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Agriculture News

WOTUS: Where Are We Now?

Texas Agriculture Law Blog | Posted on August 17, 2017

In February 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order which required the EPA and COE to “rescind or revise” the 2015 Rule.  The Order said that the agencies should “consider interpreting” the term consistent with Justice Scalia’s opinion in Rapanos. In June, the EPA announced it would be taking the first step to rescind the 2015 Rule and to re-codify the definition of WOTUS prior to the passage of the 2015 rule.Where Are We Now? Rescinding a rule already promulgated is not as simple as it may sound.  The EPA has published a new proposed rule in the Federal Register, which essentially seeks to codify the rule as it was prior to the 2015 EPA rule being passed (and, due to the 6th Circuit stay, the approach currently in place across the US).  Specifically, the proposed rule would rescind the 2015 approach and codify an approach consistent with the Rapanos Supreme Court decision, applicable case law, and other longstanding agency practices. Now, notice and comment rulemaking will take place, which will allow the public to offer input on the new proposed rule.  This period is open through August 28, 2017.  After that, the EPA plans to conduct a “substantive re-evaluation” of the definition of WOTUS and conduct notice and will likely propose a new rule after property notice and comment rulemaking occurs. Meanwhile, the 2015 rule is not in force anywhere in the United States, as the 6th Circuit stay remains in place.  Thus, currently, the definition of WOTUS is governed by the pre-2015 rule that got us the complex decision in the Rapanos case.  Unfortunately, until a new rule is promulgated, landowners are left with trying to interpret the Rapanos decision in order to know whether federal permits are required on their land.Hopefully, the revised rule will offer more clarity and certainty for both the government and landowners alike.

FDA Clarifies Sanitary Transportation Rule Waiver for Retail Food Establishments

The Coastal Bend Chronicle | Posted on August 17, 2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidance to clarify that a waiver to the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food final rule (Sanitary Transportation rule) covers retail food establishments that sell food for humans, including those that sell both human and animal food, but does not apply to establishments that only sell food for animals. The Sanitary Transportation rule  established a process by which FDA may waive any of the rule’s requirements for certain classes of persons, vehicles, or types of food  if doing so will not result in the transportation of food under conditions that would be unsafe for human or animal health, or contrary to the public interest.  

FDA eases restrictions on ultra-filtered milk for cheese-making

Wisconsin State Farmer | Posted on August 17, 2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says ultra-filtered cow’s milk can now be used to make all types of natural cheeses, a move that Wisconsin cheese-makers have sought for nearly 20 years. Ultra-filtered milk is fresh farm milk run through a filter to reduce the amount of water and lactose and concentrate the natural proteins.“FDA’s announcement is an important win for Wisconsin and other great cheese-making states,” John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association said in a statement.Umhoefer said the FDA’s decision will allow cheese-makers to use the concentrated form of milk with flexible labeling restrictions.“There’s been an oversupply of milk in the U.S. for over a year, causing real financial stress for dairy farm families. This decision can lead to more production of … ultra-filtered milk and find new markets for our abundant milk supplies,” Umhoefer said.For years, the dairy industry has worked with the FDA to allow the use of ultra-filtered milk in cheeses with a federal standard of identity — such as cheddar, mozzarella, Colby and brick.The agency has allowed the use of the concentrated milk in standardized cheeses if the filtration took place at the factory where natural cheese was made.

Examining Farm Sector and Farm Household Income

USDA | Posted on August 17, 2017

 Farm sector net cash income is expected to decline 35 percent between 2013 and 2016, following several years of record highs—though it will remain near its recent 10-year average. Starting in the late 1990s, the median household income for farm households has exceeded the median income of all U.S. households; in 2015, farm households had a median total household income of $76,735, a third gre ater than that of all U.S. households but less than that of U.S. households with a self-employed head. Federal Government payments—including disaster assistance programs and commodity program payments—are expected to be about $13 billion in 2016, and buffer swings in farm income.

Would water monitoring changes make Iowa lakes, rivers less safe?

Des Moines Register | Posted on August 17, 2017

Iowa wants to make changes to its water-quality monitoring rules that would remove 44 lakes and rivers from the federal impaired waters list. It's a move some environmental groups say could endanger public health.The Iowa Department of Natural Resources proposes switching to an average value method that uses multiple water samples to measure E. coli bacteria instead of single samples that catch spikes in bacteria. 

Opinion: FDA overreach on FSMA Produce Safety needs to be addressed

Agri-Pulse | Posted on August 17, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration will soon be micromanaging a wide range of farming-related activities for many farms. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, which impacts numerous areas of the food supply, including produce safety.The FDA finalized a FSMA produce safety rule in 2015, with most of the major requirements kicking in over the next several years.  The rule doesn’t require a commodity to be connected to a foodborne illness outbreak in order to be regulated, or even to be similar to the small number of produce commodities that are connected to outbreaks. The FDA has taken the view that because an outbreak is possible, regardless of the likelihood, that’s sufficient.    As explained by the FDA, “it is likely that at least some commodities that currently have never been implicated in an outbreak have a positive probability of being implicated in a future outbreak.”By this logic, except for the limited exceptions that exist in the rule, no produce is safe from the regulatory reach of the FDA. The FDA isn’t taking a broad interpretation of FSMA’s language; instead, it is ignoring FSMA’s language and doing the exact opposite of what Congress intended.By regulating more fruits and vegetable, the FDA has also given itself the ability to enforce its produce safety rule requirements on a far greater number of farmers.  These standards cover a wide range of issues that address potential on-farm sources of contamination from water quality and testing to sanitation of equipment, tools, and buildings.

Farming activity contaminates water despite best practices

Desert Sun News | Posted on August 17, 2017

 Lynda Cochart did not realize her water was contaminated with coliform bacteria until she contracted MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant skin infection. She believed it came from the water in her well in Casco, Wisconsin. “There’s no other way I could have gotten it,” she said. A year later, U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Mark Borchardt tested her well while testing others in Kewaunee County. He found total coliform bacteria at levels too dangerous to drink. Cochart lives between two dairy farms with over 1,000 cows each. None of the bacteria Borchardt found came from human feces, she said, so the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus most likely came from cow manure. Borchardt told her to immediately stop drinking the water.“He said, ‘What I found in your well is what I expect to find in a Third World country,’” Cochart recalled. When she told him she still needed to shower with that water, Borchardt advised, “Then keep your eyes closed and your mouth shut.” In California’s San Joaquin Valley, which grows nearly one-quarter of the nation’s food, fertilizer and manure spread on farms’ fields and orchards have contributed to unsafe nitrate levels in drinking water sources. The News21 analysis of Environmental Protection Agency records of community water systems shows 491 instances of unsafe nitrate amounts in many of the region’s 663 community water systems over the past 10 years.

Drug-resistant bacteria found in raw milk from North Texas dairy farm

edairynews | Posted on August 17, 2017

A recall has been issued on raw milk sold by North Texas distributor K-Bar Dairy over worries that some of the products contain a drug-resistant bacteria linked to fever, swelling, fatigue and other symptoms. The small, family-operated dairy farm is in Wise County, about 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth and 60 miles northwest of Dallas. It produces around 120 gallons per day of raw milk, a type of milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful microorganisms.A person who drank raw milk from K-Bar was hospitalized with symptoms of fever, joint pain and fatigue. The bacteria was resistant to at least two antibiotics, rifampicin and penicillin.Strains of Brucella bacteria were later detected in samples from K-Bar Dairy

Will rural Iowa wither as big ag becomes bigger, squeezing out farms in the middle?

Des Moines Register | Posted on August 17, 2017

On a sweltering morning, John Gilbert bottle-feeds calves with a small, converted bucket, while his 3-year-old granddaughter struggles to hold a wriggling kitten. Two generations of Gilberts milk and care for nearly 100 Brown Swiss cows, nicknamed "the gals," raise pigs in a hoop barn and grow oats, alfalfa, corn and soybeans on 770 acres.The extended-family farm operation is what many imagine is dotting Iowa's countryside — fathers and sons, husbands and wives, working together to raise animals, crops and kids.But that picture is changing rapidly, as family-run midsized farms give way to bigger agriculture operations and smaller hobby acreages.Farm consolidation has emptied out rural Iowa for decades. But the hollowing out of midsized farms places even more stress on the quality of life in rural and small-town Iowa.As farm families dwindle, so do shops, schools and doctors' offices. And small factories, long a companion to farms as the lifeblood of the rural economy, locate elsewhere in search of workers.

South Dakota cattle groups weigh in on tracking rules

Missouri Farmer Today | Posted on August 17, 2017

When federal meat inspectors found bovine tuberculosis in South Dakota cattle earlier this year, the official ear tag paired with that animal helped pinpoint the Harding County herd where the cattle had originated. From there, state animal health officials went to work testing neighboring herds that might have been exposed in an effort to contain the disease that South Dakota had been rid of since 2009. With the tracking system in place, it took weeks instead of months to test potentially exposed animals.Before the current national tracking system was put in place in 2013, officials had to rely on sales records. During the last TB outbreak in 2009, it took South Dakota Animal Industry Board staff 10 months to track buyers and test herds.State veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said traceability is much better now.