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Study warns USDA of biotech disclosure challenges facing consumers

Agri-Pulse | Posted on September 12, 2017

Despite the widespread availability of smartphones, a study says consumers face a number of technological challenges in using the devices to get information about bioengineered foods, the key method for disclosing GMO ingredients under a 2016 law.  The study, which was required by the law and conducted by the consultant group Deloitte under contract with the Department of Agriculture, said that an extensive educational campaign will be needed to implement the law and that USDA should consider developing or endorsing user-friendly scanner apps for consumers to use. The study also suggests development of “offline alternatives,” including the use of text messages, to enable consumers to get information on biotech ingredients. The law said that If additional disclosure methods were needed USDA is required to provide them after consulting with food retailers and manufacturers. The study said that while 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone and 94 percent have adequate broadband access to scan a digital code on a food label, consumers aren’t aware of the digital links and many would face challenges in using the codes that they’re not even aware of.


USDA help available for flood-damaged land

Victoria Advocate | Posted on September 11, 2017

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Texas has established two special Environmental Quality Incentives Program sign ups to help farmers and ranchers that suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is available to help farmers and ranchers treat the on-farm/ranch problems caused by the high winds, rainfall and flood waters due to Hurricane Harvey along the Texas Gulf Coast.


Employment, Poverty, and Public Assistance in the Rural United States

University of New Hampshire, Carsey School | Posted on September 7, 2017

A large body of research focuses on the divide between the rural and urban United States. These studies tell us that poverty is higher in the rural United States, incomes are lower, and job growth is nearly non-existent.  But, as demographer Kenneth Johnson states, “‘Rural America’ is a deceptively simple term for a remarkably diverse collection of places.In this brief, we provide a glimpse of the economic and demographic characteristics of life in the rural United States. Using data from the American Community Survey, we compare those living in low- and lower-middle-income counties (counties with average family incomes below the median for all counties in the United States) to those living in upper-middle- and high-income counties. Additionally, we compare counties at the extremes, where median incomes are in the bottom and top 10 percent of the income distribution.Low-income rural counties are clustered in the South, lower-middle- and upper-middle-income rural counties are clustered in the Midwest, and high-income rural counties are clustered in the West. Still, low-, middle-, and high-income rural counties dot nearly every corner of the United States. In Georgia, for example, over three-quarters of rural counties are low income and just 2 percent (and two counties, to be exact) are high income. In Kansas, as in most states of the Midwest, almost 80 percent of rural counties are middle income. Our research also reveals that differences in income levels coincide with differences in demographics. People in low-income rural areas are less educated and less likely to be employed, and those who do work are more likely to do so in manufacturing and production and less likely to do so in management, business, science, arts, recreation, and entertainment. Their incomes are also more likely to fall below the federal poverty line, and they rely more heavily on public support.


The raging legal battle over what makes a food “natural”

Denver Post | Posted on September 7, 2017

More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration signaled that it would soon nail down exactly what the word “natural” means, the agency has yet to provide any guidance – and baffled consumers are suing. They’ve sued Sargento, the dairy giant, because the cows behind its “natural” cheeses are given genetically modified feed.They’ve sued Walmart over its “all-natural” pita chips, which contain thiamine mononitrate and folic acid – both B vitamins that are made synthetically.They’ve even sued HINT, which makes “all-natural” fruit-flavored waters, for using a common solvent to boost the drink’s taste.Since January, court filings show that there’s been an uptick in lawsuits against food companies regarding “all-natural” and “natural” claims – and some lawyers say the FDA’s continued silence is to blame.Nineteen all-natural class actions have been filed this year, as of July 2017. There were 27 such suits for the entire year of 2016.The suits were brought by individual consumers, or small groups of consumers, on behalf of everyone who purchased a given product. The law suits frequently claim that “natural” labels tricked shoppers into buying a more expensive cheese – or flavored water, or pita chip – by deceiving them about how the product was made. A handful of law firms filed the majority of complaints.


USDA Strengthens Enforcement Rules for Livestock Mandatory Reporting and COOL Programs

Penn State Law Blog | Posted on September 7, 2017

On August 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that the agency has issued a final rule that permits USDA to impose civil penalties against violators of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) and the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations. AMS stated that the announced final rule extends the current rules under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended, to include LMR and COOL violations. AMS asserted that when there is a failure "to meet the LMR reporting requirements it impacts the ability of AMS to publish timely and reliable livestock information that the industry relies upon." Accordingly, under the new final rule, USDA now has the ability to enforce compliance through the imposition of up to $10,000 in penalties for each violation of an LMR regulation. Regarding COOL, the program is intended to provide consumers with information regarding the origin of many foods. To achieve that objective, the final rule authorizes the imposition of fines against covered retailers or individuals that willfully violate COOL regulations. The announced final rule became effective upon its publication in the Federal Register on August 9, 2017


FCC proposes to fix rural broadband by changing the definition

Daily Yonder | Posted on September 7, 2017

Ajit Pai’s proposal to “solve” rural America’s broadband problem won’t help you watch Netflix, finish your homework, or download videos from your grandkids. All it does is move the goalposts and call it a touchdown. Rural people know the real score.Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has made talking about the “digital divide” between rural communities and urban communities a top priority. In the few months since Pai took over, he has gone on numerous road trips , appearing with rural senators such as John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) to highlight his deep concern for rural Americans. Pai likes to talk about his rural Kansas roots and went so far as to declare August “rural broadband month”. Unfortunately, for all his Kansas roots, Chairman Pai has hit on a uniquely Washington answer to the very real problem of getting affordable, high speed broadband to every American: re-define the term “broadband” to make the problem go away. 


Clean water act's double standard

Daily Yonder | Posted on September 7, 2017

A California farmer who plowed dry ground faces large fines from the Environmental Protection Agency for polluting America's waterways. Meanwhile, under some conditions, cities can dump raw sewage into major rivers with impunity. How is this fair?


Money-for-water programs work — but for how long?

High Country News | Posted on September 7, 2017

When Freddie Botur, 45, whose ranch spans 72,000 acres outside of Pinedale, Wyoming, first heard about a program that was paying ranchers to let water run down the river instead of irrigating with it, he was skeptical. But Nick Walrath, a project coordinator for Trout Unlimited, told him he’d receive about $200 for every acre-foot of water saved by not watering hay on his Cottonwood Ranch.  For Botur, it would mean over $240,00 for fallowing just over 1,700 acres of hay fields for the latter half of the summer of 2015, letting 1,202 acre-feet of water run past his headgate on Cottonwood and Muddy Creeks, tributaries of the Green River, instead of to his fields. “Oh my god,” he thought, “this is insane.” Botour, talkative and athletic, was wearing mirrored sunglasses and a cowboy hat when we met in June outside a cluster of old homestead buildings on the family ranch that he operates at the foot of the lofty peaks of the Wyoming Range. For Wyoming ranchers, he explained, the kind of money he received for not growing hay represented as much as a third of their annual revenue. The money-for-water program that Botur signed up for was a pilot program, launched in 2014 by the four largest municipal water providers in the Colorado River basin along with the Bureau of Reclamation. The goal: see how complicated it would be to pay ranchers to use less water on their fields and instead let the water flow down the Green, Colorado and San Juan rivers to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two biggest water storage buckets in the Colorado River system. The result: After three years, the initiative, known as the “System Conservation Pilot Program,” proved popular with skeptical ranchers like Botur, but water officials called a halt to the program after this year until they work out some big challenges. Their task will not be easy. But as climate change alters the hydrology of the Colorado River basin, water planners are searching for ways to adapt a system of century-old water laws to a new reality. If they’re successful, a revamped “system conservation program” could be one way to reshape water management for a hotter drier West.


U.S. Potato Exports, including Processed Products, Reach Record Levels

Potato Business | Posted on September 7, 2017

Exports of all U.S. potatoes and potato products reached a record USD1.7bn for the July 2016 – June 2017 marketing year, and a record volume level of 1,712,364 metric tons (MT), according to Potatoes USA. Fresh potato exports at 491,716 MT were up 9%, potato chip exports up 5% to 52,103 MT and frozen products up 3% to 1,026,429 MT.  


Texas’ immigration legislation collides with Harvey

The Washington Times | Posted on August 31, 2017

Texas’ crackdown on illegal immigration is about to run smack into Harvey, with local officials saying they’ll refuse to comply with a new state law that goes into effect Friday requiring police to check immigration status for those they believe to be in the U.S. illegally. Known as SB4, the law would be the furthest-reaching crackdown of any state. It punishes leaders of sanctuary cities, including police officials, and spurs officers to determine immigration status of those they encounter. A number of cities had already sued to block the law. But Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said there’s no need to wait for a judge to decide, calling for the state to suspend the law. He said his city won’t be enforcing it during hurricane relief efforts.


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