Monday Roundup: Scientists Serving Big Meat

Senate to vote this week on Postal Service bill • University scientists serve drug companies • Health disparities increase from county to county • The "Big Rural Brainstorm"

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Save The Post Office reviews the bipartisan Senate bill that “reforms” the U.S. Postal Service. STPO is not optimistic: 

(T)here’s little in the Senate bill to make one hopeful about the future of the Postal Service.   S.1789 just buys into postal management’s view of what needs to be done to right the ship — close post offices, consolidate the processing network, slow down the mail, reduce delivery days, cut back on delivery points to the door, and downsize the workforce by over 150,000 jobs. 

STPO contends that the bill is “based on the false premise that the only way to deal with the deficit and the projected declines in First-Class mail is by dismantling the postal system.  The bill doesn’t try to correct the disastrous course postal management has elected to take.  It just slows things down.  It puts up a few more hurdles for closing post offices and processing plants, and it makes a rhetorical nod in the right direction when it comes to things like giving the Postal Service more freedom to innovate and diversify.  But the bill won’t stop the madness.”

Remember, the Postal Service has overpayed federal retirement accounts by more than $11 billion.

STPO does hold out hope for amendments that could protect post offices, service and postal workers. 

Ed O’Keefe at the Washington Post runs down the politics of the vote. He writes that the Senate will vote on up to 38 amendments  Tuesday. The issues here — for instance, whether to end six day delivery — are tricky because they don’t break down according to traditional liberal v. conservative lines. 

“Instead, postal reform pits lawmakers from smaller rural states against colleagues from larger, more urban areas,” O’Keefe writes.

The New York Times editorial page weighs in, too: 

Problems are more urgent than that. Bread-and-butter revenue from first-class mail has been evaporating as most bills are now paid on the Internet. Annual losses in excess of $5 billion could rise to more than $20 billion a year by 2016 unless the service is permitted to modernize.

Between the two houses, there are enough elements for a creative consensus, providing courage trumps procrastination. The Postal Service deserves the flexibility of a modern business. As May 15 approaches, the last thing the nation needs is another patented Congressional crisis over something as vital as mail delivery.

Excellent (and long) article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that asked “who are animal scientists serving,” the meat packers, farmers or consumers? 

Melody Petersen writes:

It’s been a profitable venture for the drug companies, as well as for the professors and their universities. Agriculture schools increasingly depend on the industry for research grants, a sizable portion of which cover overhead and administrative costs. And many professors now add to their personal bank accounts by working for the companies as consultants and speakers. More than two-thirds of animal scientists reported in a 2005 survey that they had received money from industry in the previous five years.

Yet unlike a growing number of medical schools around the country, where administrators have recently tightened rules to better police their faculty’s ties to pharmaceutical companies, the schools of agriculture have largely rejected critics’ concerns about industry cash. Administrators have set few limits on how much corporate money agricultural professors can accept. Faculty work with industry is governed by confidentiality rules that veil it from public view.

In certain ways, the close relationship between animal scientists and pharmaceutical companies has never served the public well. Few animal scientists have been interested in looking at what harm the livestock drugs may be causing to the cattle, the environment, or the people eating the meat. They’ve left most of that work to scientists outside of agriculture, consumer groups, and others who take interest.

• There are huge disparities from county to county in life expectancy — even within states — according to a new report from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 

Across all counties, life expectancy in the U.S. in 2009 ranged from 66.1 to 81.6 years for men and 73.5 to 86 years for women. Life expectancy increased more for men than for women from 1989 to 2009. But in 661 counties, life expectancy either remained the same or shortened for women since 1999. 

• The Senate Ag Committee has released a 900-page version of the Farm Bill — or at least the version favored by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Chris Clayton has the rundown here. He writes: 

The Senate bill is expected to save $23 billion over 10 years compared to the baseline spending on the current farm and food programs. Stabenow’s bill would eliminate direct and counter-cyclical payments, as well as the Average Crop Revenue Election program, or ACRE. Lawmakers were pushing for farm-program changes that would score at least $15 billion in budget savings over 10 years.

• The boom in oil and gas production continues, and that has led law enforcement officials to prepare for an increase in crime, according to an AP article

Projections call for an increase of 30,000 workers in the Bakken oil fields of Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan over the next few years. That kind of boom is expected to bring with it a increase in crime. 

“The population flux will naturally bring increased criminal activity to the area,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter. “It is imperative that our law enforcement establish open lines of communication between each other to ensure they are as responsive as possible.”

• The Veterans Department wants to hire an additional 1,600 mental health workers to help vets returning from our two long-running wars. 

Veterans have to wait far too long to see counselors. Last year, a federal court judge wrote an opinion chastising the department. “No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligation,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.

The lack of mental health clinicians has been particularly acute in rural areas. 

• Marci Penner at the Kansas Sampler Foundation is always coming up with good ideas. Her latest was the “Big Rural Brainstorm” in Newton, Kansas.

As Harvest Public Media tells the tale, about 200 people got together to talk about rural communities. About a fourth of those at the meeting were under 35. 

• The Michigan pig controversy continues.

Recall that the state banned certain kinds of hogs, those the state believed could live on their own in the wild. The state listed certain traits — hair color and the shape of a hog’s ear — to designate the illegal swine. 

Several farmers said the state’s regulations would outlaw their breeds — and they noted that the only kinds of hogs safe under the new law are those breeds that are factory-farm friendly.

There have been stories that the state has already begun to eradicate illegal swine in what has been called a “hog holocaust.”

The Detroit Free Press has an article saying, yes, the state has investigated two hunting ranches that kept swine that may violate the new regulations. But it hasn’t executed any hogs, according to the paper. The state has filed suit against one hunting ranch. 

There is no indication now that the state intends to seize hogs raised by specialty farmers. 

 

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