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Corn Belt Congressmen Urge Use of Biodegradable Plastic Grocery Bag

October 20, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Corn Belt member of Congress is looking at the plastic grocery bag as a way of carrying grain farmers to better times, while improving the environment along the way.

A new, biodegradable plastic bag is made partly from cornstarch. When it’s tossed away and buried in a landfill, it decomposes in a few months, compared with a century or two for regular plastic bags.

Rep. Jim Jontz, D-Ind., recently sent letters to major grocery stores and other retailers asking them to consider a trial program using the biodegradable plastic bags.

A spokesman, Tom Buis, said Wednesday that the proposal still is being debated but that it has had a ″very positive″ reception so far from Indiana storekeepers.

Jontz said in his letter that the trial program would ″demonstrate to the public the benefits to our environment and our economy of using products made from biodegradable plastics.″

Also, he said, the use of cornstarch in the bags would help farmers. ″Corn is Indiana’s No. 1 crop, and farmers in our state would benefit immensely from the increased use of biodegradable plastics made from cornstarch,″ Jontz said.

A number of farm and trade groups also support the plastic bag idea, including the National Corn Growers Association and many of its state affiliates.

In Jefferson City, Mo., biodegradable bags are being used in a 60-day testing program, the first city-wide campaign to see if the cornstarch mixture is practical for trash pickups.

According to the Agriculture Department, research chemists Felix H. Otey and Richard P. Westhoff developed processes for using cornstarch in plastic at the department’s Northern Research Center, Peoria, Ill.

The USDA processes were licensed for use and further development by Agri- Tech Industries Inc., Gibson City, Ill., and for sale to other companies.

One firm, Rollpak Corp. of Goshen, Ind., began operation this year, making plastic trash bags made of 7 percent cornstarch. When soil bacteria and fungi consume the starch, the remaining polyethylene crumbles into small particles that the organisms can break down easily.

Gary Weaver, vice president of Rollpak, said the new bags degrade in two to three years, compared with 100 years or more for regular plastic. And some plastics take 300 to 400 years, he said.

One problem has been the greater cost of the cornstarch plastic bags, each priced 10 percent to 20 percent more than regular plastic bags, according to Weaver.

Jontz noted the additional expense in his letter to storekeepers but added that ″the benefits of demonstrating to the public the advantages of biodegradable plastic are also appreciable.″

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Milk production has slowed from earlier expectations but still could increase enough in 1988 to set a record, says the Agriculture Department.

Part of the slowdown was attributed to higher feed costs resulting from the drought-reduced grain harvests.

Milk output declined in 1987 to 142.5 billion pounds from a record 143.4 billion pounds in 1986. This year’s production was forecast last spring to rise 2 percent to 3 percent from 1987.

But the department’s Economic Research Service said Wednesday in its new outlook report that 1988 milk production may increase only ″around 1 percent″ from last year’s level. That could still exceed the record level of two years ago.

″Milk cow numbers have slipped since January and were almost 1 percent below a year ago in July-September,″ the report said. ″Meanwhile, milk (production) per cow posted a moderate 2 percent rise from a year ago. Both milk per cow and milk cow numbers are expected to weaken further.″

The report added that the effects of the higher feed costs next year ″will be magnified because milk production was already easing when the drought began″ as a result of a series of cuts in government supports.

″If crops are good (next year) and feed prices decrease, production probably will strengthen as 1989 progresses,″ the report said. ″However, 1989 milk production might not match the 1988 record.″

The seasonal rise in retail prices of dairy products in the second half of this year ″will be larger than in recent years,″ the report said. ″Even so, the increase will not be out of line with increases in prices of all food or all items.″

Overall, it said, consumer prices of milk and other dairy products in 1988 probably will average about 2 percent more than in 1987.

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Agriculture Department says the European Economic Community could give U.S. farmers competition from subsidized corn exports in the coming year.

France expects a record corn harvest and could face reduced exports to other members of the 12-nation EEC, the department’s Foreign Agricultural Service said Wednesday in a brief trade report.

″Italy, traditionally the major market for surplus French corn, is anticipating a larger corn crop and reduced imports,″ the report said. ″As a result, France may petition the (EEC) commission for the additional export restitutions necessary to subsidize the sale of surpluses into third-country markets.″

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