Feds investigate organic farming fraud in Idaho

Federal investigators believe a routine inspection by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture last year turned up a case of organic-farming fraud in Southern Idaho.

❝ Prosecutors are seeking to seize vehicles, farming equipment, cash and other property belonging to Saul Farms and its owners, Bernard and Roza Saul, of Bliss, under suspicion the property was purchased with fraudulent proceeds. They say the Sauls repeatedly bought nonorganic seed and resold it as organic, which commands higher prices.

Prosecutors also want a federal judge to grant them access to a $1 million property that includes a residence and 438 acres in Buhl purchased by the Sauls, though they are not seeking to seize that property.

No charges have been filedyet.

The owners of businesses in other states that bought what they thought was organic alfalfa seed told the Statesman they now are scrambling to find new suppliers. Farmers and seed-handlers that bought from Saul Farms or its sister company, Bliss Seed, supply dairy and beef operations across the Midwest, the East Coast and the Southeast.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Feb. 11 filed a legal complaint in U.S. District Court in Twin Falls County to seize the property, based on events Boise-based FBI agent Drew McCandless recounted in an affidavit.

Oops! RTFA for beaucoup information about regulatory oversight of organic producers in Idaho.

What will be the repercussions for the organic dairies, etc., growing alfalfa from this seed to sell organic food products?

Edward Snowden willing to return to US with a guarantee for a fair trial

Edward Snowden has told supporters he would be willing to return to the US if the government could guarantee a fair trial.

The former National Security Agency contractor, who has been living in Russia since June 2013, said he would present a public interest defence of his decision to leak thousands of classified intelligence documents if he appeared before a US jury. “I’ve told the government I would return if they would guarantee a fair trial where I can make a public interest defence of why this was done and allow a jury to decide,” Snowden told a libertarian conference, the New Hampshire Liberty Forum…

Snowden has previously spoken of making offers to the government to return home and his willingness to discuss a plea deal and even go to jail. But in an interview on BBC Panorama last year, the whistleblower said the US justice department had made no effort to contact him.

Snowden’s revelations set off an international debate about the balance between security and privacy. Supporters hailed Snowden for exposing what they saw in some cases as an illegal invasion of privacy, while critics believed he hampered the security services’ ability to fight terrorism.

I stopped being surprised that supporting constitutional civil liberties requires more than moderate or a liberal political understanding. A young news editor explained the difference to me during a break from night school classes in the late 1950’s. Standing outside a classroom building on an autumn evening, we were continuing a discussion from a literature class – a discussion about free speech. Those were the days of activists being jailed for teaching the right to advocate for revolution.

Take a good look at the structure of that sentence. People were being jailed for discussing revolution. Whether they advocated publicly for revolution, violent or peaceful. We lived at the time in a state whose constitution in fact included the right for citizens – denied peaceful means – to take up arms and overthrow a repressive government.

Don’t worry. A leading Congressional Democrat had that removed several years later.

And I thought I was a “liberal” for defending the free speech challenged by federal law as then practiced. This dude politely explained the difference between folks willing to support the Bill of Rights as long as nothing unpopular was in question – and those who take the Bill of Rights seriously enough to take them as principle as written for all. A progressive position as it turned out.

Posting calorie counts really does fight obesity

Until recently, the sophisticated view about calorie labels in restaurants was one of despair: A series of studies suggested that the practice, required by Obamacare and modeled on what has been done in New York and other cities, just doesn’t succeed in promoting healthy food choices and reducing obesity.

But comprehensive new research offers a dramatically different picture. It finds that if we divide Americans into subgroups — the normal, the overweight, and the obese — we’ll find that calorie labels have had a large and beneficial effect on those who most need them.

Partha Deb and Carmen Vargas, both of Hunter College, focused on what happened to people’s body mass from 2003 to 2012. They used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the annual, nationally representative survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with state health departments. The survey collects information on self-reported height and weight, as well as demographic information…

But things get much more interesting once we start to look at subpopulations, in terms of Body Mass Index: normal, overweight or obese. In all three subpopulations, men’s BMI was significantly reduced after the introduction of calorie labels. The reduction was largest among the obese, next largest among the overweight, and smallest for those with a normal BMI. For women, the effect was statistically significant only for those who were overweight.

Digging deeper, Deb and Vargas find that both men and women in the normal weight class tend to live in high-income areas and to be college graduates; that group shows little or no effect from the calorie labels. Among the men and women who show the largest effects, an unusually high percentage tend to have no education beyond high school, to be older, and to be Hispanic.

In general, these results make a lot of sense. People of normal weight have no reason to change their behavior; they don’t have a weight problem. And if people are highly educated, it’s possible that calorie labels will not tell them a whole lot.

By contrast, men and women with weight problems have good reasons to try to lose weight — and the labels have helped them to do just that. And if consumers are less well-educated, maybe the calorie labels are more likely to tell them something they don’t know.

All in all, it’s a terrific story: The people who need to lose weight are losing weight, and the people who are least likely to know about caloric content are learning about it.

In this light, the research leaves only one serious puzzle: obese women, for whom the labels have had no effect. Deb and Vargas do not try to explain this finding. It remains a mystery.

Obviously a lot more research is needed. More support and supportive public practices may further add to the plus side of the equation. Obesity has already started to turn around a wee bit in young people. We already are a nation that exercises for fitness more than most. Maybe, we’re getting ready to exhibit some leadership in healthy eating?