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FDA Labeling Changes Affect Dairy

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Lenexa, KS  (Dairy Herd Management, February 28, 2014):  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released proposed changes to "Nutrition Facts" labels and corresponding rules on serving sizes for packaged foods, including dairy. The proposed changes affect all packaged foods except certain meat, poultry and processed egg products, which are regulated by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

"The proposed nutrition label and serving-size changes have huge implications for the dairy industry beyond the required nutrient declaration changes. They will also result in the need for some products that use nutrition claims such as "low-fat" or "fat-fee" to reformulate to meet the claims based on changed serving sizes," said Cary Frye, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) vice president for regulatory and scientific affairs.
click image to zoomServing Size, nutrition factsProposed nutrition label click image to zoomServing size, nutrition factsCurrent nutrition facts

Among other changes, the proposal calls for a more prominent display of the calorie declaration and modified servings per container, along with a new declaration for added sugars. The proposed changes would affect nearly all packaged foods, including all milk and dairy products sold at retail.

The recommended Daily Value (DV) for calcium would increase from 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg, and milk would still qualify as an "excellent source." Also, the DV for sodium would decrease modestly from 2,400 to 2,300 mg, and the DV for protein remains unchanged, so most dairy products can still make claims about the "good source of protein."

Call for Immigration Reform from Ag Orgs

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Washington, DC (American Farm Bureau Federation, February 25, 2014): The American Farm Bureau Federation, as part of a multi-industry coalition of 636 business organizations—154 of them agriculture-related—today urged Congress to move forward with immigration reform this year.

In a letter sent to House Republican leadership, the coalition noted that all of the signatories are "united in the belief that we can and must do better for our economy and country by modernizing our immigration system." Further, "Done properly, reform will deter illegal immigration, protect and complement our U.S. workforce, better respond to changing economic and demographic needs, and generate greater productivity and economic activity, while respecting family unity."

The signatories included 246 businesses of every size and sector across the country and 390 business associations, bureaus, federations and chambers representing a broad cross-section of industries and commercial interests.

"Failure to act is not an option," noted the letter. "We cannot afford to be content and watch a dysfunctional immigration system work against our overall national interest. In short, immigration reform is an essential element of a jobs agenda and economic growth. It will add talent, innovation, investment, products, businesses, jobs and dynamism to our economy."

The signatories to the letter expressed support for Congress and the administration using the House Republicans' "Standards for Immigration Reform" as guideposts for action this year.

Why Your Propane Costs Are So High

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Harrisburg, PA (Patriot-News, February 25, 2014):  Hummelstown resident Lawrence R. Watson wrote a letter last week asking why his propane bill had spiked up $1.80 a gallon over last year, to a painful $5.59 a gallon:  "Is there a shortage or is it just greed?"

The quick answer: Everybody agrees, there is a shortage, both in the Northeast U.S. and the Midwest. And when there's a shortage, the price goes up – it's basic economics.

In Pennsylvania, the average retail price of propane has jumped $1 a gallon over last year, with 70 cents of it coming just since January. As the graph below shows, the price, topping out at $4 a gallon (not including taxes), has never been higher.  A similar price spike can be found in other regions of the country as well.

The more interesting question is why there is a shortage.

Propane comes from natural gas, a booming industry in Pennsylvania. The fuel can also be produced from crude oil at refineries, such as those in the Philadelphia area.  Shouldn't we have plenty of propane here?

A report in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday looked at that question and found three driving forces for the big squeeze in propane supplies.

Food Safety Rule Rile Organic Growers

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Hustontown, PA (The Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2014): Jim Crawford was rushing to load crates of freshly picked organic tomatoes onto trucks heading for an urban farmers market when he noticed the federal agent.

A tense conversation followed as the visitor to his farm — an inspector from the Food and Drug Administration — warned him that some organic-growing techniques he had honed over four decades could soon be outlawed.  "This is my badge. These are the fines. This is what is hanging over your head, and we want you to know that," Crawford says the official told him.

Crawford's popular farm may seem a curious place for the FDA to move ahead with a long-planned federal assault on deadly food poisoning. To Crawford's knowledge, none of the kohlrabi, fennel, sugar snap peas or other crops from his New Morning Farm have ever sickened anyone. But he is not the only organic grower to suddenly discover federal inspectors on his land.

In 2010, after a years-long campaign, food-safety activists persuaded Congress to give the FDA authority to regulate farm practices. The next year, an outbreak of food poisoning that killed 33 people who ate tainted cantaloupes put pressure on the FDA to be aggressive.  Now, farmers are discovering that the FDA's proposed rules would curtail many techniques that are common among organic growers, including spreading house-made fertilizers, tilling cropland with grazing animals, and irrigating from open creeks.

OSHA Will Not Regulate Small Farms

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Washington, DC (Associated Press, February 22, 2014):  Bowing to congressional pressure, the Obama administration is assuring Congress and farmers it doesn't want to regulate the country's smallest farms.

In a letter to Congress dated Feb. 10, a top official with the U.S. Department of Labor wrote to assure members that the agency has no interest in inspecting small farming operations with fewer than 10 employees. The letter also said the agency is formally withdrawing a contentious 2011 OSHA memorandum that many members of Congress, including South Dakota's congressional delegation, said opened the door to regulating small, family-run farm operations.

Congress has expressly forbidden the Occupation Safety and Health Administration from regulating small farms since 1976. The Department of Labor, which oversees OSHA, has said that the memorandum was never intended to change that practice.

But the letter from Brian V. Kennedy, an assistant secretary at the Department of Labor, makes clear that the agency felt the need to clarify its policies. It came after months of congressional pressure on the issue.  "The June 28, 2011 memorandum was intended to provide clarification and not to change OSHA's longstanding policies and proper authority," wrote Brian V. Kennedy, the assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Labor.

Leola Farmer's Plastic Recycling Business

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Leola, PA (Lancaster Farming, February 24, 2014): As winter progresses and farmers use up the feed in their plastic silage bags, those large white pieces of plastic can quickly become white elephants.  Add to that the mountains of high tunnel covers, greenhouse trays, plastic mulch and feed bags that farms use.

U.S. farmers use at least a billion pounds of plastic a year, according to James Garthe, a retired Penn State agricultural engineer.  That turns into a lot of waste that farmers have to dispose of. Many farmers burn it or throw it in their trash containers.  Recycling would seem to be a better use of resources, but stuffing a farm's worth of plastic into a garbage hauler's green household bin is just not going to happen.

Leola vegetable farmer Daniel Zook's decade-long quest to find a better way to deal with his ag plastic led him to start a still-growing recycling operation in 2000.  "We decided we wanted to quit burning" plastic, Zook said.

He never liked that, he said, because of the chemicals and incompletely burned globs leftover in the soil, plus the unhealthy gases released into the air.

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