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Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel

Ground Beef Recall a Serious Downer for Montana Schools

On January 30th the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover and extremely graphic video that shows meat packers of the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company kicking sick cows. These animals, referred to as “downers” by the meat industry because they fall down with illness or fatigue, were prodded and pushed with forklifts in order to get them on their feet and pass the USDA inspection. The cows passed the inspection and promptly collapsed. Rather than tell the on-site regulators of the animals' changed condition (as required by law), the Westland/Hallmark employees went ahead slaughtered them. Such actions are clearly inhumane but the processing of downer cows has also been linked to mad cow disease, making such treatment an issue of human health. With the release of the year old video, the USDA put a hold on all meat sold through the company, meaning that those with the meat should simply hold onto it rather than cook and eat it. 18 days later, the USDA made the largest meat recall in United States history: 143 million pounds of ground meat.

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Reel to Real: A Food Film Festival Comes to Missoula

This weekend, the first annual "Reel to Real Food Film Festival" will take place at the Roxy and Crystal theaters in Missoula as a way for interested eaters to, “Feast Your Eyes, Feed Your Mind, and Nourish Your Soul.” Organized in part by the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, the festival will include a showing of “Eat at Bill’s,” a documentary about the Monterey Farmers' Market and "Two Angry Moms," which links the health of our children to school food. On Sunday, the event will culminate with the acclaimed film, “The Real Dirt on Farmer John.” In this personal reflection on the agro-food system, Farmer John begins by asking, “What do you do when nothing is left?” In response, he takes a bite out of his soil.

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“Class C:” Basketball, Identity and Loss in Rural Montana

On Saturday night the film “Class C” premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. The movie details the lives of a handful of Class C women basketball players in Montana, and as they play each other and make their way to the state championships we learn that basketball is more than a sport for them. It is not just a part of their identity; it is a part of their town’s identity. When they travel to games their hometowns shut down and folks follow the girls across the state to watch them play. At late night parties, they discuss strategy and tournaments won in the past. But the film is most striking for what it reveals about the loss of small towns and an agricultural way of life in Montana. There is a common sadness among these young women as they talk about their small hometowns. They are not melancholy that they are 255 miles from the nearest mall, but that towns across the Highline and in eastern Montana are shrinking in population and dying.

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Pick your Ticket: How the Presidential Candidates View Agriculture

Just a few months ago when Iowa was on the mind of every presidential contender, agriculture was a well-discussed issue (especially ethanol). But it seems like an eternity since the presidential candidates left Iowa and the cornfields that dictated much of their talk. Since then, candidates have mostly left agriculture off the campaign trail, and only a few have posted their stance on agriculture on their websites. As much of the Rocky Mountain West heads into Super Tuesday, here is some of what the current front-runners think about agriculture...

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Building Community Through Food: The Missoula Community Co-op

In the fall of 2007, a small portion of an old shipping depot on Missoula’s Westside was scrubbed clean and given a new coat of paint. Volunteers made curtains and built shelves to hold staple items like olive oil, cheese, eggs and recycled toilet paper. New plants by the front steps started to take root, and so too did the new storefront of the Missoula Community Co-op. Across the country, similar food or grocery cooperatives, better known as co-ops, have become an increasingly popular way for a community to gather around food, especially in the Northeast and the Midwest. Food co-ops can be buying clubs or an actual store, and to shop there, an individual or family pays a membership fee to the co-op and becomes a “member-owner.” The member can then order food through the co-op or shop at the store. Food often comes in bulk amounts, which reduces packaging and cost, and because it is ordered through and often delivered to the co-op, the person who orders the food does not pay shipping costs. The idea is that members will also volunteer their time at the co-op to reduce the costs associated with running a store, and keep costs lower for all members…hence the use of the term “cooperative.”

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After FDA Approval, Input Sought from Montanans on Cloning

Two weeks ago, I reported on the possibility that the FDA would make a decision that cloned meat and milk is safe to eat. This article follows up on that story, after the FDA released their decision January 15th that cloned food is indeed safe to enter our food chain. This week, Whitefish, Montana’s State Representative Mike Jopek, sent out an email asking constituents to tell him what they think about cloned food. In it, he writes: "I am looking for input as I truly respect the insight on the best approach. If no approach at all is warrented, (sic) please let me know. I also know many folks are unaware of this debate and may rather I continue to advocate for a more fair tax climate, better state funding of our education system, and clean water and open public lands. But I am a farmer who believes that good food is the foundation to a great health system." The organic farmer's outreach comes less than a week after the FDA decided that cloned milk and meat are safe to eat.

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Winter Listening Sessions Give Farmers and Ranchers a Voice

Montana’s Senator-Farmer Jon Tester finished up a brief listening tour this week in Billings, where he spoke to the annual meeting of the Mountain States Beet Growers Association of Montana and highlighted the promising points of the Farm Bill. In particular, Tester discussed his provisions to the farm bill, which included assistance to farmers converting to organics. The Senator also worked to keep all Farm Service Agency offices open and called for the implementation of Country of Origin Labeling. While his listening tour is over for now, (Tester headed back to his farm in Big Sandy this week where he and his family run an 1,800 acre organic farm) winter continues to serve as the talking season for most farmers and ranchers. And during the coldest months, a few agencies will hold similar listening sessions and conferences to hear concerns of those working in agriculture and use those responses to shape farm policy.

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Send in the Clones: FDA Set to Give Final Approval

A small paragraph on a back page of Sunday's Oregonian revealed that after six years of debate over the safety of cloned meat and milk, the Food and Drug Administration is set to give a final approval this week that cloned food is safe to eat. The FDA made an initial decision on the matter in December of 2006, ruling that cloned cattle, pigs and goats were, "as safe as the food we eat every day." The decision was followed by a public comment period in which 145,000 people opposed the FDA’s plans to introduce cloned food. But these comments seem to have gone unheard as the FDA plans to announce a final approval.The move would come less than a month after the Senate also voted to delay the FDA’s endorsement of cloned food.

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The 2007 Census of Ag Is In the Mail

The USDA has mailed out the most recent Census of Agriculture, held every five years to count the number of farmers and ranchers working in the United States. Among other things, the census gathers information about land use and ownership, the age of farmers, their production practices and income. Policy makers then use census data to make decisions affecting agricultural programs and community planners use the information to identify needs and services. In the West, the USDA will use the 2007 Census to gather more information about Native American farmers, organic farmers and those involved in growing crops used to make bio-based fuels. While information from the Census of Agriculture provides vital information about farms and ranches in our country and how they have declined over the last century, it also uses a broad definition of a farm to do so.

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EPA’s Holiday Gift to Big Ag

This Christmas season those who play naughty received an early gift from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On December 21st the EPA announced a proposed rule change that would exempt large livestock operators from the need to report releases of hazardous substances to the air when they come from animal waste. Under the proposed rules, they would no longer need to disclose hazards like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to local, state and federal agencies. The EPA argues that this approach is “better” for reporting hazardous contamination because farms are burdened with current reporting requirements. But in a recent response, Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program wrote, "Once again Bush's EPA is poised to put polluters before public health."

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