Let’s see some I-D. New federal rules are going to require country of origin labelingand will force some farmers to tighten up record-keeping for their herds. ISU Beef Center director John Lawrence says the reasoning behind “Country of Origin Labeling” is giving consumers the right to know where their food comes from. It’s seldom been an issue, and COOL labeling includes other things like fruits and vegetables, fish, and peanuts but since Iowa produces pork and beef, those are the things we’d be most concerned about. About 10-percent of our food is imported and beef produced in Australia and New Zealand is grass-fed and therefore leaner and good for grinding with our marbled corn-fed US beef to make premium 90- or 95-percent hamburger. Lawrence says there are still lots of questions about how Country of Origin Labeling will be put into affect. How we document it, for example, and know a retailer’s “Product of the US” label is accurate, as Lawrence says people disagree about what it takes. Lawrence says the Country of Origin proposal is still in a tentative stage and no final decision’s been reached on whether all foods must be labeled, or just those that were NOT entirely produced in the U-S. What’s important for producers is that it becomes mandatory in September 2004, so this spring’s calves will need documentation when they’re sold for meat and farmers need to think how they’ll handle that. Lawrence says the ear-tags farmers use already and records kept on cattle will be enough to verify their local origin, and hogs are generally kept in groups from birth to slaughterhouse so a “paper trail” is enough to confirm their identity.
Archives for February 2003
A juvenile suspect has been identified but no charges have been filed in a weekend arson fire in western Iowa that wiped out more than three-dozen Porta-Johns. Terry Moores owns Moores’ Pumping and Portable Toilets in the Harrison County town of Woodbine.Moores says he lost 37 toilets, two trailers and a pickup truck in the fire. The plastic portable toilets had all been lined up in a cluster while they were in winter storage. He says a youngster apparently got into one of them Sunday and set a roll of toilet paper ablaze.Moores says the Iowa Fire Marshal’s Office is still investigating the incident. Since the Porta-Johns are virtually all plastic, it wouldn’t be expected they’d be a big target for an arsonist, but Moores says the rows of toilets went up in flames fairly fast.Moores says “you’ll never get it lit” if you go into a Porta-John and try to set it on fire with a lighter, but he says once the petroleum-based plastic is flaming, “it’s just gone.” Moores estimates the damage at 24-to-26-thousand dollars. He says the toilets were -not- insured and represented about one-third of his toilet inventory. He says he’ll simply buy more and “go back to work.”
Republicans initially called the wage package negotiated with the state’s largest employee union reasonable, but have changed their tune and are threatening to change union bargaining rules. Language that forbids unpaid furloughs ensures worker layoffs according to Senate President Mary Kramer, a republican from Clive. Kramer says she’s “sad for many employees” because “their union leadership deserted them.” Kramer says younger, less-senior workers are going to bear the brunt of the temporary and permanent layoffs. House Republican Leader Chuck Gipp of Decorah says it’s premature to guess at how many state workers will lose their jobs, but he says the pay package has dealt a blow to efforts to spend more on education.Senate Republican Leader Stewart Iverson of Dows says the system negotiated for raising long-time workers’ pay is out of line with the private sector. Iverson cites the example of a state worker at a certain pay grade who was earning 37-thousand dollars in 1999 could see a 46 percent boost in the salary over six years. He says he doubts any employee in the state of Iowa would have the potential for a 46-percent increase in pay.But Governor Tom Vilsack defends the agreement in the face of republican lawmakers’ criticism.Vilsack says the contract could have been much more expensive if he had insisted on putting the contract negotiations in the hand of an arbitrator.Vilsack says the arbitrator has to pick one side or the other, and there was a “very real risk” the arbitrator would choose the union’s side, which would have provided a much more lucrative contract for state workers. Vilsack says union negotiations are “very complex” and “it’s easy to criticize.” Unlike legislators, Vilsack’s not ready to say layoffs are imminent. He says layoffs could come if legislators reject some of his ideas for collecting more state taxes, for instance to start trying to collect state sales taxes on Internet sales. Senate Democrat Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says a 33 million dollar pay package for state workers is not exorbitant. Gronstal says it’s unfortunate that republicans are pointing the finger of blame for state budget woes at state employees.
A new book coming out in April features black-and-white portraits of Iowa’s grand old barns. The aging outbuildings fascinated Michael Harker, a professional photographer at the University of Iowa. It started when he was pheasant-hunting near Clutier, and saw a weathervane leaning against a barn; struck by how nice a photo it would make, Harker went back the following week and got permission to take a picture. Harker says he then realized Iowa’s losing barns fast and decided to put his energy into making a serious documentary. Harker went in search of sponsors, and eventually got the attention of “Humanities Iowa,” which led to a decision by University of Iowa Press to publish a book of the photos. He says as time passes, the pictures show a vanishing part of Iowa’s history because the barns are going away.Several barns that are pictured in the book have been damaged by storm, torn down by corporate buyers of the old family farms, or just have fallen to decay. 20 of Harker’s photos were displayed around the state as part of the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Barn Again.” The book, “Harker’s Barns — Visions of an American Icon” is due out in April but Harker says you can order it now and find it at some bookstores.
Gas prices jumped up again in Iowa in the last few days, and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says there’s no explanation other than oil companies taking advantage of consumers. He says it’s speculation and he says he thinks the oil companies are “making a bundle” by raising their prices. Harkin, a democrat, says the oil companies are playing on fears of war. He says they’re using the uncertainty of the war to hike up their prices. Harkin says if we do go to war, he thinks gas prices will go even higher. Gas prices in the Des Moines area jump 10 to 15 cents in the last two days.
Northern Iowa farmers will soon be able to invest in a new fuel-making factory. After the start-up of a 45-million-gallon per year ethanol plant in rural Lakota, Midwest Grain Processors plans to offer six-million shares of stock to eligible farmers during March. M-G-P officials say informational meetings will be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Algona, Lakota, Estherville, Mason City, Riceville and Lake Mills.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says President Bush’s speech last night on Iraq has raised more questions about where the country is headed. He says it sounds like the president is proposing that we occupy Iraq for a long period of time. Harkin, a democrat, says transforming Iraq into a democracy won’t happen overnight. He says that’s whey he thinks the president is being “Pollyannish” in his outlook for Iraq. Harkin says we’d all wish it’d be a democracy, but he says it’s going to take a long time. Harkin says there’s much we don’t know about occupying Iraq. He says the president has not answered how long we’re going to be there, how many troops it will take, and how much it will cost.
A former U.S. President will speak in eastern Iowa in about a month. University of Iowa Lecture Committee member Thomas Kroeger says it’s taken months of letter-writing, but former President Bill Clinton has agreed to speak on campus at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Kroeger, a first-year law student at the U-of-I, says he’s stunned Clinton is actually coming. The title of Clinton’s address is tentatively “Embracing Our Humanity: Global Security in the 21st Century.” Kroeger says the 42nd President will receive the U-of-I Lecture Committee’s Distinguished Lecture Medallion during his appearance at the university. He says the tickets are free but need to be obtained in advance. Kroeger says 11-thousand free tickets will be available through the U-of-I Box Office starting Friday for the Clinton speech in Iowa City, scheduled for March 26. All tickets will be for reserved seating, and there is a two-ticket limit per person.
Legislators of both parties have decided the state should assemble a two billion dollar pot of money to lure biotech and life science companies to Iowa. That’s four times what Governor Vilsack originally suggested. Senator Jeff Lamberti, a republican from Ankeny, says legislators want the state to make a big splash. Lamberti says they want to start at a place that’s big and bold, and “extremely large.”Lamberti says they haven’t decided how they’d raise the money yet — the Farm Bureau has suggested a statewide property tax that’d leverage the two billion. Nor have legislators decided how the two billion would be spent. This would be a departure from the idea of the state being a “pay-as-you-go” operation.Lamberti says he’s never one to say all debt is bad, especially if money can be borrowed in a “financially responsible way.”
The president of the American Hospital Association says finding people to work in hospitals in Iowa and the rest of the United States is a big problem. Dick Davidson was in Des Moines Wednesday for the Iowa Hospital Association’s annual legislative day. He says the industry has the biggest worker shortage they’ve had in contemporary history, from nurses to accountants to pharmacists. The shortage of nurses has hit Iowa hard. Davidson says hospitals have a tougher time now getting women into the field.He says women have many more options for careers now than they used to have. Davidson says they’ve tried to get more men into nursing, but have only gotten the numbers up to five or six percent. He says there seems to still be a stigma for men over the term “nurse.” He says to nurse means to nurture and maybe that’s a turn off for men. He says maybe they should call it something different, like medic. Davidson says they also need to look at hiring more minorities and recruiting older people looking for a second career into the nursing home. He says there has been some good news lately. He says there’s been more interest in nursing recently, but he says they’ve found a lack of spots in schools to train them. Davidson says paperwork is another problems facing hospitals. He says for every inpatient hour in the hospital, workers have to do 30 minutes of paperwork. He says the Medicare system needs to be overhauled as the Medicare payment system is broken and we keep putting little patches on it. He says it needs to be reworked as it is out of date. Hospital administrators at the meeting were bused to the state capitol to meet with their legislators yesterday afternoon.