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Chicken From China May Show Up On US Shores

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Hudson, NY (Modern Farmer, November 21, 2014):  The U.S. has had a long and fraught relationship with China on food imports of all sorts, but the latest chapter concerns chicken. Some history: Back in 2006, Congress approved the inspection of chicken-processing plants in China to see if they'd be eligible to process U.S.-raised chickens. Several were deemed acceptable, but, says Newsweek, several food scandals that year caused Congress to defund the inspections, thus effectively banning Chinese processing of U.S. chickens. China protested to the WTO, which forced the U.S. to resume inspections. We did, but found China unfit, until 2013. That was one step. Earlier this month, there's been another.

The New York Times reports that the USDA signed its final paperwork allowing four Chinese processing plants to ship processed, cooked and frozen chickens to the U.S. These chickens will have been raised here, then shipped to China. Of course, it doesn't make much sense to do this; chicken, unlike fish, is not particularly time-consuming or difficult to process, so the money saved in labor costs likely won't make up for the cost of shipping chicken both to and from China. Some analysts are confused — why bother legalizing something like this?

It's likely this is merely a step forward for China to get its foot in the door in the American poultry world. And advocates are upset. The Hill has a petition for Congress to again de-certify Chinese plants, citing countless scandals within the Chinese food processing world. Among them: pet food containing poultry killed hundreds of American pets; a McDonald's scandal showed improper and frankly gross practices at a poultry plant; and tainted milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.

To be fair, from China's perspective, the U.S. is hardly in a position to complain; the Times notes:

China has wanted its chicken to be accepted as a quid pro quo for lifting a ban it imposed on United States beef products in 2003 after a cow in Washington state was found to have mad cow disease.

It's not likely that this specific signing will mean that Chinese chicken nuggets start showing up at McDonald's, but it's certainly one major step closer. It doesn't seem unlikely that once Chinese plants are approved to cook and ship American chickens, they could be approved to do the same with Chinese chickens. There's no word on that eventuality, but that's almost certainly what China wants.

How To Effectively Manage Your Farm Employees

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Madison, WI (Agri-View, November 12, 2014):  When my family was still milking, we milked about 70 cows in our stanchion barn. It sure seemed like a lot of cows at the time, but we never had the need to hire additional help. We could easily manage our daily chores and milkings all on our own.

Today, it is not very often that you find farms that still milk just 70 cows. It's more normal to see herds of a couple hundred. In these situations, it is almost impossible not to hire additional employees to keep the operation functional.

Whether you are thinking about expanding or already have additional employees on your farm, there are resources to provide you with suggestions for effectively managing your farm employees.

In a recent webinar presented by Michigan State University Extension, Phil Durst and Stan Moore shared insights and suggestions for how to effectively manage your farm employees.

Farm employees are the greatest need on growing operations. Adding employees to your operation impacts cattle health, cattle well-being, feed efficiency, product quality and more.

A National Food Policy Could Save Lives

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Washington, D.C. (The Washington Post, November 7, 2014):  How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans' well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy — no plan or agreed-upon principles — for managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.

That must change.

The food system and the diet it's created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we'd regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it. (The administration even named an Ebola czar to respond to a disease that threatens few Americans.) So when hundreds of thousands of annual deaths are preventable — as the deaths from the chronic diseases linked to the modern American way of eating surely are — preventing those needless deaths is a national priority.

A national food policy would do that, by investing resources to guarantee that:

● All Americans have access to healthful food;

● Farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives;

● Our food supply is free of toxic bacteria, chemicals and drugs;

● Production and marketing of our food are done transparently;

● The food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs;

● Food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food;

● Animals are treated with compassion and attention to their well-being;

● The food system's carbon footprint is reduced, and the amount of carbon sequestered on farmland is increased;

● The food system is sufficiently resilient to withstand the effects of climate change.

Is Pennsylvania Becoming Drought Resistant?

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State College, PA (PennState Extension, November 10, 2014):  While there have been several notable dry spells in Pennsylvania since the era of warming began in the 1980's, a sustained drought has been rare compared with the decades prior. Climate models predict more frequent droughts over the continents in decades to come, but virtually none of these models forecast that precipitation would increase by 10% during the last century.
Penn State Webinar Asks – Is Pennsylvania Becoming Drought Resistant?

Paul Knight, the Pennsylvania State Climatologist and a senior lecturer at Penn State University, presented a webinar on October 29, 2014 that further explored recent weather in Pennsylvania along with future climate models to determine if Pennsylvania is becoming drought resistant.

The webinar opened with a general discussion of the different types of drought including meteorological, agricultural, and hydrologic. Recent trends in precipitation were discussed across the state including the observation that the state has generally become wetter over the past few decades. Seasonally, these precipitation increases were most noticeable in the fall. The data also show that observed increases in precipitation have been linked to more extreme precipitation events with a 71% increase in very heavy precipitation events over the northeastern United States. Increases in extreme precipitation events are consistent with climate change models.

The webinar also included some broader discussion of climate models. Despite a generally increasing trend in precipitation in Pennsylvania which is expected to persist from 2020-2050 according to the finer scale climate simulations, long-term ocean oscillations suggest that odds favor a more imminent dry period in the Northeast with majority of months with below normal rainfall starting in 2017 and lasting for two to three years.

To learn more, watch the recorded webinar on the Penn State Water Resources Extension Webinar Series site at: http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/water/webinar-series/past-webinars/is-pennsylvania-becoming-drought-resistent

When California Changes Its Chicken Laws, It Affects Everybody

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Hudson, NY (Modern Farmer, November 5, 2014):  The Humane Society is winning the argument in California – a battlefield that matters more than most. As one of the world's largest economies, the Golden State is a big market for eggs, and, well, just about everything else. Because of that, California's laws can have a significant impact on the practices of industries outside its borders that want access to the consumers within them. In 2012, Monsanto and DuPont spent millions to help defeat a California ballot measure requiring labeling of genetically modified foods. Tom Philpott, a Mother Jones food writer speculated that the measure, if successful, "likely would have inspired the processed-food industry to label food everywhere."

Conventional eggs typically come from economically efficient farms that pack thousands upon thousands of birds into each henhouse. "Battery cages" afford each hen 67 square inches of space, less than a standard sheet of paper. They can stick their necks out of the cage to peck at grain and corn, and lay eggs, of course, but have little room to do anything else chickens like to do: perch, scratch at the ground, flap their wings.


In 2008, believing such claustrophobic cages were inexcusably cruel, the Humane Society backed a ballot measure in California that would require egg producers to provide chickens with enough room to stand up, turn around and stretch their wings. California isn't the country's biggest egg-producing state – there are around 15 million egg-layers in the state to Iowa's 53 million – but it's a significant player. And, Peter Brandt, senior attorney for farm animals with the Humane Society, says the state's politics gave the measure good odds of passage. On the other hand, he says, "Iowa is more likely to make it a crime to take a picture at an industrial farm."

Their calculus proved right: California voters passed the Humane Society's measure 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent. Two years later, the legislature recognized that the law would put California egg farmers out of business, forcing them to spend lots of cash to upgrade their facilities while competing with out-of-state producers that weren't subject to the regulation (and the attendant investments and price increases it would entail). So the law was expanded to cover all eggs sold in the state.

Egg producers outside of California chafed at the expansion, arguing California couldn't tell farmers in other states how to go about their business. But a federal judge disagreed, so as of January 1, 2015, anyone who wants to sell eggs in California will have to comply with the new rules. Many California egg producers are switching to cages that will give each bird 116 square inches of real estate. One farmer told Civil Eats the change would force him to raise his prices by 10 to 15 cents a dozen – an increase, but not a catastrophic one.

Fair Food Label Makes Its National Debut

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Fort Myers, FL (News-press.com, October 25, 2014):  The first-ever Fair Food label went national Friday marking the latest milestone in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' two-decade-long journey to improve the lives of Florida farmworkers.

Similar to the "cruelty-free" or "fair trade" labels on other products, the logo brands tomatoes harvested by workers paid a premium and guaranteed human rights in the field.

"We have waited nearly five years before revealing this label to the world today," said the coalition's Cruz Salucio in a statement. "Over those years, we have been doing the hard, day-by-day work of building the Fair Food Program in Florida's fields — educating workers about their rights, investigating complaints, and identifying and eliminating bad actors and bad practices — so that today we can stand behind the fair conditions and effective monitoring process that this label represents."

The label originated with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Campaign for Fair Food, which began in a church meeting room when a handful of Immokalee tomato pickers, historically among the nation's lowest-paid workers, began discussing how to improve their lot. They aimed to raise wages by a penny per pound and clean up labor conditions in the fields, which were plagued by wage theft, sexual harassment and modern-day slavery.

Twenty-one years later, Wal-Mart, Burger King, McDonald's and Yum Brands which includes Taco Bell, along with many of the world's largest food service corporations, are now paying the bonus. Thanks to the extra penny, workers who once made 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket have seen that rise to 82 cents, which can boost annual earnings from around $10,000 to more than $16,000. Other innovations include a cooperative complaint resolution system, health and safety programs, and worker-to-worker education.

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