Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Looking for snacks – 2020 dairy Snackcelerator competition searching for next big thing

This nutritional milkshake concept won last year’s Snackcelerator contest

From a California Milk Advisory Board news release

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) announced today the return of its dairy product innovation competition with the launch of the Real California Milk Snackcelerator to inspire new ideas integrating the flavor and functionality of California dairy into snack formulations that meet the needs of today’s consumers.

With more than $450,000 in awards, the Real California Milk Snackcelerator taps into the $605 billion global snack food market while combining two of California’s great natural resources: High quality, sustainable dairy products and the insatiable California entrepreneurial spirit. The competition aims to inspire innovation and investment in dairy-based snack products, packaging and capacity within California by connecting the dots between processors, producers, investors, ideas and entrepreneurs.

Research shows that consumers are snacking more than ever before. According to Mondelez International, 59% of adults worldwide prefer snacking to meals with that number increasing to 70% for millennials. The Real California Milk Snackcelerator aims to uncover healthy, natural options to satisfy these cravings.

“Dairy and snacking are natural partners. Not only do dairy foods make the perfect snack on their own, the flavor, nutritional profile and functionality of milk and other dairy products as ingredients are hard to duplicate. As consumers look for snacking options with natural ingredients that deliver something extra – whether a specific flavor profile or a boost of quality protein or other essential nutrients – product developers appreciate what dairy brings to the table,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “The goal of this competition is to tap into our global obsession with snacking to inspire new ideas and help clear the hurdles to bringing these products to market.”

The inaugural Real California Milk Accelerator event in 2019 brought nine innovative fluid milk startup finalists to a live pitch event and built the model for dairy product competitions. The 2019 winner, Bears Nutrition, will launch its ready-to-drink milk-based nutritional shakes for children at retail test markets this fall along with companion “Immunity Nourishment” and “Brain Booster” milk powder-based nutritional shake mixes online.

Through the Real California Milk Snackcelerator, the CMAB is seeking high-growth potential snack product concepts, with cow’s milk dairy as their first ingredient and making up at least 50% of their formula. The startups will need to commit to producing the product in California, with milk from California dairy farms, should they win the competition.

Up to eight (8) startups will receive $10,000 worth of support each, to develop an edible prototype, while receiving a suite of resources including graphic design, lab or kitchen time and elite mentorship from global marketing, packaging, and distribution experts. They also will receive a business development trip (or virtual equivalent) to tour dairy farms and production facilities and to meet with industry leaders to help drive success of their new venture. The winner will receive up to $200,000 worth of additional support to get their new product to market. The value of the competition prize is $450,000.

VentureFuel, Inc., the leading corporate innovation consultancy, is again partnering with CMAB to run the program and to identify the best emerging opportunities from their global network of investors, founders and academics. “Our first program with CMAB proved the value of marrying innovation and dairy as we were able to bring delicious and diverse products to market quickly, while providing founders unprecedented mentorship and access to accelerate their success,” said Fred Schonenberg, Founder of VentureFuel, Inc. “CMAB’s continued commitment to product innovation now will inspire great new snacks for consumers to enjoy and further increase the demand for California Dairy.”

Competition rules and application documents are available at and the deadline for application is August 28, 2020.

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You can put a price on protecting rangelands – opinion piece for CalMatters co-authored by Secretary Ross

By CDFA secretary Karen Ross and California Rangeland Trust CEO Michael Delbar

As California continues to respond to the challenges of COVID-19, some people are cautiously venturing out into the state’s abundance of open spaces, while hopefully wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and practicing other safe behaviors. 

From parks to rangeland, our state’s open spaces provide a variety of aesthetic and recreational benefits that it’s next to impossible to put a price tag on.

Much of that open space is also used for grazing, providing the benefit of locally sourced beef to kitchen tables across the state. 

What many people don’t realize is that open spaces and rangeland also provide an abundance of environmental benefits and, as researchers at UC Berkeley recently discovered, you can put a price tag on those. 

In fact, the analysis found that 300,000 acres of rangeland under permanent protection by the California Rangeland Trust provide up to $1.4 billion a year in ecosystem benefits, including contributions to our food, water supplies and climate.

As the state struggles with a $54 billion deficit while trying to continue our leadership in environmental stewardship, it’s important that we get the most bang for every taxpayer buck spent on environmental projects. The UC Berkeley study found that every dollar spent to protect working rangeland returned $3.43 on the investment in ecosystem benefits.

These benefits make a big difference in California. Managed grazing can take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into healthy soil, restoring land to its natural state. This concept, implemented through the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Healthy Soils Program, is called carbon sequestration, and it’s a key solution for the mitigation of climate change. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and its increased concentrations in the atmosphere warm the planet and contribute to climate change, so rangelands are uniquely positioned to aid in a resilient climate.

Government plays a key role in protecting California’s public open spaces and the benefits they provide. But preserving private lands is just as important to our state’s environment – if not more so. In fact, the California Strategic Growth Council recently invested more than $170 million in the Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation Program, which will fund easements to help the state meet its climate and environmental goals.

When rangelands are sold for development, land uses and ownerships are fragmented, putting ecosystems at risk and preventing responsible ranching practices like grazing, which can also reduce invasive plants, remove fire-prone biomass and revitalize vegetation to benefit the entire ecosystem. Livestock grazing can lower wildfire risk and reduce the impact of fires by slowing down the speed of spreading flames.

Development is a real threat for a large portion of the state’s private rangelands. California scored among the highest in the nation for threat to agricultural land being developed, according to new research from the American Farmland Trust. From 2001 to 2016, the study found 465,900 acres of California’s agricultural land was developed or compromised, including nearly 250,000 acres of rangeland.

Today, private rangelands are nearly 63% of the state’s undeveloped land and are home to 67% of federally threatened or endangered species. Once this land is lost to development, we can’t get it back.

That is why the role of state and nonprofit land conservation groups, like the California Rangeland Trust, is so critical to ensuring that development doesn’t come at the expense of our state’s ecosystems.

California is an agricultural and environmental leader across the nation and around the world. In conserving rangeland and open spaces, our state can maintain a balance that is nothing short of essential as we strive for lasting sustainability.

Link to article on CalMatters web site

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Imperial Valley Ag community helps farmworkers crossing border with PPE – from the Desert Review

Letter to the editor by Shelby Dill, Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers

As we continue to adapt to the new limitations as a result of COVID-19, agriculture has been classified as an essential service and the Imperial Valley has continued to farm. A majority part of the farming effort is the harvest of field crops — alfalfa, wheat, and Bermuda grass — this time of year. We need farm workers to continue harvest, while some live here and some live in Mexicali Valley. Those in Mexicali cross daily, and some experienced long wait times and crossing was delayed. We are pleased to report that the majority of the crossing issues experienced in early May have been greatly improved or resolved completely.

We, however, noticed that not all of those crossing had protective face masks, thus creating dangerous conditions for themselves, their families, and their co-workers. Initially, as the statewide order for face masks was issued, the supply for disposable masks was extremely limited. To protect our farm workers, three separate efforts occurred. First, prior to the start of onion, sweet corn, and melon harvest, washable cloth masks were purchased from a reliable source in California and distributed directly to cattlemen and farmers for them to disperse to their employees. Shortly after, the California Department of Food and Agricultural obtained a supply of disposal masks that were distributed through the Imperial County Ag Commissioners’ office. A second supply has also been received and is available for the agriculture community through the Ag Commissioner’s office.

The third and most notable is the donation by an anonymous donor for disposable masks and gloves to be distributed in three efforts to the essential workers. A portion of the allocation has been provided to the two local hospitals, El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, for their use at the hospitals and their clinics throughout Imperial Valley. These medical professionals are certainly essential and continue to be critical in this pandemic. The second allocation has been provided to Comite Civico Del Valle, Imperial Valley Community Health Coalition, and Coalicion De La Buena Salud y Bienestar Communitario. These coalitions will distribute the masks to the farm workers once they have crossed the border and at times the farm workers are generally crossing daily. The last allocation will be distributed by Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, who has been designated by the donor as the local coordinator. This allocation will be made available to the labor contractors and farmers for those farm workers who live in Imperial Valley or those who did not receive them otherwise.

We also acknowledge the ongoing support of Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia to elevate the local farm worker and health needs in response to COVID-19. The safety of all of us is a major concern — we need healthy farm workers to harvest the food we eat and we need medical staff safe as they care for those of us who have contracted COVID-19. All are important, and we are certainly appreciative of the effort by the donor to provide this generous and timely donation. Working together our community is more resilient in stopping the spread of this novel virus and speeds the pathway to recovery.

Link to letter on Desert Review web site

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Farmworker Pandemic Safety Campaign Launched

From a California Farmworker Foundation News Release

The California Farmworker Foundation has launched a new campaign, La Seguridad Empieza con Usted, which translates to Safety Starts with You, to help the farmworker community stay safe through the pandemic by
providing encouragement for best practices and information on additional resources.

The campaign will reach farmworkers in the greater Bakersfield and Fresno growing regions. Advertisements on Spanish-language radio will encourage farmworkers to visit the Foundation Facebook page for ways
to stay safe during the pandemic.

On the Foundation Facebook page are messages that encourage safe practices during a pandemic, dispel myths about the pandemic, and provide tips for increased safety measures in daily life. These messages will continue throughout the campaign.

“The health of farmworkers and their families is just as essential as their work to keep the world fed,” said Hernan Hernandez, California Farmworker Foundation executive director. “Farming operations have adopted safety procedures to keep workers safe on the job. This campaign provides our communities with more Spanish-language information and
resources about the pandemic, including the dispelling of COVID-19 myths, to better educate everyone on the need to make safe choices in their personal lives.”

This campaign is an expansion of work that the foundation has already been doing to keep the community safe during the pandemic, including distributing PPE, combating food insecurity, and providing virtual medical consultations.

The foundation has a free hotline for farmworkers to call seeking additional information on ways to stay safe during the pandemic. The number is 661-446-4077.

The farmworker safety campaign is supported by the California Fresh Fruit Association and California Table Grape

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Some unsolicited seeds identified – from the USDA via USA Today

By N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA Today

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified 14 kinds of seeds in the mysterious packages that appear to have been sent unsolicited to people around the country.

All 50 states have issued warnings about the packages, some of which contain flowering plants like morning glory, hibiscus and roses, according to Osama El-Lissy, with the Plant Protection program of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. El-Lissy said other packages contain vegetables  such as cabbage and herbs including mint, sage, rosemary, and lavender. 

A spokesperson for the USDA said the department is urging anyone who receives the packages not to plant them and to contact their state plant regulatory official (county agricultural commissioners in California) and keep the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until they receive further instruction.

“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the statement said. “USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”

NOTE – Californians in possession of unsolicited seeds are urged to contact their local county agriculture commissioner.

Link to USDA Q-and-A document about seeds

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CDFA scientist Dale Woods retires after 35 years at agency

Dale Woods displays a congratulatory proclamation from CDFA Secretary Karen Ross in honor of his retirement after 35 years at the agency. Dale served in the Plant Health and Pest Protection Services Division and the Inspection Services Division (ISD), ending his career as Environmental Program Manager of the Fertilizing Materials Inspection Program and Organic Input Material Program.
Dale’s accomplishments at CDFA include assisting on Medfly and Mexican fruit fly detection and eradication projects, advising CDFA on all aspects of plant pathology as the Primary State Plant Pathologist, and helping to improve efficiency and effectiveness in weed biological control.
“I stayed with CDFA as long as I did – with three different programs – because I loved every one of them, and especially my knowledgeable and kind colleagues,” Dale said. “All my years at CDFA with its people were fun, challenging and fulfilling.”
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CDFA scientists published in academic journal after developing improved method to test for mycotoxin in feed

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(L-R) CDFA scientists Bahar Nakhjavan, Nighat Sami Ahmed and Maryam Khosravifard.

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Center for Analytical Chemistry (CAC) scientists Bahar Nakhjavan, Nighat Sami Ahmed, and Maryam Khosravifard were recently published in an academic journal after developing an improved method to test for mycotoxin in feed. Their article, “Development of an Improved Method of Sample Extraction and Quantitation of Multi-Mycotoxin in Feed by LC-MS/MS,” details their research of evaluating the three most popular sample preparation techniques for determination of mycotoxins, then selecting the best method and optimizing it.

Mycotoxins are the most common contaminants in agricultural crops produced by several species of mold and fungi. During growth, maturity, harvest, storage and processing of food and animal feed products, the fungus produces mycotoxins and other secondary metabolites. Mycotoxin-contaminated food and feed threaten human and animal health even at very low concentration.

Nakhjavan, Ahmed and Khosravifard work in CDFA’s CAC Environmental Safety Laboratory. Testing for mycotoxin in food and animal feed in the Regulatory Analysis Laboratory is part of their job of preventing contaminated food and feed from being consumed by humans, livestock and poultry in California. CAC uses state-of-the-art equipment and processes to test fruits, vegetables, nuts, animal feed, milk, water and air to ensure that pesticide and chemical levels are within the safety range established by national and international standards. Additional CAC staff who contributed to the work discussed in this published paper include Sally Henandez, Jose Salazar and Sarva Balachandra. 

Click here to read “Development of an Improved Method of Sample Extraction and Quantitation of Multi-Mycotoxin in Feed by LC-MS/MS,” by CAC scientists Nakhjavan, Ahmed and Khosravifard.

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Governor Newsom releases final Water Resilience Portfolio

Water policy blueprint will guide state actions, support regional efforts

Safe drinking water, groundwater recharge, healthy waterways, progress on Salton Sea among top priorities

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today released a final version of the Water Resilience Portfolio, the Administration’s blueprint for equipping California to cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, declining fish populations, over-reliance on groundwater and other challenges.

The portfolio outlines 142 state actions to help build a climate-resilient water system in the face of climate change. The actions tie directly to Administration efforts to carry out recent laws regarding safe and affordable drinking water, groundwater sustainability and water-use efficiency. They also elevate priorities to secure voluntary agreements in key watersheds to improve flows and conditions for fish, address air quality and habitat challenges around the Salton Sea and protect the long-term functionality of the State Water Project and other conveyance infrastructure.

“Water is the lifeblood of our state, sustaining communities, wildlife and our economy,” said Governor Newsom. “For more than a year, my Administration has worked to assemble a blueprint to secure this vital and limited resource into the future in a way that builds climate resilience for all communities and sustains native fish and the habitat they need to thrive.”

The California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture solicited extensive public input to prepare the portfolio in response to an April 2019 Executive Order (N-10-19).

“The state’s playbook for managing water in coming decades must be broad and comprehensive,” said Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot. “The portfolio identifies how the state can help regions maintain and diversify water supplies, protect and enhance natural systems and prepare for a future that looks very different from our recent past.”

The agencies released a draft version of the portfolio for public feedback in January 2020. Input from more than 200 separate individuals and organizations helped shape revisions, including the addition of 14 new actions. The revisions give greater emphasis to tribal interests and leadership, upper watershed health and cross-border water issues.

“The Water Resilience Portfolio is a roadmap that will help us plan and build for a climate uncertain future. This blueprint establishes regional priorities that align challenges with opportunities for water-focused innovations like conservation, replenishing aquifers and direct potable reuse,” said Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld. “By implementing this portfolio of actions together, we can meet the existential threat posed by climate change with a strategic sense of obligation and vision.”

The portfolio also recognizes the role of healthy soils in building resilience, including efforts that promote using working lands to sequester carbon, store water and prevent pollution.

“Evaluating our water management system for improved resilience is an essential first step in our quest for long-range sustainability and reliability,” said Secretary for Agriculture Karen Ross. “I look forward to collaborating with our state partners and agriculture stakeholders on this essential issue.”

Given the recent drastic downturn in the state’s budget situation, the final version acknowledges that the pace of progress on the actions in the portfolio will depend upon the resources available. The portfolio is a comprehensive, aspirational document, but there are several priorities the state will focus on.

These priorities include:

  1. Implementing the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act of 2019
  2. Supporting local communities to successfully implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014
  3. Achieving voluntary agreements to increase flows and improve conditions for native fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watersheds
  4. Modernizing the Delta water conveyance system to protect long-term functionality of the State Water Project
  5. Updating regulations to expand water recycling
  6. Accelerating permitting of new smart water storage
  7. Expanding seasonal floodplains for fish and flood benefits
  8. Improving conditions at the Salton Sea
  9. Removing dams from the Klamath River
  10. Better leveraging of information and data to improve water management

State agencies intend to track and share progress on portfolio implementation with an annual report and stakeholder gathering.

For more information, visit

Link to news release on Governor Newsom’s web site

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CDFA statement on unsolicited seeds from China

Recently the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has become aware of a number of reports regarding unsolicited seeds from China being received by homeowners throughout the US. CDFA is communicating with the USDA to determine any necessary actions for shipments received in California. 

In the meantime, CDFA is instructing residents not to open any unsolicited seed packets received and to contact their local county agricultural commissioner’s office. Seed packets should not be opened, shipped, or disposed of by residents in order to prevent potential dispersal of invasive species and/or quarantine pests. Unopened seed packets should be held by the resident or county official until further instructions are provided. 

From the USDA: “At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam,’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales. USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”


El Departamento de Alimentos y Agricultura de California emite una alerta sobre el envio de semillas de China a los Estados Unidos 

Recientemente, el Departamento de Alimentos y Agricultura de California (CDFA) fue alertado por parte de una serie de informes sobre semillas no solicitadas de China que están siendo recibidas por propietarios de viviendas en todo Estados Unidos. CDFA se está comunicando con el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos (USDA) para determinar las medidas necesarias de los envíos recibidos en California.  

Mientras tanto, CDFA está instruyendo a los residentes que no abran ningún paquete de semillas no solicitadas que hayan sido recibidas y que se pongan en contacto con la Oficina del Comisionado Agrícola del condado local. Los paquetes de semillas no deben ser abiertos, enviados o tirados a la basura o dispersados por los residentes — con el fin de evitar la posible dispersión de especies invasoras y/o plagas que puedan resultar en una cuarentena. Los paquetes de semillas sin abrir deben ser retenidos por el residente o el funcionario del condado hasta que se proporcionen más instrucciones.  

Del USDA: “En este momento, no tenemos ninguna evidencia que indique que esto es algo más que una estafa, donde las personas reciben artículos no solicitados de un vendedor que luego publica opiniones falsas de clientes para aumentar las ventas. El USDA actualmente está recolectando paquetes de semillas de los destinatarios y probará su contenido y determinará si contienen algo que pueda poner en riesgo la agricultura o tener un impacto negativo en el medio ambiente de los Estados Unidos.” 

Comunicado de prensa de USDA (inglés): 

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What is Soil? From Dirt to Dinner

By Lucy M. Stitzer


Life on earth would not survive without soil. Whether we live in a city apartment or on the farm, our lives depend on this seemingly mundane piece of earth. Yet it is not boring and dull at all – it is full of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and microscopic creatures that give life to almost all the food we eat. Let’s take a few minutes to better understand and appreciate our living soil…

What is Soil?

It is a natural body on the land surface of Earth, made up of minerals and organic matter. Soil has many jobs, including:

  • Providing our plants with the minerals and nutrients needed to give them proper nourishment which then keeps us healthy
  • Holding in moisture, preventing flooding, giving us groundwater, and keeping water intact for crops to grow
  • Modifying the atmosphere by providing a massive carbon sink for the Earth’s CO2 cycle by emitting and storing CO2, water vapor, and other gases
  • Purifying the water as it enters the ground
  • Providing a habitat for everything, from groundhogs and gophers to bacteria and fungi
  • Recycling nutrients so they can be used over and over again
  • Finally, it is also the foundation for photosynthesis, which is needed to grow our food

Soil vs. Dirt

Soil is found in layers with the “litter zone” on top. This layer is what we can see and where we find matter, like twigs and leaves. After that, there’s the topsoil, the subsoil, and rock fragments and bedrock at the bottom. That is a lot more than just a pile of dirt!

The most important layer is the topsoil, where all plant growth takes place. But it is a long, slow process. Because it is made from crushed rock and decaying plants and animals, it can take thousands of years in colder climates and hundreds of years in hot, wet climates to make just one inch of topsoil. Crushed rock is the time-consuming part.

Think of the rich, dark soil that was formed by the glaciers when they came down across North America and other parts of the world. A combination of glacial pressure, wind, rain, and basic weathering broke down the rocks into smaller fragments. As they break down, the minerals from the rocks dissolve into the earth.

Take a look at the soil in your hand, rub it between your fingers. Those shiny particles could be crushed rock from the glaciers millions of years ago.

Soil is also formed by decaying roots, old plant material, and living organisms, which help break it down.  As dying material degrades into the soil, it provides nutrients for vegetation, as well as enriching the microbiome. These microbiomes are arguably the most important part of the soil.

The Soil Microbiome

When you hold soil in your hand, what you can’t see with the naked eye are the billions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microorganisms. These are known as microbes and, this collection is commonly referred to as the soil microbiome.

Microbes act like a fertilizer. They help plants change nitrogen from the air for growth and maturity, absorb phosphorus for health and vigor, and can protect a plant from fungal disease, like botrytis, or gray mold. This is the fungus we see most on our spoiled, inedible strawberries.

A diverse microbiome is an essential ingredient to healthy food and nutrition and is responsible for the micro and macro ingredients for our daily 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables, protein in wheat, and healthy animal feed for our protein. The more microbe diversity in your gut, the healthier your gut and overall immune system. A spoonful of soil? It is generally thought that by working in the garden, you inadvertently ingest soil – and healthy microbiomes for your gut.

Ever wonder how some plants grow in dry conditions? Microbiomes! The microbiome in and around the roots of that plant helps it survive amidst drought and heat. Scientists can isolate these microbes and apply them to crops with drought conditions. For example, the company Indigo Ag has developed microbial-treated seeds for wheat to increase plant health in the face of water stress.


Soil health is the key to human and environmental life and health. With its layers and microbiomes, it is our most precious resource. Next time you put your shovel in the garden, thank all the little creatures, minerals, and nutrients that are providing us with our life.

Some Fun Topsoil Facts:

  • One earthworm can digest 36 tons of soil in one year – that is equal to five elephants!
  • There are over 70,000 kinds of soil in the U.S.
  • Five tons of topsoil spread over an acre is as thick as a dime

Link to story on Dirt to Dinner web site

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