November 15, 2002   #202
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

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DOW JONES NEWSWIRES: President George W. Bush formally nominated Daniel Pearson yesterday to fill a seat at the International Trade Commission, a move that could clear the way for another ITC nominee delayed since June.

Pearson's career at Minneapolis-based agribusiness giant Cargill may provide agricultural expertise at the ITC as requested by Senate Finance Committee members who said they would oppose another pending nominee, Charlotte Lane, until the commission better represents the farming sector.

Sen. Bob Graham, Dem.-Florida, who put a hold on Lane's nomination, has requested a meeting with Pearson to discuss "agricultural issues and their representation at the International Trade Commission," said Graham spokesman Paul Anderson. The president has nominated Lane, a West Virginia public service commissioner, and Pearson to fill two empty seats on the six-member ITC board.

Sen. Charles Grassley, Rep-Iowa, who takes over as chairman of the Finance Committee in January, has echoed Graham's concerns about a lack of ITC representation for farmers who account for more than $50 billion in annual U.S. exports. The senators have cited 18 U.S. antidumping orders and several pending cases involving farm products, as well as an expiring "peace clause" with the EU that could lead to a surge in agriculture trade disputes at the World Trade Organization after December 31, 2003.

Pearson would serve a nine-year term expiring June 16, 2011. At Cargill, he has most recently served as assistant vice president for public affairs and has been a policy analyst in the public affairs department since 1987, focusing primarily on trade policy issues. From 1981 to 1987, Pearson was the agriculture legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and worked on a family farm in Minnesota in 1979 and 1980. Pearson earned a bachelor's degree and Master's degree in agriculture economics from the University of Minnesota.


ANTONY BARNETT, THE OBSERVER: Britain has struck a secret deal worth 1 billion to sell arms to Thailand in return for promoting food that has been linked to cancer-causing chemicals. The deal, which was condemned as "disgraceful" by opposition MPs and farmers, involves Britain selling guns, Hawk jets, riot control equipment and secondhand frigates from the Royal Navy to Thailand.

In return, Britain has agreed to provide financial help to Thailand to develop its farming industry and promote Thai food products in this country and abroad.

The deal was conceived in May, when the Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, visited the UK and met Defence Minister Geoff Hoon and Trade Minister Patricia Hewitt. Hewitt also agreed to help Thailand overturn the European Union ban on the import of Thai chickens. The ban was introduced after it was discovered that the poultry contained cancer-causing chemicals after farmers had been using illegal veterinary drugs.

The agreement on the highly controversial arms deal was formally signed last month by the British ambassador in Bangkok.

Opposition MPs [November 10] claimed the deal has strong echoes of the arms-for-aid scandals that plagued the Tories and were supposedly outlawed by the Labour government. The Liberal Democrats have demanded full details of the agreement, questioning what taxpayers' money is being used to support the deal and whether it is compatible with EU free trade policy.

Vince Cable, Lib Dem trade and industry spokesman, who last night wrote to Hewitt, said: "This is a deeply depressing and disgraceful deal. Linking arms sales with food production gives a whole new meaning to the phrase `swords to ploughshares.' If the DTI is to promote actively the import of Thai food goods for the sole benefit of BAe Systems, then the Labour government has sunk to a new low in its arms trade policies."

A spokesman for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: "Not only is this another example of pushing weapons sales on the developing world but to tie it with food production is outrageous and morally unacceptable. It's simply an arms-for-aid scandal in another guise."

The farming community has also reacted with anger at the deal which it claims threatens jobs.

Ian Johnson, for the National Farmers Union in the South West, said: "Aside from the moral question, it's extraordinary that the Government which appears to have abandoned British farmers seems to be doing all it can to help farmers in the Third World who will end up exporting cheaper --- and some would argue --- inferior products into our markets."

According to reports in the Thai press, under the pact the British government would seek to increase imports of Thai farm produce and help find new markets for Thai goods. In return the Thai government will buy arms from British Aerospace, now known as BAe Systems.

The Department of Trade and Industry last night refused to comment on the deal, but the Foreign Office defended it, saying it will modernise Thai armed forces and help it combat terrorism, at the same time alleviating poverty and improving its food production.

A Foreign Office spokesman denied it was an "arms-for-aid" deal because it would be BAe Systems investing in Thailand's agriculture sector and not the British state. He said Britain would promote Thai food exports to other parts of the world and not the UK. A spokesman for BAe said the deal was in an "embryonic stage" and was a little "unusual." But he said it was similar to most major defence deals in which the company agrees to invest in local industry, known as "offsets."

In 1997, International Development Secretary Clare Short announced she was banning deals linking arms sales to aid, following the Pergau Dam scandal in which the Conservative government gave Malaysia 300m to help build a controversial dam in exchange for buying British arms. The High Court ruled that former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd acted unlawfully in allowing such a deal.


JIM PHILLIPS, PROGRESSIVE FARMER: Progressive Farmer recently surveyed a small sampling of supermarket customers and found that most folks don't believe food is cheap. According to Fay Williamson, a Homewood, Alabama, senior citizen, her grocery bill is "moderately priced, but not cheap."

American farmers have long wanted consumers to know that food is a great bargain in the U.S. And to make that case, for the past 13 years the American Farm Bureau Federation has conducted and publicized its quarterly Marketbasket Survey.

Every three months Farm Bureau volunteers visit scores of supermarkets across the country and tabulate the cost of 16 food items. The focus of the AFBF survey is on what it calls "basic" foods, including whole-fryer chickens, flour, pork chops, eggs and potatoes. The latest total is $34.98-23% more than the $28.50 recorded in 1989, the first year the survey was conducted. During the same period, federal government figures show that the income of Americans has grown by 45%. So it seems food is getting cheaper.

The message of the Marketbasket Survey, according to AFBF spokesman Mace Thornton, is that "food remains affordable." Using the averages calculated by USDA economists, it would be hard to argue that point. The latest data from the USDA's Economic Research Service shows that of their total spending on goods and services Americans fork over just 8.4% on food-the lowest percentage ever.

In no other nation in the world is the figure that low. . . . Citizens of all other developed countries spend higher percentages for food. Even in prosperous countries such as Switzerland and Japan, where incomes top those in the U.S., food expenditures take a significantly bigger bite out of the family budget.

Once you move down the list to the less developed countries the situation becomes downright bleak. In the Philippines, for example, people spend over half of their meager incomes to put food on the table.

But both anecdotal evidence revealed in our survey and a more detailed look at the statistics show that even in the U.S., the perception of cheap food promoted by the AFBF and other farm and commodity groups is not a reality shared by all. Averages don't tell the whole story.

Consider Kristi Pendleton of Lexington, Kentucky. Her husband just completed
three years of graduate school, during which time they and their two young children lived on a $14,000-a-year student assistantship. At that income level they didn't find food to be such a small part of their budget. "There were a lot of macaroni and hamburger casseroles in our diet," says Kristi.

In fact, USDA data reveals that at the Pendletons' graduate-school income level food costs accounted for 26% of their income. That's more than three times the national average percentage.

"The proportion of income spent for food varies widely among households of different sizes and incomes," notes Judy Putnam in the USDA report, "Food Consumption, Prices and Expenditures." She adds that while the share of income that goes toward food is often used as an indicator of affluence-of either a family or a nation-"the figure has sometimes been misused to prove that food is a bargain." So even in the U.S., it can be argued that food isn't cheap for everyone.

Joan Truax is part of a multigeneration family of Corn Belt grain farmers in Pittsboro, Indiana. She is one of Farm Bureau's 89 volunteer "shoppers" who conduct the group's Marketbasket Survey. One of the reasons she participates is to help consumers understand that the bill they pay at the supermarket accounts for a lot more than food. That's why the survey doesn't include any of the many nonfood items that typically fill a grocery cart.

"People think that food is expensive, but they don't realize how much of what they buy at the supermarket isn't food," explains Truax. "And the farmer's share of the food price isn't very much."

Also included in the AFBF's widely distributed survey is the message that the farmer's share of the food dollar is shrinking. America's farmers and ranchers receive only 19 cents out of every dollar spent for food, down from 31 cents in 1980, the report says.

According to Terry Francl, AFBF senior economist, "Most of the money consumers pay for food (81%) goes to processing, transportation, labor, energy, and wholesale and retail markup." If that's the word farmers want conveyed to consumers, it doesn't seem to be sinking in.

In our informal survey of consumers, we posed the question, "Do you feel farmers get a fair share of your food dollar?" The response was most often a long, silent pause. And when we asked, "Do you think farmers should get a higher price for the raw products they sell to food companies?" the most common answer was, "Not sure."

And even though Fay Williamson felt that her food was moderately priced, when we asked whether she would be willing to pay more for food if it meant that farmers would get higher prices, her quick reply was, "I already pay enough."

Kristi Pendleton has a different take on that question. "If I knew the extra money wasn't going for more food-company and supermarket profits, but going to the people who work hard to grow it, yes."

That reply may bring some comfort to Joan Truax and other farmers. But as the farmer's share of the American food dollar continues to shrink, the question remains, "How do you get more dollars to the farmer and assure consumers that it won't just end up as more profits for the middleman?" So far, no one has figured out how to do that in a market economy.

"I'm afraid it will probably never change," concludes Truax.


GEORGE NAYLOR, CHURDAN, IOWA: Thanks for your good article, "Is food too cheap?" (Progressive Farmer)  Clearly the answer depends on whether you are a farmer that sells food into our food system or a consumer who buys food at the retail level.

By the time the very few giant food processors sell it to the ever decreasing number of retailers, and the retailers pay for their superstores and marketing programs, not to mention their never-ending acquisitions, there is almost no relationship between retail food prices and what the farmer gets.

Fat cattle prices have declined over recent years while retail prices maintained their upward trend.  Cheap grain has meant cheap hogs and cattle and yet consumers see no benefit. Free trade agreements have encouraged cheap imports and sacrificed our food sovereignty for corporate profits.

I must challenge your conclusion that no one has figured out how the farmer can get a bigger share of the food dollar in a "market economy." First of all there is no such thing in reality as a 100% market economy --- much of the economic activity in any modern nation is regulated, taxed, and subsidized.

This country and most other countries, especially in Europe, have had a way to make sure farmers got a reasonable share of the food dollar by establishing a price floor when it left the farm gate. Price floors are called  "price supports," and were implemented in all our farm programs from 1933 until the passage of Freedom to Farm.

The "loan rate" of the nonrecourse loan became a floor because every farmer knew that unless the grain trade paid at least the loan rate, the the grain would go to government reserves. Through the years these loan rates were lowered and the "marketing loan" substituted taxpayer dollars for the fair price that processors previously had to pay.

Price supports were the law of the land in this "market economy" for many years and served the very purpose in question: to make sure that farmers were conpensated for their effort and costs, and that external costs of losing a diversified family farm system were not imposed on our society or the environment. Those costs make headlines everyday announcing giant manure spills from hog factories and new outbreaks of food poisoning, not to mention the sad stories of declining rural society and overcrowded cities.

It is truly ironic that  American Farm Bureau is highlighting the low percentage of the food dollar going to farmers, when that organization aligned itself with the processing companies to destroy price supports and champion Freedom to Farm and the present 2002 Farm Bill boondoggle. Fencerow-to-fencerow farming with farmers dependent on tenuous government payments, while agribusiness encourages grain and soybean production overseas, is hardly a situation that should be supported by a farm organization, but that is Farm Bureau's history.

The National Family Farm Coalition, of which I am a board member, believes that losing our nation's family farm system is far too great a cost to pay simply to enrich the big processors and retailers. Farm products can be priced fairly at the farm gate so that farmers get a fair share of the food dollar in our  2002 "market economy" by  again implementing price supports and cooperating with the other few exporting nations to mangage environmentally damaging overproduction. This can most definitely happen when family farmers and their supporters tell their story to the public and demand that our government serve "We the People."


PAUL WELITZKIN, DOW JONES NEWSWIRES: Fiscal fourth-quarter net income soared 75% at Tyson Foods Inc. as the poultry and meat producer was helped by revenue from last year's acquisition of beef processor IBP Inc.

For the period ended September 28, Tyson, Springdale, Arkansas, on Monday reported net income of $84 million, or 24 cents a share, up from $48 million, or 22 cents a share, a year earlier. The per-share increase was only nine percent, because there were 60% more shares outstanding in the latest period.

The latest results included a charge of $53 million for discontinuing the Thomas E. Wilson meat brand and restructuring Tyson's swine operations, and a gain of $22 million for the sale of Specialty Brands Inc. The combined impact of these items reduced earnings by six cents a share. Sales increased 15% to $5.76 billion from $5.02 billion.

For fiscal 2002, Tyson had net of $383 million, or $1.08 a share, compared with $88 million, or 40 cents a share, the previous year. Revenue more than doubled, to $23.37 billion from $10.56 billion.

The purchase of IBP made Tyson, which already was the world's biggest chicken processor, the No. 1 beef processor as well. Beef sales in the fiscal fourth quarter rose 30% to $2.64 billion, while operating income nearly tripled to $94 million from $32 million. Chicken sales totaled $1.79 billion, down 3.8% from $1.86 billion as some overseas sales fell, while operating income in the segment slid 35%. Pork sales rose 11% to $565 million but the segment posted a loss of $23 million compared to a profit of $25 million a year earlier because of the restructuring charge for the swine operations and reduced selling prices.

Tyson lowered its guidance for the first quarter ending in December to a range of 22 cents to 26 cents a share. The company had said in September that it anticipated earnings, of 26 cents to 30 cents a share, compared with the 36 cents a share it earned in the year-earlier quarter. The projected result would be shy of analysts' estimate for Tyson to earn 29 cents a share, according to Thomson First Call. The company continues to expect 2003 earnings between $1.05 and $1.15 a share.


Excerpted from a new book THE CORPORATE CULT, RICH ZUBATY:

1) CORPORATIONS ARE LEGALLY REGARDED AS PERSONS: they have all the privileges and none of the responsibilities of being people. They do not eat, sleep, die, feel anything, pay a fair share of taxes or get drafted in time of war.

2) CORPORATIONS COMMIT CRIMES BUT ARE NOT PROSECUTED AS CRIMINALS: according to the law, corporations do not possess a mens rea, a mental state, and therefore do not possess the intent to commit crime. Therefore they cannot be prosecuted as criminals. So, according to the law, corporations are "persons" devoid of a mental state. In other words, certified idiots. And instead of protecting society from them by institutionalizing them --- as we do with most sociopaths --- we let them own property, hire workers, and shout at us from TV.

3) CORPORATIONS ARE ON WELFARE: Corporate welfare costs U.S. taxpayers $400 billion every single year. Welfare for human people costs $40 billion.

4) CORPORATIONS COST THE U.S. ECONOMY MORE EVERY YEAR THAN THEY CONTRIBUTE TO IT: Corporations claim profits of $2.4 trillion per year but they cost us $2.6 trillion per year in waste, subsidies and pollution. The mom and pop economy subsidizes the corporate economy. The Stock Market would disappear overnight --- there would be no "profit" --- if corporations were required to pay their true costs of production: pollution, health care, education, infrastructure, taxes.

5) THERE WERE NO GIANT AMERICAN CORPORATIONS 150 YEARS AGO: Now they dominate our nation and have overrun the globe.

6) TEN LARGE CORPORATIONS CONTROL 90% OF AMERICAN MEDIA: TV, radio, publishing. How can we claim we have free speech, if we can't get to the mike to claim it.


8) CORPORATE SOVEREIGNTY LIMITS THE CHOICES OF THE MARKET PLACE: We do not enjoy "free trade" or live in a "free market." We toil under corporatism not capitalism. Corporations squash competition --- not encourage it --- as the capitalist market would require. Corporations seek government handouts with one hand while they bribe politicians for lower taxes with the other. . .

9) CORPORATIONS HAVE NO SOUL: They are unable to "feel" anything. They have no conscience. They are incapable of connecting thoughts with actions. . .

10) CORPORATIONS ARE CULTS: They are secretive organizations dedicated to making money and gaining political power at any cost. They conceal their holdings and their operating procedures from public scrutiny. They brainwash their employees and their customers to gain compliance. They control our behavior, thoughts, information and emotions.


MARY DUENWALD, NEW YORK TIMES: In many American neighborhoods, poor eating habits may stem from a lack of access to fresh, nutritious food, new research suggests. The more supermarkets a neighborhood has, the more fruits and vegetables its residents eat, according to a study from the University of North Carolina.

The effect was found to be especially strong in predominantly black  neighborhoods, where produce consumption rose by 32% for each  additional supermarket. In mainly white neighborhoods, the comparable increase was 11%.

The presence of at least one supermarket in a black neighborhood was also associated with a 25% increase in the number of residents who limited the amount of fat in their diets, as compared with people in neighborhoods with no supermarket. In white neighborhoods with one supermarket, ten percent more of the residents watched their fat intake.

Only eight percent of the black participants in the study lived in neighborhoods with at least one supermarket, while 31% of the white participants did. The largely white neighborhoods had, on average, five times as many supermarkets as the black neighborhoods, the researchers  found.

"There is an assumption that we all have access to healthy foods, and that when people aren't eating healthy, it's because they choose not to," said  Dr. Kimberly Morland, an epidemiologist and lead researcher on the study, who is now at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "But this demonstrates that the availability of food varies between neighborhoods, and it's related to the affluence and the race of the neighborhood."

Most of the black neighborhoods in the study did have small groceries, but these were not associated with beneficial nutritional practices. Supermarkets, the researchers noted, are more likely to offer a wide selection of food at affordable prices.

The findings confirm what people in black communities have long observed, said Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, a public health scholar at the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality in Washington.

"In some neighborhoods, it's easier to get an artery-clogging piece of fried chicken than it is to get a fresh apple," Dr. Rockeymoore said. "Many urban community dwellers would love to have better eating habits, but if there's no grocery store nearby, you're talking about getting on public transportation with a grocery cart."

Dr. Rockeymoore said the problem might partly explain why rates of heart disease, stroke and diabetes were high in many black neighborhoods.

Medical research has shown that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can  lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and help prevent bone loss. Diets high in fat have been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. "Very few illnesses have not shown some association with dietary practice," Dr. Morland said.

Her study was based on data that was originally gathered during the mid-1990's to study the risk of atherosclerosis in various communities. More than 10,000 adults in four states had been asked to answer questions about what they ate each day. The predominantly black neighborhoods studied were in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in Jackson, Mississippi. The mainly white neighborhoods were in Washington County, Maryland., and suburban Minneapolis.

Dr. Morland correlated the nutritional reports with records from local health departments and state agriculture departments showing the locations of supermarkets. The researchers noted that whites in their study had three times the access to cars as blacks had, and speculated that this might explain why nearby supermarkets made a greater difference among blacks.

But transportation is probably not the only explanation, said Dr. Steven B.  Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, a co-author of the study. "If you either don't have transportation, or you work long hours because of your economic situation, or you feel that when you go to a store in a white neighborhood, you are under surveillance, it's not going to be as easy for you to have access to good food at affordable prices," he said.


Six members of the National Farmers Union spent last week [in Geneva, Switzerland] sorting through a maze of global trade proposals being pushed at the World Trade Organization during the current Doha round of trade talks. While designed as an opportunity to learn the status of agriculture negotiations, the meetings also allowed the farmers to share their concerns.

"We all know that trade can be an important component of farm income," said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. "However, when the rules that apply to trade undermine the ability of family farmers to make a living, we have a problem, and that's the point we wanted our negotiators to hear."

Hansen and his colleagues insist that requirements in trade agreements like those imposed under the previous Uruguay Round of trade talks have seriously undermined American farmers.

Robert Carlson, a North Dakota wheat and livestock producer and president of that state's Farmers Union, says the major problem with the global accord is that it takes away the right of individual nations to formulate sound domestic farm policy. "American farm policy options have become so limited as a result of international agreements that we cannot depend on being able to provide an adequate safety net for producers," Carlson said. "While this year's farm bill provides some support for family farmers, the trade talks continue to whittle away at domestic policies."

While opening American borders to some products may benefit consumers, the Farmers Union leaders said agricultural products are often a different story. According to California Farmers Union President Joaquin Contente, "We can produce more of some foodstuffs than we need in the U.S., yet we're forced to accept a certain level of imports from other countries, which does nothing but drive down our prices and those of producers around the world. It makes no sense."

John Stencel, president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which includes Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, said the same case can be made for products in the states he represents. "We're really worried about the effects of these agreements on the individual producer," he said. "There are a lot of arguments for free trade but most of them are made by commodity buyers and sellers, not by farmers."

The group, which included NFU staff members Jim Miller and Clay Pederson, met with WTO officials and negotiators from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mauritius, China, and the European Union while in Geneva. Pederson also represented the group at the International Federation of Agricultural Producers meeting, speaking on industrial concentration among the processors, input suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and transporters of farm goods.


The Campaign for Family Farms [Thursday] filed an opposition to USDA's most recent attempts to stave off the inevitable end of the pork checkoff program. [Wednesday], USDA filed an "emergency" motion, asking the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a U.S. District Court's order requiring USDA to stop collections under the pork checkoff program by November 24, 2002. USDA claimed that the termination of the program would result in the loss of jobs.

Less than twenty-four hours after USDA filed its motion, the Campaign for Family Farms filed an opposition to USDA's motion, asserting that it is hog farmers, not NPB employees, who will be harmed if the District Court's order is not honored.

"Hog farmers have no guarantee that they will have jobs or be in business a year or a month from now.  Why should NPB employees have guaranteed employment at the expense of hog farmers?" asks Paul Sobocinski, a hog farmer member of the Land Stewardship Project, a member group of the Campaign for Family Farms.

"A federal judge agreed with us and ruled that the pork checkoff is `unconstitutional and rotten.' Hog farmers said the same thing two years ago when they voted to end the checkoff program. USDA needs to accept the court's ruling and immediately bring an end to the program," said Rhonda Perry, Campaign for Family Farms spokesperson and Program Director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

If the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals grants USDA's request to stay the District Court's order, the Campaign for Family Farms requested that the Sixth Circuit place any funds collected after November 24, 2002 into an interest-bearing escrow account, so that it can be returned to hog farmers at the conclusion of all appeals.

Susan Stokes, legal director for Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG), which is legal counsel for the Campaign, stated: "We are confident that the Campaign for Family Farms and independent hog farmers will ultimately prevail. We have asked the Sixth Circuit to prevent the injustice of depriving hog farmers of money they need in these times of low market prices."

The U.S. District Court's October 25, 2002, ruling that the pork checkoff is unconstitutional is one of four similar cases currently making their way through the court system. The successful pork checkoff decision was issued by a U.S. District Court judge in Michigan, and is now on appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In June, a U.S. District Court judge in South Dakota issued a similar decision holding the beef checkoff unconstitutional. That decision is being appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. On November 1, 2002, a U.S. District Court judge in Montana ruled for the government and held that the beef checkoff program is constitutional.

That decision will likely be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Currently pending before a U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania is a challenge to the dairy checkoff. If that decision is appealed it will be to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Courts of Appeal reach different results, one or more of the cases will likely be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. In June of 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory mushroom checkoff violated producers' First Amendment rights and was unconstitutional.

The Campaign for Family Farms is a coalition of farm and rural groups that are leading the fight against the corporate takeover of the hog industry and working for policies that support independent family farmers.  CFF member groups include the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Land Stewardship Project and Illinois Stewardship Alliance. Farmers Legal Action Group represents CFF and the individual hog farmers in the legal challenge to the pork checkoff.

                                        EDITOR'S NOTE

Preparing to post this 202nd edition of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER it is
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