Thursday, December 18, 2014

Update: Nebraska Students Chat About Defeating Meatless Mondays

Last week I wrote about how students at the University of Nebraska had stepped up to the plate and persuaded their Student Senate not to pass a measure that would have used student fees to spread propaganda about Meatless Mondays.

I reached out to the students that were involved in stopping the measure through the University of Nebraska Collegiate Farm Bureau. The response didn't come in time to share with the initial story, but I wanted to make sure I shared their thoughts on what happened and why they thought it was important to stand up for animal agriculture.

Ashtyn Shrewsbury was one of the students that stood up at the Student Senate forum against the bill. Ashtyn was a past State FFA Officer and is also the Vice President of the Block and Bridle Club and Secretary of the Collegiate Cattleman (and obviously a future ag leader!). Ashtyn told me that before the open forum where the students were able to express their feelings about the Meatless Mondays measure, she made sure to check on some facts supplied by the Nebraska Beef Council and write down some notes on what she thought it was important to say. She explained:
We found it was incredibly important to step up and have this sizable showing because our universities heritage is agriculture, as I mentioned at the forum. This is a land grant university who's purpose as set forth in the Morril Act of 1862 is to educate students on agriculture. Allowing a meatless Monday campaign funded by student fees to enter the university would be going against what our university is founded on, against the work that many of our students and students family's are heavily involved with, and against our state's number one industry.
Ashtyn said that 5 students were able to participate in the open forum and all of them gave personal testimony relating to their background in production agriculture.

Bryce Doeschot, Vice President of Communication and Public Relations for the Collegiate Farm Bureau, revealed that the students only found out about the proposal the morning it was set for a vote, so they did not have a ton of time to prepare. However, they were able to quickly and efficiently put a group together and definitely made their presence known. Bryce said:
By the time the meeting took place, at 6:30, we had secured five student leaders with great testimonies about their experience with livestock production. The students shared how they felt about the bill, their personal stories, and true facts about livestock production. Powerful messages were shared in the beginning of the meeting when open forum is allowed and the senators listened to our stories. Along with the student leaders who shared their stories, we packed the room with over 100 students who felt strong negativity towards the resolution. In the end, the resolution failed after many purposed amendments and heated discussion. The vote failed with an obvious majority.
Bryce recognized that it was the students' passion for agriculture that allowed them to quickly put together a response. "It is crazy to think, but had we not came, the resolution would have easily passed and the campus of UNL would have educational material about meatless Monday," he stated. "Thankfully, we are blessed to have students who care about agriculture and know the importance of sharing their stories!"

Once again, congratulations to the students for their success! It makes me worry a little less about the future to know that we have some very informed and professional young people involved with agriculture and that they're ready and willing to stand up for the industry!

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

UPDATE: Measure 92 in Oregon Officially Fails

I broke the good news a few nights ago on my social media accounts (another reason to follow me there!), but I wanted to make sure I shared it here too!

Measure 92 in Oregon, which would have required mandatory labeling for products containing genetically modified crops, was defeated following a recount. The difference was 837 votes.

Congrats to Oregon for making the right decision!

AskTFD: Do GMOs Make Pigs Sterile?

Charles asked: 

You said that feeding GMO to pigs did not make them sterile? Take a look at what this pig farmers says:

Hey Charles, 

Thanks for leaving me this question! Inflection and intention can be hard to come by on the internet, so I'm going to assume that you're legitimately interested in understanding why there is a discrepancy from some of my other articles and this pig farmer's video and testimony. (If you were being cheeky about it, I high suggest doing a little digging next time!) 

The guy in the video is Jerry Rosman. A quick Google search reveals that Mr. Rosman's story has been told now on countless anti-GMO websites as proof that GMOs cause some type of reproductive problems. If you haven't watched the video, Mr. Rosman's story goes like this: Prior to 2000, he was a conventional farmer that had a large swine operation in Iowa. Mr. Rosman cultivated corn on his farm to feed to his pigs. In 1997, he started using genetically engineered corn seed and even acted as a seed dealer in his area.

Everything was going just swell until the year 2000. That year, Mr. Rosman claims he started to see his sows have what he called "pseudo-pregnancies." According to Mr. Rosman, the sows would essentially go through a pregnancy, but instead of delivering piglets, they would either give birth to water bags or subsume the piglets. This went on for a while and Mr. Rosman was being told by other farmers in his area that they were experiencing the same thing. Mr. Rosman realized that it was only happening to those pigs that ate the 2000 corn crop, which he had purchased from a different company and which had a different line of genetics. The other farmers allegedly experiencing these same issues were also getting their feed from that same 2000 corn crop. Researchers from various places, including Iowa State University, allegedly concluded that the genes inserted into the corn were causing the problems.

To no one's surprise, Mr. Rosman is now an advocate for the organic industry and conducts "research." Of course, he now claims that all of the scientists involved in the reviewing his claims were paid by Monsanto or other seed companies to change their story. (How convenient.)

So, what gives?

As reported at Academics Review, it turns out that two professors at Iowa State University did come out to Mr. Rosman's farm to investigate the problem. The professors concluded that it was the 2000 GMO corn crop causing the problems. However, while the reproductive problems were caused by the corn, it was not because of the genetically engineered traits.

Rather, the researchers discovered that the corn being used as feed was actually moldy and the mold was causing the fertility issues.

Researchers discovered that the corn crop contained Zearalenone and Mycotoxin, which are molds that can occur when corn is stored too long or improperly. The corn being used on Mr. Rosman's farm was apparently stored in a grain bin and was moldy. In fact, Zearalenone and Mycotoxin are well-known for causing reproductive problems in swine. (For more information about how corn can easily get spoiled, especially in places where the winter takes up half the year, click here. Careful, graphic photos!)

The ironic twist here is that genetically modified corn, specifically corn with the Bt trains, can actually have less Mycotoxins and be better for the animals. And, as Academics Review pointed out, lots and lots of peer review studies have been and none of them have shown that Bt corn causes any type of reproductive problems in livestock, including pigs.

Which leads us back to the other stories I've done. A review done by Alison L. Van Eenennaam, a PhD at the University of California - Davis, showed that over the last 18 years of feeding 9 billion livestock annually a diet consisting of 95% GMO feed, there has never been a documented instance of unfavorable or perturbed trends. (I also debunked another study that purported to show that GMOs caused irritation to pig stomachs that turned out to be less than reliable.)

As for Mr. Rosman's assertions that Monsanto and the other seed companies paid off or threatened the researchers from Iowa State University, I'm highly skeptical. People tell me on a daily basis that I'm just a Monsanto shill, but (sadly) they are not paying me.

I'm not sure why Mr. Rosman has chosen a different explanation for why his pigs were sick, nor will I speculate why. But even if Academic Review had not taken a look at this particular scenario, it wouldn't really make a difference on whether or not you should believe Mr. Rosman's story. Although compelling, his story is a personal anecdotal tale of what happened to his hogs. That isn't scientific and it certainly cannot be projected to condemn all of GMO feed.

You cannot use one person's story to project scientific conclusions, especially when it is contrary to every single scientific study performed.

On the other hand, Dr. Van Eenennaam's review is scientific and credible. From the data she gathered, we absolutely can make the statement that GMO crops are safe for livestock consumption. We can conclude there is no need to worry about reproductive problems. If it were otherwise, we would certainly know after 18 years and multiple generations.

Charles, thanks for the question! I had fun looking into Mr. Rosman and his story. I'm also still fully confident that biotechnology is safe and important tool in modern agriculture!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Greenpeace's Crimes Have Nothing To Do With Ancient Ruins

The world we live in certainly has some screwed up priorities.

As world leaders gathered in Lima, Peru for a United Nations meeting about climate change, the radical environmentalist group Greenpeace thought they would send an uplifting and inspiring message to the convention's attendees. In the video posted below, you can see how Greenpeace members laid out large letters made of cloth saying, "Time For Change! The Future is Renewable! Greenpeace."

Instead of being an inspirational message, however, the act managed to substantially damage a recognized ancient archaeological site in the Peruvian desert.

The site chosen by Greenpeace for this ridiculous stunt was an area of the desert that hosts ancient, man-made designs that were etched into the landscape. The etchings are estimated to be 1,000 years old and made by the Nazca civilization that once lived in the area. The desert in that area has white sand that is actually covered by this dark rock. The area is restricted and travel through it is completely restricted because one step and flip the rocks over and expose the sand. Following the stunt, there was outcry around the world and the Peruvian government is obviously -- and rightfully -- ticked off at Greenpeace for the stunt.

As someone holding a degree in History, I find this stunt careless, reckless, and offensive. But this is - by far - not the worst crime perpetrated by members of Greenpeace.

In part of Africa and Asia, there is an on-going crisis that causes thousands of children to go blind daily and over a million to die each year. These kids suffer from a deficiency of Vitamin A, usually because their poor diets do not contain enough Beta-carotene, which is required for the human body to produce Vitamin A. Fixing the problem by supplying the children with enough Vitamin A would cost millions of dollars.

Enter Golden Rice.

Golden Rice was created in 1999 by two scientists over at Syngenta. Scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer modified a strain of rice, the primary staple in the kids' diets, so it produces over 20 times more beta-carotene than regular rice. One bowl of Golden Rice contains 60% of the daily value of Vitamin A.

Syngenta has committed not to commercialize the gene, meaning the rice farmers in those regions can plant it without a license, save their seeds, and plant it again. In fact, Syngenta has given all rights to the rice strain to a non-profit called The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. The Board has the right to sell the seed at the same price as non-Golden Rice seed and also supply research institutions with the seed for humanitarian efforts. By 2002, the scientific testing had been done and demonstrated the rice was safe. All that was needed was government approval. That never happened and the seeds are not yet available, thought they  could become available within 1 to 3 years.

But Greenpeace won't have any of it.

The group has taken a strong and immovable stance that Golden Rice, because it employs the use of biotechnology, is bad and harmful. Forget the kids that are being scarred or die by disease, Greenpeace refuses to consider that GMOs may actually be able to help people. As with many anti-GMO efforts, Greenpeace has spread misleading and false information that there are negative side effects of Golden Rice. The organization has spread misinformation to parents - alleging the rice will harm their children. Greenpeace supported activists that tore out testing plots in the Philippines. They have created fake media scandals, which in China ended with some Golden Rice scientists in jail.

A study published in Environment and Development Economics, determined that the efforts by groups like Greenpeace has cost 1,424,000 life years (just just lives, but "life years") since 2002 alone.

So while the world is outraged and mourns over a few dark rocks getting flipped over by Greenpeace activists, the real loss is the countless number of children that are suffering from blindness and disease because they cannot get enough Vitamin A in their diets. That's the real cost here. We have a solution, or at the very least a tool, that could end the suffering of these children and yet we allow Greenpeace to lie, distort, and destroy the possibility of using it.

I've said before that the blanket opposition to genetically modified crops is unethical, and this is a pretty darn good example of why.

More about the Peruvian stunt: The New York Times; The Blaze; More about Greenpeace and Golden Rice: Western Farm Press

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New Study: Benefits of Biotech

A study published on November 3, 2014, found here, has confirmed what many of us already knew - biotech crops are good for the environment!

According to the study:
On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.
(Source: PLOS ONE.)

Using other original studies, the scientists from Germany consolidated the data and conducted meta-analysis of the agronomic and economics impacts of biotech crops. There were 147 original studies included (and cited) in the analysis. The studies were located though searches in an array of scholarly literature, including EconLit and AgEcon Search. The researchers compiled the primary data from farm surveys or field trials in those original searches, including yields, pesticide use, and profits. The researchers then took that extracted information and performed an analysis on it to reach their conclusion.

Note that the study tells us exactly the objective of the study, how they performed the analysis, how they found the materials, and which materials were used and why. Many of the problems with the anti-GMO studies (which aren't really scientific or credible at all), stems from this problem - the person writing the study doesn't include the what, when, how, and why. Science should be reproducible. That is, we should be able to look at a study, know exactly how it was performed, and recreate it ourselves (assuming we have the time and money to do so). Being reproducible gives the study and research credibility.

In any case, taking the aggregate original information from other studies, the researchers were able to demonstrate marked benefits in the biotech crops. Another interesting piece to the article was finding that, although the cost of the GMO seeds were higher, that cost was usually made back by the farmer in the higher yields.

So, go ahead and add that to the other 2,000+ studies showing there is nothing wrong with GMOs.