Monday, April 30, 2007

Senator Gard Calls Us Losers

Once again Senator Beverly Gard squashes important CAFO legislation -- and she calls us losers?!

In the first instance, Senator Gard would not allow a vote in her committee on Senate Bill 447 calling for a CAFO moratorium. Imagine -- she wouldn't even allow a vote on the matter.

Next came House Bill 1197 (authored by Rep. Pflum and Rep Saunders) which included setbacks and fees to insure yearly inspections, plus a character clause. Bill 1197 passed the House with bipartisan support... but Senator Gard refused to hear the Bill in her committee... and it died.

And finally, along comes her Bill 431, which passed the Senate and which Rep. Pflum heard in the House. When this bill went to conference -- with CAFO setbacks of one mile from schools and/or towns (down from the original 2 mile setbacks asked for) -- she would not support the setbacks.

The Star Press reports (link):
Senate Bill 431 did not get a final vote Sunday after setback requirements were stripped out of the bill in conference committee.

Senator Gard claims the Senate was fine with the bill, but House Democrats would not give it a chance. In her spin to the press;
Gard insisted that the real losers were "the people of Indiana."

She'll get away with calling us all losers in the Press, while trying to support her own "spin" on everything. A few choice names to call her come to mind, but in my efforts to be a good role model for our child, I won't sink down to her level.

On the other side of the fence, I tip my hat to Senator Paul, Rep. Pflum and Rep. Saunders for all their hard work on this important topic. They've each had to take on a great deal of heat for making a stand on behalf of all Indiana citizens.

Meanwhile, I sit here wondering... "Why -- oh why -- was it so important for some legislaters not to have any safety setbacks on the books for CAFOs in Indiana??"

Are there plans in motion already for CAFOs to come near towns and schools in our State? If a simple no-brainer clause like minimum setbacks can be tossed out -- not once, but twice -- you really gotta wonder what they know that we don't know, yet.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

In The News Last Week

If you haven't heard about it yet, there is a problem with bee populations in certain areas of the world, including the USA. This story in The New York Times wrestles with the subject:

"Bees Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons" - BELTSVILLE, Md., April 23
More than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost — tens of billions of bees, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping. So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.

In other news, the Washington Post has a story out that has commenters posting furiously -- if one were to test the temperatures of the voting public using this public forum, one could only conclude that there is an extremely angry voting population eager for November 2008 to get here. The article is titled:

"FDA Was Aware of Dangers To Food" - By Elizabeth Williamson, Monday, April 23, 2007

Buried in the 12 pages of comments posted to the above article, one post drew my attention even closer:
"When pet food with Melamine is tested it shows a higher protein percentage and that is put on the label to boost sales. However, there is no more protein in the food. Melamine fools the test. I believe a criminal probe is about to be launched in the pet food case. In short, it is a man-made form of plastic whose toxic effects on pets and animals humans eat is not well studied."

It got me to thinking if, when ingested by pigs, does it raise the protein content in pork? Probably not... but I thought it might explain another little mystery that has popped up in South Carolina. Check out this headline through Associated Press in the news last week:

"Tainted Hogs Enter Human Food Supply" - By ANDREW BRIDGES, AP 2007-04-27

It was the above article which led me on a quick search where I discovered this article:

"Melamine in urine of S.C. hogs" - South Carolina "The State" Thu, Apr. 26, 2007

The reason I bring this article up is because, according to the article...
"Traces of melamine were found in hog urine at the farm, but the feed has tested negative for contamination."

So how did the melamine get into the hogs' urine? Apparently, that's still under investigation.

What are State officials doing about it? Let's roll over to CLEMSONews, since "Livestock and Poultry Health is a unit of Clemson University Public Service and Agriculture" and see what they have to say on the issue:
State officials are waiting for guidance from the FDA, FSIS and EPA as to the significance of these tests and other pending tests.

Not very comforting for people already upset with the FDA and FSIS ...and, sadly, even the EPA is a questionable source for protecting us, since the Federal Government seems to have gutted them, too.

For one example, after a decade of study and public review of scientific evidence, the EPA proposed a stricter standard, reducing the safe limit for arsenic in our drinking water from 50 ppb down to 10 ppb while Bill Clinton was president. Mr. Bush reversed EPA's decision shortly after taking office. The Administration tossed out these recommendations, with no solid science to back up their actions. You can read about the whole sordid mess over here.

I'm hoping not all is lost... in fact, I'm hoping this Administration, and future governing powers, will stop playing chess with important agencies that were originally meant to protect us -- and stop using us as pawns in their game with Big Ag lobby groups.

The Farm Bill is up for renewal this year. Let's all watch closely to see who is really looking out for who.

Oh, and before I forget, one more article that slipped under the radar of mainstream media:

"Dairy linked to Parkinson's disease, study" - By Chris Mercer 4/24/2007

Hey -- don't shoot the messenger. It's just one more study (among many) that have been completed in recent years saying dairy is doing some pretty bad things to us... do a quick search on google and see for yourself.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this quote by Albert Einstein:
"If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man would have four years left to live," said Albert Einstein. "No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Have a super week ahead!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Senate Bill 431 is still alive

The folks over at the Jasper County Indiana Information website have posted an update on Senate Bill 431 along with contact information so you can voice your own opinions to the powers that be. Check it out through this link.

On a separate note, in the April 27 edition of Indiana Agrinews, it's reported that the Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director, Andy Miller, recently took a trip to Mexico to attend the Tri-National Agricultural Accord meetings.

A lot of the CAFO owners in Indiana may not realize it, but Canada and Mexico are two of our most important trading partners for agricultural products. Although Andy Miller attributes most of this to NAFTA, when it comes to Dairy Product Imports the Canadian imports websites suggest much of these imports are owing to the "Import for Re-export Program" (IREP).

Imports of dairy products under IREP reached approximately 73,093 tonnes in 2005, a 7% increase over the previous year and make up about 36% of total dairy imports. The main products imported under the program are whole milk powder, butter and fats, and oils derived from milk.

And where are most of these imports coming from?
In 2005, the largest suppliers of dairy products in terms of value were the European Union (39%), New Zealand (24%) and the United States (23%). Primary suppliers of specialty cheese were France ($39.9 million), Italy ($32.7 million) and the United States ($7 million). Germany was the primary supplier of casein products in 2005, accounting for over 51% of the total value of imports. Primary suppliers of butter and fats and oils derived from milk were New Zeland, Uruguay and Argentina, which make up 36%, 19% and 18% of the value respectively.

Keeping in mind, the rules for IREP are (see link for more detail):
Companies who hold an authorization to import dairy products under IREP must be the importer of record of those products. Product imported under IREP must be used exclusively to manufacture products that are subsequently exported. Diversion of product imported under IREP to the Canadian market is prohibited.

For USA CAFO Dairy owners, this is probably a good thing. Why? Because the use of flyash on dairies in Canada is heavily regulated -- many provinces consider flyash a hazardous substance (see this British Columbia document for one example).

And, of course, as everyone knows, the use of rBST is banned in Canada -- as well as other countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and most of the EU. If dairy products were being imported to Canada from farms using this banned substance, I have a feeling many Canadian Dairy farmers might have a case for "dumping" ...and many Canadian consumers would have second thoughts about purchasing products made from such imports... wouldn't you?

The USA is relying heavily on exports to both Canada and Mexico, as can be seen when you view some of the speeches made at the recent 2007 Agriculture Outlook Forum. For CAFO owners, now is not a good time to be ticking off our neighbors to the North or South.

On a more personal note, my parents are coming for a visit (from Canada) this summer. I'll be giving them a first hand tour of Northwestern Jasper County (and parts of Newton County) so they can take plenty of pictures back home with them. Have any sightseeing tours that you recommend?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Electric Bills in Jasper County

In my post titled "The High Cost of Food" a mention was made with respect to how some of those costs for food are hidden in our utility bills.

Little did I know at the time how much of those costs are hidden in our Jasper County REMC bills.

For example, did you know that the members of REMC -- which are customers -- namely you and me -- PAID for FREE electric installation to the big dairy CAFO on Hwy 14.

Here's how it works for major commercial installations, according to the Jasper County REMC Policy:

The REMC will estimate the cost of required construction when an application is received requesting electrical service, whether overhead or underground construction. Also, an estimate will be made as to the two and one-half (2 1/2) years expected revenue less power costs, from the permanent and continued use by the member requesting electrical service.

If the estimated revenue exceeds the estimated construction cost, the customer will received service without charge for providing such service...

Believe me, I got a sour taste in my mouth when I found out my utility payments actually helped pay for a CAFO to get connected... to the tune of about $100,000.

Why are we, as members, paying for free service to them through increases in our electric bills? What else are we paying for that we don't know about? Is Jasper County REMC co-op in such a profitable position that we can afford to give these types of services away? What, in fact, is the financial situation of our co-op? Are we debt-free? Or are we in debt?

These are all great questions to ask right now.


Because the Jasper County REMC Annual Meeting is coming up on June 12, 2007.

As members, this Annual Meeting is our chance to vote for Directors that are elected by us to oversee JC REMC's management, to look at such antiquated policies (like, in my humble opinion, the 30-year-old free installation policy mentioned above) and make changes that can save us money -- and REDUCE rather than increase our electric bills.

Watch for the card you get with your electric bills -- keep it -- and use it to show up for the vote on June 12/2007.

Before you cast your vote, make sure you do a bit of homework to find out what each candidate plans to do to help decrease our bills while at the same time make Jasper County REMC the best dang co-op in the State.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The High Cost of Food

Many in the United States pride themselves on our 'cheap' food. But, this study - External Costs of Agricultural Production in the United States - demonstrates that consumers pay for food well beyond the grocery store checkout.

Published in 2004, the study assembled available valuation data to arrive at an aggregate, national figure for particular external costs of agricultural production in the USA... other words, the costs for food that are not included in the grocery price sticker, but instead we are paying the price through other means, including in our utility bills and taxes and in our declining environmental and personal health.

What are the Total External Costs for Food?

The total costs for food not included in the price sticker, conservatively, are $5.7 - 16.9 billion each year. They also indicate at least $3.7 billion additional annually in efforts to regulate the present system and mitigate damages.

What's NOT Included in these Figures?

Additional public costs of agricultural production in the USA include direct subsidies and other support mechanisms for farmers. These are not included in the figures above.

Although fish kills are acknowledged in the figures above, other costs associated with manure run-off and/or inorganic feriliser runoff and their related impacts on aquatic ecosystems and the suppression of biodiversity are not calculated in the final costs of food.

Also NOT included:

Costs of illnesses associated with waterborne pathogens (because States should have implemented the Interim Enhanced surface Water Treatment rule by Jan. 1/2002.

Accidents and fuel or cargo spills also cause injuries and deaths and damage to public health and the environment buth they have not been assessed nor included in the costs above.

On-farm costs of lost productivity due to soil erosion are not included.

Multi-faceted impacts of agricultural chemicals and sedimentation on aquatic ecosystems are not included.

Structural disturbances to habitats and the food chain of aquatic environments is also left out of the final costs of food.

Catastrophic manure spills occur intermittently and are not considered in the costs.

Also, water treatment costs for nitrate are associated mostly with background levels of inorganic nitrogen from fertilisers - not manure.

With respect to manure, the report further recommends:

To curb manure spills, regulations for manure handling at animal feeding operations should continue to be reviewed and enforced and the promotion of other options for livestock finishing should be considered.

The report also states: "The societal burden of these costs calls for a restructuring of agricultural policy that shifts production towards methods that lessen external impacts."

With taxes due next week, I wonder how many taxpayers even know about this report?

The Study was published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2004.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Who is your Hero?

The Rensselaer Republican has announced that nominations are being sought by the Rensselaer Earth Day Planning Committee to recognize a local "Environmental Hero" at this year's Earth Day celebration. (you can vote here)

It would be so difficult, if not impossible, for me to choose just one hero, and unfortunately, most of my heros don't live in Rensselaer.

For example, Barbara Sha Cox is one of my Indiana Environmental Heros for her tireless efforts on fighting for clean waters, soil and air throughout the State. She has been a frequent speaker at legislative hearings and does her best to keep everyone informed on what's coming up that can affect so many lives throughout the State.

Other Environmental Heros of mine include; Sandy O'Brien for her leadership role with the Dunelands Sierra Club, Jim Cole the Indiana Important Bird Areas Coordinator for the Indiana Chapter of Audubon, Diane Packett (also with Audubon) for her dedicated work to protect birds (and other wildlife) in the State, E. Thomas Kemp from Kemplog who has brought so many issues to the public eye thanks to his blog ... and there's more... so many more.

Yet another Environmental Hero of mine that deserves special recognition is Dianne Richardson for keeping a constant watch over environmental violators in this region. My hat goes off to her for stepping forward and running for Council, at great personal sacrifice, providing a voice for us all on some of the toughest issues facing Jasper County today.

Speaking of issues, a new one has popped up on my radar screen regarding Jasper County Hospital.

In case you haven't heard, Jasper County Hospital has requested Jasper County Council to approve an $18 million dollar expansion project backed by real estate property taxes. That's a fairly large sum, by any standards.

According to the ad in the Rensselaer Republican yesterday, the public will get a chance to hear from the hospital about the expansion, to voice their concerns and opinions, and to ask questions. Since all property owners will be paying for it, regardless of where you live or whether you use the hospital, I believe it is very important for everyone to be well informed about this project.

Here are the dates and times.

Thursday April 5th
Remington Public Library
6:30 – 8:00pm (EST)

Tuesday, April 10th
Jasper County Hospital
6:30 – 8:00pm (CDT)

Thursday, April 26
Fase Center
11978 North 600 West
DeMotte, In
6:30 – 8:00 pm (CDT)

Attending public meetings is one way you can be a hero to your community. Sometimes the results of these meetings may not be what you would like to see or hear, but at least you know in your heart you have done something towards the shaping and forming of our County. And that, in my humble opinion, makes you a hero, too.