USDA seeks input for 2017 ag census: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now inviting suggestions for the 2017 "Census of Agriculture." Conducted every five years by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the census provides detailed data covering nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture down to the county level. NASS released the complete results for the 2012 census on May 2, which are available at www.agcensus.usda.gov. The agency is now planning the content and accepting input for the 2017 census. NASS administrator Joseph T. Reilly said, "This is the perfect time to ask for suggestions (on what to change in the 2017 census) since the 2012 data are fresh on our minds." Suggestions may be submitted on questionnaire items to add or delete, as well as any other ideas concerning the census. There will be another opportunity to provide official comment through the Federal Register process in the coming weeks. "There are many industries looking for data that we don't already collect," NASS census and survey division director Renee Picanso said. "There are also some items that people may think are no longer relevant with changing trends in agriculture. Now is the time to express those ideas and concerns." Content suggestions for the 2017 census will be accepted until Aug. 4. Comments can be submitted online at www.agcensus.usda.gov/Contact_Us/Census_Program_Input_Form or mailed to: Census Content Team, Room 6451, 1400 Independence Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250.
FDA issues nanotech product guidance: The Food & Drug Administration issued three final guidance documents and one draft guidance June 24 that provide greater regulatory clarity for industry on the use of nanotechnology in FDA-regulated products. One final guidance addresses the agency's overall approach for all products it regulates, while the two others plus the new draft guidance provide specific direction in the areas of food, cosmetics and food for animals, respectively. FDA explained that nanotechnology is an emerging technology that allows scientists to create, explore and manipulate materials on a scale measured in nanometers — particles so small that they cannot be seen with a regular microscope. FDA did not make a categorical judgment that nanotechnology is inherently safe or harmful and will continue to consider the specific characteristics of individual products. All four guidance documents encourage manufacturers to consult with FDA before taking their products to market. Of note, the draft guidance, "Draft Guidance for Industry: Use of Nanomaterials in Food for Animals," addresses issues related to the use of nanotechnology in food ingredients intended for use in food for animals. Public comments on this draft guidance are requested by Sept. 10.
Bill to minimize propane shortages: The House approved June 23 the Reliable Home Heating Act, which is designed to minimize future propane and heating fuel shortages and regional supply disruptions. The bill gives state governors more flexibility to declare emergencies without additional action from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Additionally, the legislation requires the Energy Information Administration to provide early warnings to governors if the inventory of residential heating fuels (such as propane, natural gas and home heating oil) falls below the most recent five-year average for more than three consecutive weeks. The bill was originally introduced by Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) and passed unanimously in the Senate in May. It now heads to the President for his signature.
NBAF funding proposed: Both the House Appropriations Committee and Senate appropriations subcommittee on homeland security approved the fiscal 2015 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which includes the final round of funding needed to complete construction of the National Bio & Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan., and will permit the department to fully leverage funding contributions made by the state of Kansas. Both chambers approved an estimated $300 million in fiscal 2015 to fully fund and complete construction of NBAF. Once completed, NBAF will be a biosecurity level 4 facility and will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. The bill will now go to the full House for consideration. Appropriations approvals on the floor have been held up, which may make it more likely that spending bills will be lumped together and may not even be acted upon until after the fall elections.
Recall authority: Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) introduced legislation that would strengthen the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ability to recall any meat, poultry or egg product contaminated by pathogens associated with serious illness or death or that are resistant to two or more critically important antibiotics used in human medicine. Over the past year, an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella heidelberg traced to chicken produced by Foster Farms made at least 601 Americans ill, with around 40% of them hospitalized. Despite the length and severity of the outbreak, none of the company's products have been recalled by USDA due to legal ambiguity. In the wake of the outbreak, DeLauro and Slaughter met with USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) and were told that FSIS does not believe it has the authority to declare salmonella an adulterant. Currently, USDA will issue a recall only if a meat, poultry or egg product is considered "adulterated" — a term the legislators said is "ambiguously defined in current law."
IP soybean oil: Cargill announced that it is introducing a soybean oil made from identity-preserved (IP), conventionally bred soybeans for customers interested in exploring a non-genetically modified (GM) claim on their product label. The oil is refined in Cargill's Des Moines, Iowa, plant in a process certified by SGS. Supplies of the new oil are limited. According to Ethan Theis, Cargill food ingredients commercial manager, producing an IP soybean oil from non-GM soybeans is an intricate process, from procuring a dedicated supply of non-GM soybeans to developing processes to avoid commingling with bioengineered crops during harvesting, transportation, storage, handling, processing and refining. "Despite the many merits of biotechnology, consumer interest in food and beverage products made from non-GM ingredients is growing, creating opportunities and challenges for food manufacturers and foodservice operators," Theis noted.
Dust workshop: Kansas State University will offer a combustible grain dust prevention workshop about advanced mitigation methods from 1 to 4 p.m. July 31 at the Westin Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City, Mo. The free workshop will follow a safety conference co-sponsored by the National Grain & Feed Assn. The three-hour training will focus on housekeeping practices, proper grain unloading and grain handling and controls, with a demonstration of sensors and other engineering controls. In this program, the emphasis will be on controlling dust in the grain receiving area, spouting design, bucket elevator safety, sensors for bucket elevators and other material handling equipment. In addition, the course will cover venting, explosion suppression and isolation. "The past two years, we have focused on increasing awareness of basic grain dust explosion understanding and mitigation techniques. Now, we will go beyond this to research-based mitigation methods," said Kingsly Ambrose, project leader and Kansas State assistant professor in grain science and industry. The workshop should enable participants to identify active steps for mitigating immediate threats, improve their knowledge on dust mitigation methods and gain a better understanding of equipment used throughout a grain handling facility. This initiative is funded through a grant from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Online registration is available.