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The Senate passed a new food safety bill yesterday by a vote of 73 to 25, a fact that most of you can read in your local papers. What was missing from our local daily was whether the bill contained the exemption for small producers introduced by Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. 

The bill sets up a new inspection regime for food, including the hiring of 17,800 new Food and Drug Administration inspectors over the next four years. Small producers wanted an exemption from the new rules and Sen. Tester crafted one, saying that most of the problems with food-bourne illness came from industrial-sized food companies. Tester introduced an amendment exempting food producers who sell less than $500,000 a year in local restaurants or markets.

The exemption remained in the bill that was passed, much to the consternation of the big food processors.

• Oh, also exempted from initial regulation under the new law is the oyster industry

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana had language placed in the bill that would require the FDA to conduct public health and cost assessments before issuing rules of post-harvest processing of raw oysters. 

Cool idea of the day comes from Pope County, Arkansas, where school buses have been equipped with math and science material carried on ceiling-mounted computer screens. (Above.) 

“To say we are rural is an understatement,” said Superintendent Karen Cushman, so the rides are long. Vanderbilt University helped turn the buses into traveling classrooms.

• The House passed legislation yesterday settling two long-standing claims by farmers. 

The House gave final Congressional approval to a bill that would set aside $1.15 billion for black farmers who suffered discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These are farmers who were left out of an earlier lawsuit, settled in 1999.

And the bill included $3.4 billion for American Indians who claimed that Interior department officials mismanaged royalties from mineral and timber leases on tribal lands. The plaintiffs will receive $1.4 billion directly and the government will use $2 billion to reassemble Indian lands broken up more than a century ago. 

• The USDA is predicting record farm income this year. 

• Black lung disease has been increasing among young coal miners in recent years. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is proposing new rules to “end” the disease that cripples thousands of coal miners. Coal Tattoo lists the public hearings on the new regs, beginning December 7 in Beaver, West Virginia. 

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