Hunger in the heartland: Iowans struggle with food insecurity

Jessica Chrystal shines a light on a widespread problem in a state that is supposed to be the bread basket of the world. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I spent part of last week attending events at the World Food Prize in Des Moines. When we think of hunger, we think of homeless people on benches in California. The Salvation Army bell ringer standing outside of Target during Christmas, or the glowing images from our tvs of starving children to donate to various charities overseas.

Rarely do we think of our neighbor next door.

Hunger is everywhere. She’s part of the fabric of every map dot town and big city across Iowa.

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Keeping all our options open: A vision for a "new century farm" in Johnson County

Thanks to Kurt Friese for this perspective on a controversy that brings together concerns over land use, local foods, and affordable housing. Fellow Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan explained his vote on the proposal here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It what might be called the most contentious vote of my time so far on the Board of Supervisors, on June 23 we chose one of three potential concepts for “phase 2” of the planning for the historic Johnson County Poor Farm. The concept, titled “New Century Farm,” is the most ambitious of the three, and is the only one of the three that keeps all our options open.

What it does not do is sell off public land to private developers, nor “pave the poor farm,” nor create urban sprawl. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a little background.

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Throwback Thursday: The road not taken on Iowa's "Ag Gag" law

A U.S. District Court ruling in August inspired today’s edition of Throwback Thursday. That ruling struck down an Idaho law making it a crime to lie to obtain employment at an agricultural facility, among other things. Iowa was the first state to adopt what critics call an “ag gag” law, aimed at making it harder for animal rights or food safety activists to obtain undercover recordings at farms or slaughterhouses. Idaho’s law went further than the bill Governor Terry Branstad signed in 2012; for instance, the Idaho statute also banned unauthorized audio or video recordings at a livestock farm or processing facility. Still, to this non-lawyer, some passages of federal Judge Lyn Winmill’s ruling (pdf) suggested that Iowa’s prohibition on “agricultural production facility fraud” might also violate the U.S. Constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s free speech clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Bleeding Heartland posted relevant excerpts from the Idaho ruling here, along with a brief legislative history of House File 589.

I sought Governor Terry Branstad’s comment on the court ruling and whether Iowa lawmakers should amend or rescind the language in Iowa Code about “agricultural production facility fraud.” In response, the governor’s communications director Jimmy Centers provided this statement on August 6:

House File 589 passed with bipartisan support and under the advice and counsel of the Attorney General’s office. The governor has not had the opportunity to review the ruling from the federal court in Idaho and, as such, does not have a comment on the case.

“Under the advice and counsel of the Attorney General’s office” didn’t sound right to me. When I looked further into the story, I learned that the Iowa Attorney General’s office neither recommended passage of this law nor signed off on its contents.

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All Iowans in House vote to block any mandatory labeling of GMOs in food

Late last week the U.S. House approved a bill to make it harder for consumers to find out whether food products contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Although national polls have repeatedly shown that more than 90 percent of Americans believe foods with GMOs should be labeled, all four Iowans in the U.S. House voted for the misleadingly named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015.” Opponents nicknamed the bill the “Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act” or the “Monsanto Protection Act.”

Follow me after the jump for details on the bill’s provisions, how the Iowans voted on amendments House Democrats offered during the floor debate, and a list of Iowa organizations and business that urged members of Congress either to support or reject this bill.  

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Iowa Income: Who Gets What?

(Thanks to daveswen for this post. Facts don't support widespread beliefs about Iowans allegedly being too dependent on federal programs. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Depending on where you live in Iowa and who you interact with, you may have some quirky conclusions about how income gets made.  It’s common and correct to conclude that many folks get along with the help of public assistance: many in fact wouldn’t get along at all without public aid.  But most of us don’t have a clue how money gets made in this state, let alone who the recipients of public assistance are.  We go to annual estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to get the numbers.

Here's how $138.34 billion in 2013 total personal income was divided up: Two-thirds ($91.3 billion) came from total earnings, which are wages and salaries, payments to proprietors, and the value of all employer-supplied benefits like medical insurance and retirement contributions.  Investment incomes (dividends, interests, and rents) made up 18 percent ($24.7 billion).  And transfers – payments by the federal government or, to a lesser extent, state government to individuals either in cash, vouchers, or direct assistance – were 16 percent of state income. 

Stated differently, 84 percent of our incomes came from market activity, and 16 percent came from governmental tranfers.  Market incomes trumped government payments to individuals by a ratio of better than 5 to 1.  

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Lawsuit fails to block California egg production law, with Iowa reaction (updated)

Catching up on news from last week, on October 2 U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller threw out a lawsuit brought by six states, including Iowa, seeking to block California’s law on egg production standards. Governor Terry Branstad joined that lawsuit in March, after Representative Steve King failed to use the federal Farm Bill as a vehicle for overturning the California law.

Bleeding Heartland covered the plaintiffs’ case against the egg production standards here. I predicted the lawsuit would fail because “1) the law does not ‘discriminate’; 2) the law does not force any conduct on egg producers outside the state of California; and 3) overturning this law would prompt a wave of lawsuits seeking to invalidate any state regulation designed to set higher standards for safety, public health, or consumer protection.”

In fact, the case never got to the point of the judge considering those legal arguments. If I were an attorney, I might have foreseen the reason Judge Mueller dismissed the lawsuit: lack of standing. You can download the 25-page ruling here (document number 102) and read pages 15 to 23 to understand her full reasoning. Daniel Enoch summarized it well for AgriPulse:

“Plaintiffs’ arguments focus on the potential harm each state’s egg farmers face,” Mueller wrote in her 25-page decision. “The alleged imminent injury, however, does not involve an injury the citizens of each state face but rather a potential injury each state’s egg farmers face when deciding whether or not to comply with AB 1437.” In other words, they failed to show that the law does real harm to citizens, instead of possible future harm to some egg producers.

“It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state’s egg farmers,” Mueller wrote, “not on behalf of each state’s population generally.”

Mueller dismissed the case “with prejudice,” meaning plaintiffs cannot amend their claim and re-file. Plaintiffs including Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller are considering their legal options. While they could appeal the dismissal, I doubt they would prevail in a U.S. Appeals Court.

The Des Moines Register’s write-up by Matthew Patane and Donelle Eller highlighted the alleged harm California’s law will do to Iowa agriculture when it goes into effect on January 1. I’ve posted excerpts after the jump. I was disappointed that the Register’s reporters led with the spin from “Iowa agricultural leaders” and buried in the middle of the piece a short passage explaining why the lawsuit failed (states can’t serve as a legal proxy for a small interest group). Patane and Eller did not mention that if courts accept the reasoning of egg law opponents, a possible outcome would be invalidating any state law or regulation designed to set higher standards for safety, public health, or consumer protection.

Comments provided to the Register by Governor Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and others reinforce Judge Mueller’s determination that the lawsuit was designed to protect a group of agricultural producers rather than citizens as a whole. A lot of Iowa Democrats bought into the poultry producers’ industry constitutional arguments as well.

UPDATE: Added below Branstad’s latest comments. He is either confused about the ruling or determined not to acknowledge the real legal issue.

SECOND UPDATE: Added comments from Representative Steve King and Sherrie Taha, the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.

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