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Another Sprout Outbreak – We need a Warning Label, says Marler

William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety, warns about the danger of sprouts and that they are not as “healthy” as they seem – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Another sprout-related Salmonella outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts. Marler Clark specializes in cases involving foodborne illness.

As of December 15, 2014, a total of 111 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 12 states linked to Wonton sprouts. Illnesses have surfaced in Connecticut (8), Maine (4), Maryland (5), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (6), New York (21), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (17), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1).  Twenty-six percent of ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. of New York are the likely source of this outbreak.

“According to the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” says William Marler, the firm’s managing partner. He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

As far back as September 1998, the FDA and CDC issued a warning against sprouts urging, children, pregnant women, and the elderly that they should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of E. coli. They also warned that any people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts as well.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

“Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all,” says Marler. “Most people don’t understand the risks. The reality is most assume that something so “natural” is healthy, but the opposite is true—people who eat sprouts are gambling with their health each and every time they add them to a salad or sandwich. A warning label would go a long way towards explaining the real risks of sprouts.”

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found HERE.

Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also recently founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.

Cockroaches and Lizard Feces Prompts Hawaiian Sprouter Closure

The FDA announced last Friday that RZM Food Factory in Makawao, Hawaii agreed to stop processing and distributing food products until the company is in compliance with federal law. A federal judge signed a consent decree or permanent injunction and entered it in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii last Thursday.

The day before, the FDA filed a complaint for permanent injunction against RZM Food Factory, which manufactures, prepares, packs, holds and distributes ready-to-eat mung bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, clover sprouts and radish sprouts.

During the FDA’s most recent inspection of RZM Food Factory’s facilities in April, it found several different types of pests, including cockroaches. FDA investigators also saw lizard feces in the growing room and a slug on a growing bed of sprouts. It also found litter and waste in and outside the facility.

The FDA also alleges that the facilities and equipment were not maintained. During the inspection, rain leaked onto the growing beds. “The rainwater can be contaminated from birds and other animals and thus serve as a route for contaminating sprouts with pathogens,” the FDA said. It also said the irrigation tanks were rusty, corroded and uncovered.

In several inspections since 2001, the FDA found similar unsanitary conditions.

As another Salmonella “Sproutbreak” Grows, Marler Calls for Sprout Warning Label

William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety, warns about the danger of sprouts and that they are not as “healthy” as they seem – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Another sprout-related Salmonella outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts. Marler Clark specializes in cases involving foodborne illness.

As of December 4, a total of 87 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 11 states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Connecticut (7), Maine (3), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (4), New York (14), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (10), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1). The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. of New York are the likely source of this outbreak.

“According to the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” says William Marler, the firm’s managing partner. He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

Perhaps we even need to be a bit clearer:

As far back as September 1998, the FDA and CDC issued a warning against sprouts urging, children, pregnant women, and the elderly that they should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of E. coli. They also warned that any people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts as well.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

“Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all,” says Marler. “Most people don’t understand the risks. The reality is most assume that something so “natural” is healthy, but the opposite is true—people who eat sprouts are gambling with their health each and every time they add them to a salad or sandwich. A warning label would go a long way towards explaining the real risks of sprouts.”

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found HERE.

Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also recently founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.

It is Time to Vaccinate Food Service Workers for Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is more than a “tummy bug” – it can be life altering – See Link.

Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak.  Yet another one was announced last night from New Jersey.

Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness that is vaccine-preventable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the inception of the vaccine, rates of infection have declined 92 percent.

CDC estimate that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission. In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but also businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.

Although CDC has not yet called for mandatory vaccination of food-service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., despite FDA approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995. Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections. Vaccinations cost about $50. The major economic reason that these preventive shots have not been used is because of the high turnover rate of food-service employees. Eating out becomes a whole lot less of a gamble if all food-service workers faced the same requirement.

According to CDC, the costs associated with hepatitis A are substantial. Between 11 percent and 22 percent of persons who have hepatitis A are hospitalized. Adults who become ill lose an average of 27 days of work. Health departments incur substantial costs in providing post-exposure prophylaxis to an average of 11 contacts per case. Average costs (direct and indirect) of hepatitis A range from $1,817 to $2,459 per case for adults and from $433 to $1,492 per case for children younger than 18. In 1989, the estimated annual direct and indirect costs of hepatitis A in the U.S. were more than $200 million, equivalent to more than $300 million in 1997 dollars.  A new CDC report shows that, in 2010, slightly more than 10 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 49 got a hepatitis A shot.

Vaccinating an employee make sense.  It is moral to protect customers from an illness that can cause serious illness and death. Vaccines also protect the business from the multi-million-dollar fallout that can come if people become ill or if thousands are forced to stand in line to be vaccinated to prevent a more serious problem.

Fowl Thoughts on Thanksgiving

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) released its “Name and Shame” Report this morning.  The idea of testing retail chicken and publishing the results had been the focus of much discussion over the last few months.  Some UK retailers were not very happy that the public would actually know how tainted the chicken really is.

If this had been the US equivalent, FSIS, we would be wondering why would the report be released on Thanksgiving Day.  My guess is that in the UK Thanksgiving does not have the same meaning as it does over here.

Retailers had tried to block the study’s release.

Well, back to the study; Campylobacter was found in 70 per cent of chicken tested up from 59 per cent of chickens in August.  Almost a fifth of all chickens (18 per cent) tested positive for Campylobacter above the highest level of contamination, while six per cent of packaging tested positive – a rise of four per cent since August.

The FSA also revealed that Asda sold the highest percentage of chickens contaminated with the bug.  Campylobacter was present in 78 per cent of chickens from the supermarket, with 28 per cent above the highest level of contamination.

Packaging testing showed 12 per cent was contaminated.  Don’t forget the recent “chicken juice” report.

Almost three-quarters of chickens (73 per cent) sold by the Co-operative tested positive, followed by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose (69 per cent), Marks & Spencer (67 per cent) and Tesco (64 per cent).

Perhaps it is time to redo our 2011 testing of contamination levels in chicken purchased in Seattle.  Here were some of the results:

The study showed that up to 80% of Seattle area raw chicken could be contaminated with some form of potentially harmful bacteria.

Testing done by IEH Laboratories in Lake Forest Park, Washington showed that 80 of 100 raw chickens purchased at various Seattle area grocery stores contained at least one potentially harmful pathogen.

The test was comprised of 18 brands of chicken purchased at 18 different Seattle area stores including chain grocery stores, Safeway (3 locations), Albertsons (2), QFC (4), Fred Meyer (2), Thriftway (1); warehouse clubs Costco (2) and Sam’s Club (1); natural foods stores Whole Foods (1) and PCC (1), and one small market, Ken’s Market (1).

In the study local and organic chicken did not prove to be safer than other samples. In terms of origination, 59 chicken samples originated from Washington, while 13 samples came from other states and 28 were of unknown origin. Regardless of place, chicken from every state tested was confirmed to contain potentially harmful bacteria.  Of the 14 samples of organic chicken 12 contained harmful bacteria.

The study tested for five pathogens.  While some findings were typical, other results were more surprising.  Previous studies have found on average that 33 to 53% of chicken is contaminated with Campylobacter.  In Seattle 65% of the chicken tested positive for Campylobacter.  Salmonella was isolated in 19% of the chicken purchased at retail stores in the Seattle area, slightly higher than the expected average of 16%.  Staphylococcus aureus was found in 42% of the chicken sampled; 10 of these samples were Methicillan-resistant, commonly known as MRSA.  One sample cultured positive for Listeria monocytogenes and one sample cultured positive for E. coli O26, a bacteria often found in beef.

Salmonella Tests Prompt Cartilage Complex Recall

A single lot of Saba Shark Cartilage Complex is the subject of this public announcement and recall as a result of a sample from one bottle that tested positive for Salmonella. This product is packaged in black screw-top bottles with the brand name “saba” in red letters, the product name “shark cartilage complex” in white letters, and a net quantity statement of “500 mg 60 capsules” in small white letters. Product from the affected lot can be identified by the Lot Number 416349 and an expiration date of 08/16, both of which are printed in black letters inside a white rectangle that is adjacent to the products “Suggested Use” instructions.

AMS Health Sciences is recalling 2014 bottles of Saba Shark Cartilage Complex due to possible contamination of Salmonella.

Product from this lot was sold to consumers through the internet site www.sabaforlife.com during the period of February through August 2014. AMS is initiating this recall out of caution for consumer health, even though numerous samples from the same Lot No. have tested negative for Salmonella.

William Marler: Time for a Warning Label on Sprouts

Another sprout-related E. coli outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts.

“According the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” said William Marler, the firm’s managing partner.

He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

Epidemiology and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicated that contaminated raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC of Idaho are the likely source of this outbreak.  In interviews, 12 (86%) of 14 ill persons reported eating raw clover sprouts in the week before becoming ill.

As of June 9, 2014, a total of 17 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121 (STEC O121) have been reported from five states.  The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows:  Idaho (3), Michigan (1), Montana (2), Utah (1), and Washington (10).  47% of ill persons have been hospitalized. No ill persons have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and no deaths have been reported.

The FDA conducted an inspection of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts’ facility on May 22-23, 2014; May 27-30, 2014; and June 6, 2014. During the inspection, FDA investigators observed a number of unsanitary conditions, including condensate and irrigation water dripping from rusty valves; a rusty and corroded mung bean room watering system; tennis rackets that had scratches, chips, and frayed plastic” used to scoop mung bean sprouts; a pitchfork with corroded metal being used to transfer mung bean sprouts; and a squeegee with visible corroded metal and non-treated wood being used to agitate mung bean sprouts inside a soak vat.

Raw clover sprouts have not been recalled from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts. Because contaminated sprouts may still be available on the market, CDC recommends that consumers do not eat any raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.  The Washington State Department of Health and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare are also advising people not to eat raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.

Barfblog does a great job of tracking sprout outbreak through 2012.  Outbreak Database carries on – through 2014.

As far back as September 1998, the FDA issued a warning against sprouts urging:

children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts. The agency’s statement, issued Monday, repeated similar but little-noticed advice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control gave to doctors and researchers a year ago.

Here is the CDC warning :

Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.

Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.

Raw Milk Bill Dies in Louisiana

The Advocate reported that Farmers’ efforts to sell raw milk in Louisiana died Wednesday in a state Senate committee.

Supporters of House Bill 1279 pinned on “I love raw milk” buttons, assembled information packets and gathered 800 signatures on a petition. They pitched their product as a cure for medical concerns, including osteoporosis and lactose intolerance. They lobbied legislators. They even suggested that God is on their side.

“When God brought the Israelites to the land of milk and honey, he didn’t tell them to boil their milk first,” Rocky Branch farmer Matt Napier told the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare.

However, the bill clashed with concerns about the safety of unpasteurized milk.

State Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain predicted people would get sick from drinking raw milk. He said the health risk is 150 times greater than drinking pasteurized milk.

“We are charged, you and I, with public health, protection of public health,” Strain said.

Only one committee member voted in favor of advancing HB1279. Four others voted against it.

In an E. coli Outbreak and Recall, why are Restaurants Protected?

In a large meat recall earlier this year – without known illnesses – Food Safety News reported that a Bush administration decision (continued under the Obama administration) thwarts transparency in where recalled product was ultimately sold and consumed.  According to Food Safety News, it turns out that restaurants that make direct purchases from establishments involved in the recall are excluded from the retail recall list.  Here is the link to the Regulation.

Why do restaurants get a free pass on disclosure?

According to Food Safety News, Dr. Richard Raymond, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety during President George W. Bush’s second term, was head of FSIS when the agency began releasing retail recall lists. Raymond said that when he sent the regulation permitting FSIS to issue retail lists over to the Office of Management and Budget for its approval, restaurants were dropped.

Why?

Looking back over the last several years of recalls, how often were the names of restaurants and others excluded from publication?

Why?

USDA Awards $24 Million in Research Grants to Improve Food Safety

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced 35 research projects totaling nearly $24 million have been selected for funding to improve food safety by helping control microbial and chemical contamination in various foods.

“Foodborne illness affects approximately one in six Americans each year, making USDA’s investment in food safety science a high priority that will have direct impact on thousands of lives,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “Our goal is to reduce the number of illnesses and protect the food supply through research, education and Extension efforts focused on all levels of the food chain – from farm to fork.”

NIFA made the awards through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) Food Safety program. The program’s goal is to protect consumers from microbial and chemical contaminants that may occur in the food chain, from production to consumption. This year, AFRI’s Food Safety program focused on developing effective mitigation strategies for antimicrobial resistance, understanding the physical and molecular mechanisms of food contamination, and improving the safety of fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. In addition, the program addressed critical and emerging food safety hazards to help prevent contamination and outbreaks.

The AFRI Food Safety program comprises four sub-programs. The following projects have been selected for awards in each sub-program:

Addressing Critical and Emerging Food Safety Issues

  • University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $298,799
  • Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, $298,686
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $299,999
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $299,999
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb., $299,989
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $299,955

Effective Mitigation Strategies for Antimicrobial Resistance

  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., $29,872
  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., $800,000
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $799,958

Improving the Safety of Fresh and Fresh-Cut Produce

  • University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Ark., $414,185
  • Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., $424,955
  • University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, $424,930
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $423,204
  • Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, $424,846
  • Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Ky., $209,928
  • University of Maryland, College Park, Md., $424,999
  • Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Mo., $147,110
  • North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D., $147,603
  • University of Houston, Houston, Texas, $304,163
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $424,983

Physical and Molecular Mechanisms of Food Contamination

  • University of California, Davis, Calif., $499, 921
  • University of California, Davis, Calif., $499, 946
  • University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $499, 802
  • Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Ga., $500, 000
  • Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Ga., $499, 953
  • University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $499, 848
  • University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, $498, 413
  • Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Ill., $499, 429
  • University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., $499, 941
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., $495, 950
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $380, 121
  • North Carolina Central University, Durham, N.C., $497, 723
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $499, 568
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $500, 000
  • Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., $27, 500

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grants program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. The five AFRI challenge areas – food safety, global food security, childhood obesity prevention, sustainable bioenergy and climate adaptation – advance fundamental sciences and deliver science-based knowledge to people, allowing them to make informed practical decisions.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and Extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.