And Amazon is not the cause: The price war in the American grocery aisle is getting more intense. And believe it or not, the reason isn’t Amazon.com Inc. Amazon’s debut as a brick-and-mortar grocery chain last year sent tremors through the supermarket industry, with Kroger Co. and other established players losing billions in market value. But for now, Aldi and Lidl—two no-frills German discounters that are expanding quickly in the U.S.—are putting more pressure on grocery giants such as Kroger and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. READ MORE

FOOD SECURITY

Farmers plan market for Dallas food desert: Bonton farmers have big plans for a patch of dirt at the end of Bexar Street in southern Dallas, the one that just a few weeks ago was simply a hole in the ground. Bonton Farm leaders and supporters last month broke ground there for a marketplace where farmers will sell fresh vegetables straight from the dirt — food harvested from the neighboring acre-plus farm and its nearby 40-acre extension. It’s been decades since a market sold fresh produce in the Bonton neighborhood, and the nearest grocery store is a three-hour round-trip by bus. Many in the neighborhood of a few thousand residents get their meals at the corner liquor store. READ MORE

Fewer Wisconsin dairy farms, just as much milk: While the number of dairy farms in Wisconsin is shrinking as small operations struggle to remain profitable, expanding commercial farms have continued to increase the state’s milk production. Numbers from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection show the state lost 500 dairy farms last year, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. Wisconsin’s dairy numbers have fallen more than 20 percent over the last five years. “The growth is really in the medium- to large-size dairy operations,” said Steven Deller, a professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The growth in those sectors and the increase in productivity of being a bigger operation, the volume of milk is actually not being affected by this.” READ MORE

Perdue unveils recommendations for revitalizing rural areas: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., unveiled over 100 recommendations for revitalizing rural America, including addressing issues vital to meat processors such as labor, trade, technology and financing. The recommendations are the work of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity established by President Donald Trump last April. Research included listening sessions in rural areas across 30 states. READ MORE

FDA ‘enforcement discretion’ has critics: In the seven years since the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) became law, the question has always been the same. How is the Food and Drug Administration going to do down on the farm? FDA last week gave itself “enforcement discretion” for some of those complex FSMA rules involving farms. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said it was all part of working “constructively with farmers and other producers to achieve our shared goals around food safety.” Peter G. Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), doesn’t exactly see it that way. Lurie says the new guidance for FSMA enforcement amounts to the Trump Administration “undermining that landmark legislation.” READ MORE

WEATHER EMERGENCIES

Flying foxes ‘boiled alive’: Thousands of flying foxes—mostly babies but some adults—died in an Australian heatwave so severe it has melted tarmac. The animals fell from the trees as they were boiled alive in temperatures exceeding 40C in Campbelltown in New South Wales. A temperature of 40C is equal to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.The heatwave in three states brought temperatures strong enough to melt the bitumen on a highway and sparked bushfires that destroyed buildings and threatened lives. READ MORE

Mudslides in California kill at least five: As feared, heavy rains have triggered freeway closures throughout southern California and unleashed mudflows in areas ravaged by wildfires last month, shutting down more than 30 miles of the 101 Freeway and leaving at least five people dead as rescue personnel scrambled through clogged roadways and downed trees, officials said. At least five people have died in the Montecito area after a heavy band of rain struck around 2:30 a.m. causing “waist-high” mudflows that  knocked three homes from their foundations and left fire personnel rushing to free people trapped in vehicles and homes. Emergency crews in the area have also received numerous unconfirmed missing-person reports. READ MORE

EMPLOYEE SAFETY

Sentence commuted: Days before the Christmas holiday, President Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, former CEO of defunct Agriprocessors, believed to be the U.S.’s largest kosher meat and poultry processor. Rubashkin had served eight years of a 27-year sentence stemming from 86 counts of bank fraud and money laundering. He was also ordered to pay $31 million in restitution. In May 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Postville, Iowa, plant and arrested 389 illegal immigrants who worked there. At a 2010 trial, Rubashkin was acquitted of 67 counts of child labor law violations. The Iowa Labor Commission fined the firm $10 million for labor law violations, including failure to pay employees. READ MORE

FOOD SAFETY

FSIS proposes to amend egg product inspection regs: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced a critical step forward in making egg products safer for Americans to eat. FSIS is proposing to amend the egg products inspection regulations by requiring official plants that process egg products to develop Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (Sanitation SOPs) and to meet other sanitation requirements consistent with the meat and poultry regulations. READ MORE

TERRORISM

Indictment in California terror plot: A federal grand jury indicted a California man late last week on charges of plotting to use homemade bombs during a Christmas Day attack on San Francisco’s Pier 39. Everitt Aaron Jameson intended to use pipe bombs to funnel people into an area of the popular tourist destination in order to shoot them, the indictment alleges. READ MORE

Suspected arson revives French anti-Semitism fears: A suspected arson attack that burnt down a French kosher grocery store near Paris on Tuesday has revived anti-Semitism fears in France, three years to the day since a deadly assault on a Jewish supermarket by a jihadist gunman. READ MORE

PUBLIC HEALTH

Influenza activity spikes sharply: So many people have fallen sick with influenza in California that pharmacies have run out of flu medicines, emergency rooms are packed, and the death toll is rising higher than in previous years. Health officials said Friday that 27 people younger than 65 have died of the flu in California since October, compared with three at the same time last year. Nationwide and in California, flu activity spiked sharply in late December and continues to grow. READ MORE

Baltimore’s bed bugs: Baltimore is known for its historic neighborhoods, monuments, crab cakes — and, increasingly, its bed bugs. For the second straight year, the U.S. port city ranked No. 1 on a Top 50 Bed Bug Cities list compiled by Atlanta-based pest control services company Orkin LLC. READ MORE

HUMANITARIAN CRISES

Scavenging for ‘treasure’ to feed families: Angel Villanueva waded into the dirty brown water of the Guaire River, the putrid channel snaking through Venezuela’s capital, where he hoped to scavenge for a bit of treasure. He raked his hands across the bottom of the shallow waterway, turning his face away from the foul smell. Then he stood up, letting gravel and rocks fall through his fingers, scanning for an earring backing, lost rings or any other bits of precious metal to cash in for food. Images of poor Venezuelans eating from garbage piles in Caracas have come to symbolize the deepening economic crisis in what was once one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries. Less visible are the young men and boys who comb the Guaire’s dirty waters for any sliver of metal that might help feed their families. READ MORE