Tuesday Roundup: Good Germs

First Agent Orange, no GMO seeds in Vietnam • StrikeForce rural development program expanded • Cattle numbers continue downward • Another dry year in Nebraska

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There’s too much antibacterial soap and germ-ridding cleanliness for our own good, the Washington Post reports. A little more dirt would do us all some good.

Our bodies need early encounters with bacteria, fungi and all the other stuff parents try to protect their kids from in order to develop a healthy immune system. Without it, we are more likely to contract all kinds of disease, from MS to hepatitis A.

Best if you grow up on a farm. The Post reports

A 2012 study of Amish and Swiss farm and non-farm children found that the farm-dwelling kids had significantly lower rates of asthma, hay fever and eczema. But the farm dwellers differed from their non-farm peers in several ways: They had more exposure to livestock and the microbes that come with them; they were more likely to drink raw milk, which contains microbes not found in pasteurized milk; and they tended to have more siblings at home.

Hot Springs — The city of Hot Springs, S.D., is voting today if the city should buy Evans Plunge, the hot springs pool that give the city its name, the Wall Street Journal reports

Hot Springs is facing a number of challenges. The Veterans Administration wants to close the hospital that employs 10 percent of the city’s workers. And the pool (fed by 13 springs that pump out 87-degree water) said they were going to sell the facility.

StrikeForce — The USDA is expanding its “StrikeForce” program to ten more states, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today. The program is aimed at reducing rural poverty. 

StrikeForce is aimed at getting rural businesses and producers access to money for projects such as new wells, greenhouses, community gardens and summer meals for low-income kids.

“You just don’t have the technical wherewithal, technical assistance, in your city officials, council members, part-time mayors, even your city administrators, to know what the federal programs are,” Vilsack, a former Iowa governor who is also an ex-mayor of a small town in Iowa, told The Associated Press this week. “Oftentimes these programs have matching requirements. For small communities operating by themselves, that is very difficult.” 

GMOs in Vietnam — The Vietnamese government wants to fill one-third of its farmland with genetically engineered crops by 2020, an op-ed writer in the New York Times tells us. 

Lien Hoang writes:

This is too much too soon. Vietnamese officials are reasonably worried about how to feed a country of 90 million. But the policy change is based on one-sided information from those who would profit from G.M.O. sales, and it displays little concern for consumer protection.

What’s more, Monsanto, the chemical company that would help bring biotechnology to Vietnam, is the one that brought it Agent Orange during the war four decades ago.

Community Colleges in California — Enrollment at California’s community colleges is at a 20-year low, as budget cuts have colleges cutting classes and instructors. 

South Fork Mennonites — Al Cross’s Rural Blog pointed  us to a fantastic story in the Danville (Ky) Advocate Messenger about a group of Kentucky Mennonites who are moving out of the state and into Tennessee to get away from modern world they see creeping in nearby. Great story by Todd Kleffman, here

Cattle Numbers Down — The USDA says that the number of cattle on commercial feedlots was 7 percent below the number a year ago. Still, even with the decreased supply prices for feeder cattle are down about 12 percent since the beginning of the year. 

Senate Amendments — DTN’s Chris Clayton has a good rundown of the amendments adopted into the Senate’s budget last Friday and Saturday. 

There’s stuff here about genetically modified fish, rural broadband and more funding for inland waterways.

After Merrigan — Kathleen Merrigan was an advocate for local and organic foods as Deputy Secretary at USDA. She’s soon to be gone and organic food advocates wonder what’s going to happen next. 

Jerry Hagstrom writes in the National Journal that “Merrigan’s upcoming departure has raised a lot of questions about the Obama administration’s commitment to organic and local food production….” But in an interview with Hagstrom, Merrigan said:

“It is a good time to depart, with a Democratic president who has talked about local and regional food production and a first lady who has been very supportive of these issues. It is very important that the work is embraced by the secretary, by the bureaucracy. It should not depend on one person.”

This Year Could Be Drier — The National Drought Mitigation Center is saying that Nebraska should be ready for another dry year. The soil is already dry and reservoirs and streams are low. 

Even normal rains won’t be enough for the state to recover. 

Grain Elevator Safety — See the story here  in the Daily Yonder about the lack of concern about grain elevator safety. The Kansas City Star has been reporting on this issue, too, and the paper has an editorial saying that the “grain industry, federal regulators and U.S. justice system have not done enough to protect people from being killed or injured in accidents involving grain elevators.” 

The failure of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to oversee grain elevators is a recurring theme in these stories. The paper’s editorial explains:

One accident highlighted in The Star killed six people in 2011 in Atchison, Kan. In that case, owner Bartlett Grain recently released a statement saying it had run a “model facility” in Atchison. Who says? OSHA had never inspected the elevator, even though it had been open for 30 years. Bartlett Grain also criticized OSHA’s proposed citations after the deadly 2011 accident, yet has not released its own version of why it occurred.

Based on what has happened in most similar cases, Bartlett Grain likely expects the OSHA fines will be reduced or even tossed out. As for criminal charges, the company will fight that, too. Sadly, it can point to dozens of other cases where the federal government did not pursue charges against the grain industry. If warranted this time, however, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom in Kansas should not hesitate to pursue such charges against Bartlett Grain.

Georgia/Tennessee Water War — The Georgia Senate passed a resolution calling for a correction in the boundary with Tennessee, a correction that would give Georgia access to water from the Tennessee River. 

 

 

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