Wednesday Roundup: School Lunches and GIPSA

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Everything is partisan these days, so it’s no wonder that there is a “red” definition of a vegetable and a “blue” definition. 

Congress and the Obama administration are fighting over what should be in a school lunch. The Obama administration is trying to take what it considers unhealthy food (pizza, french fries) out of school cafeterias. But the final version of a spending bill released this week would remove school lunch standards proposed earlier this year by the Agriculture Department. The standards would have limited the use of potatoes, restricted the amount of salt and increased the use of whole grains. 

Companies that make pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers lobbied Congress and won. On top of the lobbying, conservatives in Congress said the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of telling children what to eat.

Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss saw the issue this way:

What’s really going on is that Congress is putting on a rather shameful display of catering to corporate interests, giving kids a real lesson in how politics works — and how, in the end, it’s not really all about the kids.

Next time you hear a legislator talk about how it’s “all for the children,” ask them how they voted on this bill. This exercise in lawmaking should be taught in civics classes everywhere so young people can really understand who this Congress is — and isn’t — working for.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that it will abandon portions of a new antitrust rule affecting the meat industry if Congress does not provide money for its enforcement.

A Congressional committee voted to strip funding for any new regulation. USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe told the Associated Press that if the bill passes (and it is expected to) the USDA will abandon the reforms.

The USDA has been working on these rules for over two years. They were aimed at curbing the power of the large meat-buying companies. Different rules were proposed for poultry farmers and for those raising hogs and cattle.

The new regulations would have made it easier for farmers and ranchers to sue meat companies under a 1921 law governing farm markets, the Packers and Stockyards Act. (These are the GIPSA rules we have been writing about since 2009.) The rules would have also required chicken buyers to offer a base price for poultry.

The meat industry lobbied heavily against the proposed regs. Many groups representing poultry farmers and ranchers supported the legislation. 

Some parts of the new rules will go through. For instance, the proposed regulations unaffected by Congress would limit how much money poultry companies can ask farmers to invest in their farms and would require companies to give farmers at least 90 days notice before suspending delivery of chicks.

The major portions of the regulations will be abandoned, however. They were written after the USDA heard thousands of comments collected at hearings held across the country. 

“This is just another example of how corporate influence has eliminated opportunities for independent livestock producers in the United States,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-CALF USA, a group that represents small to mid-sized cattle producers.

• Parts of northeastern Japan are so contaminated by radioactivity that they are no longer fit for farming. 

Parts of Fukushima prefecture were “highly contaminated” after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged in March. The release of radioactive material not only affected Fukushima, according to a new report, but lower levels of contamination pose a threat to three neighboring prefectures.

• The U.S. Postal Service lost about $5 billion in the year ending September 30. The loss could have been larger, but Congress allowed the Postal Service to postpone a $5.5 billion payment for retiree health benefits. 

Mail volume continued to decline, particularly in first class mail. First class revenues declined from $34.2 billion in 2010 to $32.2 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, the Postal Service added thousands of new addresses for daily delivery.

• For those into school reform, here’s a good review of the data on charter schools. 

As we read this review of the studies of charter schools, there is no evidence that charters do much better overall than public schools. Who runs the schools appears to make no difference in outcomes.

Bentonville is coming to D.C. 

Walmart said it will open six stores in Washington, D.C. The company has about saturated rural and suburban locations and is headed to the cities. 

• The Des Moines Register reports that “most of Iowa’s 35 tax credits are not being tracked for their effectiveness in spite of a sizable cost to taxpayers: at least $160 million.” 

This is an old story, but one that needs reading. States give out tax incentives in the name of economic development, but rarely does anybody check to see if the incentives did a dang thing for the economy.

• The price of Iowa cropland increased 31 percent in the last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. 

DTN’s Marcia Zarley Taylor writes that, despite the higher prices, nobody sees prices dropping soon. Farm mortgage firms are lending only about half the price of the land and they are assuming corn prices will decline. Given those restrictions, deals for higher land prices are still being made. 

 

 

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