Ag Notebook: Debate on public water initiative; Appeals Court favors meat labels; JBS cited for inhumane handling; 25 companies phasing out animal antibiotics
April 2, 2014
Public Trust Doctrine rolling around again
A number of Colorado officials, water boards and organizations again are opposing the latest version of a public trust initiative that could be headed to a state ballot.
Some have even passed resolutions, saying the initiative could upend state water law by changing the state constitution.
Versions of the same type of ballot initiative have been presented over the last 20 years.
Currently, Initiative No. 103, sponsored by Phillip Doe of Littleton and Barbara Mills-Bria of Lakewood, would allow any citizen to petition courts to preserve water against "substantial impairment" of air or water in Colorado. It also suggests criminal penalties for any person, corporation or entity that manipulates data or scientific information in an attempt to make a profit.
Colorado water law now is based on the doctrine of prior appropriation, which declares public ownership of water, but distributes water rights according to the date they were first put to beneficial use.
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— Staff reports
Appeals court rules in favor of meat labels
A federal appeals court is allowing labels on certain cuts of meat to say where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
According to reports, the appeals court decision issued Friday dismissed an attempt by some in the meat industry to block the rules, which took effect last year and require packaged steaks, ribs and other cuts of meat to include country of origin labels. The industry has long fought the labels, saying they are costly and provide no health benefits to the consumer.
In court, the meat industry said the rules go beyond what Congress intended and violate First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The industry argued that the rules violate the U.S. Constitution because they force meat producers to provide information about their products, and that the information is of no real value to the consumer.
Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled those claims were unlikely to succeed in court and refused to block the labeling rules, agreeing with a lower federal court.
Some ag groups applauded the Federal Appeals Court ruling. Those groups included R-CALF USA, Food & Water Watch, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, all of which had taken part in the case.
— Staff reports
JBS cited for inhumane handling of livestock
The JBS USA meat-packing plant in Greeley, Colo., was cited by federal officials this month for inhumane handling of livestock.
A report, issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that on March 6, the Food Safety and Inspection Service issued Swift Beef Company, Inc. in Greeley — the JBS facility on 8th Avenue — a Notice of Intended Enforcement.
The report described plant employees moving cattle from one pen to another, when an "animal was observed to trip, fall down and break a hind leg. The plant employee decided to knock the animal in the pen using a .22 caliber rifle. The animal 'went wild' after the first shot, which did not produce immediate unconsciousness, circling its head, falling over, running into the fence, and at one point charged toward the pen supervisor. The animal was observed to be breathing heavily and bleeding at the mouth. The animal was shot five more times, which took roughly five minutes to render it unconscious."
According to the USDA report, the FSIS District Office in Denver received a written response from JBS on March 7, assuring it would prevent any future occurrences of inhumane handling of livestock.
After reviewing the response, FSIS issued a request for further information. On March 10, the Denver District Office received the requested response from JBS, providing further clarification to its proposed corrective actions and preventative measures.
The USDA report says that after reviewing JBS's second response, FSIS officials would "defer a decision on an enforcement action pending verification by FSIS inspection personnel that Swift Beef Company, Inc. (Greeley) … has effectively implemented its proposed corrective measures."
— Staff reports
25 drug companies to phase out animal antibiotics
Twenty-five pharmaceutical companies are voluntarily phasing out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animals processed for meat, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
Citing a potential threat to public health, the agency in December asked 26 companies to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important for treating human infection as acceptable for animal growth promotion. The FDA did not name the one company that has not agreed to withdraw or revise its drugs.
According to an Associated Press report, the companies will either withdraw the drugs from animal use completely or revise them so they would only be able to be used with a veterinarian's prescription.
Withdrawing the animal drugs is designed to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans as that resistance has become a growing public health problem. Repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to the drug so that it is no longer effective in treating a particular illness.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released estimates that more than 23,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant infections.
— Staff reports
White House plan targets methane emissions
The White House announced a wide-ranging plan Friday aimed at cutting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling, landfills and other sources, part of President Barack Obama's strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
According to numerous reports, the White House plan, which could lead to several new regulations on energy production and waste management, comes amid concerns about increased methane emissions resulting from an ongoing boom in drilling for oil and natural gas.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas released by landfills, cattle and leaks from oil and gas production. It is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, the most abundant global warming gas, although it doesn't stay in the air as long.
Methane emissions make up about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to government estimates.
— Staff reports
Ag's exemptions, exclusions from Clean Water Act expanded
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation's water resources.
The agencies, according to an EPA news release, are launching a robust outreach effort over the next 90 days, holding discussions around the country and gathering input needed to shape a final rule.
Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.
The proposed rule also preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 53 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements.
Any ag activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.
For more information, go to http://www.epa.gov/uswaters.
— Staff reports
EPA & fed engineers seek clear power to protect streams & wetlands
Thousands of miles of Colorado streams would gain stricter protection under a new approach the Obama administration unveiled this week.
The goal is to prevent further fouling, filling-in and dredging of streams, tributaries and wetlands by requiring polluters to obtain permits. The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the change.
Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 forced federal authorities trying to contain pollution to first prove a stream is linked with "navigable waters." The new approach would allow regulation of all flowing waters, including temporary streams — while preserving exemptions for agriculture.
EPA data show that 77,850 miles of waterways in Colorado are temporary — only flowing seasonally or during rain — and are deemed at-risk because it's not clear whether polluters can be controlled.
The American Farm Bureau and land developers oppose the change, saying it would impose un-necessary burdens on their activities. However, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler sent a letter to federal authorities applauding their efforts to make sure the rule would exclude ditches, ponds and irrigation systems – preserving farming and forestry exemptions.
The proposed change faces 90 days of public comment and possible review by Congress, which could take months.
— The Denver Post
Lesser prairie chicken placed on threatened species list
The federal government on Thursday designated the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, a long-anticipated announcement that politicians warned could set off a possible battle over states' rights.
The lesser prairie chicken is a species of grouse with feathered feet and striped plumage. It lives in Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado.
The bird's habitat has shrunk by more than 80 percent since the 19th century, as the once-open prairie has transformed into a mosaic of farms, ranches and towns, crisscrossed by roads, fences and power lines. The introduction of wind turbines and oil and gas wells further reduced the native grasslands preferred by lesser prairie chickens, which once were plentiful on the Great Plains.
According to a McClatchy-Tribune Washington Bureau report, the bird's population hit a record low of 17,616 birds last year, a reduction of 50 percent from 2012.
Threatened status means federal officials believe the bird will likely be in danger of extinction soon. The designation is one step beneath endangered and provides for more flexible protections under the Endangered Species Act, Ashe said.
The move has prompted anxiety among landowners and threats of defiance from politicians in the bird's five-state habitat. They worry the listing could wreak havoc on their economies by limiting land use and raising regulatory costs. ❖ — Staff reports