Eastern Washington fruit growers and their crews worked well into the wee hours to prevent damage from a serious spring freeze and largely succeeded, an industry official said.
Temperatures dropped into the teens in parts of north-central Washington early Tuesday as growers fired up smudge pots and switched on propeller-like fans. Some sprayed their trees with water, insulating buds beneath a layer of ice at 32 degrees.
Lows of 21 degrees around Yakima and 23 at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee early Tuesday tied records set April 2, 1975.
Later in the day orchard owners reported bud losses as high as 20 percent, but most trees produce fruit adequately with as few as 10 percent to 15 percent of their buds, said B.J. Thurlby, Washington State Fruit Commission president.
Temperatures in fruit-growing areas early Wednesday were mostly in the 40s.
Supermarket-workers unions leave talks
Union officials representing supermarket workers temporarily walked away from contract talks Wednesday after three chains said they will lock out employees at their Southern California stores if any of the chains are targeted by a strike.
“We’ve broken off negotiations at this point, and we’re regrouping to discuss our options,” said Mike Shimpock, a spokesman for the seven Southern California chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
The union added, however, that it intended to resume talks at a later date.
The timing of those negotiations was under discussion, said Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman for the supermarkets.
During a prolonged 2003 labor dispute, union leaders ordered a strike against Vons and Pavilions stores. Albertsons and Ralphs responded by locking out their employees. In all, about 59,000 workers were idled at 859 stores.
The strike and lockout lasted more than four months and cost the grocery chains more than $2 billion by some estimates.
Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a professor of management and public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the current lockout pact and a strike authorization vote by the union were part of the bargaining process.
“You have to take this all with a grain of salt,” Mitchell said.
Under the markets’ pact, if the union orders a selective strike against one of the chains, the other two would lock out employees within 48 hours. The companies also agreed to provide financial assistance to chains with employees who walk out.
Company probing possible pet-food link
A Chinese company accused of selling chemically contaminated wheat gluten linked to pet food deaths of cats and dogs in the U.S. said Wednesday it was investigating the claims.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week blocked wheat gluten imports from the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in the eastern Chinese city of Xuzhou, saying they contained melamine, a chemical found in plastics and pesticides.
ChemNutra Inc., the Las Vegas-based company that imported the wheat gluten and shipped it to companies that make pet food, said Tuesday that Xuzhou Anying never reported the presence of melamine in the content analysis it provided.
“We are still investigating,” Mao Lijun, the company’s general manger, said Wednesday.
He refused to give any other details or say why the presence of the chemical was not mentioned in the wheat gluten, a protein source used as an ingredient in pet food.
For information about the recalled pet food, go to these Web sites:
“FDA: www.fda.gov/oc /opacom/hottopics/petfood.html
“Menu Foods: www.menufoods.com/recall/
From wire reports