Thursday, August 21, 2014

Healthcare Triage: GMO

See how a real doctor (not just a TV doctor like that guy whose named starts with an "O" and ends with a "z.") explains GMOs.

Monday, August 18, 2014

PETA Video Deserves A Second Look

Farmers want happy cows,
not abused cows.
Recently, PETA filed a Complaint with local and state agencies alleging that a small dairy farm in North Carolina was guilty of animal cruelty. Of course, PETA also happily provided a short video from the farm supposedly depicting the animals that are being abused.

(No doubt the PETA member that was on the farm was not there with permission of the farmers, at least not with permission to stage animal abuse and film it. Once we dive into the contents of the video, I hope you'll agree that laws prohibiting this type of thing are desperately needed.)

The video, which you can view here, depicts cows trudging through manure up to their knees. According to PETA, the cows are forced to stand in their own waste while they eat and rest. PETA also claims that the manure has sat in a holding place for so long that it has now hardened. In probably the most disgusting allegation, the video shows that the cows are wadding around in the manure, which covers their udders, right before they were supposed to be milked.

Viewers are also introduced to "Cow #2." She has manure on her legs and one of her hooves is apparently injured so that she limps on it. The video also points out that she appears emaciated, as does Cow #133. Cow #6  has a bloody nose.

Now, I'm not a dairy farmer myself, but thankfully I have some fellow blogging friends that are dairy farmers. I asked my buddy Krista, who blogs over at The Farmer's Wifee about life on her family's dairy farm, to look at the video and tell me her thoughts.

Krista pointed out that the cows filmed standing in knee deep manure are healthy, clean, and shiny. If those cows were always subjected to knee high manure, their entire bodies would be covered with the manure (tail swishing will do that). They would also not appear to be so healthy [what characteristics make them look healthy to you?].

Krista also tipped me off on something that can help us spot fraudulent accusations of animal abuse as in this video: when cows are healthy and well fed they will have shiny coats. As you can see in the video, not only are the cows clean, but their coats are also shiny.

Krista noted that the cow with the bloody nose appears to be out in a pasture. That may explain why most of the cows appear to be very clean -- they don't actually live in the barn where the manure is kept.

Clearly, those cows were made to stand in the knee high manure so the PETA member could make his video. That's nice; right? Accuse someone of animal abuse, but make the animals suffer poor conditions so you can make up the evidence.

Krista's thoughts on the video reflect the findings of the Haywood County Animal Control and the Department of Agriculture and Animal Control. In response to the video, inspectors from both agencies visited the farm. Both agencies concluded there was no evidence of animal abuse to support PETA's claims.

According to local officials, the farmer did need to clean out the barn, but the rain and wet weather had made it that difficult. Nonetheless, whatever the actual problems on the farm were, it did not amount to animal cruelty. (Check out the local ABC channel's article here.)

Despite what a radical group like PETA wants people to think, farmers and ranchers do care a lot about their livestock. I may not be directly involved in animal agriculture, but I know how passionate my friends are when it comes to their animals. It is a business and they want their product to be top of the line quality. But it goes farther than that, because they're also dedicating their lives to their animal operations.

PETA's goal is to change your mind about eating meat, not highlighting the care, time, and effort that goes into having livestock. Shame on them for setting up a member on the farm and manipulating it to look like these cows are being mistreated. The cameraman obviously went on the farm to get these shots for PETA, not take care of the cows.

If you would like to know more about animal agriculture, try talking to an actual farmer. If you don't know how, let me know and I can set you up with one.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Farming Friday!

Bunches of Furry Pods

Okay, so don't tell my dad, but I stopped by one of our soybean fields last night during my run so I could give an up close look at the soybeans as they're growing and developing. 

As you can see, the plants are still fairly short, even for this time of year, but they're starting to get loaded up with pods. Thankfully, we got some rain recently and the plants really benefited from it. While most other corp yields are pretty much determined at this point, soybeans still have the ability to put more flowers on, more pods, and even continue to grow. On the flip side though, they could also abort flowers and pods and decrease yields.

According to Brian and Darren Hefty, as long as the plant is green the yields can change.

For now, if you push back the leaves, like I did below, you can see that there are pods all around on the inside of the plant Those pods have obviously taken the place of the purple flowers we saw a few weeks ago. Many of the pods have reached their full size at this point, but of course the plants may continue to produce more as the season progresses.

I picked a couple of the pods (seriously, don't tell my dad...) so you could see them up close! Right now they're covered with all this furry stuff. I was not aware until I was doing some research for this post, but apparently once the pods and beans inside get a little bit bigger, that's when soybeans are used for cooking. But be careful -- eating raw soybeans is not good for you, because our bodies cannot properly digest raw soybeans.

Open up the pod and right now it looks like this below. The lighter little round things will eventually get bigger and dry into soybeans as we're used to seeing them. Of course, right now they're fairly small. The beans themselves are still growing inside the pods.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Crop Insurance Adjuster Testimonials

Get the inside scoop from crop insurance adjusters following the 2012 drought. 

Crop Insurance Keeps America Growing.

Also check out my article "The Basics of Crop Insurance" to learn more about the program.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson on GMOs: "Chill Out!" + Backlash

This video has been going around and Neil deGrasse Tyson definitely makes a good argument in favor of GMOs - "Chill Out!"

A lot of really good articles popped up after this video made the rounds last week. There isn't much I could add to the discussion myself, but I really appreciated "Why Neil deGrasse Tyson's Dismissal of Anti-GMO Concerns Matters." The author does a great job exploring the political party dynamic regarding the issue of biotech. Thus far, we have not seen much (if any) involvement from key political players in either of the two mainstream parties. At the very least, this limits how far the anti-GMO agenda can go.

However, this was not the end of the story. It turns out - unsurprisingly - that the anti-GMO people let Tyson know exactly how they felt about his stance and it was not pretty. Tyson responded late last week with a rather long statement. Unfortunately, he seemed to back peddle a bit by suggesting that he never said GMOs were safe or properly regulated. He also brought up an interesting point that other types of foods can cause allergic reactions (read: peanuts), but we do not expect a label on everything that may have traces of peanuts. 

He also made this connection: 
Imagine if today, scientists showed you the Aurochs Wild Ox, and said -- "Give us time. In just a few years, we will genetically modify this wild animal, turning it into a different sub species whose sole purpose is to provide vast quantities of milk for humans to drink. They will produce 10x as much milk as did the original animal. But they will require vast grasslands to sustain. And some of you will get sick because you won't be able to digest the lactose. But no need to label this fact. People will just figure this out on their own. The rest of you will be fine. We'll call the result a Holstein Milk Cow."
What would anti GMO-laboratory people say this story? Would they embrace it or reject it? Of course, over the past 10,000 years, this is exactly what we've done to that Ox - or whatever is the agreed-upon origin of the domesticated Cow. Call it GMO-agriculture. If you reject GMOs you fundamentally reject it all.
Of course, I appreciate the last line. Everything in agriculture has been changing and we've always been trying to make it better. In some ways, it would be very careless of us if we did not try to adapt and use technology to move forward.

Tyson appears ready to hang up the banner on GMOs, however. He concluded his statement by saying: "I have nothing more to add. Or to subtract. On to other topics for me."

Maybe time for something much less controversial. It can be a tough crowd, trust me. ;)

You can see his full statement on his Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

UPDATE: Ebola GMO Serum Approved By WHO

On Monday, I reported that the World Health Organization would be deciding whether or not it should go ahead and give trials of a new - and, as of yet, unapproved - medicine for treating Ebola. As I explained, the drug, called ZMapp, was actually produced using biotechnology.

Two Americans were given ZMapp and seem to be recovering. However, a Spanish priest was also given the drug, sadly, passed away.

Unfortunately, it takes quite a while to make enough of the serum for a treatment, because the biotech used in the process means we have to wait for the plant to grow. Nonetheless, WHO has decided that getting people the medicine, even considering the potential for unknown side effects, was worth the risk. Over 1,000 people have died from the virus and it continues to spread.

WHO released this statement:
The large number of people affected by the 2014 west Africa outbreak, and the high case-fatality rate, have prompted calls to use investigational medical interventions to try to save the lives of patients and to curb the epidemic.
(Source: CNN.)

The Liberian government officially requested the FDA send them sample doses of the serum. The FDA has agreed to do so.

If you'd like to see more about how the serum is made, you can see a video here on CNN.