You've likely noticed that the competing interests of the day are all vying for millennials attention, and the practice of beating up on agriculture (the meat industry in particular) is a very popular ‘larger social issue’ that resonates with millennials.Just a few examples:A Colorado State University student has petitioned through change.org to stop the construction of a very small slaughter facility on campus that facilitates the instruction of meat science and best practices of animal handling.The documentary “What the Health” (aka Cowspiracy 2) is currently showing across the country in high schools and colleges. Watch the short trailer to get the gist of the message, and notice the emotionally-based, misrepresented messages slandering agriculture.This week former President Obama was paid over $3 million for a one-hour speech in which he blamed agriculture as the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world. He said eating smaller steaks or becoming vegan will help save the planet from climate change.If you walked through college campuses today, you’d see students asking for signatures and inviting you to the newest one-hour documentary about food production. Recently I talked to a college student who recruits for her animal rights group. She stated, “It’s actually pretty easy to get people to join our cause. Once we show them our film, they become vegans almost instantly.” It’s due in part to the fact that less than 2 percent of us grow our own food. Fixing this huge disconnect between the perception and the reality of how food is made is a formidable challenge. I believe the only remedy to the situation that has any hope of countering the tide of negative PR is to go on the offensive.
Issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMO) will be examined during a six-week online course through University of Wyoming Extension.The weekly sessions, beginning Monday, May 22, are meant to divide fact from fiction about biotechnology, says Jeremiah Vardiman, UW Extension educator who is leading the course.“This online course focuses on educating professionals in the health and nutrition fields, and any other inquisitive mind on the main topics that are discussed or brought up about GMOs,” he says. “Participants will gain practical knowledge on the GMO topic, which will aid in education and conversations with clientele.”Registration and more information is at bit.ly/gmocourse. Those taking the classes can access the course starting May 11, with materials available to participants until June 30.Vardiman says he hears from community members and extension educators that GMOs are a common conversation topic, and adds they don’t always have the right answers or information.“I also hear from local agricultural producers they want the public to be more educated in the topic,” he says.
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a national nonprofit foundation established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, and the Open Philanthropy Project, which identifies high-impact giving opportunities and makes grants, launched a partnership today to improve the welfare and productivity of egg-laying hens and commercially raised pigs. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is matching a $1 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to support producers’ ability to adapt to a changing animal production landscape, partially driven by consumer demand for products such as cage-free eggs and increasing global demand for pork. FFAR will support the competitive research initiatives valued at $2 million in total.One goal of the research initiative is to reduce bone fractures in egg-laying hens. Bone fractures, which cause pain and decrease egg production, are one known challenge to raising hens in cage-free housing systems. With all top 25 U.S. grocers and the majority of the top 20 fast food chains working to meet cage-free pledges, this issue is increasingly salient. Potential research to improve keel bone health might explore ways to increase bone strength through breeding or new dietary formulations and improving housing design.Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates of the number of hens needed to meet existing cage-free pledges, this research has the potential to improve the welfare and productivity of approximately 100 million hens by 2025.
Last fall was the 107th sugar beet harvest for the Schlagel family, a legacy that spans five Front Range generations. It may also have been one of their last. Within five years, no genetically engineered crops will be allowed on county open space — and currently, GE is the only sugar beet seed available. It was late December, and Schlagel, Lisco, and Scott Miller (who raises cattle, grains and pumpkins alongside his father, Dick) sat with me by a perfect Christmas tree. Large windows gave a long view of the fields outside. These families have generations-deep experience in this land, and advanced academic degrees in agricultural science. Farming is their entire financial livelihood. They all rotate crops through their fields, a best-practice for soil health, so removing a linchpin like corn or sugar beets doesn't affect just one planting, it upends the entire operation. Schlagel was humble but clear. "We've been here for over a hundred years. We aren't going to do things that will hurt the land. No one is perfect, but every year we try to get better and better." "To survive in agriculture," said Miller, "you have to be looking for anything you can change and improve on, those little incremental things." The arrival of GMOs was a big thing. It enabled new conservation tillage methods, which, due to limited water and weed pressure, currently are possible locally only with GE. Schlagel was a part of a 2004 National Resources Conservation Service trial of the system designed to improve nutrients and water retention of soil.
Population growth isn’t the apocalyptic problem Malthusian greens once spent so much time making it out to be, but even though growth rates are slowing down, feeding our planet’s billions remains one of the biggest challenges for humanity. That task becomes even harder when you consider that our warming planet and its changing climate are going to create new challenges for farmers. Threats to food security are proliferating even as the demands placed on our agricultural system grow along with the global population. But there’s hope yet, as scientists are continuing to refine the techniques by which they can genetically modify crops to make them hardier, less reliant on pesticides, and capable of producing higher yields. Greens will invariably decry the “unnatural” aspects of these “GEOs”, just as they did with GMOs, and they’ll be able to sway certain sections of the public. But those Luddite concerns ignore the fact that we’ve been working to create better versions of our food since we started planting crops those many thousands of years ago. Gene editing is a far cry from selective breeding to be sure, but it’s still a variation on the same basic concept: human ingenuity adapting nature to better serve our needs.These new editing techniques will undoubtedly be subject to the same scientific scrutiny that GMOs have been over the past few decades, but thus far research has shown genetically modified crops to be perfectly safe for human consumption. That’s good news, because we’re going to need every trick in the book if we want to not just feed every human on our planet, but help them thrive (with tastier peppers, even) as well.
Monsanto Co. is opening its next chapter in genetic technology -- and may face tougher competition.The St. Louis company is investing in gene editing in an effort to keep an edge over rival suppliers of high-tech crop seeds. Monsanto has signed a string of licensing deals to add new gene-editing capabilities to its established methods of genetically modifying seeds, or creating GMOs. But startups and established competitors like DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. are also working on gene-edited plants, which can advance through regulatory reviews faster than seeds developed with earlier biotechnology techniques. Gene editing is different from the genetic modifications that Monsanto and other companies pioneered in the 1980s.
Farm income in the Tenth District continued to decline in the first quarter, but at a slightly slower pace than in recent quarters. According to the survey, 73 percent of bankers reported farm income was lower than the year before. The decline in the first quarter marked the fourth consecutive year that District bankers reported farm income was lower than a year earlier (Chart 1). Despite the persistent decline, the pace of softening appeared to slow in the first quarter. For example, 24 percent of bankers indicated farm income remained unchanged from the previous year, the largest share since the third quarter of 2015. Bankers expected farm income to decline further in the coming months, but also at a slower pace than in recent quarters.
Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a national dairy marketing cooperative that serves and is owned by more than 13,000 members on nearly 8,000 farms in 48 states, is calling out animal rights group Compassion Over Killing (COK) after it received notification that undercover video footage of a member farm in Pennsylvania will be released this week. While one farm employee has been fired from the farm, DFA said a third-party audit showed no evidence of abuse at the farm and shamed the activist group for recording the video instead of reporting the alleged mistreatment to a manager. Additionally, DFA said the video to be released is “a highly edited” version of the original footage.
Former President Barack Obama gave his first speech outside the United States since leaving office at the Seeds & Chips conference, an annual gathering of policy makers, investors and technology entrepreneurs focused on innovations to improve the food chain. His brief speech was devoted to agriculture’s role in climate change, noting that after energy, agriculture is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Now, he said, those emissions are starting to take their toll on food production itself. “Our changing climate is already making it more difficult to produce food,” he said. “We’ve already seen shrinking yields and rising food prices.”He said the costs would be borne most by the poor, noting that many of the refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe are driven not by conflict but by famine.
Today, we filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Whole Foods Market, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) for what we believe is an improper profit-driven effort to benefit Whole Foods. HSUS and surrogate animal-liberation allies are currently engaging in campaigns threatening restaurants and other companies to switch to GAP-certified meat. GAP was created by Whole Foods (its first address was the Whole Foods corporate HQ) and has been funded predominately by Whole Foods since its inception. Currently, Whole Foods is paying the salaries of three GAP employees, including the executive director.Why was GAP created? To create animal-welfare labeling that Whole Foods could use to promote its high-priced meats.So why did HSUS join in on the racket? Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is on the board of HSUS, while HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle is on the board of GAP. See why it smells rotten? HSUS and GAP are both non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations, yet the ménage á trois between the entities appears to benefit Whole Foods. Essentially, it sees HSUS being the “enforcer” pressuring companies to commit to only buying products certified by the Whole-Foods-employee-run GAP. That will drive up the costs for Whole Foods’ competition or cause them to face a public brand attack. It also tells consumers that GAP meat at Whole Foods is the only “humane” meat—because Whole Foods and HSUS are the ones who get to define what it means to be “humane.”