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Published August 13, 2012, 11:43 AM

Latest news

Crystal CEO declines meeting invitation, Obama announces more drought aid, and July was the hottest month on record.

Obama announces $30 million more in drought assistance

•WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to authorize an additional $30 million to help crop and livestock producers in drought-stricken areas of the U.S. The spending does not require congressional approval, and the money already has been allocated to the department. Obama held a meeting on the government’s drought response at the White House Aug. 7. Additional steps to assist people and businesses hit by the drought include a U.S. Department of Transportation program to help commercial truck drivers deliver supplies to affected areas. Obama also called on Congress to pass a farm bill languishing on Capitol Hill. He says passing the five-year, $500 billion farm bill would give farmers much-needed certainty. Officials say the drought is the worst in the U.S. in 25 years.

Crystal CEO declines invite to meeting

•EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar CEO?Dave Berg has declined a meeting invitation from the head union negotiator representing locked out Crystal workers. The intent of the meeting, which would have been held in East Grand Forks, Minn., Aug. 18, was to talk to union members about Crystal’s contract offer. In a letter emailed to Berg Aug. 8, union negotiator Steven Bertelli said the proposed meeting would be “an opportunity for you to describe management’s contract offer directly to workers, explain why you think they should vote to accept it and answer any questions they may have.” About 1,300 members of the Bakery Workers Union have been locked out since Aug. 1, 2011. Bertelli, the regional vice president based in Loami, Ill., wrote that the meeting would not be a negotiating session, but an “informative, constructive discussion that could contribute to productive negotiations.” But Crystal released a statement the same day, in which one of its lawyers said the issues have been outlined in multiple negotiating sessions and a public meeting will not resolve the dispute. The union has voted against management contract offers three separate times, most recently on June 23 with 63 percent of members rejecting the proposal. Eighty-two percent of the members participated in that vote. Earlier contract offers were rejected by voting members on July 31, 2011, and Nov. 1, 2011, by 96 and 90 percent, respectively. “We want to open the lines of communication and begin the process of cooperation and communication,” said John Riskey, president of Local 167G. “It’s time to get the skilled workers back there and making profits like we did when we were there before.” Crystal has processing plants in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead, Minn., as well as Drayton and Hillsboro, N.D. It also has packaging and transportation sites in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.

CDC: 158 cases of new swine flu strain from pigs

•ATLANTA — Health officials Aug. 9 reported a five-fold increase in cases of a new strain of swine flu that spreads from pigs to people. The cumulative case count jumped from 29 to 158 in a week thanks to a wave of new cases confirmed in Indiana and Ohio, the centers for Disease Control and Prevention say. Most of the cases have been tied to state and county agricultural fairs, where visitors are put in close contact with infected pigs, says Joseph Bresee, chief of influenza epidemiology for the CDC. The recent cases include at least 113 in Indiana, 30 in Ohio, one in Hawaii and one in Illinois, Bresee says. Now, states are using CDC test kits to confirm cases on their own, speeding the process along. The CDC has been tracking cases since last summer. The new strain has a gene from the 2009 pandemic strain that might let it spread more easily than pig viruses normally do. The good news is the flu does not seem to be unusually dangerous. Almost all of the illnesses have been mild and no one has died. More good news is that all of the recent cases appear to have spread from pigs to humans, meaning it’s not highly contagious, at least between people.

Iowa company issues 3-state tomato recall

•DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa grower is recalling grape tomatoes distributed in stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan because they may contain salmonella. Menno Beachy, of Cresco, issued a recall on Aug. 8 for one-pint containers of labeled Menno Beachy Certified Organic Grape Tomatoes. Beachy says he sent tomatoes from his farm and a nearby farm to a food distributor in Minnesota. The distributor sent 15 cases of 12 one-pint containers of the affected tomatoes to stores in the three states between July 26 and Aug. 6. No illnesses have been reported. Beachy says he became aware of the health risk after the Minnesota Department of Agriculture collected a sample from the Minnesota distributor that was found to be contaminated. Consumers should discard the tomatoes or return them to the store.

July was hottest month ever recorded in U.S.

•WASHINGTON — July was the hottest month in the contiguous U.S. since the government began keeping temperature records in 1895. The average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees — 3.3 degrees above the average 20th-century temperature, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Aug. 8. July thereby dethroned the record of 77.4 degrees set in July 1936, the agency says. Higher-than-average temperatures gripped much of the country, with the biggest departures from the 20th-century average reported across most of the Plains, in the Midwest and along the Eastern Seaboard, the agency’s report says. A hot July also contributed to the warmest 12-month period ever recorded in the U.S., the statistics showed. Climatologists at the agency noted that by the end of the month, about 63 percent of the nation was experiencing drought conditions, which contributed to the high temperatures.