Posts Tagged: Department of Agriculture

Natural foods co-op gets a raw deal

Acting in concert with federal officials, authorities in Los Angeles raided a local natural foods buyers co-op and arrested three people for distributing raw milk and dairy products, reports Ian Lovett of The New York Times and Stuart Pfeifer and P.J. Huffstutter in the Los Angeles Times. Authorities also seized $70,000 worth of inventory from the Venice co-op, Rawsome, on the grounds that the shop was selling unsafe and unlicensed products to consumers and doing so without a business license. Operators of the co-op maintain that the products in question weren’t being sold to unknowing consumers, but distributed to members of a buyers’ club who specifically sought out unadulterated foods and were well aware of the risks. Because the operation wasn’t open to non-members and was run by volunteers, its trustees claim they aren’t required to have a business license. (more…)

The food stamp backlash

Reading James Bovard’s screed on food stamps as a “magnet for abuses and absurdities” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, I immediately thought, “Wow, he’s targeting food stamps the way conservatives in the 80s and 90s attacked welfare.” By the end of the piece Bovard makes it explicit: “Decades after liberals derided Ronald Reagan’s reference to a Cadillac-driving ‘welfare queen,’” Bovard writes,”Obama administration policies could easily permit Trust Fund Babies driving Rolls Royces to get free food courtesy of Uncle Sam.” Is there a valid argument behind this overheated rhetoric?

Not really. (more…)

There’s no such thing as a free school lunch

Schools in Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee will participate in a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture pilot program to provide free meals for all students at any school where at least 40 percent of the students are deemed low-income. The Chicago Tribune’s Tara Malone and Monica Eng report that this is part of the “Community Eligibility Option” being rolled out by USDA and that the program will be implemented in all states by the 2014-15 school year.

It’s confusing, though, whether the program makes financial sense for participating schools. The participating schools get federal reimbursement based on the number of needy children that they have. So the costs for meals for non-needy students shifts from the student’s parents to the school district. Stay tuned to see how schools in the pilot states choose to participate.

Forest Service says local is better for flora & fauna

Environmentalists are concerned that a new U.S. Forest Service proposal that moves decision-making about forest and wetlands maintenance to local officials of the service would mean a rollback of conservation standards, according to reporting by Darryl Fears in the Washington Post.  Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says the reforms would acknowledge the differences between forests in America’s diverse climates and landscapes, but some experts say it leaves too much discretion to local officials.

But in cases where a Washington agency wants to give up some control — and offer responsibility to its local representatives — isn’t it good for democracy, and not necessarily a threat to forests?  It might cause some problems, but it might also empower local activists and concerned citizens.  And the debate would not have to go through the Washington bottleneck.

Record use of food stamps

Dave McKinney of the Chicago Sun-Times reports: “The stagnant economy and double-digit unemployment rates in parts of Illinois have led to a record number of families getting food stamps.” But hard times aren’t the only reason: the program’s accessibility and consistent federal funding are also partly responsible.  In Illinois, 781,000 households now get food stamps, an 11.9 percent jump from a year ago. Applications are rising even faster: (more…)

Broadband cash for Chicago

Broadband funding in the stimulus bill was largely billed as for rural areas without internet access. However, Chicago  will also get some of that federal money, the Associated Press reports. Two Chicago groups will get a combined $16 million in stimulus money for broadband, with the Dept. of Commerce providing $7 million to the Smart Chicago Broadband Adoption Program and $9 million to the Smart Chicago Public Computer Centers project.  The public computer centers project will (more…)

Food fight! (in California)

The belligerents are lining up for the battle of fish-stick hill. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) is recruiting foot soldiers for a fight over the nation’s school lunches, one that could completely remake one of the US Department of Agriculture’s highest profile initiatives.

According to Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle, Miller would significantly boost spending on school lunch programs, enabling more students to qualify, while providing districts with more money so they can provide healthier food and source from local farms. (more…)

Competitive Farmers Want All Farmers to Compete

The nation’s byzantine farm subsidy program, administered by the Department of Agriculture, is neatly summed up in a story by Carolyn Lochhead in the San Francisco Chronicle.  She quotes California cotton farmer Philip Bowles:

The government has decided in their wisdom to encourage production of crops the market doesn’t want . . . [i]t must make political sense because it certainly doesn’t make economic sense. (more…)

Discrimination on the Farm

The Washington Post’s Carrie Johnson reports that the Agriculture and Justice Departments have reached a $1.25 billion settlement in a class action lawsuit by black farmers who claim that the Ag. Dept. discriminated against black farmers in providing federal loans and subsidies. Johnson reports that black farmers first sued the federal government in 1997 and that some of these farmers were compensated in a $1 billion settlement with the Bill Clinton administration back in 1999.

There have been no subsequent settlements until now which raises the question of whether the Bush administration ignored the issue. In defense of the Bush administration, they continued the Clinton administration practice of having a civil rights director at the Ag. Dept. But it’s strange that 11 years went by before the next settlement — especially since Hispanic, Native American and women farmers issued lawsuits of their own in the Bush administration.