Saturday, July 13, 2013

Meat producers sue over U.S. labelling laws

'Beef is beef' says lawsuit against country-of-origin laws.

Eight American and Canadian meat and livestock groups have filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over revised meat-labelling laws.

They called the so-called country-of-origin labelling rules "capricious and arbitrary" and argued the USDA is exceeding its mandate in putting them into effect.

The rules, which took effect May 23, require meat labels to detail where animals used for meat were born, raised and slaughtered.

Lawsuit against U.S. meat labelling laws
The lawsuit is backed by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Canadian Pork Council and North American Meat Association, as well as the American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and Southwest Meat Association.

The U.S. rule revisions violate the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech in the form of the labels that does not directly advance a government interest, the meat industry groups said.

"Beef is beef, whether the steer or heifer was born in Montana, Manitoba or Mazatlan," the complaint says.

"All livestock and meat process at federally inspected establishments in the U.S….are subject to the same health and safety requirements," the filing continues.

In addition to the labelling requirement, the law prohibits processors from mixing meat from animals that come from different countries. The USDA created the stricter labelling laws to replace COOL laws implemented four years ago that were challenged under World Trade Organization rules.

"This rule's been in place since 2009 and almost immediately overnight we saw very significant price impact. Canadian cattle were suddenly devalued in the U.S. marketplace by about $25 to $40 per head," said John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

"People who buy and process cattle don't want to deal with those additional costs," he said.

Price impact on cattle

Masswohl said the number of U.S. processors that will handle Canadian cattle has been reduced, in part because of the logistical challenge of labelling correctly.

The Canadian Pork Council estimates the U.S. labelling policy is costing hog producers about $500 million per year, including the discounts pork producers are offering to grocers to compensate for the increased labelling and weighing costs.

The groups involved in the lawsuit say the rules will fundamentally alter the meat industry and will particularly hurt meat companies located along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada border.

Many U.S. producers ship meat to be processed at these plants, but that practice would likely stop under the new laws, the suit says. Retailers would be more likely to seek out products with simpler labels that show meat was born, raised and processed in the U.S., it argues.

The new rules were put forward after Canada and Mexico launched a WTO challenge to the U.S. COOL labelling laws estalished four years ago and won.

U.S. imports of Canadian cattle and pigs declined after COOL laws were implemented.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has said Ottawa could seek retaliatory compensation from the U.S. for the new laws under WTO mechanisms.

"If this doesn't get resolved, this is on a path of Canada either retaliating by putting a tariff on U.S. exports or seeking compensation," Masswohl said.

By CBC News

Source: The CBC News

Texas passes one of toughest anti-abortion laws in US

Texas governor Rick Perry to sign off law that bans abortions after 20 weeks after senate approves bill in late-night vote.

Texas politicians have given final approval to one of the US's toughest anti-abortion bills, but opponents are set to challenge the legisation in federal court.

More than a thousand pro-choice and anti-abortion demonstrators packed the state capitol in Austin late on Friday night as senators voted on legislation that has made Texas the focus of nationwide abortion-rights activism.

The senate passed House Bill 2 by 19 votes to 11 just before midnight local time. Texas governor Rick Perry is now due to sign it off.

Texas is one of several states that have sought to restrict access to abortions this year, but it has attracted the most attention due to the publicity surrounding Democratic state senator Wendy Davis's bid to block the bill with an almost 11-hour filibuster.

"The key will be what the courts will do," Sylvia Garcia, a Democratic senator for Houston and a former judge, said before the vote. "I think the Texas proposal is on a path to litigation, to being held unconstitutional. We'll have to wait for the courts to ultimately decide."

Last Monday a federal judge issued a ruling temporarily blocking the introduction of a new abortion law in Wisconsin. Like the Texas plans, the law calls for doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The Texas bill also insists that clinics upgrade to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centres and bans abortions after 20 weeks.

Anti-abortion laws
Republicans blocked attempts by Democrats to dilute the measures on Friday, including an amendment that would have allowed exceptions to the 20-week limit for victims of incest or rape.

When Davis, her fellow Democrats and noisy protesters successfully stalled an attempted vote on the original bill on 25 June, Perry swiftly recalled lawmakers for a special session lasting up to 30 days to give the proposals another chance to pass.

Perry said on Fox News last Sunday that the shouting that scuppered the vote was "mob rule". During this session, which began last week, officials have been strictly enforcing a ban on what they consider to be disruptive conduct. But there was no silencing the crowds who gathered on all four floors of the capitol's huge rotunda on Friday for the climax of weeks of protests and rallies related to the bill, creating a heady, unruly atmosphere.

Many chanted slogans and songs and brandished banners. Some of the anti-abortion activists held up placards referencing the Bible. Those against the bill wore orange, and those who termed themselves "pro-life" dressed in blue.

By mid-afternoon the orange demonstrators heavily outnumbered the blues and the queue to enter the gallery stretched along a staircase and almost to the end of one wing of the statehouse, with hundreds standing for hours in the hope of seeing the proceedings. There was silence in the halls when Wendy Davis spoke shortly after 11.30pm. "Tens of thousands of Texans will not be able to make the long drive, sometimes hundreds of miles, to the closest clinic," she said. "We are about to take away from victims of rape and incest a chance to reclaim their lives."

Security was tight on Friday. The Texas department of public safety issued a press release saying it had confiscated containers suspected to contain urine, faeces, paint, confetti and glitter.

For a time, troopers even took away tampons on the basis that they could be used as missiles. Garcia believes that the publicity generated by the bill and the degree of dissent marks "a tipping point for women in Texas and across the country". The 62-year-old said the legislation is "part of an extreme agenda by radical right groups who would prefer to ban abortions around the country".

Democrats argue that the bill will force the closure of all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics, resulting in a loss of access to other family-planning services they provide, such as advice and disease screening.

Opponents also claim it will force women in rural areas to travel vast distances or seek medical help from black-market sources. However, those in favour say that tightening regulations will help protect women if complications occur.

"It's not just about abortion, it's about women's healthcare and whether we allow government to chip away at constitutional rights," Garcia said. She accused Texas Republicans of putting women's safety at risk to satisfy personal political ambitions.

After the vote, Davis tweeted: "The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning." There are rumours that she may run for governor next year.

By Tom Dart

Source: The Guardian

Monday, July 1, 2013

Oregon's new charity law takes tax break away

State officials and nonprofit leaders believe Oregon is the first state in the nation to pass a charity law that punishes nonprofits that spend too little of their money on their missions.

The law will eliminate state and local tax subsidies for charities that spend more than 70 percent of donations on management and fundraising over three years, the Statesman-Journal reported in Sunday's paper ( ). The measure, House Bill 2060, was signed by the governor in June.

"No other state has done this," said Jim White, executive director of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. "We're the first in the country, and we should be proud of that."

Oregon court room
There are 17,152 charities registered to solicit funds in Oregon. About 23 percent of those are based out of state.

The Oregon Department of Justice already has identified the top 20 worst charities, which all spend less than 30 percent of their money on programs and services. The list is available on the agency's website: .

It includes a Michigan-based law enforcement charity that the department says spent less than 3 percent of its money on programs over the past three years. Also on the list is a California-based international ministries group that allegedly spent just over 3 percent on programs.

All 20 of the worst charities are based out of state. They spend between 2.7 and 21.7 percent of donations on programs, according to the Justice Department.

Some states, including Oregon, used to have laws prohibiting charities from soliciting donations if they were paying too much to themselves and their fundraisers.

The laws were repealed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that attempts to restrict a charity's ability to solicit donations violated their First Amendment rights.

Oregon's new law likely would survive a challenge because it doesn't restrict a charity's ability to do fundraising, Department of Justice spokesman Jeff Manning said.

Instead, donors to those charities can no longer claim a state tax deduction. The charities also will lose their local property tax exemptions.

"These organizations have found the business model of using a nonprofit as a cover for what's basically a telemarketing for-profit firm," White said. "They're giving charities and nonprofits a black eye and need to be gotten out of our midst."

State officials estimate fewer than 100 charities will be affected by the law in its first year.

By Associated Press

Source: The Yahoo! News

Local officials asked to help on health law

The White House is recruiting mayors, county commissioners and other local officials to promote and carry out President Obama's health care law in states like Florida and Texas, where governors are hostile to it.

The effort comes as the administration is intensifying its campaign to publicize new health insurance options and to persuade consumers, especially healthy young people, to sign up for coverage when open enrollment starts on Oct. 1.

To bring people into the insurance market, the White House is using techniques it used to mobilize voters during Mr. Obama's re-election campaign, with a particular focus on Hispanics, who are much more likely than other Americans to be uninsured. About 7 in 10 Hispanic voters nationally and 6 in 10 in Florida voted for Mr. Obama last year, according to exit polls by Edison Research.

White House
White House officials say the law will provide 10 million uninsured Hispanics with an opportunity to get affordable insurance. They account for 40 percent of the 25 million uninsured Americans expected to gain coverage in the next three years.

Texas and Florida refused to set up regulated marketplaces, known as exchanges, for the sale of subsidized insurance, leaving the task to the federal government. And they have refused to expand Medicaid to provide insurance for low-income people who do not already qualify.

Florida led legal challenges to the law, which was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican, said that expanding Medicaid would be like "adding a thousand people to the Titanic." The expansion of Medicaid and the creation of an insurance exchange, he said, "represent brazen intrusions into the sovereignty of our state."

But many local officials said they would help people take advantage of the law.

The chief executive of Dallas County, Tex., Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins, a Democrat, said: "The exchange is a tremendous opportunity to reduce the number of uninsured. It's important that we move aggressively, as soon as possible, to get information to our citizens in a format they can use."

Many people who could benefit from the law are unaware of it, according to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and others. Early this month, Kaiser found that 79 percent of the public and 87 percent of the uninsured had heard little or nothing about the health insurance marketplaces, a centerpiece of the 2010 law.

To reduce those numbers, White House officials met recently with state library officials. Consumers often turn to public libraries for information about government services, and the American Library Association is telling its members to expect a "rush of patrons" who will need help completing insurance application forms.

"We are in the business of providing factual information," said Maureen Sullivan, the president of the association.

In Texas, as in a number of states, counties have legal obligations to help pay for the care of the indigent. County officials see the federal law as a way to help reduce those expenses.

"More than almost anyone else," Mr. Jenkins said, "we will benefit from a reduction in the cost of unreimbursed care, on which we spend $562 million a year. I have reached out to public relations firms, to hospitals, to insurance companies, to the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, to a lot of churches and religious institutions, and urged them to join our effort."

Some Republicans will also spread the word.

Mayor Robert Cluck of Arlington, Tex., a Republican, said he did not want to discuss the Affordable Care Act but did want to help people get "proper health care."

"When the new health insurance system begins, it will be very complicated and very confusing," Mr. Cluck said. "A lot of people will need a lot of help. Whatever we can do as community leaders, to help people understand the changes, it's our responsibility to do."

In Houston, State Representative Garnet F. Coleman, a Democrat, said, "We will hold events at zoos, museums and other sites where people can fill out applications and enroll on the spot."

In Florida, two Democratic legislators, Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami and Senator Eleanor Sobel of Broward County, said they recently participated in a conference call organized by White House officials who sought their help in carrying out the law.

"We clearly do not have an ally in Tallahassee," Mr. Rodriguez said. "So we are working directly with community groups and officials in Washington to make sure people here have access to affordable health insurance plans in the exchange."

The White House said the administration had no choice but to bypass the governor's office in states where Republican executives were balking. "Mayors are very, very involved," a White House official said. "State legislators are very, very involved."

Susan Hepworth, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida, said: "It's no surprise that the Obama administration is launching a public relations campaign to pump up their base about the implementation of Obamacare. It's so incredibly unpopular that no amount of town halls or forums will stop the bleeding. This is their attempt at triage."

Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, said: "We are not opposed to county judges or county commissioners providing information to people about their options. But health insurance will still be too expensive for some people, even with federal tax credits, because President Obama has not delivered on his campaign promise to lower the cost of insurance."

Dr. Thomas L. Schlenker, the public health director in San Antonio, said, "We will put some of our employees through 30 hours of training so they can identify people who are eligible for insurance and give them information on how to enroll."

"We may assign some of our staff to sit with folks at computers and help them through the whole process," Dr. Schlenker said. "It will be complicated. It will be confusing. But for the people who get connected to insurance, we are convinced it will do a lot of good."

With open enrollment just months away, the White House and its allies are making a renewed effort to improve public perceptions of the law.

Organizing for Action, a grass-roots group that grew out of Mr. Obama's re-election campaign, is running television advertisements that promote the law. Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for the group, said it would spend at least $1 million on such ads.

Enroll America, a nonprofit group led by veterans of the Obama White House and the Obama campaign, said it would flood neighborhoods with volunteers, encouraging people to "get covered." And it is trying to enlist sports stars and celebrities as spokespeople.

By Robert Pear

Source: The New York Times