Ag Today Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ag Today

Thursday, January 7, 2016


Los Angeles Times

Eggs and coffee get the all-clear in new dietary guidelines just issued by the U.S.

By Melissa Healy

In the first slate of nutritional recommendations it has issued since 2011, the federal government on Thursday gave Americans the go-ahead to eat eggs and others foods rich in cholesterol, to drink as many as five cups of coffee daily and to enjoy a range of fats long avoided by many.

The new dietary guidelines, issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, are the first ever to recommend a limit — 10% of daily calories — to the amount of added sugars Americans should consume.

That recommendation poses the guidelines’ toughest challenge for Americans, said Tom Brenna, professor of chemistry and human nutrition at Cornell University. Currently, some 13% of Americans’ daily calories comes from added sugar, a proportion that rises to 15 to 17% for children and teens.

Driving those levels down would require steep reductions in sugary snacks and sodas, said Brenna, who served on a scientific advisory group for the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. And it could drive manufacturers of processed foods — a source of much hidden added sugar — to reformulate their products either by reducing sugar or replacing it with substitute sweeteners, he added.

Saturated fats, too, should account for no more than 10% of a person’s daily calorie intake, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend. That puts red meat, butter, cheese and high-fat dairy products such as ice cream and whole milk in a category of foods to be eaten sparingly.

The new guidelines stopped short of advising avoidance of processed meats — recently deemed carcinogenic by the World Health Organization — or of red meats, which the WHO called “probably carcinogenic.” But the guidelines’ fine print for the first time does single out teenage boys and men as a group that needs to “reduce their overall intake of protein foods’” by eating less meat, poultry and eggs.

Such advice fits with a new emphasis on moving Americans away from meals built around animal protein and toward diets more heavily derived from plants. It is based on the recommendations of scientific advisors who broke new ground last February by drawing a link between the planet’s health and that of Americans. Adoption of diets lower in animal protein and richer in fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, the scientific advisors had argued, would lower rates of disease as well as ease pressure on the environment.

Issued every five years since 1980, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines set nutritional standards for state and federal programs such as school lunches, food stamps and programs benefiting children and pregnant women.

Increasingly, the recommendations are expected to translate current scientific findings on diet and nutrition into everyday guidance for Americans. That’s a tall order, both because many of the scientific findings remain controversial and because their complexity often defies efforts to simplify.

Essentially, the new guidelines nudge U.S. nutritional policy toward a traditional Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes consumption of fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes drenched in such fat sources as olive, nut, canola and soybean oils.

A stark contrast to a “Western diet” heavy on red meat, high-fat dairy and simple carbohydrates, the Mediterranean diet calls for moderate fish and chicken consumption and reliance on whole grains and little added sugar. Research comparing populations that follow the two dietary patterns consistently find that adherents of the Mediterranean diet have longer life spans and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

“By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in releasing the report early Thursday morning. “The Dietary Guidelines provide science-based recommendations on food and nutrition so people can make decisions that may help keep their weight under control, and prevent chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.”

In a news conference, Burwell noted that Americans make dietary decisions on the fly and in the midst of a swirling debate over nutrition. The new guidelines, which also will guide the advice on the popular federal website, should offer busy Americans specific but flexible ways to eat healthier.

“We may not be able to make broccoli taste like ice cream,” said Burwell. “But we can help make nutrition choices more understandable so families can make the best decisions for their health and for their homes.”

By removing dietary cholesterol as a “nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” the authors of the new guidelines bowed to research findings suggesting that eating foods rich in the fatty substance contributes only marginally to levels of cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream. Medications such as statins, getting regular physical activity and controlling one’s weight are now considered to be more effective ways to improve worrisome blood-cholesterol levels.

A day ahead of the guidelines’ release, however, those claims drew controversy. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that advocates for “a better future for people and animals,” on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The group charged that egg-industry interests powerfully influenced the research underpinning the new advice on cholesterol. As evidence, it noted that as many as four of the 14 outside experts who provided scientific advice to guideline drafters came from institutions that received substantial funds from the egg industry. That scientific advisory committee, the suit alleges, relied heavily on egg-industry-funded research findings when it recommended removing cholesterol as a “nutrient of concern” in February.

The American College of Cardiology also took pains on Thursday to tamp down exuberance about the guidelines’ shift on cholesterol.

“People do not need to obtain cholesterol through diet and should eat as little as possible,” said Dr. Kim Allan Williams, president of the cardiologists’ professional association.

Other aspects of the new guidelines are likely to spark debate as well.

Despite a growing debate over the public impact of limiting salt intake, the newly released guidelines held the line on sodium as a “nutrient of concern.”

Pointing to research linking excess sodium intake to high blood pressure and other health problems, the new guidelines recommend that Americans ages 14 and older limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day — the equivalent of a single teaspoon of table salt — and recommend lower levels for younger Americans.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that even before salt added at the table is considered, more than 90% of children and 89% of adults ages 19 and older consume sodium well in excess of the limits advised by the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Although some researchers and health organizations have advocated for even lower sodium limits, others have argued that lower limits could hurt some Americans, including those with heart failure.

Coffee, a beloved beverage that was long viewed with suspicion by physicians, got a surprising boost in the new guidelines. The committee of experts advising the guideline drafters cited mounting research showing that caffeine intake equivalent to three to five cups of coffee is not only safe, but also appears to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults. Caffeine may even protect against Parkinson’s disease, the evidence suggests.

Follow me on Twitter @LATMelissaHealy and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.



KCRA TV, Sacramento

Groundwater supply needs more rain despite recent storms

Recent rains monitored closely by water experts in Woodland

By Mike Luery

WOODLAND, Calif. (KCRA) —Water experts in Yolo County are actively monitoring water wells to measure the groundwater supply.

“It’s certainly going to have an impact,” said Tim O’Halloran, general manager of Yolo County’s Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

O’Halloran monitors 150 wells daily and 11 of them on a real-time basis using remote cameras from his Woodland office.

He said that while the recent rains have helped, many more storms are needed to make a dent in California’s four-year drought.

“The groundwater is depleted,” O’Halloran said. “The surface water is really depleted and the reservoirs. So it’s a promising start but the water managers aren’t relaxing yet.”

The groundwater supplies about 30 percent of the water in our region, according to the Northern California Water Association, which represents water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley.

“We’ve been in four-year of a drought,” said Todd Manley of the Northern California Water Association. “There’s been an increased reliance upon groundwater and their levels are going to drop because of that.”

In rice country, most farmers get their water from nearby rivers, but Jack DeWit’s rice farm in Elverta is supplied primarily from ground water.

“We’re thinking good times are back again,” said DeWit.

Farmers and water managers are encouraged by the January storms, but they know more rain is needed to supply water for a very thirsty California.



Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Drought Watch: Reservoirs starting to rise

By Andrew Creasey

After falling for months, water storage in local reservoirs is finally starting to rise, although there is still a long way to go to undo the damage of four consecutive drought years.

A series of El Niño-driven storms has 2016 off to a wet start, but water conditions at Yuba County’s largest reservoir, New Bullards Bar, are still drier than a year ago, said Curt Aikens, general manager for the Yuba County Water Agency.

Storage at New Bullards Bar is about 98,000 acre-feet lower than it was last year, which is mostly a product of a drier 2015 compared to 2014, Aikens said.

Currently, the reservoir holds about 398,000 acre-feet of its 796,000 acre-foot capacity. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.

Rainfall from July to the end of December in 2014 was about 20 inches.

Over that same period in 2015, rainfall was about 14 inches, which is in line with the long-term average, Aikens said.

Following a wet December in 2014, however, the precipitation basically stopped in 2015.

This year is off to a better start, with another series of storms expected in the area today and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Snowpack is also better compared to 2014, although the expected runoff is less than the 98,000 acre-feet gap at New Bullards Bar, Aikens said.

Snowpack in the Northern Sierras is 105 percent of normal for this time of year and 113 percent of normal in the Central Sierras, according to the Department of Water Resources.

Ultimately, the fate of YCWA water operations in 2016 will depend on precipitation over the next three to four months.

“Typically, we don’t know until April how the water year will turn out,” Aikens said. “We are hoping that El Niño brings the rainfall that has been in the news. For YCWA, an average snowpack and filling New Bullards Bar would go a long way to alleviating the drought.”

Elsewhere in Yuba County, Collins Lake, the primary source of water for the Browns Valley Irrigation District, has started to rise after bottoming out at 5 percent of its capacity in mid-December, said BVID General Manager Ryan McNally.

The lake is currently at 17 percent of its capacity, and recent rains have raised the level of the reservoir by almost 14 feet, McNally said.

“We’ve been fortunate in that the rain events have kept the soils saturated enough to allow runoff to make its way into the lake,” McNally said. “Unfortunately, we were so low this year that it will take more than our usual three to four good storms to fill it. Nevertheless, we are optimistic and every little bit helps.”

More rains on the way

Two more storm systems are expected to drop precipitation on Yuba-Sutter following a rainy Wednesday.

Lighter showers will continue through today and drop about a quarter inch of rain before tapering off in the evening, said Nathan Owen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Friday will be dry, but another storm is expected on Saturday, bringing about a half inch to an inch of rain starting in the morning and lasting through the evening, Owen said.



Los Angeles Times

Chipotle is subpoenaed in criminal probe tied to norovirus in Simi Valley

By Samantha Masunaga

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. said Wednesday that it was served with a federal grand jury subpoena in connection with a criminal investigation tied to a norovirus incident at a Simi Valley restaurant.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Denver restaurant chain said the subpoena, which was served in December, requires it to produce a “broad range of documents” related to the Chipotle restaurant in Simi Valley that experienced the “isolated” incident in August.

The investigation is being conducted by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration’s office of criminal investigations.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said in an email that the company does not discuss pending legal actions as a matter of policy, but that it would cooperate fully in the investigation.

Criminal inquiries related to food safety outbreaks are uncommon, but there has been increased attention on these issues and companies’ responses to them, especially after the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011. The measure focuses on preventing contamination.

“We’re sort of in new territory here,” said Michael Roberts, executive director of the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy at UCLA. “I think we’re seeing a new partnership between the FDA and prosecutors.”

In 2014, a federal jury convicted former Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell of knowingly shipping peanut butter contaminated with salmonella and covering up the evidence. Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in a 2009 salmonella outbreak that was blamed for nine deaths and linked to the company’s plant.

“The FDA … sent a clear signal that it’s going to use its criminal sections to focus on these food safety outbreaks,” Roberts said of the Peanut Corp. case. “It’s not so much the outbreak itself, it’s the response.”

Chipotle’s sales have been rocked by E. coli outbreaks linked to Chipotle restaurants in several states. In November, the chain temporarily closed 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon after 22 cases were initially linked to some of its eateries. Those restaurants have since reopened.

A month later, 141 Boston College students were reported to have contracted norovirus from eating at a Chipotle restaurant in Brighton, Mass. This separate outbreak was specifically mentioned in the company’s Wednesday SEC filing as worsening the “adverse financial and operating impacts” from the E. coli outbreak in October and November.

As of December, 53 people in nine states, including California, have been

affected by one norovirus strain, and five people in three states were hit by another, according to the FDA.

Chipotle’s December sales were down 30% from a year earlier, according to the SEC filing.

On Wednesday, shares of Chipotle sank $22.36, or nearly 5%, to $426.67.

Historically, Roberts said, companies have been able to rebound from food safety problems. Chains such as Jack in the Box and Taco Bell recovered from E. coli outbreaks related to food sold at their stores in the quarters and years after the event, according to an investors’ note from Credit Suisse analyst Jason West.

“It’s a different age where I think consumers are more sensitive to these issues or looking at them more closely,” Roberts said. “There’s a growing societal interest in food.”



Napa Valley Register

County asks how Vine Trail, vineyards can both thrive

By Barry Eberling

Figuring out how near planned Napa Valley Vine Trail segments should be allowed to pass Napa Valley’s famed vines is an issue that’s raising a row.

County supervisors had no instant solutions on Tuesday. But they are looking for ways that cyclists enjoying a trail can co-exist with farmers working with heavy equipment and spraying vineyards.

“I think this is a very healthy discussion, because we want to answer these questions before we start doing anything with asphalt,” Supervisor Mark Luce said.

He and other supervisors expressed optimism that answers will be found. They don’t want to see the planned biking and walking trail linking Vallejo and Calistoga have gaps amid a crucial, scenic stretch – the heart of Napa Valley.

George Watson has a farm north of St. Helena along Ehlers Lane and uses a helicopter to spray sulfur on his vines. He questioned how this would work if the Vine Trail passed by at the vineyard’s edge.

“I can just imagine a bicycle being dive-bombed by sulfur and going into the 8-foot ditch by my creek,” Watson told supervisors. “More likely, I or my helicopter pilot could be sued for negligence by somebody sensitive to sulfur.”

Chuck McMinn, who founded the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition, said that some people want to ban the Vine Trail from the county’s agricultural preserve.

“This would mean not building the Vine Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga and potentially not between Yountville and St. Helena,” he said.

About 10 miles of the planned, 47-mile-long Vine Trail are built and most of these sections are in cities. Now, attention is turning to building the trail in rural wine country.

Farmers who thought that the Vine Trail would be along Highway 29 for the length of the valley are learning otherwise. It could veer away in at least two sections.

One is part of the Calistoga-to-St. Helena segment between Big Tree Lane and Lodi Lane. The trail can’t be alongside Highway 29 in this area because the highway has too little right of way.

Another is north of Yountville, another area with vineyards and wineries. The Vine Trail between Yountville and St. Helena could follow a Napa Valley Wine Train right of way that doesn’t always hug Highway 29.

Some speakers at Tuesday’s meeting said that bikers and farmers already co-exist in close proximity in Napa County.

Walt Brooks owns a vineyard north of the city of Napa. Its vines are close to Dry Creek Road, one of the area’s most popular choices for runners, walkers and bikers who want to get out in the country.

He’s adapted by taking such steps as spraying near the road by hand, Brooks said.

“If you ride up Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, any of our major areas where bikers are riding, you will find vineyards very, very close to the road,” Brooks said.

Joel King made a similar point. The city of Napa has a trail at Stanly Ranch that makes use of a vineyard road. Bicyclists use roads such as Linda Vista Avenue north of Napa that pass near vineyards, he said.

“You can stand on the road and actually touch the vines,” he said.

Others are wary about allowing a trail in the agricultural preserve created in 1968 to protect Napa County’s prize crop.

Tod Mostero supervises vineyard management at Dominus Estate near Yountville and the Schmidt Ranch in Oakville. He’s concerned that the Vine Trail could go near these vineyards if it follows the Wine Train right of way.

“How would the Vine Trail keep cyclists and walkers from exiting the trail and wandering down the private access roads toward the vineyards?” he said. “What if someone stops to picnic off the trail?”

He wondered aloud about liability issues if someone strays from the trail into the vineyards and is hurt.

The Napa County Sheriff’s Office issued a report that looks at security issues. It recommended taking such steps as making certain the trail doesn’t have places for people to hide, putting up fences and installing lights in some areas.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors gathered information on a variety of Vine Trail issues, but took no votes.

“There’s ways to do this,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “Let’s figure out ways to get it done.”



Santa Barbara Independent

Santa Barbara Vintners’ $1.7 Billion Argument

Wine Industry Releases Economic Impact Report as Ordinance Update Looms

By Matt Kettmann

There’s no denying the steady growth of Santa Barbara’s wine country over the past few decades, but hard facts about the industry’s effect on the regional economy have been as elusive as a bottle of 1976 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir.

That changed this week when the Santa Barbara Vintners released a 27-page economic impact report to a very packed house at Alisal Ranch in Solvang, where a who’s who of more than 200 winemakers and their associates gathered for the annual association meeting on Tuesday. Through primary research, public data, and a widely accepted financial analysis formula used by the Federal Reserve and major corporations, the report concluded that the industry contributes a grand total of $1.7 billion to Santa Barbara County. That’s based on, among myriad other metrics, more than 5,700 direct jobs, $93 million in state and local taxes ($7.5 million of which go straight to county coffers), $2.4 million in charitable contributions, and 860,000 annual winery visitors.

Authored by Stonebridge Research, which has completed similar reports for 24 other wine regions since 2004, the report also showed potential for much more reaping, confirming what industry boosters have long claimed: that almost half the grapes grown in Santa Barbara County are shipped to other parts of the state to be made into wine, which means bigger bucks for those counties. But the research also revealed, to a few audible sighs in the Alisal crowd, that nearly 80 percent of Santa Barbara wines must use out-of-the-county resources of some sort, from warehousing and trucking to graphic artists and equipment brokers, before they are sold.

“It’s really a startling number,” said lead author Barbara Insel, who estimated that another 2,000-plus full-time positions and $300 million more could be created in Santa Barbara County if just 20 percent more grapes stayed here. “You’re creating a lot of jobs for San Luis Obispo County.”

All of this information comes at a very strategic time for vintners, as the County of Santa Barbara’s three-and-a-half-year-old process to update the existing winery development rules will finally come to a head in 2016. That update was prioritized in 2011 by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors, who requested a review of the 2004 winery ordinance as a response to some wine country residents worried about traffic, drunk driving, special events, and other growth issues. The ordinance revisions, which kicked off in August 2012, are expected to come before the Planning Commission in the next few months.

Whether this new report will make a major difference in that arena is unclear, but County Supervisor Doreen Farr — whose 3rd District includes the vineyard-laced Santa Ynez Valley — was not surprised by the numbers. “We know that the wine industry is tremendously important to Santa Barbara County and has enormous economic benefits,” she said. “That’s pretty well established.”

Farr said studies like this do inform decision-makers, but that the winery ordinance update— which she may vote on if it comes to the Board of Supervisors before she retires at the end of 2016 —isn’t just about money. “At the end of the day, zoning came into place to have us live side-by-side as congenially as possible,” she said. “That’s always my goal when I am looking at any kinds of changes.”

The vintners, meanwhile, hope their new report makes it clear how integral they are to modern Santa Barbara County. As S.B. Vintners board chair Brook Williams said at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, “It’s important that we show how valuable the wine community is to this community.


By Paul Wellman

Wine Country Impacts (based on 2013)

Licensed Wineries: 191

Vineyard Acreage: 27,155

Winery Revenue: $271.5 million

Cases of Wine Produced: 2.8 million

Jobs: 5,779 (direct); 9,158 (total indirect)

Visitors: 860,000

State/Local Taxes: $93.6 million

Federal Taxes: $101.7 million

DOCUMENT – The Economic Impact of Santa Barbara’s County’s Wine and Grapes, 2013