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Ag briefs: Judge dismisses "happy cow" suit against Ben & Jerry's

Wisconsin State Farmer

BURLINGTON, VT

Judge dismisses "happy cow" suit against Ben & Jerry's

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Ben & Jerry's that alleged that the ice cream maker and its parent company misled consumers by saying the milk and cream in its products comes from "happy cows."

In a complaint filed Oct. 29, 2019, in Burlington, Vermont, where Ben & Jerry's was founded, environmental advocate James Ehlers said that many of the farms that produce the milk and cream are factory-style, mass production dairy operations and only some are part of the company's "Caring Dairy" program.

U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss on Thursday threw out the lawsuit, saying Ben & Jerry's, owned by the multinational firm Unilever, did not claim that all its milk comes from farms enrolled in Caring Dairy, Vermont Public Radio reported. 

She also noted that Ben & Jerry's no longer uses the "happy" cow label on its ice cream cartons. 

"As a result, any possibility of future deception of plaintiff in a similar way to the harm alleged … is non-existent," she wrote. 

Ehlers said he's considering amending his lawsuit. Ben & Jerry's spokeswoman Laura Peterson said in a written statement that the court was right to dismiss the "meritless" claims.

WASHINGTON D.C.

USDA allows leeway for organic certification

Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) may allow organic producers to report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic, for the 2020 crop year if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) made available this flexibility to help those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, policyholders who have requested but not received an organic certificate, organic plan, or other written documentation must notify their insurance agent within 30 days after the certifying agent informs them of their organic plan or certificate status.

The policyholder notification may be made by phone, email, text, or other electronic communication method, and the AIPs must document the policyholder’s notification. Policyholders will be required to either sign digitally at the time of submission or must follow up with properly signed forms no later than July 15, 2020.

TRAVERSE CITY, MI

USDA buys cherries to help communities

Some Michigan farmers say the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plan to buy tart cherries to feed communities and support farmers will help the industry as cold weather threatens their crops.

The department announced this week that it will buy $20 million worth of U.S. tart cherries, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported. The Agricultural Marketing Service will purchase other fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and seafood products to distribute to communities amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The purchase is in response to changing market conditions brought on by the pandemic, according to a release. 

Two weeks ago, southern Michigan saw some cold temperatures, in which crops were destroyed.

LEBANON, OR

Fines cut for couple's burn pile that included animals

An Oregon ranching couple, fined nearly $18,000 for creating an illegal burn pile that included 40 dead animals, contested the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's penalty and won.

A judge reduced the fine to $3,000 because the burn was on residential property, some existing regulations were ambiguous, and the couple, first-time offenders, cooperated with DEQ to make amends, The Capital Press reported.

The state had issued a $17,869 fine in October 2019, alleging that Mark and Bethany Wahl, rancher-owners of Wahl Livestock LLC in Lebanon, had violated two Oregon laws: leaving an open burn unattended and burning illegal materials, including furniture, garbage, dead cattle and dead sheep.

In 2011, Wahl provided the Ag Department with a detailed plan for composting and exporting dead animals. He also signed an understanding that animal remains would not be burned except in emergencies and under supervision of a veterinarian.

The Environmental Quality Commission reduced the penalty to $12,000 in March after the couple contested the fine. Administrative law judge Micah Moskowitz has since slashed it to $3,000. 

ABERDEEN, SD

FU seeks partners for DemKota beef plant deal

The South Dakota Farmers Union is in the early stages of preparing an offer to buy the DemKota Ranch Beef plant in Aberdeen.

The group is in talks with its counterparts in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana and is looking to join with beef and dairy cattle groups in the region to make an offer on the plant, the organization's President Doug Sombke told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

The DemKota plant, which continues to experience a growing number of coronavirus cases among employees, is currently owned by a San Francisco, California-based investment firm.

White Oak Global Advisors bought the beef plant in 2013 as part of the bankruptcy proceedings of its previous owner, Northern Beef Packers.  The plant has typically harvested more than 1,000 head of cattle per day. 

Acquiring the DemKota plant wouldn’t be the Farmers Union’s first involvement in the meat packing industry. The South Dakota group is also a partner owner of Redwood Farms Meat Processors, a small pork processing plant in Estherville, Iowa. The purchase would be the start of longer-term effort to create more packing options for farmers, Sombke said.

WASHINGTON D. C.

Availability of petition for deregulation of GE corn

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is inviting public comment on a petition from the Monsanto Company (Monsanto) seeking deregulation of a corn variety intended for hybrid seed production genetically engineered for tolerance to dicamba, glufosinate, quizalofop, 2,4-D, and tissue-specific glyphosate tolerance.  The petition will be available for public review and comment for 60 days.

APHIS is interested in receiving comments regarding potential environmental and interrelated economic impacts to assist in our assessment of the petition as it relates to the National Environmental Policy Act.  The public comments received, along with the best available scientific documents, will assist APHIS in determining the appropriate environmental documents to prepare in accordance with our petition process to make a fully informed decision on the regulatory status of this genetically engineered corn variety.

The petition can be accessed now on the News and Information page of the BRS website. This notice may be viewed today in the Federal Register. Beginning tomorrow, members of the public will be able to submit comments through July 7, 2020. 

MADISON, WI

Elk test negative for wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease didn't spread in a captive elk herd after one of its members tested positive, state agriculture officials said.

Test results in August confirmed a 6-year-old male elk from the Smoking Gun Elk farm in Burnett County was infected with the disease, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The agency placed the herd under quarantine and said that federal officials killed the remaining five members of the herd on April 23. None of them tested positive for the disease.

It wasn't clear why federal officials chose to kill the remaining elk in April after the herd spent months quarantined. DATCP spokesman Kevin Hoffman had no immediate comment.

The farm will not be permitted to hold species susceptible to CWD in its elk pen for five years.

SUN PRAIRIE, WI

Compeer Financial announces Q1 results

Compeer Financial reported net income of $107.5 million for quarter one, compared to $93.6 million for the same quarter last year. Total assets grew to $22.8 billion as of March 31, 2020, compared to $22.2 billion at the close of 2019.

The firm's officials attributed the increase largely due to growth in loans, in the capital markets, food and agribusiness sectors, and Agri-Access, which provides secondary market and land loans to the agriculture industry.

Credit quality of Compeer Financial’s portfolio remains solid with only 0.7% nonaccrual loans as a percentage of total loans, compared to 0.8% as of December 31, 2019. Total regulatory capital level remains strong at 15.3%.

Currently, Compeer Financial is focusing on a variety of solutions available to clients facing challenges due to COVID-19, with a focus on open communication, evaluating each individual situation. These include deferred payments, interest-only payments, conversions to lower interest rates, and more. More than 1,200 clients also received Paycheck Protection Program loans through Compeer in the first round of funding.

KUNA, ID

Over 20 Idaho beef plant workers sickened with coronavirus

At least 23 employees working at a beef processing plant near Boise, Idaho, have tested positive for the coronavirus, health officials confirmed on May 9.

One additional employee is presumed to have the virus, and two other contract employees have tested positive, Central District Health spokesperson Christine Myron told the Idaho Statesman.

The majority of the employees have recovered, Myron said. Some of the employees who tested positive do not live in the Central District Health area, which serves Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties.

Steve Cherry, CS Beef Packers plant manager, said in a statement that plant employees working in close proximity may have been exposed to the virus. Employees who are ill will remain at home until officials confirm they are recovered, Cherry said. Employees will be compensated for time away from work, he said.

"Our plant operations will continue as normal. We are especially focused upon enhanced cleaning and sanitation programs in all areas of the plant," Cherry said.

Cherry said all employees have been provided masks, face shields and outside seating options to allow for social distancing during breaks. The plant is also conducting temperature and health screenings of all employees reporting for work, he said.

Two other food processing companies within the same district have reported clusters of illnesses among employees. Myron said there are no ongoing clusters or concerns within those two facilities.