DeCoster’s man tried to bribe the USDA

I’ve written before about why self regulation doesn’t work and specifically did not work in the case of Jack DeCoster’s Iowa egg production facilities in Iowa.  Turns out DeCoster’s people were seeking to bribe their way out of the few regulations they were subject to:

Iowa Egg Farm Manager Pleads Guilty To Bribery by Jeff Whitten for KWQC, Sep. 12, 2012

According to the United States Attorney’s Office, Wasmund admitted that, on or about April 12, 2010, as part of the conspiracy, he authorized the disbursement of $300 from a Wright County, Iowa, egg production business knowing the cash was to be used to bribe a USDA Inspector. The bribe was intended to influence the USDA Inspector to release for sale fresh shell eggs that the USDA had retained because they failed to meet USDA standards.

Given that the 2010 salmonella outbreak went on to sicken thousands, it seems clear that whatever small number of eggs the USDA was able to hold back from market was not sufficient.  Props to their inspector for not taking the money (or at the very least holding out for a better deal that a measly $300!)


Fast food in hospitals? What’s next, IVs of corn syrup?

There was a disturbing report on NPR this morning about the prevalence of fast food restaurants located in hospitals around the country.  Fortunately it sounds like this is a somewhat limited phenomena, but darnit, shouldn’t some places be free from the reach of Ronald McDonald and his ilk?

Hospital Makes Nutritious Food More Available by Elana Gordon for NPR News, Jul. 9, 2012

One of the places you’d expect to find healthy food is in hospitals – boring, but healthy. But in recent decades, fast food restaurants have worked their way into hospitals around the country. That’s despite growing evidence linking fast food menus to high rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Elana Gordon from member station KCUR in Kansas City takes us to one place that has been wrestling with that situation.

This reminds me of when I was in the hospital for a prolonged period in Japan.  I thought that it would be an excellent chance to quit smoking–until I realized that the smoking lounge was two doors down from my room and that I could buy cigarettes in the gift shop!  (For those that care, I finally did manage to quit smoking in the months leading up to BabyDisgust’s birth.)

One McDonald’s customer in the story articulated that it was comforting to have predictable food from McDonald’s while in the hospital.  I guess that makes sense, but the bigger issue is the message that is sent to patients–as they leave their doctor’s office with tips about eating healthily, they are immediately confronted by the exact opposite.  This point is made best by the CEO of the hospital in the story:

When you come in, you could be – very well be on the way to your diabetic clinic appointment or going to see the bariatric surgeon for your weight problem, and you’re passing a McDonalds on the way. That’s an inconsistent message.

 


In case you weren’t completely convinced that Branstad is a heartless ass

Recently Governor Branstad used the line-item veto to cut out $500,000 dollars that had been allocated for the Food Bank of Iowa by the state legislature.  You can read the text of the item veto here–note that the Governor’s office can’t even be bothered to scan documents straight.  Branstad argues that private funds should be used to fund the food bank.  While I agree that private people and business should make sure to support charities, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the State of Iowa supporting the good works of non-profits such as the Food Bank of Iowa.

Dean Lerner, the former Director of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals had a great op-ed about this issue recently in the Gazette:

Food Bank veto says a lot about Branstad by Dean Lerner in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Jun. 8, 2012

Branstad’s recent veto speaks legions about him, and us. The money will now revert to the state’s general fund, adding to nearly a billion-dollar surplus. In his veto message, the governor stated that he “strongly support[s] the Food Bank of Iowa and their important work to help needy Iowans.” However, he “believe[s] that private donations are the best way to support the Food Bank.” The Des Moines Register Editorial Board agreed, adding that there are already federal programs to feed the hungry, and that state assistance might discourage charitable donations. Really?

Maybe the editorial board missed reading the June 1 front page of the Register’s Business section: “Study: Income doesn’t cover needs for 1 in 4 working families in Iowa.” And contrast the governor’s “strong support” for the Food Bank to never-ending headlines such as the Register stories “Most [Iowa] tax incentives awarded to wealthy companies” (Jan. 15), “1st-quarter profits up 34 percent for Iowa Banks” (May 25), and “CEOs hauled in record pay during 2011, study finds” (May 27). Please don’t tell us that tax dollars haven’t been used, directly, or indirectly, to make this all possible!

Perhaps the governor’s plan is that the tremendous swell of riches to already wealthy companies, banks and CEOs — aided and abetted by his and the Republican colleagues’ policies — will help stimulate the private donations the Food Bank should, instead, rely upon. Of course, let’s not forget that their “generous” donations are accompanied by charitable tax deductions, and plenty of public praise for corporate citizenship. Some might view this as another version of “trickle down” economics.

I made a donation to the Food Bank of Iowa today and encourage you to do the same.  You can do so at this link.  I recommend filling in the bottom portion of the page as I did as shown below:


High corn prices have high environmental costs

I’ve posted before about farmers pushing the edges of the fields outward and planting in areas not fit for row crops.  The Gazette had a good piece this past weekend about the amount of land that farmers are taking out of the Conservation Reserve Program in order to cash in on the high prices for corn.  This program pays farmers a per acre “rent” in exchange for having them plant beneficial cover crops–this has a huge environmental impact from providing wildlife habitat to helping create buffers to prevent soil and fertilizer run off.  Sadly, the amount that the USDA pays per acre is not keeping up with what farmers can get from switching back to growing corn.

High cost of land, crops taking bite out of conservation acres by Orlan Love in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Jun. 17, 2012

In Iowa, expiring CRP contracts exceeded renewals and new program entries by more than 76,000 acres.

With CRP contracts on more than 175,000 acres expiring this year, Iowa landowners submitted offers of 105,000 acres, with contracts accepted on 99,684 acres.

That translates to a loss of over forty percent of the farmland that was set aside as part of this valuable program.  Of course given that there are over 30 million acres of farmland in Iowa, either number is just a drop in the bucket.  However, given the complete artificiality of Iowa’s landscape, any bit of protected land helps!

This problem is not limited to just Iowa:

States in the pheasant belt, which happens to coincide with the grain belt, lost nearly 2 million CRP acres at the conclusion of the recent signup.

Five states with annual pheasant harvests typically larger than Iowa’s — North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska — lost a combined 1.2 million acres of CRP.

And things likely won’t get better anytime soon, as the current draft of the Farm Bill continues the erosion of the CRP:

While the corn rush is squeezing CRP acreage, so, too, are federal budget constraints. A new farm bill working its way through the Senate would reduce the CRP acreage cap from 32 million to 30 million next year, with further reductions to 25 million acres by 2017.

There’s lots of areas of concern in the current Farm Bill, chief among them a proposed system of crop insurance that will encourage farmers to continue the recent trend to put increasingly marginal land into production.  Much, much more on the Farm Bill at the Iowa Environmental Council’s blog.


DeCoster knew his eggs were dirty: Why voluntary regulations are BS

In the summer of 2010 people across the country people were sickened after eating salmonella infected eggs that originated at farms connected to the infamous environmental and health scofflaw Jack DeCoster.  In the end, more than 60,000 people were infected and over 550 million eggs were recalled.  Bad news.  I’m glad that I got my prized Iowa Egg Council spatula at Hooverfest before they had to turn their attention full time to mopping up the damage.

Despite testimony to congress that indicated surprise and horror at the outbreak, DeCoster’s company had been warned about unsafe levels of salmonella at their facilities four months previous to the widespread infections.

Iowa egg company warned about salmonella in hens months before outbreaks, records show in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Jun. 4, 2012

ISU’s Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory found salmonella in manure at several Iowa egg-laying plants and in the internal organs of their birds, which were dying at unusually high rates, about four months before the August 2010 recall of 550 million eggs linked to the outbreak, records show.

The laboratory reported the results to the producer who had requested the tests, but scientists say they had no legal or ethical obligation to alert regulators or consumers. The tests have recently been made public in a civil lawsuit, while a federal grand jury looks into whether egg company executives misled the public by continuing to market products as safe despite potential knowledge that they were tainted.  (Emphasis added)

The legal argument I buy, the ethical one, not so much.  I think that when it becomes clear that the people receiving the test results (DeCoster’s people in this case) are not going to act to correct the problem, somebody needs to stand up to correct the problem.  Ultimately, a rigorous mandatory testing should be put in place thus negating the need to quibble over ethical arguments.  But this is yet another case where regulations are not put in place and the moneyed interests are just asked to pretty please check their eggs to make sure there is no salmonella in them.

 


Pioneer Hi-Bred International Chair in Agribusiness at Iowa State issues report praising ethanol

Now, I’m going to try to be careful here.  As the son of academics, I am hesitant to question the motives of a university professor.  But, um, could we expect the “Pioneer Hi-Bred International Chair in Agribusiness” at Iowa State to say anything other than what a boon ethanol is to our energy independence?

ISU researcher says ethanol makes gas cheaper at the pump by Dar Danielson for Radio Iowa, May 16, 2012

An Iowa State University Economist has released research showing that mixing ethanol in with gas has had a significant impact on gas prices. I.S.U. economist Dermot Hayes studied ethanol’s impact on gasoline prices over a 11-years beginning in 2000. During that time, Hays says adding ethanol to gas inventories led to a 29-cent-a-gallon drop in gasoline pump prices.

[…]

Hayes says adding ethanol to the nation’s fuel supply is enabling the U.S. to switch from being a net importer of gasoline to a gasoline exporter. He conducted the ethanol/gas study with a University of Wisconsin economist.

In other ethanol boom (bubble?) news, Deere & Company posted record earnings this quarter.


Watching Iowa’s legacy wash away

This is “Soil and Water Conservation Week” here in Iowa, as declared by Governor Branstad.  There will be activities this week throughout the state highlighting conservation practices both in agricultural and urban areas.  While there are myriad examples of farmers, factories, and cities doing the right thing as far as our earth is concerned, high prices for corn and beans are leading to real damage being done to the land that we love.  Waterways are being plowed under, fence rows that provided a buffer are being torn out, and marginal land that was not worth farming is being put into production.  This all leads to the erosion of the topsoil that made the Iowa we know and love possible.  Often this erosion isn’t obviously evident, but at times it is: