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Local food becomes a priority at Wal-Mart

The local-and-sustainable food movement has spread to the nation’s largest retailer.

Wal-Mart Stores announced a program Thursday that focuses on sustainable agriculture among its suppliers as it tries to reduce its overall environmental impact.

The program is intended to put more locally grown food in the company’s U.S. stores, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large suppliers grow and get their produce into stores.

Advocates of environmentally sustainable farming said the announcement was significant because of Wal-Mart’s size and because it would give small farmers a chance at Wal-Mart’s business. But they questioned how “local” a $405 billion company with 2 million employees — more than the populations of Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont combined — could be.

Given that Wal-Mart is the world’s largest grocer, with one of the biggest food supply chains, any change it makes will have wide implications. Wal-Mart said that it expected it would meet the goals by the end of 2015.

In the United States, Wal-Mart plans to double the percentage of locally grown produce it sells to 9 percent. Wal-Mart defines local produce as that grown and sold in the same state.

Still, the program is far less ambitious than in some other countries — in Canada, for instance, Wal-Mart expects to buy 30 percent of its produce locally by the end of 2013, and, when local produce is available, increase that to 100 percent.

U.S. trade deficit widens as gap with China reaches record

The U.S. trade deficit widened in August, with the politically sensitive imbalance with China reaching its highest mark on record, according to government figures released Thursday.

The trade deficit grew to $46.3 billion, up from a revised $42.6 billion in July and exceeding forecasts for a gap of around $44 billion. The deficit with China accounted for $28 billion of the August shortfall, up from $25.9 billion the month before.

The widening gap with China comes amid rising concerns in Washington about China’s trade dominance and its effect on the global economic recovery. The Obama administration and some lawmakers, hoping to temper Chinese exports by making them more expensive, are pressing China to allow its currency to appreciate more quickly.

With a high unemployment rate in the United States, trade and currency issues with China have become a particularly sensitive topic before the midterm elections, with some members of Congress threatening to impose import tariffs on China.