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Ebola vaccine for great apes shows promise, but ethical hurdles may block further research

Science | Posted on March 16, 2017

Swallowing just a few drops of a new vaccine could protect against the deadly Ebola virus. The new immunization is not meant for humans, but chimpanzees and gorillas, for which Ebola is a devastating disease as well. Yet the vaccine may never reach these great apes. Further tests are all but impossible because of new ethical rules, the researchers charge.  Ebola is best known as a killer of people, but the virus also causes epidemics in wildlife. A 2006 study estimated that an outbreak in 2002 and 2003 in the Republic of the Congo claimed the lives of 5000 gorillas, but others have said the impact of the disease is hard to measure. Still, Ebola is a real and possibly growing threat to great apes, says epidemiologist Fabian Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who studies pathogens in nonhuman primates.   Walsh, who is currently investigating this issue with automated camera traps in the Republic of the Congo, admits that these are major problems. “There are Gambian pouched rats all over the forest, and the minute you put anything out, they eat it,” he says. “I have to find a way to get around that and that’s what I’m focusing on now.” But new U.S. rules on research with chimpanzees are another hurdle, Walsh says. Further improvements on the vaccine, for instance to prevent it from losing its activity in the tropical heat, would require another round of testing on captive animals. And that looks all but impossible at the moment, he says. Biomedical research on chimpanzees has been declining for years, and a new rule issued by the U.S. government in 2016 requires a permit under the Endangered Species Act. Although the rule still allows research on captive chimps if it benefits wild populations, the restrictions have made it too expensive to maintain chimpanzee groups for research, says Walsh, who cut his own vaccine study short when the rules took effect last September. Walsh has titled his paper “The Final (Oral Ebola) Vaccine Trial on Captive Chimpanzees?”

Trump budget plan cuts USDA food, rural water funding

Reuters | Posted on March 16, 2017

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating an international food aid program, halting funding for clean water initiative in rural areas and reducing county-level staff for a 21 percent drop in discretionary spending at the Agriculture Department, according to a White House budget document. The proposal would save $498 million by eliminating a rural water and wastewater loan and grant program, which the White House proposal said was duplicative. The program helps fund clean water and sewer systems in communities with less than 10,000 people. Other USDA areas targeted for cuts to reach the White House's $17.9 billion discretionary spending budget include its statistical capabilities and staffing at its county-level service centers. The White House also said it would eliminate the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which provides donations of U.S. agricultural commodities to food-deficit countries. The program, which had $182 million earmarked in the fiscal-year 2017 USDA budget, "lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity," the document said.

On immigration, Trump's budget calls for far more than a wall

USA Today | Posted on March 16, 2017

 President Trump’s first budget provides more than $4.5 billion in new spending to fight illegal immigration — not just by building a wall along the southern border but by adding more than 1,700 border officers, prosecutors and judges.  Beginning work on the wall comes with the biggest outlay — $2.6 billion — followed by $1.5 billion for expanded detention, transportation and removal of illegal immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the wall will cost $21 billion.  The largest staffing increases would be 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel and 500 new Border Patrol agents — all at a cost of $314 million. In executive orders issued five days after his inauguration, Trump called for adding 10,000 immigration officers and 5,000 border agents.  Other immigration-related additions in the budget proposal include:$80 million to hire 75 new immigration judges to handle removal proceedings.Hiring 60 additional border enforcement prosecutors and 40 deputy U.S. marshals to catch and transport criminal aliens.Hiring 20 new attorneys to obtain land needed to secure the southwest border and another 20 attorneys and staff to handle immigration litigation.$15 million to begin implementation of mandatory nationwide use of the E-verify Program, which allows businesses to determine the legal status of new workers.The budget also calls for spending $171 million to add short-term detention space to hold federal detainees, including criminal aliens, awaiting trial and sentencing.

Forgiving farmers’ student loans plants seeds for America’s future

Observer | Posted on March 15, 2017

The average age of the American farmer has crept up in the last 30 years—a trend both academia and the U.S. government want to figure out how to reverse. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, which is published every five years, the average farmer’s age has increased from 50 years to 58 years. Only 6 percent of U.S. farmers are younger than 35. The 2012 Census also showed a few other demographic developments—the number of women who farm has dropped, while the number of minorities who began farming rose—but the graying of the farmer is an issue that universities and policymakers in the United States are beginning to address.

National Milk Producers recommends changes to margin protection program to make it viable

KTIC Radio | Posted on March 12, 2017

The National Milk Producers Federation Board of Directors today unanimously approved a series of recommended changes to the dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) that will restore several key elements first proposed by NMPF during development of the 2014 Farm Bill. These changes to the MPP will ensure an effective safety net for the nation’s dairy farmers – if the recommendations are adopted by Congress. The recommendations range from changing the way dairy feed costs are calculated, to providing farmers greater flexibility in signing up for coverage and using other risk management tools. The four-point plan was developed by NMPF’s Economic Policy Committee, and reflects feedback from dairy producers, economists and members of Congress. It reflects several features originally proposed by NMPF that were subsequently weakened or eliminated as the 2014 farm bill was finalized.

China overtakes U.S. as top government funder of agriculture research | Posted on March 9, 2017

China leads the U.S. by a large margin in government funding of food and ag research and development.  China began pouring money into agricultural R&D at the same time that U.S. funding from federal and state sources stagnated and, about a decade ago, began to decline.  According to three USDA economists, China surpassed the U.S. in public funding in 2009 and had a 2-to-1 advantage in 2013. They say reduced U.S. spending “may have negative implications for agricultural productivity” when dealing with new pests and diseases and with climate change.

Latest: Family ordered to pay up for unauthorized grazing

High Country News | Posted on March 9, 2017

Starting in the mid-1990s, Nevada rancher Wayne Hage grazed his cows on public land without the necessary permits, saying his rights predated federal ownership. Hage, an outspoken government critic, passed away in 2006, but his son Wayne N. Hage continued the fight, illegally adding more cows annually — up to 648 by 2011. In 2016, after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, an appeals court judge ruled that the Hages did indeed need permits.  In late February, a federal district judge in Nevada ended the saga, ordering the Hages to pay $587,294 for “repeated willful unauthorized grazing.” Chief Judge Gloria Navarro said the Hages’ livestock must be removed by the end of March and cannot graze on public lands within Nevada again without written permission from the federal government. Judge Navarro is also presiding over Cliven Bundy’s trial for the armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management on his Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch in 2014.

Asian nations restrict U.S. poultry imports over bird flu

Reuters | Posted on March 9, 2017

South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong have limited imports of U.S. poultry after the United States detected its first case this year of avian flu on a commercial chicken farm, South Korea's government and a U.S. trade group said on Monday. South Korea will ban imports of U.S. poultry and eggs after a strain of H7 bird flu virus was confirmed on Sunday at a chicken farm in Tennessee, South Korea's agriculture ministry said. Japan and Taiwan will block poultry from the state, while Hong Kong will restrict imports from the Tennessee county where the infected flock was located, said James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, a trade group.

Six weeks later, senators question delay on Agriculture pick

Capital Press | Posted on March 6, 2017

President Donald Trump tapped former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be his agriculture secretary six weeks ago, but the administration still hasn’t formally provided the Senate with the paperwork for the nomination.  The delay is frustrating farm-state senators, who represent many of the core voters who helped elect Trump. The White House said the paperwork, including ethics forms and an FBI background check, is coming soon. The only other nomination that hasn’t been sent to Capitol Hill is that of Alexander Acosta, who was nominated to be labor secretary on Feb. 16 after the withdrawal of the original nominee, Andrew Puzder. Senators say they haven’t been given an explanation for the delay involving Perdue.

Feds Probe After City Bans Man From Using Service Horse

US News and World Report | Posted on March 6, 2017

Federal officials are investigating after a city banned a small horse a man says is his service animal needed on walks to improve his health.The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tells KING-TV ( that it is investigating Benton City's actions as a possible fair housing violation.Tim Fulton said that his horse, Fred, senses when Fulton is about to fall, gets in front and lets Fulton lean on him for support."I fall down from time to time," Fulton said. "It's really a pain."Fulton said Fred is slightly taller than a large dog but much stronger and able to give Fulton the stability he needs.But Benton City officials say Fred isn't allowed in a residential zone and has issued Fulton a $100 fine. So Fred is staying at a ranch outside city limits."Mr. Fulton has not met the requirements for the City to allow him to keep a miniature horse as a service animal in a residential zone...," said the city's attorney, Eric Ferguson of Kerr Law Group, in a statement.Ferguson also questioned the validity of the documentation for a service animal, noting it was from a nurse practitioner basing the recommendation on what Ferguson said wasn't firsthand knowledge.