The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Editorial round-up: Editorial writers sound off on rural issues, trans fats


Omaha World-Herald on the need for a farm bill

The track record of Congress in neglecting its basic duties is remarkable. Lawmakers’ most glaring irresponsibility is of course the failure to pass an actual budget, let alone any type of serious, long-term fiscal agreement.

Among the most frustrating failures of Congress is the continuing inability to agree on a farm bill. This week there’s a smidgen of hope. A group of four key members of Congress — leaders on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees — are meeting on the issue and signaling that they’re determined to hash out a final resolution.

A report in the National Journal said that at a larger congressional meeting on the farm bill, more than 40 lawmakers defended their parochial ag interests but also indicated they’re willing, given the repeated failures on this issue, to seek reasonable compromise.

Not so encouraging was the comment from House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., about who will be expected to find a solution to the never-ending bickering and posturing over how much to cut from the food stamp budget. That duty, Peterson said, will fall to President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — three leaders who have shown repeatedly that they seem able to do little more than kick the budget can down the road.

Members of Congress are sent to Washington to see to the interests of our nation as a whole, and it’s crucial that America’s ag sector has the predictability to plan for the future. Even lawmakers from predominantly urban districts ought to recognize that fact.

Agriculture not only puts the food on our nation’s tables. It’s important, too, for our export economy. In 2011, America exported $136 billion in farm and ranch products, giving our country a trade surplus of $37 billion for the ag sector. One in three U.S. farm acres is planted for export.

In 2010, government farm payments to Nebraska producers totaled $509 million. That was about one-eighth of total net farm income in the state, according to a report on Nebraska’s economy prepared for the Legislature’s Planning Committee.

Over the years, the amount of government farm payments going to Nebraska’s ag sector (primarily to crop producers) has varied widely year to year. In 1994, such assistance totaled around $380 million. By 1998, the amount rose to $1.4 billion. It soon fell and by 2002 totaled $580 million. As mentioned, total aid for 2010 was $509 million.

Nebraska had 46,800 farms and ranches during 2011 with an average size of 972 acres. Iowa that year had 92,300 farms averaging 333 acres.

In addition to the food stamp issue, it appears that a key disagreement in Washington is pitting calls from Midwestern lawmakers for payments to cover “shallow losses” not covered by crop insurance against calls from Southern representatives seeking higher target prices.

So, lawmakers and lobbyists have a choice to make: They can stick to their guns and prolong this stalemate, or they can do the right thing and work out sensible compromise on final legislation.

No one should minimize the difficulty in working out such technical issues, but the right answer is obvious. The nation needs a farm bill. It’s time for Congress to deliver.

Lincoln Journal Star on rural America

That was a daunting statistic that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pulled out in Lincoln last week.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, “Not a single net new job has been created in rural America. For the first time in history, we’ve lost population, 42,000 in two years,” Vilsack said.

The relentless wheel of change keeps turning.

For decades, the mechanization of agriculture eliminated the need for human labor in planting, harvesting and caring for animals. A square mile in rural Nebraska typically might have supported four families. These days, there might be one. Farmsteads were abandoned, overgrown and finally bulldozed away, as the countryside emptied of people.

But, as Vilsack affirmed at the second annual Rural Futures Conference sponsored by the University of Nebraska, rural America matters immensely to the nation and the world.

Rural America supplies the nation with food, energy, water and places for recreation.

Opportunities abound.

Importantly, the technological change that once diminished opportunities in rural American now is entering a phase that creates new prospects.

The mobile communication devices that seem permanently attached to the American hands are redefining the meaning of community, said keynote speaker Tom Koulopoulos, founder of the Delphi Group.

“Kids are growing up constantly connected to each other and their devices. These devices become part of their community,” he said.

Historically, people have gathered in cities to conduct commerce and communicate. That no longer is necessary.

Future generations will depart from cities in a “mass exodus,” Koulopoulos predicted.

“These kids want meaning. They want quality. They want a better life. Kids realize they don’t have to live in cities to get it.”

It’s important for state policymakers to do their part. Key to the future envisioned by Koulopoulos and others is the infrastructure to support those devices.

And high-quality broadband is threatened by the impending loss of federal subsidies. Consultant Michael Balhoff warned last month that without adequate broadband service, sparsely populated rural areas will become an “economic wasteland.”

Already, the presence of broadband service in small towns spurs economic activity, University of Nebraska-Lincoln economist Eric Thompson said. Those towns also are likely to have more 18- to 43-year-olds and residents with college degrees, he said.

“We have not realized the full potential of what could be achieved by leveraging our resources, our intellectual capacity and our energy,” NU President James B. Milliken said. He’s right.

McCook Daily Gazette on the trans fat ban

Outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has earned the moniker “The Nanny” for his many efforts to force Big Apple residents to adopt healthier lifestyles.

You’ve probably heard comedians poking fun of his ban of the “Big Gulp,” although the regulation actually limits sugary soda sizes when served with meals, not when purchased from convenience stores.

But there is plenty of ammunition for the pundits.

Under Bloomberg’s watch, food service providers were forced to post calorie counts on menus, tried to bar people from using food stamps to buy soda and tried to have an extra penny per ounce of tax on sugary soda, banned smoking in most outdoor places, and wants food makers and restaurants to reduce sodium by 25 percent.

All of these efforts have spread to other parts of the country, and this week, the Food and Drug Administration chimed in by proposing a virtual ban on trans fats — one of the first steps taken by Bloomberg in New York, in 2005.

The FDA pulled trans fats from the list of foods “generally recognized as safe,” the first step toward eliminating them from the food supply altogether.

Some trans fats occur normally, but most of them are created by exposure to hydrogen gas, which turns them to a solid. That made them popular for baking and frying because they lasted a long time, and in margarine, because they were cheaper than animal fats like butter.

Trans fats are found in a variety of frozen, canned and baked processed foods. Partially hydrogenated oils are the major dietary source of trans fats in processed food.

But scientists began to find evidence that they were worse for us than any other fat because they raise the levels of “bad cholesterol” and lower the levels of “good cholesterol,” and could be linked to a higher risk of heart attack.

The FDA has already required them to be listed on labels, and many fast-food restaurants found substitutes for them in frying.

It worked; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that blood levels of trans fatty acids among white adults in the United States declined by 58 percent from 2000 to 2009.

The FDA’s commissioner said the new rules, if finalized, could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

Civil libertarians no doubt see the move as further government intrusion into our private lives, but it is not hard to justify banning an artificial fat that usually doesn’t occur in nature.

And, with the pending implementation of the Affordable Care Act the government has even more reason — justified or not — for intruding into our personal dietary habits.


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