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Published March 19, 2012, 10:21 AM

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Senators advise against paying MF Global bonuses

By: Agweek staff and wire reports, Agweek

Senators advise against paying MF Global bonuses

• WASHINGTON — Senators are telling the trustee overseeing MF Global that it would be outrageous to pay bonuses to top executives of the collapsed brokerage firm that was led by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. They say it would be wrong to pay bonuses while about $1.6 billion of customers’ money hasn’t been recovered.

All the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee signed a letter sent March 15 to former FBI director Louis Freeh, who acts on behalf of MF Global creditors as trustee. The committee is one of several congressional panels investigating MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy protection Oct. 31. “It is absolutely outrageous to propose paying bonuses to the very people who were responsible for the firm’s operational, legal and financial management at the time customer money disappeared,” the letter said. The Wall Street Journal had reported recently that Freeh was planning to seek permission for paying bonuses. Freeh has since said he hasn’t decided whether to ask the bankruptcy judge to approve bonuses for the executives. (More information on pages 22 and 23)

EU to allow more imports of hormone-free beef

• FORT WORTH, Texas — The European Union said March 14 that it’s moving to end a drawn-out trade war over hormone-treated beef from the U.S. and Canada — not by lifting the ban on such meat but by allowing more hormone-free carcasses and cuts. The action, part of a phased-in quota increase agreed to in 2009, will aid the minority of producers like Bonds Ranch of Saginaw, Texas, that raise beef cattle for Europe. It may also indirectly boost the beef cattle industry at a time when Texas ranchers are deciding whether to restock after last year’s devastating drought. Texas, the biggest producer, now has about 4.4 million breeding cows. “Not everyone has organized their business for this, but for the people already there, it’s a good deal,” says David Anderson, a livestock economist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. “It gives us more access to export markets and it’s certainly good for individual ranchers in terms of higher prices, or at least the potential for them.” Last year, the EU imported 82.5 million pounds of certified hormone-free beef, representing slightly more than 3 percent of total U.S. beef exports, Anderson says, citing U.S. government trade figures. Small compared with exports to Japan, Mexico and South Korea, Anderson says, “that works out to $150 million, which is a lot of money.” The new quota will rise in stages until about August, when it will allow 10 million more pounds into EU countries. The hormone dispute has troubled trade relations since 1988, when the Europeans, citing health concerns, banned imports of beef that had been treated with certain growth-promoting hormones, affecting mainly U.S. and Canadian producers. “This long-lasting trading dispute will end today,” Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl, a conservative German member of the European Parliament, said in an EU news release. The measure was passed without changes by a 650-11 vote in the European Parliament.

ND Dem gubernatorial candidate picks running mate

• BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ryan Taylor chose a former university administrator as his running mate on March 14. Taylor and former first lady Jane Sinner announced the selection of former Valley City (N.D.) State president Ellen Chaffee in Fargo, N.D. State Democrats held their convention last weekend in Grand Forks, N.D., where they were slated to endorse their preferred candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. Taylor, a Towner, N.D., rancher and the senate minority leader, is the only Democrat in the running. He has said that he wanted to choose his own running mate before the convention began. Incumbent Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley pose a challenge for the Democratic candidates. Dalrymple has been governor since December 2010, when former Gov. John Hoeven resigned to go to the U.S. Senate. The state Republican convention will be held later this month in Bismarck, N.D. Chaffee, 67, retired from Valley City State in 2007 after serving as the school’s president for 15 years. She later was the chair of MeritCare’s board of directors, before the Fargo-based health system merged with Sanford Health in 2009. Chaffee has also worked at North Dakota State University as a faculty member and an administrator. She holds a master’s degree in counseling from NDSU and master’s and doctorate degrees from Stanford University in administration and policy analysis.

Briefly . . .

• Wheat Growers fined: The Wheat Growers grain and agronomy cooperative in North Dakota and South Dakota will pay an $812,000 federal fine in connection with the death of an employee at the group’s McLaughlin, S.D., facility about two years ago. Wheat Growers reached the settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the December 2009 death of 52-year-old Steven Lee of McLaughlin, who was suffocated by sunflower seeds in a grain silo. OSHA found nearly two dozen violations of grain handling and confined space standards and initially proposed a $1.6 million fine. Wheat Growers contested the judgment and it was cut in half. Spokesman Bill Pool says Wheat Growers has instituted training programs, formed rescue teams, and bought and distributed rescue equipment.

• Burn bans: Several North Dakota counties have declared fire emergencies and instituted immediate burn bans. The bans in Adams, Burleigh, Dunn, Emmons, Golden Valley, Grant, Hettinger, Kidder, LaMoure, Logan, McKenzie, Morton, Sioux, Stark, Wells and Williams counties will remain in effect when the North Dakota rangeland fire danger index is “very high” or “extreme” or a red flag warning is issued. The counties join Billings, Bowman, McIntosh, Mercer, Oliver and Slope counties, which already have burn bans in effect. The bans include campfires and garbage burning.