Thursday, August 28, 2008

CDC/FDA say salmonella outbreak is over

Today the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak has ended, citing the number of new cases reported has significantly dropped since July.

To date this salmonella strain has sickened 1,442, people and hospitalized 286, in more than 40 states.

With evidence suggesting the outbreak is over, FDA lifted its advice to consumers to avoid eating Mexican-grown jalapenos, which they cited as the major source for the illnesses, and Serrano peppers. FDA also stated they still believe the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak was initially connected with tomatoes, calling this outbreak one associated with “multiple raw produce.”

In addition, the CDC released a summary of this outbreak and their findings in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

FDA officials said they have learned a lot from this outbreak and believe their Food Protection Plan provides direction on how to enhance prevention and improve response to future outbreaks.

Although the Texas Department of Agriculture does not have a regulatory role in managing food-borne illnesses, it is critical Texas and the federal government work together to try to minimize such outbreaks. I look forward to working with the agriculture industry and regulators to a develop an efficient plan of action.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Texas Farmers and Ranchers Enter the Blogosphere

A recent article in the Dallas Morning News by Jessica Sidman profiled several Texas farmers and ranchers who have entered the blogosphere. Their blog entries range from the evolving diets of cattle to the addition of two new poodles at one farm.

As a relatively new member to the blogosphere myself, I think it’s great that Texas farmers and ranchers are also sharing their thoughts, stories and experiences with the world.

Here are some links to the farmers’ blogs featured in the article:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Public Service Announcement Shoot at McNeil High School

Today, I spent the morning with some outstanding students from McNeil High School in Austin. The students and I put together a Public Service Announcement reminding Texas parents and kids that winning on the court or the classroom starts with a healthy meal at school.

Our Texas schools are doing a great job and serve healthy and affordable breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Research shows students who eat healthy and exercise perform better in school. So, as you or your child head back to class this year remember Texas schools are serving up winning food for a winning lifestyle. You can check out the PSA we worked on today when it starts running on TV stations across the state next month.

I want to thank Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesús Chávez and all of those at McNeil High School and Round Rock ISD who helped with today's production.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison GO TEXAN

I want to personally thank two of the Lone Star State’s best singer/songwriters – Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison – for their contributions to the Texas Department of Agriculture’s GO TEXAN program.

Today Kelly and Bruce came to the TDA recording studio to tape radio spots about the upcoming GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up on October 1. Soon you will hear the announcements on radio stations across the state. Listen for Kelly and Bruce and remember to GO TEXAN October 1 during the first-ever GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up. Thanks again, Kelly and Bruce!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Finding a GO TEXAN restaurant is now just a click away

Good news! The GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up Web site is up and running. This is your best source for finding a restaurant in your area that’s participating in our big statewide event on October 1.

This is the day you want to dine out because participating GO TEXAN Restaurant Program establishments will feature special Texas menu items, such as Texas shrimp, vegetables and wine.

Best of all, many restaurants will contribute a portion of the day's proceeds to food banks across the state in support of TDA's Texans Feeding Texans program. So make sure you check the site often as more Texas restaurants join the cause.

Dine out October 1 and help feed Texans in need.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Economic Development Continues in Rural Texas

Today I traveled to the City of Comanche to present a $150,000 check that will fund improvements to the city’s downtown area.

The funding was provided through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Texas Capital Fund, a great tool to ensure economic growth in every region of our state. This award will give a boost to Comanche and is an example of good business and great partnerships at work in Texas.

Dr. Raymond Stepp, Mayor of Comanche, expressed his gratitude for the award, stating that rehabilitation of Comanche's square will continue the revitalization of his community.

The Texas Capital Fund provides more than $10 million in competitive awards each year to boost economic development in small Texas cities and counties. The program provides funding for projects under four different programs: Infrastructure Development, Real Estate Development, Main Street Improvements and Downtown Revitalization. For more information about the Texas Capital Fund, contact the TDA Rural Economic Development Division, P.O. Box 12847, Austin, Texas 78711, or call the toll-free Rural Assistance line at (877) 428-7848.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Texas-Mexico Agriculture Exchange Program Builds Bridges

This week I traveled to Coeur d'alene, Idaho to meet with secretaries of agriculture from other states, Mexico and Canada to discuss agricultural trade and development issues at the Tri-National Accord. Discussions between representatives of the U.S. and Mexico focused on ways to improve the protocol for live cattle trade in order to move toward fully normalized trade of healthy livestock. Agricultural leaders from the three nations also discussed the need to work together for improved communication in food safety protocols and highlighted areas of concern to all of our producers.

United States Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Nancy Montanez Johner also briefed the group on current efforts by USDA in nutrition programs. She highlighted the work Texas is doing on health and nutrition initiatives to develop a healthier future for our state.

Also at the meeting, I met with the General Director of the Agricultural Development Corporation of Nuevo Leon, Fermin Montes Cavazos, to sign the Memorandum of Understanding between the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Nuevo Leon Department of Agriculture to establish the Texas-Mexico Agriculture Exchange Program. This opportunity will benefit agricultural leaders in both Texas and Mexico.

Under the exchange program, education and insight will be exchanged to improve understanding between Mexico and U.S. producers on agricultural production and trade in both countries. The program also involves reciprocal visits for young agribusiness professionals from each state. Participants will be given the opportunity to work with organizations that match their experience and requirements with host agricultural operations and industries.

Mexico is Texas' largest trading partner. Providing opportunities for the best and brightest from Texas and Nuevo Leon to learn from each other will advance the agricultural industry and provide superior service for consumers. The first exchange is set for spring of 2009.

Meeting with delegates from our neighboring states and countries was a good step to continue development of markets for Texas products and establish valuable relationships with other agriculture leaders.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

21 Texas Communities Receive GO TEXAN Beautification Grants

I am pleased to announce the Texas Department of Agriculture has awarded 21 GO TEXAN Rural Community Beautification matching grants to cities and counties that wish to improve the aesthetic appearance of their downtown areas.

The appeal of the downtown area is vital to the success of any city. 21st-century rural Texas expands beyond farming and ranching to capitalize on our state's vast natural resources and rich heritage. It is essential our communities attract tourists and retirees to generate economic prosperity and add to our powerfully productive agricultural base. These GO TEXAN matching grant funds will assist in creating opportunities for tomorrow, today.

The GO TEXAN Rural Community Beautification Grant Program, housed under the Rural Economic Development Division, has awarded matching grants to the cities of Clifton, Coldspring, Cross Plains, Eden, Elgin, Giddings, Hearne, Henrietta, Iraan, Jefferson, Lampasas, Los Fresnos, Meridian, Natalia, Paducah, Quitman, Silsbee, Whitesboro, and Yorktown as well as the counties of Throckmorton (on behalf of the City of Throckmorton) and Uvalde (on behalf of the City of Utopia). The total amount of matching funds granted is $96,879.

Click HERE to learn more about GO TEXAN's Rural Community Program.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Key Disaster Assistance Deadline Approaching

An important deadline to be eligible for the new Federal disaster assistance program is nearing, so now is the time to submit your paperwork. The new Farm Bill creates five new disaster programs, collectively referred to as Supplemental Agriculture Disaster Assistance programs. Those programs include:

  • Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP)
  • Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP)
  • Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP)
  • Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program
  • Tree Assistance Program (TAP)
To be eligible for these programs, producers must purchase at least catastrophic risk protection (CAT) crop insurance for all insurable crops and/or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage for non-insurable crops.

However, for the 2008 crop year only, producers who were eligible to get at least CAT level crop insurance or NAP, but did not, can “buy-in” to be eligible to participate in the applicable programs by paying the administrative fee that would have been applicable if the producer had applied for CAT or NAP in time.

The deadline to “buy-in” is Sept. 16, 2008. For more information contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county office or visit the USDA-FSA Web site.

Also, the Texas Department of Agriculture has updated our Disaster Resource Information Packet and it can be found at our Web site.

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Hometown of Palestine Approved as GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Community

Congratulations to the City of Palestine for being approved as a GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Community (CRC).

I extend my most sincere congratulations to the citizens and leaders of Palestine for achieving this notable certification. It's a great honor for my hometown.

Launched in June 2006, the Texas Department of Agriculture's CRC initiative helps rural Texas communities attract retirees and potential retirees to live in their respective locales. The CRC Program also encourages tourism. Palestine is the 17th community in the state to be certified.

The Texas Department of Agriculture is looking forward to working with Palestine and our other certified retirement communities in a campaign to attract retirees and tourists to the Lone Star State. Not only do retirees have a significant economic impact on retirement areas, but they also bring a wealth of knowledge and energy for community service, employment and business.

Retirees spend an average $36,000 each year in their new communities while also paying $3,000 or more in state and local taxes. Texas is the second most popular retirement state, and native Texans account for one-fifth of retirees returning to Texas.

For more information on the GO TEXAN CRC Program, please visit our Web site. For more information on retiring in Texas, please visit the official state site at You can also call TDA's Rural Economic Development Division toll free at (877) 428-7848 or e-mail

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Response to EPA Regarding Renewable Fuel Standard Waiver Rejection

Now that the EPA has made its ruling and denied the ethanol waiver it is time to move forward. Farmers and ranchers need to come together to work on solutions for dealing with the rising costs of fuel and fertilizer.

USDA has released its annual report of farm production expenditures and it is proof we must find answers to the escalating costs of doing business. According to the report, the rising cost of fuel and other products helped drive U.S. farm production expenditures to a record $260 billion in 2007. Total U.S. farm production expenditures rose 9.3 percent from 2006 and nearly 30 percent from five years ago. For a full summary of the USDA report click on the link from Pro Farmer: Link to full report.

I look forward to working with everyone in the agriculture industry to find ways that will help us effectively battle the rising costs of farming and ranching.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Operation Spotlight" Updates and Changes

It’s been two weeks since the Texas Department of Agriculture implemented “Operation Spotlight,” an unprecedented investigation that uncovered dozens of Sunmart fuel stations cheating Texas drivers at the pump.

While the investigation into the calibration of the pumps continues, reinspections of Sunmart’s faulty pumps are underway and should be completed in a few weeks. I’m also pleased to note that Sunmart continues to cooperate with our requests throughout this investigation.

Just over a year ago, I quadrupled fines for fuel pump violations. Now, in light of these heinous actions against Texas consumers, I will seek legislative authority to increase those penalties even further while also strengthening TDA’s consumer protection resources with additional inspectors and enforcement staff. My team and I are working diligently to implement the following improvements in TDA’s regulatory process:
  • Conduct constant trend analyses of inspection data, such as the one that led to Operation Spotlight;
  • Increase penalties for repeat violations resulting from servicing and recalibration conducted by the same company that owns the station;
  • Implement "stop sales" on repeat egregious violators that will prohibit use of fuel pumps, even after recalibrations, until a reinspection by TDA is performed;
  • Improve the regulatory system for licensing fuel pump service companies and technicians;
  • Strengthen the regulations and penalties encouraging octane accuracy;
  • And examine new methods to better analyze inspection data to detect trends of non-compliance.

TDA is currently evaluating the appropriate enforcement actions that should be applied to Sunmart’s initial violations under “Operation Spotlight.” So far, all indications are that penalties will exceed $100,000. This is in addition to all civil or criminal penalties sought by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Consumer protection remains a priority at TDA. As such, we are committed to enforcing regulations that protect Texas consumers, and to seeing that justice be served for those who choose to violate of our state’s regulations.