Gunning Daily News

Safer Fruits and Vegetables: FDA Aims to Set Production Standards

July 12, 2011 5:29 pm

As headlines from Europe implicate tainted vegetable sprouts in more than 4,000 illnesses and dozens of deaths, American consumers may wonder, “Could that happen here?”

The U.S. has had its own headline-grabbing outbreaks from contaminated vegetables—such as lettuce in 2010, peppers in 2008, and spinach in 2006—but a new law has set in motion sweeping improvements to the safety of our food supply.

President Obama signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into law on Jan. 4, 2011, but the year before, the Food and Drug Administration was already gearing up for important work that was mandated by the act: the Produce Safety Regulation.
This regulation will establish mandatory, science-based, minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, sorting, packing, and storage of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“This will be a monumental shift in food safety,” says James R. Gorny, Ph.D., FDA’s senior advisor for produce safety.

Since 1998, produce growers have had available the “Good Agricultural Practices” issued by FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But this guidance is not an enforceable regulation like the Produce Safety Regulation will be, says Gorny. 

Farmers Have Their Say
As part of the regulatory process, FDA publishes a “proposed rule” and then invites comments to the proposed rule “docket” (public record) online or by mail. Anyone can comment on a proposed rule, and the agency considers all comments submitted to the docket before drawing up the final rule, or regulation. FDA also intends to hold public meetings about the proposed Produce Safety rule after it is published, to provide additional opportunities for the public to comment. The agency expects to publish a proposed Produce Safety rule by spring 2012.

Due to the diversity of produce farms throughout the country—ranging from a few acres to thousands of acres, and growing from a few crops to dozens of vegetable varieties—FDA decided to reach out to growers before drafting the proposed rule. 

In 2010, technical experts, scientists, and other staff from FDA and USDA went on the road to meet with growers as well as produce industry groups, public policy groups, state agricultural departments, and public health departments in 13 states. They toured farms—both big and small—and talked to the owners. Some of the farm tours were attended by FDA leadership, including FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., and Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor, J.D. At the invitation of FDA, USDA Deputy under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Ann Wright joined several of the tours as did a number of state commissioners of agriculture.

“Before we put pen to paper, we wanted to find out what growers are doing now and the food safety challenges they face,” says Gorny.

“It was a very refreshing change in the process that was welcomed by the growers and that allowed them to be a part of the process,” says Bob Jones, Jr., co-owner and production manager of the Chef’s Garden, a 300-acre farm in Huron, Ohio.

“The Ohio growers, in general, have a great appreciation and understanding of the necessity of good food safety,” says Jones, who also serves on the board of several agricultural associations in the state. “We have a social responsibility to consumers who purchase and consume the food we grow.”

Several themes emerged from the visits, says Gorny. Many growers commented that produce safety standards should
• be appropriate and flexible
• be science-based and risk-based
• be practical—not overly burdensome
• apply to both imported produce and domestic produce
• be accompanied by a strong education and outreach program
The agency is working to create a regulation that will be flexible and appropriate for both large-farm operators and smaller farmers—including sustainable, organic, and Amish farmers FDA met when touring the country. 

Education and Outreach
“One of the themes we heard over and over is ‘educate before you regulate,’” says Gorny.

FDA doesn’t make produce safer, he adds. “We make the rules that must be followed to keep produce safe. So we need to assist growers with knowledge and training to comply with those rules.”

FDA is exploring partnerships with state agricultural departments and extension services, produce industry groups, and coalitions such as the Produce Safety Alliance—a collaboration between Cornell University, USDA, and FDA—to reach out to growers and provide them with training regarding on-farm produce safety. 

Jones says everybody who handles food—growers, packers, transporters, processors, grocers, and consumers—has an important part to play in food safety. “You can educate growers on all they can do in the field—for instance, with water quality and worker hygiene—to lower the likelihood of microbial contamination,” he says. But it won’t be effective unless all the other food handlers practice food safety, too.

The bottom line, says Gorny, is that FDA wants American consumers to be able to buy healthful fruits and vegetables with the utmost confidence in their safety.

For more information, please visit www.fda.gov.

Consumers Want More Fuel-Efficient Vehicles, but Are Confused about Options

July 12, 2011 5:29 pm

Despite uncertainty regarding prices at the pump, Americans are resisting a move to more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles largely because of confusion over the differences between these types of cars. The findings from a recent survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation and funded by Johnson Controls. (NYSE: JCI) suggest there is a clear gap between consumers' attitudes toward fuel-efficient cars and their actual purchase intent.

"It's clear that consumers are confused about their options for more fuel-efficient vehicles, despite their desire to save on fuel costs," says Alex Molinaroli, president of Power Solutions for Johnson Controls. "These findings indicate U.S. drivers need to have a better understanding of the offerings available to them now as well as options that will become available in the U.S. market. This includes Start-Stop technology which has been marketed in Europe in recent years and will be offered to the U.S. market in 2012."

Forty-five percent of those surveyed said there are too few options when it comes to hybrid vehicles, while 39 percent of those surveyed had no idea what the differences are between types of fuel-efficient vehicles such as Start-Stop vehicles and hybrids. The findings reinforce the need for greater education about the full spectrum of vehicle technology options, as well as cost considerations both at purchase and over the lifetime of the vehicle.

The four main vehicle technology categories included in the survey were:

• Internal Combustion: Gasoline-powered internal combustion engines are expected to continue to become increasingly more fuel-efficient.
• Start-Stop: With minimal change to the vehicle system and a modest price premium, Start-Stop technology allows the engine to be turned off during stops such as traffic lights (similar to a feature of full hybrid vehicles) and automatically restart again when the driver engages the clutch or steps on the gas, thereby reducing emissions and providing fuel saving of 5-12%. Widely used across Europe, vehicles with Start-Stop technology are slated to come to the U.S. market in 2012. Of the car owners surveyed, 28 % would consider purchasing a Start-Stop vehicle when shopping for a new car.
• Hybrid Electric Vehicle: By using two different sources of traction power (such as a gasoline engine paired with a high voltage battery), the technology maximizes the overall vehicle-efficiency. There are different degrees of hybrid functionality ranging from mild to full to plug-in, each of with greater levels of fuel economy performance, ranging from 15-50 percent. Nearly 40 % of the drivers surveyed would consider purchasing a hybrid vehicle when shopping for a new car.
• Electric Vehicle (EV): All electric driving requires an advanced lithium-ion battery with more energy and power. The potential fuel economy improvement of EVs is infinite. About 20 percent would consider purchasing an EV when shopping for a new car.

"We are ramping up our efforts to educate drivers about the spectrum of vehicle technologies available to consumers who want to improve fuel economy and decrease emissions in their vehicles," says Molinaroli. "For example, we recently introduced a new on-line tool called My Demo Drive (http://mydemodrive.com/) that allows consumers to virtually test-drive and compare fuel usage, CO2 emissions and travel costs among a vehicle with a standard internal combustion engine, a Start-Stop vehicle, and a hybrid electric vehicle. With such tools, we are hoping to raise awareness about technology options and help drivers become better informed."

In addition to lack of understanding between fuel-efficient options, perception of price continues to be an issue. The data shows 75 percent of car owners would consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle when shopping for a new car. However, only 20 percent of car owners are willing to consider actually purchasing a hybrid, Start-Stop, or electric vehicle at current gasoline prices hovering between $3.50 and $4.00 per gallon.

"Our findings show that consumers will really take action when gas hits somewhere between $4 and $5 a gallon," Molinaroli says. "The bottom line is that these vehicles will take off when they make sense financially, likely the most quickly with Start-Stop and hybrid electric vehicles. Consumers do have options, they just are not aware or understand them. We're focused to help them gain that understanding."

For more information, please visit http://www.johnsoncontrols.com.

5 Things to Know Before You Buy a Car

July 12, 2011 5:29 pm

If your plans include buying a new car this fall, it’s wise to be armed with some key information that may save you lots of money in the long run.

That’s the advice of CNN money writer Peter Valdes-Dapena. “Relying on the salesperson instead of doing your own homework can set you up for car-buying rip-offs,” he says. “Once you’ve decided on the car you want, you need to be ready when financial negotiations get under way.”

Valdes-Dapena suggests being prepared in these five areas:

• Financing options – Having pre-arranged financing puts you in the best possible bargaining position. Know your credit score and get a solid financing commitment from a credit union or bank before you head for the dealership. If you do depend on dealer financing, knowing your credit score can help you negotiate the best possible interest rate.
• Cost of the loan – It’s easy to get lower monthly payments by stretching out the term of the car loan. But you’ll end up paying more in interest if you do that—and you may find yourself owing more than the car is worth when it’s time to trade cars again. The best option is a three-to-four year loan.
• Buy or lease – Leasing is becoming a growing alternative because it can save you money in the short term. But once the lease is up, you’ll have to start all over again—and you will have gained no equity in the vehicle. If you can manage it, pass on the leasing terms and buy the car.
• Warranty options – Most cars today come with warranties on the engine and transmission for 5 to 10 years, and three years on most everything else. There is rarely a need for an ‘extended warranty,’ so don’t give in to the sales pitch.
• Trade-in value – Get a good sense of your car’s value before you head to the dealership. Websites like Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB.com) can help. If you are not satisfied with what the dealer offers, think about selling the car on your own before you make your new car deal.

Question of the Day

July 11, 2011 5:29 pm

Q: How are individual tax bills figured?

A: Unlike the income tax and the sales tax you pay, the property tax is not based on how much money you earn or how much you spend. It is based solely on how much the property you own is worth.

The real property tax is an ad valorem tax, or a tax based on the value of property.

Ideally, the owners of property of equal value pay the same amount of property taxes, and the owners of more valuable property pay more in taxes than the owners of less valuable property. The tax is calculated using a variety of formulas and is based on a property’s assessed value – its full market value or a percentage thereof – and the tax rate of the taxing jurisdiction, minus any property tax exemptions, such as those offered for the elderly or veterans.

10 Ways You Can Resolve Conflict

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

If you view conflict as something that shouldn't happen, something that harms relationships, it becomes negative. And then you avoid it and hope it will go away. But if you see conflict as a fact of life, an opportunity to strengthen relationships, you have a way of resolving conflict by turning it into something creative.

Try these "10 Ways to Resolve Conflict."

1. Agree on a mutually acceptable time and place to discuss the conflict.

2. State the problem as you see it and list your concerns.
• Make "I" statements.
• Withhold judgments, accusations, and absolute statements ("always" or "never"). 

3. Let the other person have his/her say.
• Do not interrupt or contradict.
• Do not allow name-calling, put-downs, threats, obscenities, yelling, or intimidating behavior. 

4. Listen and ask questions.
• Ask fact-based questions (who? what? where? when? how?) to make sure you understand the situation.
• Ask exploratory questions (what if? what are you saying? is this the only solution to our problem? what if we did such and such? are there other alternatives to this situation?).
• Avoid accusatory "why" questions (why are you like that?).
• Use your own words to restate what you think the other person means and wants.
• Acknowledge the person's feelings and perceptions. 

5. Stick to one conflict at a time — to the issue at hand.
• Do not change the subject or allow it to be changed.
"I understand your concern, but I'd like to finish what we're talking about before we discuss it." 

6. Seek common ground.
• What do you agree on?
• What are your shared concerns?


7. Brainstorm solutions to the conflict that allow everyone to win.

8. Request behavior changes only.
• Don't ask others to change their attitudes.
• Don't ask them to "feel" differently about something.
• Don't ask them to "be" different.
• If you want them to "stop doing" something, suggest an alternative action. 

9. Agree to the best way to resolve the conflict and to a timetable for implementing it.
• Who will do what by when? 

10. If the discussion breaks down, reschedule another time to meet. Consider bringing in a third party.

©Chris Witt, all rights reserved. www.wittcom.com

Top 5 Tips for Buying a Newly Built Home

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Newly built homes, often in recently developed communities, are regaining popularity and are more affordable than in years past. New homebuilders are using desirable, open floor plans and are helping buyers get into new homes despite the nationwide credit crunch.

As with any major transaction, it’s critical that the buyer enter the home purchase fully informed and educated. Follow these important tips in a new home transaction to ensure that the outcome is a success.

1. Choose a REALTOR® Who Has New Home Sales Experience
Hire a buyer’s agent to represent you. Most of the time, your agent will be paid by the seller, but sometimes the responsibility for the agent’s fee is open for discussion. Even if you have to directly pay your agent, you can probably add that fee to the sales price, which would be worthwhile since a strong REALTOR® negotiating on your behalf can save you thousands more than the commission.

The builder’s sales agents are paid to represent the builder, regardless of what they may tell you. Many will use high pressure tactics to persuade you to sign the contract. Due to the high volume nature of brand-new home sales, lots of builder’s agents are paid less than a traditional commission; some earn a salary plus incentives, so turnover is important to their livelihood.

Your own agent will represent you, act as your fiduciary and disclose the positives as well as the negatives about the transaction. Builder’s agents don’t discuss drawbacks.

If your contract contains a contingency to sell your existing home before buying, again, hire your own seller’s agent to list your home. Be aware that buying before selling is not always in your best interest as hard bargaining goes out the window once you’ve emotionally already left your home.

2. Carefully Evaluate the Seller’s Lender before Committing
Builders often prefer their own lender because the builder will be kept fully informed of your personal progress; it’s one-stop shopping for a builder. However, a builder’s lender might not offer you the best deal. This is particularly true if the builder actually owns the lending company.

Builders will offer huge incentives to get you into your new home; sometimes up to 15% of the value of the home. However, they will often put one big stipulation on those incentives—that you use their lender. There are many problems that may crop up when you pigeon-hole yourself to one lender—higher rates and higher closing costs are the two biggest.

Ask to see a copy of your credit report and FICO cores. You can also order your own free credit report before shopping for a new home.

Insist that your lender guarantee its Good Faith Estimate. If the lender balks or makes excuses, go elsewhere. Reputable lenders will honor that request, even though it’s not required by law.

3. Check Out the Builder’s Reputation
If a buyer has a bad experience with a builder, word spreads rapidly throughout a community. However, accurately and fairly assessing a builder’s history is the appropriate path—check public records for lawsuits or complaints and evaluate their resolutions.

Talk to the neighbors and scrutinize the construction quality of surrounding homes. Is the builder consistently building same-sized or larger than existing properties, or are homes shrinking in size, which could reduce neighborhood value?

Learn if the builder limits investor purchases—this ensures that the neighborhood doesn’t turn into a “rental” neighborhood, which may appear less well-maintained and reduce property value.

4. Hire a Home Inspector
Many people who buy new construction homes don’t bother to get a home inspection. Most new homes come with a one year “bumper-to-bumper” warranty that includes everything, and many home buyers feel that they can find out if there are any construction flaws during those 12 months. The problem is that many problems won’t surface until well after the 12-month warranty has expired.

If the inspector calls for further inspection by another professional contractor, find out if the inspector is telling you that there could be a serious issue or if the inspector isn’t licensed to address that issue.

An inspection provides education about the property, and offers the validation of a trained, independent third party assessment of the structure and systems.

5. Obtain Legal Advice before Buying a Brand-New Home
Before you sign a purchase contract, talk to a real estate lawyer. Standard purchase agreements are designed to keep everybody out of court, but they don’t necessarily contain language that protects the buyer.

Ask questions about removal of contingencies and your cancellation rights. Make sure you understand your liability and commitments.

Find out if the materials used by the builder contain chemicals that are hazardous to your health. If your contract contains a warning about health issues, it’s probably because it’s a valid concern and other buyers have gone to court over it.

Dan Steward is president of Pillar To Post.

For more information, please visit wwwpillartopost.com.


8 Common Landscaping Problems Solved for New Summer Projects

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Any professional landscape designer will agree that a well designed landscape can only be achieved by first solving common landscaping problems.

LandscapingNetwork.com, an online resource for landscaping design ideas, has just released new information on the eight most common problems that may be present on landscaping projects, as well as expert tips on how to solve them. 

While not every landscaping project will encounter the same problems, it's important that these challenges be identified and dealt with in the design plans before any construction begins. The eight most common yard and landscape problems involve:

1. Hillsides and slopes
2. Small yards
3. Large yards
4. Narrow yards and side yards
5. Windy spaces
6. Noisy spaces
7. Privacy problems
8. Shady yards 

Each problem poses its own unique set of challenges. Luckily, consumers and designers now have access to these creative and practical methods for solving them. 

For example, hillsides can be remedied with two creative solutions. One can choose to build an elevated deck into the hillside itself, or create a terraced garden with retaining walls. 

For small yard landscaping, the site offers a host of solutions covering small yard design. Tips cover ways to maximize small yard spaces using three resourceful techniques, tips on choosing appropriate plant species, how to incorporate a small outdoor kitchen or swimming pool, and a gallery of small yard landscaping pictures for reference. 

For more on landscaping designs ideas, landscaping photos and more, visit www.LandscapingNetwork.com.

Hot Patio Trends

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Summer is here, and that means millions of folks will be heading out to their decks or patios hosting everything from simple family meals to full-blown soirees. So the next couple of segments will look at two of the hottest trends, so you can make your patio one of the coolest places to party or just hang out and relax! 

One of the fastest growing accessories for the deck or patio is a wireless speaker system. But one of the biggest drawbacks to integrating a good sounding wireless system is that age-old bugaboo, static. A recent post at gamepowerfulmediapc.com warns that static is usually crated from signal intervention if other wireless devices are located nearby. 

Signal interference may occur due to the presence of devices that work on Bluetooth, radio frequency principles or infrared rays. 

The common signal frequency that microwave or other home appliances use is 2.4 GHz. So, you can change the frequency of these appliances to observe that each device along with your speaker is working without any problem created due to static. 

One of the best frequencies you can get your wireless speakers to work on is the 900mhz range as it has a long range and can go though objects like walls very easily. A growing number of outdoor wireless speakers offer green, sustainable technology too! 

These particular wireless units boast a self-contained power source in the form of batteries with solar panels that collect solar energy which is transferred to the battery inside the unit. While a wide variety of these speakers offer conventional battery power, the likelihood of running out of juice is significantly higher, so the cost of replacement batteries will quickly exceed the difference you would have originally paid for a solar powered system. 

In our next column, we’ll take a look at another popular and environmentally-friendly addition to the deck and patio—recycled furniture!

Word of the Day

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Cloud on title. Defect in the title that impairs the owner’s ability to market the property. This might be a lien, claim, judgment, or encumbrance.

Consumers Turned Their Eyes toward Trucks and SUVs in June

July 11, 2011 4:59 pm

With the steady decline in gas prices throughout the month of June, American consumers are showing signs that they want to shift their focus back to trucks and SUVs. AutoTrader.com's June Trend Engine report—which provides analysis of site traffic as it relates to consumer shopping behavior—shows that trucks and SUVs have gained consumer interest since May and that interest in compact cars is starting to subside.

Though gas prices are still far from where they were at the beginning of the year, consumers have begun to feel some relief at the pump, which is likely a contributing factor to the rising interest in larger vehicles and the declining interest in more fuel-efficient models, according to AutoTrader.com analysts.

Consumers shopping on the site started considering more fuel-efficient models when gas prices hit the $3.50 mark, and now that prices are heading back toward that threshold, they appear ready to get back to their favorites.

Consumer Interest in New, Used and CPO Trucks Resumed in June
Consumer interest in big trucks is already on the upswing, especially in the new vehicle segment, with the Dodge Ram 1500, Ford F-250 and the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 all moving up on the list of most-searched vehicles in June. The largest of the full-size trucks showed the most significant gains, as the new Ford F-250 moved up five spots month-over-month to No. 13, and the new Chevrolet Silverado 2500 moved up six spots month-over-month to No. 18. Demand for both of these vehicles also showed in the increase in asking price, as the F-250's price increased 8.2% and the Silverado 2500's price increased 10.6% year-over-year.

Trucks also made a big comeback on the list of most-searched used vehicles, with the used Ford F-150 reclaiming the No. 1 spot, the used Chevrolet Silverado 1500 moving up one spot to No. 3, the used Ford F-250 moving up two spots to No. 6, the used Dodge Ram 2500 moving up one spot to No. 17, the used Toyota Tundra moving up two spots to No. 19. The biggest mover on the list of most-searched used vehicles in the truck segment, however, was the used Chevrolet Silverado 2500, which leapt four spots to land at No. 13. Average asking prices for the majority of used trucks dropped slightly (less than 5%) year-over-year. One notable exception was the Toyota Tacoma, which gained 8.6% in average asking price year-over-year.

On the certified pre-owned (CPO) front, the CPO Ford F-150 moved up two spots month-over-month to land at No. 10 with an increase in average asking price of 6.1%, and the CPO Toyota Tundra moved up one spot to No. 4 with an average asking price increase of 5.5%.

New, Used and CPO SUVs Gained Consumer Interest
Trucks weren't the only segment on the rise in June: SUVs across the most-searched lists for new, used and CPO vehicles also garnered notable interest from consumers. On the new list, both SUVs moved up in rank month-over-month, with the new Jeep Wrangler moving up two spots to No. 4 and the new Ford Explorer moving up one spot to No. 11. Both of these vehicles also showed a year-over-year increase in asking price, with the new Ford Explorer showing the biggest increase of 10.6%. The list of most-searched used cars showed a similar story for SUVs, with the used Jeep Wrangler moving up two spots to No. 5, the used Chevrolet Tahoe moving up four spots to No. 10 and the used Jeep Grand Cherokee moving up one spot to No. 18. With the exception of the used Tahoe, the other two SUVs showed an increase in average asking price year-over-year.

There were six SUVs on the list of most-searched CPO vehicles. Of these, four held their position on the list month-over-month, one moved down one spot and the rest moved up. The CPO Jeep Wrangler showed the biggest month-over-month jump, moving up five spots to No. 20; the CPO Chevrolet Tahoe moved up two spots to No. 9. As the only luxury SUV on the list, the Acura MDX show a slight decrease in average asking price year-over-year, but the rest of the SUVs all posted increases in this arena. The Toyota Highlander had the biggest average asking price increase of 11%, with the Toyota 4 Runner coming in second for price increases, with a 9% year-over-year jump.

Interest in Used and CPO Cars Declines; Prices on the Rise for these Vehicles
With the precipitous rise in gas prices earlier in the year, consumers held out as long as possible before turning their eyes toward the small car segments.

However, the steady decline in gas prices through June gave used car shoppers just enough confidence to begin diverting their attention from these cars. 

Compact cars, as well as small luxury cars, on the list of most-searched used cars all declined in their position on the list month-over-month; however, the year-over-year average asking prices for those vehicles rose. The used BMW 3-Series dropped one spot month-over-month, landing at No. 2; the used Honda Civic dropped three spots to No. 8; the used Audi A4 dropped three spots to No. 16; and the Volkswagen Jetta dropped four spots to No. 20. The luxury used smaller cars on the list showed year-over-year increases in their average asking prices, with the BMW 3-Series increasing 4.6% and the Audi A4 increasing 1.2%, the non-luxury compacts posted the biggest increases in average asking price: the Honda Civic's price rose 10.9% year-over-year, and the Volkswagen Jetta's price rose 10.3% year-over-year.

Interest in smaller CPO cars also showed slight declines; of the four smaller cars on the list, two remained steady month-over-month while two dropped in their position on the list. The CPO BMW 3-Series and the CPO Honda Civic did not move on the list, but the CPO Audi A4 dropped one spot month-over-month to land at No. 5, and the Volkswagen Jetta dropped three spots to land at No. 12. Similar to the trend seen on the list of most-searched used cars, average asking price increases for the more affordable smaller CPO cars outpaced those in the luxury segment. The asking price for the Honda Civic rose 10% and the asking price for the Volkswagen Jetta rose 7.9% year-over-year.

The increases in average asking prices for used and CPO cars are consistent with the industry-wide trend of these cars commanding higher prices in the face of limited availability of quality pre-owned vehicles.

For more information, please visit www.AutoTrader.com.