Friday, March 27, 2015

White House unveils plan to fight and prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria

The Obama Administration today announced the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria, a proposal to fight drug resistant bacteria responsible for two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths per year in the U.S., says the White House. The plan requires $1.2 billion in funding from Congress in its first year, which is double the nation's current spending, Sarah Ferris reports for The Hill.

The plan includes five main goals: Slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections; strengthen national "One-Health" surveillance efforts; advance development and use of rapid and innovative diagnostic tests; accelerate basic and applied research and development; and improve international collaboration and capacities, says the White House. (Centers for Disease Control graphic)
The plan includes "studying the extent of the problem on farms and lays out plans for developing new drugs that producers can use more safely," Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The plan "affirms the steps the Food and Drug Administration has taken to phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials for growth promotion, through the voluntary cooperation of drug makers, and to require veterinary oversight of all other uses of the antibiotics."

"It does not set targets for reducing drug usage but includes plans for monitoring the impact of the voluntary strategy and analyzing the extent of resistance on farms," Brasher writes. The plan includes a three-year research goal "to develop three possible alternatives to antibiotics that are now used for growth promotion" and a five-year research plan "to develop alternatives to antibiotics that can be used to treat at least three priority bacterial pathogens."

As part of the plan, "federal agencies will be tasked with combating the misuse of antibiotics, both in human patients and in animals, as well as strengthening the infection control practices that are used by health providers across the country," Ferris writes. Funding includes $263.4 million for the Centers for Disease Control to "help every state develop a prevention program, which could prevent 600,000 infections and $8 billion in medical costs."

Obama told WebMD, "There are parts of this plan that we can implement on our own right now, and wherever we can act without Congress, we will. But to get the whole job done, we need Congress to step up." (Read more)

House passes extension of Secure Rural Schools program to help struggling rural timber counties

On Thursday the House passed bipartisan legislation that involves extending the Secure Rural Schools program, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The program, which expired in September 2014, "provides assistance for schools, law enforcement and infrastructure in rural forested communities that lack a tax base to adequately fund such activities." The program awarded about $270 million to 729 counties in 2014, but the $1.1 trillion spending bill that passed in December did not include funds for the program.

"The extension was included in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2), which contains reforms for how doctors are paid under Medicare and reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program," Agri-Pulse writes. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told lawmakers, “What we're doing today is providing a lifeline to our schoolchildren in classrooms in rural counties that are forested under federal land and making sure law enforcement have the resources they need. This will even protect some counties [in Oregon] from going bankrupt because of lack of management and activity on our federal lands."

Agri-Pulse writes, "The two-year extension now goes to the Senate. The provision falls under forest reform policy approved twice by the House last year, but the Senate never voted on a reform plan of its own." (Read more) (Daily Yonder map: Estimated payments that counties received from the Secure Rural Schools program in FY 2013. For an interactive version, click here)

Illegal workers accounted for 5.1% of all employees in 2012; number in white collar jobs on the rise

Illegal immigrants are most likely to work in construction in the South and Southwest, manufacturing in the Great Plains states and leisure and hospitality in the West, says a study by the Pew Research Center, Philip Bump reports for The Washington Post. While only 4 percent of undocumented workers are in agriculture, the highest overall percent of illegal immigrants are in that industry, accounting for 16 percent of all employees.

The study, which consists of data from 2012, found that 33 percent of undocumented workers are in the service industry; 15 percent in construction and extraction; 14 percent in production, installation and repair; and 8 percent in transportation and material moving, Jeffrey Passel and D'Vera Cohn report for Pew.

Unauthorized workers consisted of 5.1 percent of all workers in 2012, Passel and Cohn write. The number in blue collar jobs dropped from 2007 to 2012, while numbers rose in white collar jobs. Undocumented workers in construction dropped by 475,000 from 2007 to 2012. During that same time the number with management and professional jobs grew from 10 percent to 13 percent. (Read more) (Pew map)

Feds establish initiative to award up to $38 million to help revive struggling Ky. coal communities

In an attempt to stimulate the economy of coal-depressed Kentucky counties, state and federal officials Frday announced the formation of the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative, "which will award up to $38 million in grants to coal communities to support economic and workforce development," says a release from the state.

The release said the initiative is designed to use federal economic and workforce development resources to diversify economies; create jobs in new or existing industries; attract new sources of job-creating investments; and provide a range of workforce services and skills training that offer industry-recognized credentials for high-quality, in-demand jobs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also announced approval of a $1.8 million loan for a new innovative business in Eastern Kentucky, the region hit the hardest by the loss of coal jobs. (Read more)

Democratic senators pushing legislation to expand forthcoming crude oil train regulations

Four Democratic senators on Wednesday made a push for legislation that would require the U.S. Department of Transportation "to regulate the volatility of oil being moved in trains, a proposal that goes beyond plans to focus on the design of tank cars," Timothy Cama and Keith Laing report for The Hill. "The bill faces strong industry opposition, and oil, ethanol and freight rail interests have been meeting with White House officials in an effort to dial back the DOT’s upcoming regulations."

More oil was spilled from trains in the U.S. in 2013 than in the previous 37 years, and 47 people in Quebec died from the derailment of a train running from North Dakota to Maine. There has also been a recent rash of derailments, which led Canada to propose rules to toughen tank-car standards. DOT in October 2014 proposed a two-year phase-out of older tank cars, but the oil and rail industries said that wasn't enough time."

In addition to "beefing up design standards for tanker cars, regulators want to phase out older cars in two years, enhance braking systems and reduce rollovers and impose new speed limits in urban areas," Cama and Laing write. But Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), "the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the Obama administration should go further. She disputed assertions that the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) lacks the legal authority to regulate the volatility of crude oil."

"Cantwell’s bill, backed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) would require PHMSA to regulate the content of gases like butane, propane, methane and ethane in crude oil extracted from the Bakken region of North Dakota, the center of the recent boom," Cama and Laing write. "Those gases’ contents add to their volatility, which determines how easily the oil will explode when a tank car is breached. Environmentalists say Bakken crude is more volatile than oil from elsewhere." (Read more)

Reddit users summarize each state in one word; sorry Ohio, but respondents say you're boring

Georgia equals peaches, Iowa corn, Kentucky chicken, Minnesota cold, Montana mountains and for some reason the first thing many people think of when they hear Indiana is the character Indiana Jones. These are just some of the top answers a couple hundred Reddit users gave when asked in an informal survey to summarize each state in a single word, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. (Associated press photo by Rick Bowmer: Oregon makes people think of hippies and hispters, according to the Reddit survey)

Many of the top answers involved food (Maine lobster, Nebraska corn), but some invoked industry (oil for North Dakota) and natural disasters (tornado was the top answer for Oklahoma), while New Mexico made people think of meth in relation to the show "Breaking Bad," and users didn't have high opinions of Ohio, calling it boring. To see the results, click here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend cutting back on red and processed meat, sugar, refined grains

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have released proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines, released every five years, "provide authoritative advice about consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices and being physically active to attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of chronic disease and promote overall health," says USDA.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the 2015 guidelines recommend eating healthier foods, while cutting back on less healthy alternatives. "The committee basically recommended Americans take up a diet that is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy products, seafood, legumes and nuts," Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "We should cut back on red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened foods, drinks and refined grains. And we should be moderate in our alcohol." (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion graphic)

Recommended cutbacks of certain foods have not gone over well with those food producers, who met this week to give feedback on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's recommendations, Clayton writes. The North American Meat Institute argued that "lean meat, poultry, red and processed meats should all be part of a healthy dietary pattern because they are nutrient-dense protein."

Shalene McNeill, a nutritionist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, "told the committee that its recommendation to exclude lean meat ignores decades of nutrition science," Clayton writes. McNeill said Americans should be encouraged to eat more lean meat, along with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Grain, sugar and milk producers also expressed displeasure with the proposed rules.

Most nutritionists have embraced the proposed rules but say the key is getting people to adopt them, Andrea McDaniels reports for The Baltimore Sun. Among those rules is limiting sugar intake to 200 or less calories—or 10 percent of total calories—per day. Currently, Americans get about 13 percent of their calories—or 268 calories—from added sugar.

"On the flip side, some foods once shunned are now accepted," McDaniels writes. "Research has found that cholesterol-high foods are no longer believed to contribute to high blood cholesterol, so people can now indulge in shrimp, eggs and other foods that were once off limits, the panel said. Rather than focus on cholesterol, people should curb saturated fat to about 8 percent of the diet."

The panel also said "up to five cups of coffee a day are fine so long they are not flavored with lots of milk and sugar," McDaniels writes. "The panel also singled out the Mediterranean diet—rich in fish and chicken, fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and legumes—for its nutritional value."

Census Bureau releases population estimates; Pew county-level map shows population changes

After years of steadily losing population, rural Pickens County, Alabama, was the nation's fourth fastest growing county under 10,000 residents from July 2013 to July 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today, Brendan Kirby reports for Pickens County, which has been losing population since 2000, had a 5.1 percent growth in the latest census. Officials credit the 2013 opening of a federal women's minimum security prison for providing jobs, boosting local sales and increasing the overall population.

The nation's micro areas consisted of 27.2 million people in 2014, an increase of 13,000 from 2013, says the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall, 244 of 536 micro counties gained population from 2013.

Population grew by 18.3 percent in McKenzie County, North Dakota, from 2013 to 2014 but during the same time decreased 2 percent in Burke County, according to an interactive map The Pew Charitable Trusts created that details county-level population changes in every U.S. state. Overall, 60.4 percent of the state's 53 counties saw population growth from 2013 to 2014, with North Dakota home to four of the top five fastest growing counties in the nation. (Read more)

Mobile EKG allows rural Ohio EMTs to relay information to hospital; device helps save lives

A rural northern Ohio hospital has been equipped with technology to help heart attack victims get quicker access to life-saving care, Cheryl Powell reports for the Akron Beacon Journal. Lodi Community Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital, recently started a STEMI Rendezvous program that provides area fire departments with wireless cardiac monitors to perform on-the-scene electrocardiograms (EKGs) that can an be transmitted immediately to the hospital. (Journal photo by Mike Cardew: Lodi EMTs get training on the mobile EKG)

Thomas Whelan, president of Akron General community and specialty hospitals, which includes Lod Community, told Powell, “Out here in the rural setting, access is not as bad as in Wyoming, but it’s still difficult to get to care. It’s actually bringing health care right to the patient’s door.”

The new technology saves time by allowing doctors to be ready for an arriving patient, Powell writes. "By using a balloon to open the artery and a stent to keep it open, damage to the heart muscle can be reduced. National guidelines call for a 'door-to-balloon' time of 90 minutes or less," said Dr. S. Leslie Tobias, medical director of Akron General Medical Center’s cath lab. Tobias told Powell, “There’s excellent data if you can get an artery open within 90 minutes of presentation, you will salvage some heart muscle. That’s extremely important.” (Read more)

Senate passes amendment limiting proposed Waters of the U.S. rules; lack votes to deny presidential veto

The Republican-led Senate passed a non-binding amendment on Wednesday to limit proposed Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules that would re-define what bodies of water the Environmental Protection Agency regulates under the Clean Water Act, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The amendment "spelled out various features that should be exempt from the anti-pollution law including isolated ponds, roadside ditches, irrigation ditches and stormwater systems."

The Senate voted 59-40 in favor of the amendment—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) missed the vote but was expected to vote in favor of it—meaning there could be a filibuster-proof, 60-vote margin for a standalone WOTUS bill or amendment later, Brasher writes. The Senate is still short the two-third votes needed to overcome a presidential veto.

Assembling 60 votes to challenge Presidential Obama on this issue could also give Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) an issue that could be combined with his efforts to block the administration’s anti-coal rules aimed at climate change.

Oklahoma officials to increase scrutiny of disposal wells located near earthquake swarms

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission announced on Wednesday plans to expand scrutiny of disposal wells that could be linked to earthquakes to include wells within six miles of an earthquake swarm, Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire. OCC "defines a swarm as two earthquakes within a quarter-mile of each other if one of the quakes is magnitude 3 or greater. That will put another 350 wells that inject into the Arbuckle formation under that extra scrutiny."

Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 585 of magnitude 3 or higher in 2014, more than the state had in the previous 35 years combined. Officials have been slow to publicly link oil and gas operations to earthquakes and have faced industry pressure to quiet scientists who speak out about such links.

Companies that own wells within earthquake swarms "will also have to demonstrate to the agency that they are not injecting in, or too close to, the granite bedrock zone known as the 'basement,'" Soraghan writes. (Oklahoma Geological Survey map)

Despite mounting scientific evidence linking disposal wells to earthquakes, many people, including Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, are not convinced the link exists, Soraghan writes in a separate story. "State Insurance Commissioner John Doak has warned insurance companies against denying claims based on the 'unsupported belief' that Oklahoma quakes are man-made. And the state's richest oilman, Continental Resources Inc. founder Harold Hamm, has said of quake activity, 'It's certainly not related to oil and gas activity.'"

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

County health rankings are out and are a great resource for use in local coverage

The University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute's annual county health rankings, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are now available. The rankings are a good resource for assessing a county's overall health status and for comparing counties within the same state. (Example: Overall rankings in Mississippi)

Counties are ranked within each state based on quality of life and length of life. Thirty percent of the information is based on health behaviors (tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise, sexual activity), 20 percent on clinical care (access to care and quality of care), 40 percent on social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety) and 10 percent on physical environment (air and water quality and housing and transit).

The healthiest counties had lower rates of unemployment, children living in poverty, children raised in single-parent households, violent crime, smoking, vehicular deaths, sexually transmitted diseases, preventable hospital stays and housing problems. They also had higher rates of college attendance, more exercise opportunities, better air and water quality and more access to physicians, dentists and mental health providers.

The least healthy counties had lower rates of high school graduates and access to exercise and mammograms. They also has higher rates of unemployment, income inequality, children raised in single-parent households, vehicular deaths, smoking, teen births, uninsured adults, housing problems and worse air and water quality. To search by state click here.

Bison farms, growing in popularity, provide a healthier alternative to other meats

More than 162,000 bison live on 2,564 private ranches and farms in the U.S., according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture census, says the National Bison Association. Once in danger of extinction, the species is now flourishing, with more than 500,000 in North America. And people have taken notice that bison meat, although more expensive, is a healthy alternative, with fat and calorie intakes considerably lower than other meats. It's not uncommon to find bison meat in restaurants or in the meat department of grocery stores. This is good news for farmers and ranchers raising bison. (Farmer's Pride photo by Tiffany Kessler: Bison in Oldham County, Kentucky)

One such farm is in Oldham County, Kentucky, near Louisville. The 150-year-old, 1000-acre farm is one of only 10 in the state to raise bison, Tiffany Kessler reports for The Farmer's Pride. The farm's 300 bison recently switched to being grass-fed, which is cheaper than hay and is in line with consumer demands for the animals that grow to weigh between 900 and 1,100 pounds.

Despite the fact that bison are healthier, farm manager Kristopher Kelley said many restaurants weren't even interested in samples, Kessler writes. Kelley told her, "We had to do a big push on marketing. We spent a lot time with local chefs, showing them the health benefits of bison and the different ways it can be used in cooking. We had a lot of success with that. Now if bison is on the menu in Louisville, it’s generally ours.” (Read more)

School District in Kansas exemplifies challenges faced by rural schools across the nation

Syracuse Unified School District in southwest Kansas is experiencing many of the changes and challenges faced in rural school districts across the country, Celia Llopis-Jepsen writes for The Topeka Capital-Journal. Syracuse's school district covers almost a thousand miles, and the bus travels for an hour and a half just to make four stops. The district includes about 550 students, which is the state's media enrollment.

Challenges include low enrollment, travel distance to school, teacher recruitment, housing shortages and changing demographics. The difficulties have spurred some to move to larger towns and cities. "When you talk about how many students in western Kansas that we educate—they're not staying here," Sally Cauble, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, said. "They will be our leaders. We better have them educated."

Some students take advantage of the perks of attending a smaller school. For example, they have the opportunity to participate concurrently in a variety extracurricular activities, Llopis-Jepsen writes. The teachers carefully schedule practices so that enough students can participate in each one. Mallory Horton, a junior, is a cheerleader, a track and cross-country athlete and a member of the honors society and the academic quiz team. Lora Horton, Mallory's mother, said, "Being in a small school and having the opportunity to be able to be in different things—I feel like that has taught them how to multi-task and schedule."

Unfortunately, because of the recession, Kansas education funds per student had to be cut from $4,400 to $3,937 over a two year time period. Kenneth Bridges, superintendent in Syracuse, said, "What happens in Syracuse next is we lose programs—art, music—start charging fees for athletics. The next step is to eliminate teachers and increase class sizes." To prevent negative outcomes, the school is considering changing to a four-day week—saving an estimated $100,000 to $120,000 per year—and postponing textbook purchases as well as combining two bus routes into one.

Rural school districts "spend more per pupil, however, than towns do, have smaller student-teacher ratios and are less likely to have full-time superintendents," Llopis-Jepsen writes. The media student-teacher ratio in rural areas is 12:1, compared to 15:1 in towns, 17:1 in suburbs and 16:1 in cities, according to state data.

Another change is increasing diversity. "The English language learner challenge is going to get harder," said Shelly Billig, who leads rural research at the Denver-based education lab REL Central, Llopis-Jepsen writes. Many teachers in Syracuse have taken English as a second language courses on their own time with only partial reimbursement. "We do the best that we can," said Becky Clark, principal at Syracuse Elementary, "but still, we're missing a level of support." (Read more)

Buyer beware when oil and gas companies offer to buy mineral rights; royalties not included

Some oil and gas companies have begun asking property owners to sell mineral tracts outright, instead of signing a lease, a move that might look good financially to residents at the outset but could end up costing them down the road, Casey Junkins reports for The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. It's a buyer-beware story that land owners should be sure to note.

"The practice can be beneficial for property owners in that the up-front payment likely will be higher than what is offered through a lease agreement," Junkins writes. "But royalties are not included, and for tracts with true drilling potential, this could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of a lease."

Tim Greene, owner of Land and Mineral Management of Appalachia and a former West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection inspector, told Junkins, "Lots of companies just buy them and flip them onto someone else. But if they buy all the minerals, that is it. You won't get any royalties or anything else. If getting $100,000 right now could change my life, selling out might be something I am interested in."

Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, "said some firms purchasing oil and natural gas minerals may already have agreements to transfer those properties to established drilling firms," Junkins writes. "Sometimes, companies do this so they can acquire the land at a lower price than they would have to pay if property owners knew the identity of the ultimate owner." (Read more)

VA changes interpretation of rule to allow some rural veterans access to care at other facilities

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday changed its much-criticized interpretation of a law that was making it more difficult for rural veterans to receive medical care at facilities other than VA clinics, Ben Kesling reports for The Wall Street Journal.

The 2014 Veterans Choice Act said that veterans who had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or who had to travel more than 40 miles to a VA facility could instead get appointments at other locations, Kesling writes. But Veterans Affairs judged the 40 miles based on actual distance, not driving distance, a move that eliminated some rural veterans from going to health care facilities located closer to their homes. "The new rule allows veterans to plug directions into a commercial product such as Google Maps to calculate actual driving distance."

Some advocates are still unhappy with the rule because it doesn't take into account the services offered by the closest facility, Kesling writes. "For example, if a veteran requires specialized care available only at major facilities but lives within 40 miles of a basic clinic, that veteran isn't eligible for outside appointments and still may have to drive hours to get necessary care." (Read more)

Maryland House passes fracking ban, Senate approves tougher standards for drillers

The Maryland House on Tuesday passed a three-year ban on fracking, while the Senate approved tougher new legal standards for drillers, Erin Cox and Timothy B. Wheeler report for The Baltimore Sun. "Each bill must still clear the other chamber, but the actions signaled the legislature was willing to go further than it has before to limit natural gas drilling."

"Maryland has been under a de facto ban for more than three years after former Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, put any permit review on hold while a commission studied the industry and his administration wrote regulations to enforce it," Cox and Wheeler write. "Those regulations are now languishing on the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, who has said he supports fracking and the jobs it would bring to economically depressed Western Maryland—as long as it can be done safely."

The Senate's measure would "hold any future drillers to some of the country's strictest liability standards, declaring the practice 'an ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous activity,'" Cox and Wheeler write. "The distinction makes it easier to hold drillers financially responsible for any contamination and health or environmental problems, even if drillers followed all regulations. It also requires them to have hefty $10 million insurance policy that extends six years beyond the drilling operation, among other provisions." (Read more)

Peak Internet speeds on the rise in U.S., but states with large rural populations still lag far behind

Delaware has the fastest average peak Internet speed in the nation, and 43 states "saw average peak connection speeds grow between the third and fourth quarters of 2014," says the State of the Internet report by Akamai Technologies, Niraj Chokshi reports for The Washington Post. However, several states with large rural populations continue to have significantly lower average peak speeds, with Kentucky leading the way with the worst average peak Internet speed in the U.S.

Delaware's average peak speeds are 75.4 megabits per second. Following Delaware are Virginia (73.5), Washington, D.C. (65.9), Massachusetts (65.5), Rhode Island (64.6), North Dakota (61.9), Utah (60.2), New York (59.8), New Jersey (59.4) and Connecticut (57.9). On the opposite spectrum was rural America, led by Kentucky at 34 megabits per second, Arkansas (35.1), New Mexico (35.5), Idaho (37.2), Mississippi (37.3), Alaska (37.7,), Louisiana (39.4), Maine (40.4), West Virginia (42.1) and Iowa (42.4). (Read more) (Post map)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Funds available to fight for freedom of information; rural newspapers encouraged to apply for help

Rural newspapers that lack the funds to fight freedom-of-information battles now have a more robust source of financial help. The Society of Professional Journalists and the National Freedom of Information Coalition have joined forces to provide court fees and help with attorney fees to litigants who sue for access to government information. Rural media are encouraged to take advantage of this great opportunity in the fight for open government. The partnership, which was approved last week during Sunshine Week, will:
  • Have staff and volunteers from both organizations solicit applications and monitor public record battles at the state and federal levels for worthy cases.
  • Give priority to cases that a) have a strong legal basis, b) have the ability to establish good case law, and c) will help citizens and journalists, regardless of the profession or standing of the plaintiff.
  • Write or join amicus curiae briefs and/or intervene in cases where appropriate.
  • Coordinate publicity and advocacy.
  • Solicit other partners, when merited, such as state coalitions and other national access organizations.

Some local governments using social media to post restaurant health inspection scores

Restaurant health inspection scores are a staple of many newspapers, but officials in some areas are posting the scores on social media "to alert the public to health violations and to nudge establishments into cleaning up their acts," Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline. A few cities are even mining users’ comments on sites like Yelp "to track foodborne illnesses or predict which establishments are likely t­­o have sanitation problems." (A health inspection report on Yelp)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year more than 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die, Bergal writes. "About 60 percent of outbreaks come from restaurants, according to the CDC."

In an attempt to decrease the number of foodborne illnesses resulting from restaurant health violations, dozens of city and county health departments have been posting restaurant inspection results on government websites to share with the public, Bergal writes. Rajiv Bhatia, former environmental health director for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, told Bergal, "It allows the public to see the workings of a government agency and puts some pressure on the agency to do its job.” (Read more)

If you're a journalist, you don't need to have a phobia about math; here are resources to help you

Help is available for math-phobic journalists who need to tackle math to write stories. "Whether it’s reading a government-produced spreadsheet, calculating percentage changes or judging the results of complex academic studies, journalists often must confront the world of math, like it or not," John Wihbey reports for Journalist's Resource, a service of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Wihbey offers these resources:

Nieman Reports article recognizes the importance and health of weekly newspapers

The troubles of the metropolitan newspaper industry have overshadowed the health of its community-newspaper cousins, including rural weeklies that remain the only lifeline for covering local community stories of interest,  Barbara Selvin reports for Nieman Reports, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. (St. Louis American photo by Lawrence Bryant: The weekly has been able to get stories on the shooting in Ferugson, Mo., that other outlets haven't because local residents trust the newspaper.)

Selvin notes that the nation's 7,000 non-daily community newspapers with a total circulation of about 65.5 million, and about seven out of 10 weeklies have a circulation of less than 15,000. "Often, local newspapers are the top source for news about a community, a source that has grown in importance as regional papers have pulled back from covering outlying communities over the past 15 years," she writes. "Weeklies with a strong editorial voice bring communities together—or stir debate—over issues of great local import."

"While major daily papers have expanded their online presence, there is a robust debate as to whether, or how quickly, weeklies should attempt to move their communities online," Selvin writes. Some argue that weeklies should male the move now, while "the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors runs strongly in favor of maintaining an emphasis on print for reasons of revenue and community service."

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes the Rural Blog, told Selvin, “The weekly newspaper business is the healthiest part of the American newspaper business." But Cross said he "sees trouble ahead due to the growing role that communities of interest play in people’s lives through social media." He told Selvin, “As we spend more time with communities of interest, do we spend less time with communities of place, and does that reduce the interest in, and demand for, news of that place? I think it does.” (Read more)

Rural South Carolina newspaper series examines the South's struggles with obesity

A few times each year, an obesity report is released, filled with statistics about how fat Americans—often rural residents, mainly in the South—have become. News outlets jump on the stories, with television stations showing the same random videos of fat people shot from the neck down. The Index-Journal in Greenwood, S.C., decided to tackle the issue, using a series to look at why local rural areas struggle with obesity. (Index-Journal photo by Andrew Macke: Popular southern foods high in fat are one reason for the obesity epidemic)

South Carolina is 10th in the nation in adult obesity, with 31.7 percent of adults obese in 2013, reports Ariel Gilreath. Even worse, the state is second in childhood obesity. The epidemic is particularly bad in rural areas. Dr. Patrick O'Neil, the director of the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, told Gilreath, "For various reasons, you do often see a higher prevalence of obesity in rural areas, and there's a lot of speculation as to why that might be, and the same is true for why is South Carolina near the top in obesity rates. We have some areas of much lower income, which also tend to be the rural areas, and lower income is associated with higher rates of obesity."

O'Neil said the culture of the South supports obesity, Gilreath writes in a separate story. Some of the main problems are southern traditions that include foods and drinks high in fat or sugar, such as fried chicken, sweet tea and macaroni and cheese, that many rural residents eat as children and continue to eat as adults, serving their children the same foods. Fried foods and other fatty foods are often cheaper, something that appeals to people with lower incomes. And once someone gets accustomed to unhealthy foods, it becomes difficult for them to change their diet.

Another rural Southern problem is a sedentary lifestyle, often caused by a lack of options, Gilreath writes. It's hard to ride a bike in an area with no sidewalks and roads in poor condition. Therese Moore, clinical dietician at Self Regional's Diabetes Education Center, "said the mindset of small, southern communities hinders people from healthy lifestyles." She told Gilreath, "You're looking at a perception that's not natural for people to walk where they need to go here, when you're living in a small town. And walking a mile is almost unheard of to go somewhere purposeful."

Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism offer informative reads about rural health issues

Some winners of the 2014 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism won for coverage of rural issues or work for news outlets with large rural audiences. The winners will be recognized at the Association of Health Care Journalists' annual conference in Santa Clara, Calif., in April.

Markian Hawryluk of the Bend Bulletin in central Oregon was a double winner. Hawryluk won first prize for coverage of public health by smaller news outlets, for "The Risks of Home Birth." Hawryluk took peer-reviewed and government data and combined it with personal examples to bring attention to the "very high risks associated with home birth." Simeon Bennett and Stepan Kravchenko of Bloomberg Markets won second place for "Russia's Hidden Epidemic" of HIV. Third went to Brian Bienkowski of Environmental Health News for "Pesticide Use by Farmers Linked to High Rates of Depression, Suicides." This story is about the increasing evidence that long-term pesticide exposure can affect mental health, and a farmer who committed suicide after years of handling pesticides.

Hawryluk won third place in investigative reporting for "Too Risky to Transplant." This story reveals changes in the Medicare organ transplant program that focus on patients one-year survival rates, which has prompted the rejection of riskier transplant patients and less-than-perfect organs. Hawryluk encourages journalists to go directly to the surgeons when looking for this type of data because transplant programs don't want to publicize any negative findings about their programs. First place went to Beth Daley of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting for "Unregulated Tests" and "Can you Trust Lyme Disease Tests?" Mary Beth Pfeiffer of the The Poughkeepsie Journal in New York won second for her series "Killers and Pain." These stories explored and exposed a painkiller-abuse epidemic, breaking new ground on a story that has been told before by placing the blame on doctors and the New York agencies that regulate them.

For coverage of health policy by small outlets, first place went to Barbara Peters Smith of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for a series titled "The Kindness of Strangers: Inside Elder Guardianship in Florida." This series describes how Florida courts can take elders who are unable to care for themselves under guardianship and gain control over their assets, even when family members are willing to take on that role. Critics of the process call it "liquidate, isolate, medicate."Smith's advice to journalists when writing this type of article is to make sure to carefully vet stories from family members and consult with a lawyer when dealing with anyone who might be depicted critically.

Lauren Sausser of the Charleston, S.C., The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C, won second place for "Rural hospitals face emergency." Sausser reported the plight of rural hospitals across the country through the story of one. She wrote that many rural hospitals are struggling to stay open while working on tight budgets, being forced to merge with larger systems or closing. Sausser encouraged journalists to add color and context to such a story by going straight to the source for information.

Third place went to Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican for "True Cost of Care." This story exposed how markups on medical services affect patients with insurance and the uninsured and the role the markups play in hospitals' charitable status. Malone used a massive Centers for Medicaid Services report to gather his data and encouraged journalists to make sure they use the "truest and most representative" data, and include human voices to explain why the data matters.

Justine Griffin of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune won second place in the small consumer category for "The Cost of Life," a personal narrative that delveed into the fertility industry and "shadow promises for the unsuspecting donors."

The staff of Inside Climate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel won first prize in the large investigative reporting category, for for "Big Oil, Bad Air", a story focused on the role "oil-and-gas friendly legislators" in Texas have had on drilling permits and decreased regulations and the effects of airborne pollutants related to hydraulic fracturing.

Research firm says coal's future 'increasingly bleak'

The coal industry's future looks "increasingly bleak" and could soon face "a wave of bankruptcies," says an investment note from Macquarie Research, Nick Cunningham reports for Oil Price. The main reasons are competition from natural gas, proposed rules to cut greenhouse gases and a reduction of foreign investors buying U.S. coal, which has led to shuttering of several coal operations.

"Macquarie Research downgraded its projection for coal prices by $5 per ton and said that the only way to bring the market back into balance was for capacity to be shut in," Cunningham writes. Investors are starting to leave the industry and "companies may struggle even to access financing, forcing them to close up shop. Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, for example—once prominent and stable coal producers—have seen their share prices plummet into penny-stock territory." (Read more)

Booklet offers agricultural safety and training guidelines for young people working in gardens

Now that spring is here and garden season has arrived, the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety has released an online booklet that helps adults decide "which tasks children should perform, what equipment they can use, what training they should receive and how much supervision is needed," says the center.

The booklet includes: training tips; work basics, such as bending lifting and climbing; guidelines for hired youth; responsibilities of employers and supervisors; and basic principles for training teens. The garden section focuses on: picking rock; hand-weeding; harvesting strawberries; hand-harvesting vegetables; composting' pruning trees and vines; and harvesting tree fruit. (Read more)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Catfish farms wanted tougher inspections to fight foreign competition; be careful what you ask for

More rigorous inspections—requested by U.S. catfish producers in 2008 to compete with foreign competitors—are causing more harm than good, Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times. Regulations, expected to be finalized soon, are costing "an already beleaguered industry millions of dollars to comply, potentially driving more catfish farmers out of the business and costing hundreds of jobs in the rural South, said John Sackton, a seafood industry analyst." (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal photo by Adam Robison: Catfish farmers in Egypt, Miss.)

Inspections were moved from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to a more rigorous program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nixon writes. USDA inspections, which are now more "like those conducted at meat and poultry processing plants, are conducted daily and are more rigorous than the sporadic checks conducted by the Food and Drug Administration."

The U.S. catfish industry, mostly located in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas, has dropped from 133,000 acres in 2008 to 69,910 this year, Nixon writes. Industry officials blame the drop on higher corn prices used to feed catfish and lower-priced imports "primarily from Vietnam, which often undercut catfish raised in the U.S by $2 a pound. Those imports now make up about 75 percent of the U.S. market."

"Domestic catfish farmers say foreign-raised catfish is produced under lax safety standards," Nixon writes. "But the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, a trade group based in Ho Chi Minh City, said its catfish exports undergo rigorous testing and inspection." (Read more)

Unregulated boot camps in rural and remote areas putting troubled teens in dangerous circumstances

Unregulated therapeutic institutions for troubled teenagers—located almost exclusively in rural and remote areas—that expose kids to often brutal wilderness conditions are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., Sulome Anderson reports for The Atlantic. Teens, who are often brought to the camps forcibly and without any prior knowledge of what's happening, are admitted anywhere from a few months to as long as two years. (Flickr photo: Wilderness camp in Denali National Park and Preserve

Critics say the teenagers are exposed to cruel conditions, abuse and even death, Anderson writes. "Its proponents maintain that this type of isolation, away from the temptations and perils of society, can benefit youth who are straying down the path of addiction and dysfunction. They present a multitude of success stories and insist this type of therapy can be life-changing."

The U.S. Government Accountability Office compiled a 2007 report on the dangers of wilderness and other teen facilities, but no one knows for sure how many teenagers have died at the institutions, Anderson writes. The highest unconfirmed count is 86 deaths since 2000.

One of the main problems is that "many states don’t require background checks for staff, and there have been multiple investigations into sexual abuse and arrests for sexual assault at teen residential and wilderness programs in recent years," Anderson writes. The fear is that untrained staff members are given free rein to do whatever they want to underage vulnerable teenagers.

"In May 2013, Congressman George Miller, a Democrat from California, reintroduced legislation that aimed to better protect adolescents in such facilities from abuse and provide easily accessible information for parents on the safety records of the programs," Anderson writes. "The bill has repeatedly failed in the House." But some politicians, including 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, own companies that run these programs. The institutions are also popular with local residents because they provide jobs and stimulate the local economy. (Read more)

World's pig farmers use nearly four times as many antibiotics as cattle ranchers, study says

"Pig farmers around the world, on average, use nearly four times as much antibiotics as cattle ranchers do, per pound of meat," says a study published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michaeleen Doucleff reports for NPR. "Poultry farmers fall somewhere between the two."

Researchers found that in 2010, the world used 63,000 tons of antibiotics for cows, chickens and pigs, which is twice as many antibiotics as those prescribed by doctors to fight infections, Doucleff writes. China is the biggest culprit of using antibiotics on pigs, but the U.S. is close behind in second, using about 10 percent of the world's total of antibiotics. Brazil, India and Germany round out the top five.

Drug use is expected to continue to rise, Anderson writes. The study's author, Ramanan Laxminarayan, who directs the Center for Disease Dynamics Economics & Policy in Washington, D.C., told Doucleff, "We project in the next 20 years world consumption of antibiotics in animals will go up by two-thirds. The implications for the effectiveness of our antibiotics could be quite devastating." (Read more)

How some Quaker enviros got PNC Bank to cut loans to coal firms that remove mountaintops

Mounting pressure from the organization Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) forced PNC Bank earlier this month to announce it was substantially cutting financing for companies that practice mountaintop removal. How did EQAT get the nation's seventh largest bank to cave to an issue it had for years refused to respond to? George Lakey, an activist, Quaker and visiting professor at Swarthmore College, explains EQAT's success in an article for Waging Nonviolence. (Flickr photo by Brennan Cavanaugh)

"EQAT began as a tiny group, protesting in PNC bank branches and PNC-sponsored community events," Lakey writes. "We marched 200 miles across Pennsylvania to PNC’s headquarters in Pittsburgh. We learned to hold pray-ins, get arrested and disrupt shareholders meetings. We inspired people to pull over $3.5 million out of PNC bank deposits. In December, EQAT pulled off 31 actions in 12 states and Washington, D.C., within 24 hours. It became clear to PNC that EQAT was growing and would never go away until the bank changed."

"The group made a number of decisions along the way that attracted criticism, even from some who agreed with EQAT that global warming is a threat," Lakey writes. "One was to focus on a bank instead of political authorities. The Environmental Protection Agency and politicians are the legitimate deciders on environmental policy, we were told. Why target a bank that is only doing its job? We chose our target believing everyone needs to take responsibility for their role in the unfolding disaster of climate change, including banks whose financial decisions have enormous consequences compared with most individuals and groups."

"A Princeton University study released in 2014 gave support for our choice to target the economic elite." Lakey writes. "The study found major policy decisions in the United States don’t result from the normal political processes but from the economic elite telling politicians what to do. Billionaire Warren Buffett earlier put it more pungently to The New York Times when he said, 'There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.' EQAT recognized that many Americans are in denial about the class warfare raging around them. Targeting a bank, we though, might help people smell the coffee." (Read more)

Decade-long battle between rural California weeklies ends with Point Reyes Light still shining

For years, two weeklies with contrasting styles and intriguing histories have competed for readers and advertisers in rural western Marin County, California (Census Bureau map). Because they struggling to stay afloat, the future of both was up in the air. Now, after two unsuccessful merger attempts, the owner of the insurgent West Marin Citizen has agreed to sell her paper to the Point Reyes Light, which will shut down the Citizen, Paul Liberatore reports for the daily Marin Independent-Journal. (Maps of the World map)

The newspapers have a complicated history, born mainly out of spite. Founded in 1948, the Light won a Pulitzer in 1979 for reporting on the Synanon cult. It was sold in 2005 to Robert Plotkin, "a brash former Monterey County prosecutor who came to West Marin with a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in Manhattan and an intense personality that was more Grand Central Station than Point Reyes Station. The then-35-year-old newcomer immediately raised eyebrows when he announced that his goal was to turn the Light into 'The New York Times of West Marin,' a pretentious remark that signaled to the many educated, liberal readers of the Light that this arrogant outsider had an unrealistic view of what small-town community journalism is all about."

Joel Hack, editor and publisher of the Bodega Bay Navigator, disliked Plotkin so much that he launched the Citizen in 2007 to compete with the Light. Plotkin sold the Light in 2010, and Hack retired in 2011, turning over ownership of the Citizen to Linda Petersen, who had been advertising director. Since then, the papers have battled on a much smaller scale, mostly fighting for revenue, Liberatore writes. Their styles are completely different. The Citizen, "pretty much a one-woman operation, focuses on softer stuff, publishing features and photos contributed by local residents. The Light, with two full-time reporters, specializes in hard news."

Petersen, 67, who plans to retire and move closer to family in Oregon, asked Liberatore, “What’s the point of me pushing on here when it’s getting more and more difficult to get the paper out each week?” Tess Elliott, 35-year-old editor of the Light, said the  deal is "in the spirit of a merger," and said "she and Petersen envision a hybrid of the two papers, including in the new Light the folksy community journalism that has been the hallmark of the Citizen." Former Light owner Dave Mitchell, who won the Pulitzer, told Liberatore, "I'm very pleased. It's very hard for two weeklies in a place this small, splitting all the advertising, splitting all the readers, splitting all the subscriptions. There isn't enough population here to sustain two papers in the long haul." (Read more)

Meanwhile, a group of weeklies in the more populated part of Marin County has been sold.

Plant would turn chicken manure into energy as one way to clean up Chesapeake Bay

Chicken manure could soon be turned into viable energy. New Hampshire-based AgEnergyUSA "has teamed with poultry giant Perdue to propose a $200 million plant on the Eastern Shore to extract energy from chicken manure, offering its plan as a viable remedy for the farm pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay," Timothy B. Wheeler reports for The Baltimore Sun.

"Officials with AgEnergyUSA met in Annapolis last week with lawmakers, state officials, environmentalists and farmers, seeking support and legislation worth tens of millions of dollars for their project," Wheeler writes. "While some remain wary because little has come of previous plans for dealing with the Shore's poultry pollution, this one comes from a company with prominent partners." The company has already constructed a $100 million digestion facility to process cattle manure in Colorado.

AGEnergyUSA's new plan is to "build an 'anaerobic digestion' plant near Salisbury (Md.) that could handle up to 200,000 tons of chicken litter a year—close to what officials estimate is the excess amount being spread on the Shore each year," Wheeler writes. "The plant would use bacteria to extract methane-rich bio-gas for industrial use. The residue would be processed so that the bay-fouling nutrients in chicken waste could be separated and used in a more environmentally friendly manner. The nitrogen could be sold back to farmers as liquid fertilizer, which crops need every year, while the problematic phosphorus that's built up in Shore soils could be shipped elsewhere and sold as peat moss." (Read more)