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PEDv: A Matter of Biosecurity

Best management practice is to maintain your farm and herd in a way that reduces or eliminates introduction and transmittance of pathogens.  Biosecurity is this best practice, and it is something everyone who works with animals should be familiar with – in particular, those working with livestock.  Food safety is essential for farmers and ranchers growing food animals and the introduction of illness to your herd can be devastating.  Having a biosecurity plan is essential and is your insurance in the event that endemic illness does occur.

The best tool in developing a biosecurity plan is working with your veterinarian to know what viruses and pathogens are local to you, what your species of livestock is susceptible to, and modes of pathogen transference.  Being in the business of animal agriculture, several animals likely inhabit the same pen and housing, so the best place to start is providing and maintaining clean water and food sources.  After transporting animals, clean the trailer and other equipment – and if you are transporting animals into your facility, have quarantine procedures in place.  Not only that, but make sure you are diligent regarding the animals you are importing so you avoid introducing new pathogens to your herd.

This all sounds familiar, right?  But while you know to have a biosecurity plan, how exactly do you prepare for undercover agents?  An important facet to biosecurity is minimizing nonessential personnel and monitoring visitor access, expecting employees to be observant for sick animals and familiar with biosecurity practices in the event of illness.  Well, when you unknowingly hire an undercover animal rights activist, your livelihood is suddenly in jeopardy.  As seen in a recent undercover video, not only was the farm subjected to the humiliation of undercover footage, but as consequence they had someone on the premises who had no regard for biosecurity.

In the agricultural industry, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) is something we’ve seen in headlines for months, especially in the wake of this video’s publicity.  As hog farmers, PEDv has serious implications and has likely influenced biosecurity plans.  Because it’s transmitted by the fecal-oral route, you’re minimizing environmental contamination and actively identifying and separating infected sows and piglets.  With no registered vaccine or cure, fighting dehydration is about the best you can do, still losing almost 100% of piglets less than four weeks old if they contract the virus.  But there’s feedback.  Familiar to every livestock veterinarian, feedback is the process of feeding pregnant sows the diarrhea or intestines of infected/dying piglets to build her immunity so she can then pass on antibodies to her piglets through nursing.  And yet, this desperate effort to save lives is now called “cannibalism” by those same animal activists that pay for undercover video footage.  Not to mention that the undercover activist that betrayed one farm are likely on their way to the next target with PEDv-positive manure on their boots.

This is a sad reality, the Humane Society of the United States being just one of the animal rights groups who puts their own agenda over the very animals they are trying to “save.” These farmers fight back, though, going from one day to the next with greater experience and a better understanding of what they can do to produce healthy animals while also holding up an entire industry.  It is our sincere hope that the effects of PEDv can be minimized and reliable prevention can be identified, supporting protective efforts against undercover agents along the way.


**As an undergraduate student studying Animal Science, my work in the dairy industry and in animal agriculture makes this topic not only relevant to me, but something I incorporate into my education and life experiences every day!**

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Myth Busting Monday: GMO, Why Does it Matter?

What exactly is a GMO?  Is it big brother at work?  Is every GM corn kernel really a chip that will imbed into our brains and turn us into the undead?  Well, judging by the bias of some popular media, that seems possible.  Overwhelmed by the constant battling between those for and against genetically modified organisms, it is perfectly understandable why some people have avoided the subject all together.  However, “GMO” is ruling the airwaves as Vermont has become the first state to pass legislation mandating the labeling of genetically engineered products.

Bill H.112 titled “An Act Relating to the Labeling of Food Produced with Genetic Engineering” was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin on May 8th of this year, the law being scheduled to take effect July 1st of 2016.  The Bill initially summarizes that Federal law does not currently require labeling of food that has been genetically engineered or require testing of food to determine if it is genetically engineered; it then states that genetically engineered products are increasingly available and pose a threat to consumer health.  Therefore: “For multiple health, personal, religious, and environmental reasons, the State of Vermont finds that food produced from genetic engineering should be labeled as such”.  Justification for this statement includes the need for “natural” products and providing information to consumers so that they may make informed decisions.

So: good or bad?  Depending on who you ask, you’ll get very different answers.  As backlash, the state of Vermont is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit from the combined forces of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers.  In a representative statement, the National Association of Manufacturers said “With zero justification in health, safety or science, the State of Vermont has imposed a burdensome mandate on manufacturers that unconstitutionally compels speech and interferes with interstate commerce.”  It’s hard to argue with the fact that the law is burdensome, the extra cost of labeling and testing likely falling on producers and integrators in the marketplace, but is it unconstitutional?  Supposedly the state has safeguards ready for constitutional challenges likely to come up in court; obviously Vermont legislators knew they wouldn’t be pleasing everyone. To give the law power in court, Ben & Jerry’s – one of the Bill’s biggest supporters – is helping with finances by donating $1 of each sale in their Burlington and Waterbury stores to the Food Fight Fund.  They even renamed Fudge Brownie to “Food Fight!” Fudge Brownie; it was an easy choice for Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s, saying simply: “Vermonter’s want the right to know what’s in their food”. 

What all of this comes down to for consumers, though, is a misconception of what “GMO” really means.  Scientific communities are confident in the progress that can be made using genetically engineered crops throughout the world; drought-tolerant corn, anyone?  But if the stated goal of this Bill is consumer education, then the bill should probably not contain language that insights fear and further mystifies definition of GMOs altogether. Rather, what needs to come next is a conversation based in sound-science and practicality.

Watch this video from Monsanto to learn more about crop innovation!

If we truly want to demystify the GMO, then fear and misinformation have no place—in news articles, Facebook ads, and yes, even—and most importantly—legislation. I would encourage everyone curious about GMOs to visit and read up!

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Chipotle: So NOT Fetch.

Regina George is the alpha of the Plastics, a clique of popular girls setting the trends and manipulating their fellow high school classmates. So what does George, the antagonist in the popular 2004 movie Mean Girls have to do with Agriculture?

Meet Steve Ells, founder of the 1993 born, burrito making food chain Chipotle. As current Co-CEO, Ells is the leader and face of a collaborative movement leading trendy college students, millennials and other foodies to seek a quality product, quite frankly, under false pretenses.

Simply put:  Steve Ells is agriculture’s Regina George.

For the past year, those of us in agriculture have been taking countless blows from Chipotle’s marketing team. In their inaugural media campaign Back to the Start, they discredit modern agriculture with a cartoon depiction of a disgruntled farmer (aka Chipotle) who turned away from present practices as pigs entered factories and exited “pumped up.” Next came Chipotle’s beloved Scarecrow, (again, aka Chipotle) who was forced to work in a factory where dairy cows were kept in weird box contraptions and chickens were injected with neon-green goo. Chipotle made a debut in the human acting arena with a soap opera type miniseries on Hulu: Farm and Dangerous. In four,  20 minute episodes, a young, “all natural” farmer named Chip, fights to expose a “big ag” company trying to replace all animal forage with petroleum filled pellets without proper research. And we can’t forget the plot twist: the farmer falls for and converts the “big, bad ag” CEO ‘s daughter to his GMO-free, pesticide free, “good” side.

Each advertising campaign falsely highlights Ells and Chipotle as the heroes in agriculture; brain washing viewers with their mottos:  Food with Integrity, Obsessing over every ingredient and Farm to Face.

And it’s working for them.

Chipotle currently operates 1600 stores and is one of the fastest growing companies on the stock market, opening 200 new stores each year. Just like a high school girl, Ells is self-centered. Chipotle is skewing the truth for their economic and business benefit with no true concern for real integrity or their negative effect on those around them.

Case in point: Chipotle has now chosen to source beef from Australia. (to be fair, when they said Farm to Face, they never said WHAT farm).The burrito joint clams this decision was formed because there was no availability of their desired product, but we know the truth. Australia does not suffer from cold, long winters like here in the United States yet, they have an abundance of grazing land allowing for cheaper beef prices.

Every agriculturist knows that the United States is currently facing the smallest beef herds, historically, due to the last few years of horrible weather conditions. We also know there is nothing unhealthy, scary or factory-like about conventionally produced beef. However, if Chipotle wants to market grass-fed, raised without antibiotics beef, there are cattle a lot closer than the land “down under” with a much smaller carbon foot print (just think of the effect that transporting that beef across oceans has on dear Mother Earth).

American beef producers are taking a stand against Chipotle, and rightfully so.

Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples wrote a letter to Ells saying, “Your decision to forego American beef is premature. In fact, the decision seems to abandon the work you and your company have accomplished in supporting local farming.” Similarily, Darrell Wood an organic, grass-finished beef producer of California shared his opinion on Chipotle’s actions and Responsibly Raised Beef in a blog from the Beef Check Off. Both encouraged meetings between producers and Chipotle.

We are blessed, among many other things to live in a country where a safe, abundant food supply is readily available. How can you market Food with Integrity, if you have no integrity and are only looking out for yourself and your bottom line?

I just hope that Chipotle’s story doesn’t end like Regina George’s; karma can be a you-know-what.

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Grab Your Peanuts and Run to the Circus!

It’s a familiar story, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) playing bully in the courts — but this time they met their match.  Fourteen years of back and forth ended in May between HSUS and Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Having been accused of going against the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with their herd of Asian Elephants, Feld Entertainment spent big and came out on top, ultimately settling with HSUS and other plaintiffs for upwards of $15.75 million.  This hefty sum no doubt caught HSUS off-guard, as they typically have a stronghold on money, allowing them to make baseless accusations and win.  Feld knew that to defend their company’s reputation was worth any cost, and that bet has certainly paid off — literally.

So, donors, aren’t you glad that this is where your money is going?  To the petty pursuits of HSUS; seems like they’re throwing money at all but animal shelters (where they claim to spend it).  It’s sad, really, because while Feld Entertainment can now rest easy, it took over a decade of having their very livelihood questioned. Farmers and animal producers alike can certainly relate, here, the money being minimal compared to the distress caused.  In a statement by Feld Entertainment, they summarize this disappointing trend: “The animal liberation movement has long been associated with extremist, bullying, and sometimes even terroristic tactics in pursuit of its radical goal to institute prohibition on how we use animals, whether for food, fiber, or entertainment.”  But it is worth questioning these motives, because it is hard to believe HSUS had animal welfare in mind during this frivolous suit; especially when Barnum & Bailey is renowned for its Center for Elephant ConservationCircus Elephants

Going one step further, take for example a case in 2003 against the San Diego Zoo for its importation of elephants from Swaziland.  In a statement for the plaintiffs, who included the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other activist groups, a representative said:   “If the elephants are euthanized in Swaziland … that would be a better outcome than to have these elephants put in crates, put on airplanes, brought over here, trained with bull hooks, put in cages, and live the rest of their lives in captivity.”  This not only represents the delusion of animal activist groups, but also the confusion that often surrounds the circus.  It is not abuse to train an animal, and if it were, then you’re house-trained Labrador could send you to jail.  Poor animal welfare is a baseless accusation when the evidence is an elephant that can turn or tiger that can leap.

Before you donate, do your research and make sure that money is going to an organization truly in the business of representing animals.

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The Docking Truth

Before I moved to D.C. a few weeks ago, my family had just finished lambing out our ewes for the 2014 show season. With each set of lambs come a flutter of excitement, potential, and the possibility of raising the “one”, which is very sought after in the stock show industry. At a few weeks of age the lambs receive a combination vaccine against overeating disease, tetanus and black leg which are all common diseases that effect ruminant livestock .Vaccine time also means time for castrating the rams and tail-docking.

Growing up surrounded by livestock, tail-docking has always been a familiar practice. In fact, it is such elementary husbandry that my 5-year-old niece could explain its purpose just as plain as I could. Simply put, if we were not to dock the lamb’s tail it would create a prime environment for flies to breed and cause an infestation of maggots and infection.Capture

Tail-docking is essential throughout the animal agriculture industry. As a part of my family’s agritourism business, we raise over 125 Percheron draft horses. Each work horse’s tail is docked at a young age to keep long tail hair from getting caught in the chains of harnesses.

In the dairy world, docked tails mean cleanliness. Without a tail to swish manure and dirt onto her udder or farm workers, farmers can ensure less chance of mastitis in a cows’ udder and greatly reduce the prevalence of contaminants entering the bulk tank.

Similarly, hogs’ tails are docked a day or two after birth. This is to prevent the piglets from biting the tails of fellow pen mates. This practice greatly reduces risk of infection and abscesses of the tail improving the welfare of the livestock.

No matter the species, agriculturists conduct the tail-docking process with the utmost precaution. Farmers, advised by licensed veterinarians, consider the livestock’s health and always have the animals well being in mind to assure quick healing.

We, as producers and those most intimately connected to agriculture, are all too familiar with ill-conceived legislation passed by those who do not understand the proper care of animals. Sadly, the same organizations are at it again.  Animal rights groups, those who have no real world experience in our industry, are pushing for a variety of legislation that would ban tail-docking.

Currently, legislation banning tail docking has been passed in California, Ohio, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In Vermont a bill is sitting in the Committee of Agriculture, while in Wisconsin and Colorado activist are striving to create a bill and introduce it during the next legislative session.

It is crazy how someone could justify labeling tail-docking as unnecessary yet, see no problem with a human cosmetic painful procedure like ear piercing. Now don’t get me wrong, I love earrings as much as the next girl but I understand it was not necessary.

We in agriculture must continue to build relationships with those who pass legislations related to our industry. Meet with your local, state and federal legislators, stay up to date with legislation through commodity groups and personal research; welcome those individuals on your farm. Remember that if we do not tell our story, someone else will and we’ll be forced to live with the consequences. And sadly, so will our animals.