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Mexico, Wal-Mart act to improve farmworkers’ lives

LOS ANGELES – The Mexican government has formed an alliance of produce industry groups that will work on enforcing wage laws and improving housing, schools and health care for labourers at export farms following a newspaper’s investigation of abuses at…

Pot legalization backers discuss next steps in California

SAN FRANCISCO – Marijuana legalization proponents are gathering in San Francisco this weekend to hear about efforts to add the nation’s most populous — and arguably most pot-infused — state to the four others where it is now legal for adults to buy and use the drug recreationally.

The International Cannabis Business Conference on Sunday and Monday is expected to draw about 1,000 investors, entrepreneurs and activists from California and elsewhere for an overview of the legalization landscape.

Advocacy groups are now drafting a 2016 ballot initiative that could transform California from a place where only medical marijuana is legal to a global centre of state-approved recreational weed.

The measure’s passage might seem like a foregone conclusion after voters in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska legalized marijuana use and obliged their governments to develop guidelines for how and where pot can be grown, sold and taxed.

However, conference organizer Alex Rogers says the size of California’s existing medical marijuana industry and the few restrictions on it means it will take some effort to persuade all the relevant players that complete legalization would be a step forward.

The state previously defeated another effort to legalize recreational use in 2010.

“California has a huge task ahead of them,” said Rogers, who owns two medical marijuana clinics in Oregon. “Sometimes these big institutional events can give people this ‘kumbaya’ feeling even if it’s momentary and there can be some simpatico consensus that starts to take place.”

Issues that remain to be resolved in the California effort include whether recreational pot users would be allowed to grow their own plants, as medical marijuana users and patient collectives can do now, and whether the hundreds of store-front dispensaries and delivery services that sell medical marijuana will get to stay in business, vie for a limited number of commercial sales licenses or close up shop.

One of the main speakers at the two-day conference will be U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a 13-term Orange County Republican who has emerged as a leading voice of marijuana law reform on Capitol Hill. Also scheduled to appear is travel guidebook writer Rick Steves, another outspoken supporter of marijuana legalization.

The New York-based Drug Police Alliance, a national advocacy group that has an established presence in California, is expected to have a significant role in next year’s likely legalization campaign. Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann acknowledged that forming an effective campaign coalition that unites people who have an interest in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and those who feel threatened by it is going to take work.

“This is not going to be a labour of love. This is going to be a labour of labour,” said Nadelmann, who is also scheduled to speak at the weekend conference.

Backers of legalization have until late August to submit a proposed initiative to the secretary of state and until April 2016 to gather signatures needed to qualify a measure for the November ballot.

ICE Futures Canada prices higher

WINNIPEG – ICE Futures Canada closing prices:Canola: March ’15 $4.20 higher $467.40; May ’15 $3.50 higher $463.10; July ’15 $2.90 higher $458.80; Nov ’15 $2.60 higher $448.40; Jan. ’16 $2.80 higher $451.30; March ’16 $2.90 higher $455.30; May ’16 $2.80…

FDA panel to review application for ‘modified risk’ tobacco

RICHMOND, Va. – A Food and Drug Administration panel is planning to review smokeless tobacco maker Swedish Match’s request to certify its General-branded pouches of tobacco as less harmful than cigarettes.

The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee has scheduled a two-day meeting beginning April 9 to discuss the request that the agency approve the snus (pronounced “snoose”) products as “modified risk.”

Snus — teabag-like pouches or loose tobacco that users stick between their cheek and gum to get their nicotine fix — are popular in Scandinavian countries and are part of a growing smokeless tobacco market in the U.S.

In an application filed in June, the company, whose North American headquarters is in Richmond, Virginia, is proposing to say the snus products are addictive but substantially less risky than smoking. The company also wants permission to remove one of the required health warning labels relating to oral cancer.

The advisory panel’s review and FDA’s ultimate action on the application are being closely watched by both the public health community and tobacco companies, which are looking for new products to sell as they face declining cigarette demand due to tax increases, health concerns, smoking bans and social stigma. Many panels advise the FDA on scientific issues. The agency doesn’t have to follow their recommendations but usually does.

Swedish Match’s application also highlights a philosophical debate over how best to control tobacco. One camp says there’s no safe way to use tobacco and pushes for people to quit above all else. Others embrace the idea that lower-risk alternatives like smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes can improve public health, if they mean fewer people smoke.

The entire review process is expected to take about a year under a 2009 law that gave the FDA authority to evaluate tobacco products for their health risks and lets the agency approve ones that could be marketed as safer than others. None has been given the OK yet, but the agency has noted that some tobacco products could pose less of a health risk to users than smoking.

General (pronounced gen-er-AHL) snus was first sold in Sweden in mid-1860s and has been sold in the U.S. since 2007 by the subsidiary of Stockholm-based Swedish Match AB. It is currently available nationwide in more than 20,000 stores and is kept in small chillers to preserve the product. The brand has at least a 6 per cent share of the retail market, which is dominated by Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc., which sells the market-leading Camel-branded snus, and Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., which sells Marlboro-branded snus.


Michael Felberbaum can be reached at .

Events in Canada’s 2003 mad cow crisis

A look back at Canada’s mad cow crisis 2003-2005:

May 20, 2003: Canadian Food Inspection Agency announces a black Angus cow from northern Alberta has been found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy. United States immediately closes its border to Canadian beef and cattle. About 40 countries follow suit.

June 17: Federal Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief announces a beef industry compensation package, cost-shared with provinces, of up to $460 million. A day later, he announces changes to slaughter rules: cattle tissues at high risk to carry BSE — notably brain and spinal cord — must be removed at the slaughterhouse from cattle older than 2.

Aug. 8: U.S. and Mexico partially lift ban on some Canadian beef products.

Dec. 23: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announces the first U.S. case of mad cow — a Holstein in Washington state. About 30 countries eventually close their borders to U.S. beef. Canada imposes a partial ban.

Jan. 6, 2004: DNA tests confirm the Washington cow came from an Alberta herd.

Jan. 9: Bob Speller, successor to Vanclief as agriculture minister, announces $92 million will be spent over five years to increase mad cow testing.

Feb. 24: Statistics Canada reports farm income fell to its lowest level in three years in 2003 due in part to the mad cow crisis.

March 22: Prime Minister Paul Martin visits Alberta cattle country to announce an extra $995 million in mad cow aid. Two-thirds will go directly to cattle producers.

April 19: U.S. government changes import rules and begins accepting more beef products from Canada. It later reaches a deal with R-CALF USA, a protectionist cattle group, to halt imports of Canadian-processed beef products.

Nov. 29: Report from BMO’s economics department says Canadian cattle producers have lost about $5 billion since the crisis began.

Dec. 29: U.S. announces plans to reopen the border March 7, 2005, to nearly all Canadian exports of beef and live cattle.

Dec. 30: CFIA announces that preliminary tests show BSE is suspected in a 10-year-old Alberta dairy cow. U.S. officials say the news won’t change plan to reopen the border.

Jan. 2, 2005: Tests confirm dairy cow has BSE. American Meat Institute, a packers’ lobby, sues U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove all restrictions on Canadian beef.

Jan. 11: Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell confirms another case of BSE in Canada, again in an Alberta cow, probably due to contaminated feed. Officials say no part of the animal has entered human food or animal feed systems.

Jan. 13: Wilhelm Vohs, owner of latest Alberta mad cow, says he used commercial feed sold a year after federal rules banned ruminant parts in cattle feed.

Jan 14: Alberta Premier Ralph Klein says humans would have to eat billions of servings of bovine spinal cords, eyeballs and tonsils to get mad cow disease.

Jan 20: New research suggests proteins that cause BSE can be found in more tissues than previously thought.

Feb. 11: CFIA investigation into the last case of mad cow disease in Canada concludes that feeds manufactured after the national ban on parts in feed probably spread the disease.

Feb 25: Report by U.S. Agriculture Department technical team says Canada has robust inspection, overall compliance with feed ban is good and ban is reducing risk of BSE transmission in Canadian cattle.

March 2: U.S. judge slams shut the door to live Canadian cattle and expanded beef imports, granting R-CALF’s request to postpone reopening the border.

March 3: U.S. senators voice fierce resistance to resuming cattle trade with Canada. Vote 52-46 to reject U.S. Agriculture Department’s plan to start importing Canadian cattle.

March 7: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba pledge more money to help beef industry.

March 10: Ottawa kicks in $50 million for a campaign to reclaim and expand markets for Canadian beef.

March 11: The National Meatpackers Association files a long-shot emergency appeal with a San Francisco court to try to overturn a Montana judge’s ruling that Canadian beef poses health hazards.

March 17: U.S. officials announce decision to appeal the court-imposed extension of the border closure.

March 29: Agriculture minister Mitchell announces that Canadian farmers will get $1 billion more in income support.

April 11: Canada’s cattle producers file four class-action lawsuits accusing the federal government of negligence on the BSE file. Seek $7 billion in compensation.

April 12: Former inspector for the U.S Agriculture Department says his government is covering up mad cow disease. Lester Friedlander says he was fired from his job as head of inspections at a large meat-packing plant in Philadelphia in 1995 after criticizing what he called unsafe practices.

May 18: Alberta Agriculture Minister Doug Horner announces that province will require high-tech branding to verify age of all cattle slaughtered after March 2007.

June 29: Washington confirms a case of mad cow in a cow from Texas that was killed in November.

July 14: Federal appeals court in San Francisco overturns ban on Canadian cattle. Hours later, the U.S. agriculture secretary reopens border to live Canadian cattle.

ICE Futures Canada prices higher

WINNIPEG – ICE Futures Canada closing prices:Canola: March ’15 $1.60 higher $463.20; May ’15 $1.70 higher $459.60; July ’15 $1.50 higher $455.90; Nov ’15 $1.20 higher $445.80; Jan. ’16 $2.40 higher $448.50; March ’16 $5.30 higher $452.40; May ’16 $6.30…

ICE Futures Canada prices higher

WINNIPEG – ICE Futures Canada closing prices:Canola: March ’15 $4.00 higher $461.60; May ’15 $4.40 higher $457.90; July ’15 $4.70 higher $454.40; Nov ’15 $4.80 higher $444.60; Jan. ’16 $4.80 higher $446.10; March ’16 $4.80 higher $447.10; May ’16 $4.20…

US farmers expected to see 32 per cent drop in income in 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa – Net income for farmers is expected to fall by nearly 32 per cent this year as corn and soybean prices remain low and expenses creep higher, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report Tuesday.

While some farmers renting land at higher prices will find it an unprofitable year, the statistics are not as dire as they may sound for farmers in general, since just two years ago income was at a record high, farm economists said.

“It’s neither happy times nor is the sky falling in terms of agriculture incomes,” said Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Agriculture Department estimates would mean farmers in the United States would see income fall for a second year in a row. It was down 16 per cent from 2013 to 2014. The report forecasts net income at $73.6 billion in 2015, down from $108 billion in 2014. It was at a record $129 billion in 2013.

Crop receipts are expected to fall nearly 8 per cent, driven by a dramatic fall in grain prices. Corn, for example, was at a record high, exceeding $8 a bushel in the summer of 2012, but is trading under $4 now. Soybeans had a similar decline. Livestock prices generally have been high, delivering exceptional profits — particularly for hog farmers — but a pig virus cut herds last year and cattle herds haven’t yet fully recovered from drought years when numbers declined.

Even as income falls, expenses for things like fertilizer and seed are rising by one-half of a per cent, the USDA said.

“There will be some farmers that do face financial stress, that’s for sure, but there’s also going to be a tremendous amount of farm payments going out,” said Bruce Babcock, professor of economics at Iowa State University.

The USDA reports show government programs that pay farmers when commodity prices are low will rise 15 per cent this year.

“It’s making it a tight squeeze for the grain farmer,” said Jerry Main, 76, who plants corn and soybeans on just under 500 acres in the southeast part of the state. “There’s a lot of negotiating going on between tenants and landlords trying to get cash rents reduced. I’m not hearing landlords are giving too much yet.”

He said farmers and landowners realize another drought or severe weather in the corn belt could push grain prices higher and change things dramatically.

Farmers who own land with a low cost of production will likely still make a profit, while those who rent land at higher prices will struggle.

Those with high costs will likely try to cut household expenses, will avoid making any large purchases for equipment and will try to cut costs for fertilizer and other inputs.

Another USDA report released Tuesday shows California remains the top state in gross farm receipts with $47.78 billion, about 10 per cent of the national receipts.

Iowa remains second with more than $35.5 billion in farm receipts. Rounding out the top five are Nebraska, Texas and Illinois.

ICE Futures Canada prices lower

WINNIPEG – ICE Futures Canada closing prices:Canola: March ’15 $2.10 lower $457.60; May ’15 $2.60 lower $453.50; July ’15 $2.60 lower $449.70; Nov ’15 $2.20 lower $439.80; Jan. ’16 $2.20 lower $441.30; March ’16 $2.20 lower $442.30; May ’16 $2.20 lower…