News. Outside experts consulted by Fox News say that some of the costs are more than 100 percent higher than they need to be.


Small is beautiful (and radical)

When a friend told me of two of the proposed discussion topics for a major agricultural conference—“What is so radical about radical agriculture?” and “Is small the only beautiful?”—I told him that that I thought both questions had the same answer.  Let me see if I can explain. 

The radical idea behind by organic agriculture is a change in focus.  The new focus is on the quality of the crops grown and their suitability for human nutrition.  That is a change from the more common focus on growing as much quantity as possible and using whatever chemical techniques contribute to increasing that quantity.


Raw-milk lovers skirt the law

The label on the jug reads "for pet use only," but in the privacy of their kitchens, thousands of people statewide mix smoothies with, churn ice cream with, and drink cold glasses of raw milk.

It is illegal in Florida and many other states to sell raw milk as a human beverage because it can harbor pathogens such as Listeria and E. coli. Milk meant for people must undergo a heating process called pasteurization, which kills all bacteria.


New methods aim to keep E. coli in beef lower all year

The dead of winter may not be the time when most people's thoughts turn toward the allure of a hamburger on the grill. But from a food safety standpoint, it's probably the safest time there is to eat ground beef.

"The theory is that animals are carrying higher levels of E. coli during the summer months, and sometimes they may overwhelm the systems in place to control pathogen contamination in (processing) plants," says James Marsden, a professor of food safety and security at Kansas State University.


China Finds Tons of Tainted Milk Powder

SHANGHAI—Chinese authorities say they are trying to track down nearly 100 tons of milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine as the government struggles to prevent a recurrence of the large-scale milk contamination that killed six children and sickened about 300,000 others in 2008.


Health Department destroys thousands of dollars of local fruit

One mom prepares hundreds of pounds of frozen fruit. The Chicago Department of Public Health says she doesn't have the correct license to make it into candy and sell it. Can she still give it to her son?

Not in Chicago. 


Kenya: New fund seeks to cut milk hawking

The government will establish a Dairy Development Fund to be funded through a levy on processors in an attempt to wipe out the hawking of milk in the country.

The fund will be used to ensure testing for quality and monitoring so as to strengthen hygiene standards.

Players said this would help the country’s products gain export markets more easily.


“Dean Foods have eliminated competition” says Dept. of Justice in a lawsuit

The U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust law suit against Dallas-based Dean Foods Co. alleging that by acquiring a competitor company, the company threatens to gain monopoly over milk distribution in Northern Illinois.

The attorneys general of Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have also filed separate complaints against the company, alleging that with the acquisition of one of the largest competitor firms, Foremost Farms, Dean Foods has eliminated competition and can now raise prices at will.


Raw Milk Has a Day in Court

“Who owns your body? Tell me!”

“We do!”

“And who decides what you put in your body?”

“We do!”

“We never gave permission to the Government to tell us what to put in our body.”

German-Canadian farmer, Michael Schmidt, rallied with the enthusiastic crowd at a hearing last week in New Westminster on the legality of selling raw milk. His baritone voice could be heard even without his megaphone.


As ancient cheeses go extinct, French sense threat to a pillar of their identity

LA SAVINAZ, France — The milk that Paulette Marmottan uses in her cheese comes fresh from her cows and goats, so warm that on cold mornings, a cloud of steam goes up as she pours it into a cauldron.

It's the first step in making Persille de Tignes, which according to local lore, was a favourite of the mighty 9th century emperor Charlemagne.


FDA Requests $4.03 Billion to Transform Food Safety System, Invest in Medical Product Safety, Regulatory Science

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requesting $4.03 billion to promote and protect public health as part of the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget – a 23 percent increase over the agency’s current $3.28 billion budget.

The FY 2011 request, which covers the period of Oct.1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2011, includes increases of $146 million in budget authority and $601 million in industry user fees.


China jails food safety campaigner

China has launched a nationwide check for milk products contaminated with melamine, the chemical blamed for the deaths of six babies in 2008.

The emergency inspection was ordered because of reports that tainted items the government ordered destroyed are still on the market, according to the official newspaper China Daily.


USDA tightens requirements to assure school lunch safety

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced sweeping steps Thursday to "assure the safety and quality of food" purchased for the National School Lunch Program.

The measures include tightening requirements on companies that supply ground beef to schools, testing the beef more often and more thoroughly, and improving communications within the USDA to "identify potential food safety issues" before children get sick.

The initiatives come in the wake of a USA TODAY investigation that revealed failures in government programs intended to protect students from food-borne illnesses. More than 31 million children participate in the school lunch program.


A1 Beta Casein: The Devil in Your Milk

Although milk is one of the most common foods in the modern diet, pasteurization and modern dairy farming practices pose a number of concerns. In addition, many people are unable to properly digest dairy and it’s also one of the most common sources of food sensitivities which can cause a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms. As if this isn’t enough to worry about, there’s unfortunately another important and potentially harmful aspect of milk to consider.


Bagged salad: How clean?

You might think that "pre washed" and "triple-washed" salad greens sold in plastic clamshells or bags are squeaky clean. But our recent tests found room for improvement.

No, we didn't find pathogens such as
E. coli O157:H7, listeria, or salmonella. With our small sample size—208 containers representing 16 brands purchased at stores in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York—we didn't expect to. (The Department of Agriculture, in a test of more than 4,000 samples of loose and packaged salad in 2008, found salmonella in two of them. All of our tests included packaged greens.)


The Mothers of Invention

When Mary Schulman was introducing her company's new line of children's snacks, Snikiddy Baked Fries, to supermarket executives a few months ago, one of them predicted that the parmesan-garlic flavor wouldn't be popular with kids.

But Ms. Schulman knew better. She already had tested it with a handpicked focus group—her young children, Sunny and Sadie. "That flavor is my kids' favorite," says Ms. Schulman. "So I wasn't worried."


USDA takes accounting of organic farms

It seems that organic farming is gaining a nice foothold in America and are doing okay business-wise.

The just release 2008 Organic Production Survery conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the amount of farmland dedicated to organic crops and livestock is still really small but growing fast.

It survey is the first widescale survey so there's not a lot to compare it to. But there are some telling numbers.


The organic movement is a civic process, not a set of standards [corrected]

Consumers interested in understanding the current fight over what makes milk “organic” would do well to study the politics of the dairy industry a century ago. 

In the 1930s, dairy farmers in the Northeast and Midwest spilled milk onto the streets to protest prices.  Their political rhetoric blamed shady milk dealers and heartless bureaucrats for their plight but, as I describe in my book, Nature’s Perfect Food, there was another factor that increased the chaos of dairy pricing: pasture. 


USDA Announces that the NAIS Will by Replaced with New Animal Tracking Rules

The USDA has announced that its much-criticized National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is no more. In its place will be new rules that will focus only on tracking livestock animals used in inter-state trade and commercial operations. The new rules will evolve over the next several months and the USDA is requesting input from affected parties.


Jolley: USDA Tries Mouth-To-Mouth On NAIS

The Associated Press misreported this morning that “The USDA Abandons Stalled Animal ID Program.” A press release issued last Friday by the USDA hints at another fate.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA will develop a new, flexible framework for animal disease traceability in the United States, and undertake several other actions to further strengthen its disease prevention and response capabilities.


USDA announces plans for new program to trace animals, to be administered by states

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday it has abandoned a program that was intended to trace the movement of farm animals around the country but garnered little support from farmers.

Instead, the department announced plans for a new, more flexible program to be administered by states and tribes to strengthen disease prevention and response. The program will only apply to animals moved in interstate commerce and will encourage the use of low-cost technology.


USA - Questions about cattle identification

The following quotations concerning the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) are from Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group.

The USDA's announcement to fold their tent on the current NAIS proposals is an all too rare victory of the nation's family farmers over the political power of corporate agribusiness.

Secretary Vilsack, in this case, definitely listened to the will of the people. The decision by the USDA to regroup, and withdraw current rulemaking, was made after a series of spirited national meetings with vocal farmers.


USDA Announces New Framework for Animal Disease Traceability

President Barack Obama asked Congress on Monday to slash crop subsidies to "wealthy farmers" and to pare federal support for crop insurance, moves estimated to save $10 billion over 10 years.

Obama targeted those areas for large cuts last year without success. Another fight is likely this year. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered to work with Congress to concoct a palatable package.


USDA Abandons Stalled Animal ID Program

The federal government has abandoned a program that was intended to trace the movement of farm animals around the country but garnered little support from farmers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture instead announced plans Friday for a new, more flexible program to be administered by states and tribes to strengthen disease prevention and response.


Radical Homemaking: Why Both Men and Women Should Get Back In Kitchen

Long before we could pronounce Betty Friedan’s last name, Americans from my generation felt her impact. Many of us born in the mid-1970s learned from our parents and our teachers that women no longer needed to stay home, that there were professional opportunities awaiting us. In my own school experience, homemaking, like farming, gained a reputation as a vocation for the scholastically impaired. Those of us with academic promise learned that we could do whatever we put our minds to, whether it was conquering the world or saving the world. I was personally interested in saving the world. That path eventually led me to conclude that homemaking would play a major role toward achieving that goal.  


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