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Articles from 2013 In July

EPA wants to ramp up CWA reporting

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to ramp up its recordkeeping requirements under the Clean Water Act, which could bring additional steps to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations permit holders as well as make that information more readily accessible to the public.

Wednesday the EPA proposed a rule that would modernize reporting processes for municipalities, industry and other facilities by converting to an electronic data reporting system.

EPA said in its release that the proposed e-reporting rule would make facility-specific information, such as inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other data required by permits accessible to the public through EPA's website.

Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said this latest rule is different than the CAFO reporting rule that livestock and poultry producers were able to convince EPA to back down on, but what has now brought the release of private producers' information to environmental groups.

Parrish noted this proposal "appears to be a glide path to making any and all information from permitted facilities available to the public." He explained that not only does it make the information for facilities that are required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit available, "this proposal makes it easier for EPA to make it public."  

He added if there is any good news, it is that it would only apply to permitted livestock facilities, whereas the rule abandoned last year would have created Clean Water Act liabilities for operations that otherwise have no CWA requirements.

However, Parrish said this proposal still poses "significant privacy/food security concerns."

Currently, facilities subject to reporting requirements submit data in paper form to states and other regulatory authorities, where the information must be manually entered into data systems. Through the e-reporting rule, these facilities will electronically report their data directly to the appropriate regulatory authority. EPA expects that the e-reporting rule will lead to more comprehensive and complete data on pollution sources, quicker availability of the data for use, and increased accessibility and transparency of the data to the public.

The cost of implementing the proposed rule in the first four years after the effective date is approximately $50.6 million, the rule stated. The cost is estimated to drop to $2.9 million per year after that time period, when all regulated facilities will be converted to electronic reporting.

EPA estimates that, once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and the Virgin Island Territory that are authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save approximately $29 million each year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.

Most facilities subject to reporting requirements will be required to start submitting data electronically one year following the effective date of the final rule. Facilities with limited access to the Internet will have the option of one additional year to come into compliance with the new rule. EPA said it will work closely with states to provide support to develop or enhance state electronic reporting capabilities.

Parrish said EPA is considering exemptions for rural areas without broadband coverage.

EPA has already scheduled several webinars in an effort to help states, trade organizations, and other interested parties better understand the details and requirements of the proposed rule. Over the next few months, EPA expects to schedule additional webinar sessions.
The proposed rule will be available for review and public comment for 90 days following the publication date in the Federal Register of July 30.

View the proposed rule at: www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/07/30/2013-17551/npdes-electronic-reporting-rule


ADM and CVA form joint venture

Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and Central Valley Ag Cooperative (CVA) announced the formation of 81-20 Grain Terminal LLC, a joint venture to construct a 5 million bushel shuttle loader grain elevator near Randolph, Nebraska. The elevator will originate corn and soybeans from regional farmers, primarily for transportation by 110-car BNSF shuttle trains to export markets via the U.S. Gulf Coast, Pacific Northwest and Southwest.

ADM and CVA will each own 50% of the grain facility, which will feature two receiving pits and one rail receiving pit—each capable of dumping 20,000 bushels of grain per hour. The facility will be located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and U.S. Highway 81 three miles west of Randolph and is expected to begin operating by fall 2014.

“We look forward to working with CVA and producers in the area to make the most of their farming operations,” said Joe Taets, president, ADM Agricultural Services. “The new elevator—along with our global transportation fleet and network of customers—will provide additional marketing opportunities for regional producers, which can help add value to their crops.”

Pierce County—in which the elevator will be located—along with surrounding Cedar, Knox and Wayne counties have all seen corn and soybean production increase dramatically since 2000. The facility’s location at the intersection of two major highways will provide the area’s producers with convenient access.

“Enhancing the ability of member-owners to link to greater global marketing and transportation opportunities is what makes this joint venture so exciting,” stated Doug Derscheid, president and CEO of CVA.

Drought monitoring bill approved by Senate committee

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed the Drought Information Act of 2013 (S. 376), which reauthorizes the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).

Initially authorized in 2006, NIDIS provides vital drought information to farmers, ranchers, and other industries affected by drought-related weather conditions and since 2006, government agencies have worked to develop a long-term plan for drought monitoring, forecasting, research, and education. S. 376 would extend this program for five years and support an improved “early warning system” of timely and accurate drought information. By increasing coordination with existing partners, including the United States Department of Agriculture and the private sector, this bill would also boost the agriculture industry’s involvement in the program.

“NIDIS is a critically important tool that provides agricultural producers with early warning information they need to prepare for drought conditions,” said Senate Commerce Committee ranking member John Thune (R., S.D.). “The financial stress and uncertainty created by droughts make tools like this vital for farmers and ranchers to prepare for drought occurrences, such as the widespread drought of 2012. I am pleased we were able to move this bipartisan legislation through the Commerce Committee and hope it will receive floor consideration in the Senate during this session of Congress.”

Japan will resume import of wheat in August

At a press conference, Yoshimasa Hayashi, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) announced Japan will resume importing western white wheat on August 1 and soft white wheat on August 7.

Japan suspended white wheat import two months ago after the discovery of a volunteer stand of genetically modified (GM) wheat, MON71800, plants on a farm in Oregon. 

On July 5, MAFF began testing imported U.S. wheat before the suspension. In addition, MAFF also tested library samples of U.S. western wheat imported October 2012 through May 2013.  All test results were negative.

“It is important that we maintain such a (testing) system so we can respond when we discover something that shouldn’t be there,” Hayashi said.

Moving forward, all U.S. wheat will be tested for the genetic modified strain before shipment from the U.S. and all wheat cargoes will be tested again upon arrival.

In related news, USDA reported that All of the evidence collected thus far – specifically, the absence of MON71800 in seed and grain samples tested by USDA laboratories, and reports from nearly 270 farmers interviewed by USDA investigators that they have not observed glyphosate-resistant wheat plants in their fields – "indicates that the extent of the presence of this GE wheat remains the single detection of the GE wheat plants in one field of one farm in Oregon."

USDA continues to work to uncover how the GE wheat came to be in the field and to determine the extent of its presence.

GAO: USDA can do more to reduce improper farm payments

According to a new Government Accountability Office report, more can be done to prevent payouts of U.S. farm payments to those who are deceased.

Since 2007, the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers various programs for farmers that help support farm incomes and provide disaster assistance, has established procedures for preventing improper payments to deceased individuals, including, on a quarterly basis, matching payments to program participants with the Social Security Administration's (SSA) data on deceased individuals. In addition, FSA state and county offices review and verify whether payments made to deceased individuals are proper or improper.

GAO reported overall, these procedures have enabled FSA to identify thousands of deceased individuals who were paid $3.3 million in improper payments after their dates of death, of which FSA has recovered approximately $1 million.

GAO reviewed a generalizable random sample of payments to deceased individuals that FSA identified as proper and found that 9% did not have sufficient support to be coded as proper. More monitoring to ensure that county offices' coding of payments is supported by documentation could help reduce the error rate, GAO said in its report.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a USDA agency that administers voluntary conservation programs, does not have procedures to prevent potentially improper payments to deceased individuals. For example, NRCS's ability to verify whether payment recipients have died is limited because the agency does not match these recipients against SSA's master list of deceased individuals. Under the standards for internal control in the federal government, agencies are to clearly document such control in the form of management directives, administrative policies, or operating manuals.

GAO did a data review for fiscal year 2008 to April 2012, and estimates that NRCS made $10.6 million payments on behalf of 1,103 deceased individuals 1 year or more after their death. Some of these payments may have been proper, but NRCS cannot be certain because it neither identifies which of its payments were made to deceased individuals, nor reviews each of these payments, GAO said.

The report found that USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA), which administers crop insurance programs, does not have procedures in place consistent with federal internal control standards to prevent potentially improper subsidies on behalf of deceased individuals.

For example, RMA does not use SSA's master list of deceased individuals to verify whether its policyholders have died. GAO matched every policyholder's Social Security number in RMA's crop insurance subsidy and administrative allowance data for crop insurance years 2008 to 2012 with SSA's master list of deceased individuals and found that $22 million in subsidies and allowances may have been provided on behalf of an estimated 3,434 program policyholders 2 or more years after death.

"Many of these subsidies and allowances may have been proper, but without reviewing each subsidy and allowance made on behalf of deceased individuals, RMA cannot be certain that these subsidies and allowances are proper," the report stated. In addition, without accurate records of which policyholders are deceased, RMA may be less likely to rely on results from data mining--a technique for extracting knowledge from large volumes of data--and therefore be less likely to detect fraudulent, wasteful, or abusive crop insurance claims.

GAO recommends that FSA further strengthen its verification of payments to deceased individuals, NRCS develop and implement procedures to prevent improper payments to deceased individuals, and RMA develop and implement procedures to prevent improper crop insurance subsidies on behalf of deceased policyholders and to improve the effectiveness of its data mining. USDA generally agreed with GAO's findings and recommendations.

Ag impacted by lack of immigration reform

The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform in June and although the House has passed five separate pieces of legislation addressing immigration shortfalls, the sentiment has started to shift in the House towards also taking a more comprehensive approach.

Alongside of the growing momentum, the White House is increasing its pressure to move forward on comprehensive reform with the release of a report outlining the economic benefits to agriculture.

In a media call highlighting the report, Secretary of Agriculture said the new analysis draws on a series of reports and surveys from within the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as outside sources. The report defines the problem, which Vilsack notes is that of the 1.1 million full-time farmworkers, nearly half are noncitizens. As it relates to new entries, perhaps 3/4 of those workers are not here properly, Vilsack noted. Although it impacts fruit and vegetable industries more, it is also a growing issue in the crop, dairy and livestock sectors.  

The report states that during 2007-2011, there were on average 505,000 noncitizen farmworkers (including both authorized and unauthorized) in the United States, representing 43% of all crop and livestock farmworkers. In California, such workers represented fully 73% of the farm workforce. Over this period, noncitizens filled more than one quarter of farm jobs in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Virginia.

Conservative estimates suggest that roughly 60% of the entire nation’s noncitizen farmworkers are unauthorized, the report noted.

"A lack of labor will today and into the future result in a decrease in agricultural production, outputs and exports which will cost farm income and jobs," Vilsack said, adding it is "important for Congress to finish its work this year."

The report states that a stimulation model suggests that over the long run (15 years from now) an expansion of the magnitude contemplated under the proposed agricultural temporary worker program could result in a 2.4% increase in fruit output (with exports growing by 3.4%) and a 5.4% increase in vegetable exports, relative to the base forecast. Dairy could see output rise by 0.6% which could provide a 4.6% increase in exports, and meat output could increase 0.6% resulting in a 3.8% export increase.

According to an economic analysis by the Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), an expanded H-2A visa program – like the one found in the W-3 and W-4 provisions in the bipartisan Senate bill – would raise GDP by approximately $2 billion in 2014 and $9.79 billion in 2045. "Coupled with a decline in native-born rural populations, the strength and continuity of rural America is contingent on commonsense immigration reform that improves job opportunity, provides local governments with the tools they need to succeed, and increases economic growth," a statement from the White House noted.

Vilsack added that comprehensive immigration reform will improve employment security, increase working conditions for everyone, allow for a fair marketplace for those producers who are playing by the rules, as well as lead to population growth in rural communities.

The report has an excellent break out of state-by-state comparisons of the impact of immigration reform as well as the current noncitizen workforce. As an example, Vilsack explained that California has 81,000 farms in the state which brings in $34 billion in sales per year. However, 73% of their workforce are noncitizens, with a majority of those unauthorized. In the short-term, ag production losses if immigrant labor were eliminated could cost $1.7 to $3.1 billion annually. However, if the Senate's new agricultural H-2A program is approved, it could create nearly 9,500 jobs.

For some Midwest states that do not have the scope of fruit and vegetable production, the impact is still considerable. Vilsack cited South Dakota which has 31,169 farms with $6.6 billion in total ag sales. Only 10% of its farmworker share is noncitizen, but loses could total $8.3 million to $15 million if immigrant labor is eliminated.

Antibiotic reduction campaigns do not necessarily reduce resistance

Antibiotic use — and misuse — is the main driver for selection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and this has led many countries to implement interventions designed to reduce overall antibiotic consumption.

Now, using methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as an example, Laura Temime of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris, France, and collaborators warn that simply reducing antibiotics consumption does not necessarily reduce resistance. The research is published online ahead of print in Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy.

The success of antibiotic reduction programs depends on which antibiotics are reduced, because some select more strongly for resistance than others. For instance, in the case of S. aureus, reducing use of clindamycin and methicillin lead to decreased resistance, while reducing use of penicillins does not, since most S. aureus, including MRSA, are already resistant to penicillin, Temime explained.

Additionally, efforts to reduce antibiotic use must be coordinated between hospitals and the community, since either can feed resistant bacteria into the other, undermining reduction efforts, Temime said.

In 2002-03, a national program reduced antibiotic use in France by 10%. However, it fell short of the full potential for reducing resistance because it failed to target those antibiotics that generate the most resistance, Temime said. She and her collaborators developed a mathematical model of MRSA circulation, which correctly simulated that reduction, post-facto. They then performed a number of simulations of reductions in antibiotic use, which demonstrated the complexities of reduction efforts.

"We found that the reduction in MRSA hospital rates could have been much larger than it actually was following the 2002 antibiotic reduction campaign," Temime said. "Our results also suggest that changes in the distribution of antibiotics prescribed for non-hospitalized patients actually limited the impact of the antibiotic reduction campaign in French hospitals."

Their research shows that class-specific changes in antibiotic use, rather than overall reductions, need to be considered in order to achieve the greatest benefit from antibiotic reduction campaigns, Temime said.

"This underlines the importance of generating surveillance data on both antibiotic class-specific changes in antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in the years following an antibiotic reduction campaign. We believe that this research may help health policy makers and physicians in the design of more efficient antibiotic reduction campaigns."

A copy of the manuscript can be found online at http://bit.ly/asmtip0713c. Formal publication is scheduled for the September 2013 issue of Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.

VPI, Ashish to collaborate on vet pharma formulations

Vets Plus Inc. (VPI) and Ashish Life Science Pvt. Ltd. announced July 29 that the two animal nutrition and health companies will be partnering to develop pharmaceutical formulations for veterinary health.

VPI is a U.S.-based manufacturer of nutritional supplements for all species, specializing in nutraceuticals. Ashish Life Science, based in India, focuses on veterinary drugs.

The collaboration is expected to result in multiple pharmaceuticals utilizing the strengths of each company's existing research teams, an announcement said.

VPI president and chief executive officer Raj Lall said, "The series of veterinary products we develop with Ashish Life Science will complement our current capabilities."

While Vets Plus has always focused on non-drug approaches to health, Lall said, "Our research and development team has a great range of scientific expertise; Ashish Life Science has expertise and production capability in the pharmaceutical field. Pooling our scientific resources and sharing our research will allow us to better serve the industry with innovative solutions for animal health."

Lall emphasized that while the production of jointly developed pharmaceuticals would take place in Ashish's India facility, manufacturing of supplements would continue at VPI's Menomonie, Wis., headquarters.

He said, "We are not closing down any of our current manufacturing lines. This partnership will only expand our capabilities."

The partnership also includes an exclusive agreement for distribution in the U.S. VPI will be the sole distributor of all Ashish Life Science nutritional and feed supplement products, as well as the drug products resulting from the collaborative research.

Legislation prevents EPA from releasing information

In continued action to protect livestock and poultry farmers from having their personal information released, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) introduced legislation that gives the Environmental Protection Agency the statutory authority to protect the information.

The Farmer Identity Protection Act would unequivocally provide the agency with the ability to prevent such farm-specific releases from happening in the future, allowing the agency to provide information to outside parties only in aggregate without individually identifying information, or with the producer’s consent. 

The legislation does not prevent the EPA from collecting the information about where farmers’ operations are located. It also does not prevent EPA from disclosing information in the aggregate.

“This is just another in a pattern of egregious overreach by the federal bureaucracy,” Grassley said. “I heard from a lot of Iowans who were concerned with the EPA's actions, and I doubt they’ll stop now. But at least we can try and make sure this particular instance doesn’t happen again. The EPA already has a lot of relationship building to do in rural American, and its behavior here didn’t win the agency any favors.”

Donnelly added. “It is unacceptable that earlier this year, the EPA released the personal contact information of over 80,000 livestock and poultry owners from across the nation, including many from Indiana. This blatant violation of privacy must not happen again, which is why I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this common sense legislation.”

Several senators wrote the EPA on June 4 concerned about the EPA’s release of the personal information. The response from the agency outlined the rationale for the handling of the personal information, which was unsatisfactory for Grassley and Donnelly.

National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., past president J.D. Alexander welcomed the legislation. "In this instance EPA went too far, jeopardizing the health and safety of cattle producers and their families,” said Alexander. “As a producer whose information was blatantly given to the recognized enemies of the U.S. beef industry, it comes as a relief to have this legislation introduced. Congress is going to have to be the one to fix this problem created by the incestuous relationship between environmentalists and EPA."

Grassley and Donnelly filed a similar amendment to the farm bill, but it was not brought up by the Senate leadership for consideration.


SNAP incentives pay off

SNAP incentives pay off

WITH growing concerns over obesity as well as the rising number of people receiving government nutrition assistance, new findings from a pilot project show that incentives might work to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Vilsack released the results of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP), which evaluated 4,000 participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

Under HIP, SNAP participants' households received an incentive of 30 cents for every SNAP dollar spent on targeted fruits and vegetables that was credited back to their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. The incentive could then be spent on any SNAP-eligible foods and beverages.

The two-year study found that an ongoing investment of less than 15 cents per person per day may result in a 25% increase in fruit and vegetable consumption among adults. Adults receiving the HIP incentive consumed, on average, an ounce more fruits and vegetables per day than non-participants.

On average, from March to July 2012, HIP households spent $12.13 on targeted fruits and vegetables in participating stores and earned an average incentive of $3.64 each month. Excluding households that did not earn any incentive during the month, HIP households made $18.50 in targeted fruit and vegetable purchases and earned $5.55 in incentives.


Effective partnerships

SNAP incentives pay off
Vilsack explained that partnerships with nonprofit entities can play a vital part in helping to expand pilot opportunities in other states, and they don't require congressional authority.

For instance, in Minnesota, a public/private partnership has offered SNAP households $5 coupons to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

In Detroit, Mich., the Fair Food Network's Double Up Food Bucks program has doubled the spending power for SNAP shoppers at local farmers markets while also supporting local farmers. The program matches SNAP benefits spent at participating farmers markets.

At the farmers markets, participants can swipe their EBT SNAP card for $20 in expenditures and receive an additional $20 in tokens that can be spent on any Michigan-grown product.

Oran Hesterman, president and chief executive officer of Fair Food Network, said over the last four years, the incentive has helped increase the number of new shoppers to farmers markets, and 80% of the SNAP customers using the program say they are now buying and eating more fruits and vegetables.

It is also what he coined a "win-win-win" because the program has generated an additional $3 million for local farmers, and 75% of the farmers selling at the local markets say they are making more money because of the program; in addition, farmers report that they are selling more fruits and vegetables (Figure).

The Fair Food Network is also expanding the program to three grocery stores in the Detroit area by providing a $10 reward card when at least $10 is spent on local fresh fruits and vegetables.

Since the farmers market programs run only from July to October, allowing similar purchases to be made outside of the normal growing season is more adaptable with this approach.

"It's often been said that if you're going to change behavior, you need a carrot on the stick, but our Double Up Food Bucks shows that all you really need is a better-tasting and affordable carrot," Hesterman said.



Vilsack was asked by members of the media why the government isn't conducting any pilot projects to find ways to restrict "lousy" food purchases.

Vilsack said although it "may seem like a relatively simple idea in terms of capacity to restrict what recipients are able to buy, the sheer volume of new products makes that difficult."

Food companies introduce 10,000-20,000 new products into stores each year on top of the already 300,000 products currently available.

Vilsack noted that it is difficult to determine what is regarded as "healthy." For instance, a shredded wheat cereal and a reduced-sugar shredded wheat cereal would both seem to be healthy, but in fact, the reduced-sugar variety has a higher sodium level.

"Sometimes, it's hard to figure out what's nutritious and what isn't," he said, which is why more consumer education is needed.

Vilsack added that enforcement of restrictions would also be difficult.

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