Headlines 7/18/12

It’s hot.  And dry.  Here in Northern Colorado, we can’t escape the reality of this drought that’s touching more and more of the US.  Many of this week’s headlines are about the impacts of this drought, and I’ll continue to follow this issue going forward. Destroying Nature Unleashes Disease – as we encroach into ecosystems across the globe, natural checks on disease are displaced, disregarded or destroyed, leaving humans vulnerable to novel pathogens.  Fun disease fact: Robins are considered a “super spreader” of West Nile.  Think of that when you’re happy to see the first Robin in spring. New Route for Keystone Pipeline Still Crosses Fragile Areas – Damage to these aquifers would be devastating for Nebraskan communities, and further damage the dwindling freshwater supply in the American West. Water Retention Landscapes in Southern Portugal – The goal is to retain all rainwater on the land, replenish the groundwater, encourage springs to reappear, and reduce soil erosion to near zero, while supplying a community of 300 people with healthy organic produce. Photos of the Drought – These photos focus mainly on the Midwest. Heat Leaves Ranchers a Stark Option, Sell – TORRINGTON, Wyo.  As a relentless drought bakes prairie soil to dust and dries up streams across the country, ranchers struggling to feed their cattle are unloading them by the thousands, a wrenching decision likely to ripple from the Plains to supermarket shelves over the next year. Drought Covers Widest Area Since 1956 – In its monthly drought report, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., announced that 55 percent of the country was in a moderate to...

Jo Robinson Essay Series: Cheap Meat: An Accident Waiting to Happen

Cheap Meat: An Accident Waiting to Happen By Jo Robinson                                           The latest fiasco in the U.S. livestock industry is that thousands of hogs and chickens have been raised on feed contaminated with melamine, the same chemical that has sickened thousands of cats and dogs. According to the U.S.D.A., some meat from those hogs and chickens has already entered our food supply. How did this happen? The story begins in China. Melamine is an inexpensive by-product of the coal industry. In a deceptive practice, some Chinese producers have been adding melamine to rice, wheat, and soy meal to make the products appear to contain more protein. (Melamine is not a protein and has no food value, but it is rich in nitrogen and mimics protein on standardized laboratory tests.) Melamine costs less than true sources of protein, so the manufacturer makes more money. The story continues in the United States. In order to lower the cost of pet food production, U.S. companies have been importing cheap protein meal from China. The pet food manufacturers had no way of knowing that some of these products were spiked with melamine. The exact number of dead and sickened pets is unknown. But how did melamine get fed to our pigs and chickens? A common cost-cutting practice in the livestock industry is to supplement animal feed with floor sweepings and other leftovers from pet food manufacturing plants. In recent months, however, some of the sweepings happened to be laced with melamine. In this serpentine fashion, a cost-cutting adulterant that was added to protein meal in China found its way into U.S. pet food, then...

Jo Robinson Essay Series: Confused About Fat? Choose Grassfed!

Confused About Fat? Choose Grassfed! by Jo Robinson                                In my Grandma’s day, there was no such thing as a bad fat. All fat was “good” simply because it tasted good. My Grandma fried her eggs in bacon grease, added bacon grease to her cakes and pancakes, made her pie crusts from lard, and served butter with her homemade bread. My grandmother was able to thrive on all that saturated fat—but not my grandfather. He suffered from angina and died from heart failure at a relatively young age. My grandfather wasn’t alone. Population studies from the first half of the 20th century showed that Americans in general had a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease than people from other countries, especially Japan, Italy and Greece. Was all that saturated fat to blame? The Japanese were eating very little fat of any kind, while the people of the Mediterranean were swimming in olive oil, an oil that is very low in saturated fat but high in monounsaturated oils. So, in the 1960s, word came from on high that we should cut back on the butter, cream, eggs and red meat. But, interestingly, the experts did not advise us to switch to an ultra-low fat diet like the Japanese, nor to use monounsaturated oils like the Greeks or Italians. Instead, we were advised to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils—primarily corn oil and safflower. Never mind the fact that no people in the history of this planet had ever eaten large amounts of this type of oil. It was deemed “the right thing to do.” Why? First of all, the United States...

Jo Robinson Essay Series: Super Natural Milk

Super Natural Milk By Jo Robinson Most cartons of milk in the supermarket show a picture of cows contentedly grazing on grass. In reality, 85 to 95 percent of the cows in the United States are now being raised in confinement, not on pasture. The grass they eat comes in the form of hay, and the ground that they stand on is a blend of dirt and manure. The reason for confining cows in feedlots and feeding them grain rather than grass is that they produce far more milk under these unnatural conditions. If you also inject them with bi-weekly hormones, standard practice in the dairy industry, they produce even more. Milk them three times a day instead of two and you have the tried and true formula for today’s Super Producers. On average, cows raised in confinement produce more than three times as much milk as the family cow of days gone by and 15 times the amount required to raise a healthy calf. But with so much emphasis on quantity, the nutritional content of our milk has suffered. One of the biggest losses has been in its CLA content. CLA, or “conjugated linoleic acid,” is a type of fat that may prove to be one of our most potent cancer fighters. Milk from a pastured cow has up to five times more CLA than milk from a grain-fed cow. To date, most of the proof of the health benefits of CLA has come from test tube or animal studies. But a few human studies have produced encouraging results. For example, French researchers compared CLA levels in the...

Jo Robinson Essay Series: The Brand Name Bandwagon

The Brand Name Bandwagon By Jo Robinson                                           By the year 2005, industry experts predict that half of all the fresh meat products in the supermarket will carry a brand name. No more anonymous, shrink-wrapped beef, lamb, and pork. The reason for the branding is simple: merely adding a name to a package of steaks can increase sales by thirty percent. Why do brand names carry such clout? Part of the answer is “word association.” The right brand name can trick customers into believing that meat that comes straight from the feedlot is the most wholesome, nutritious product they can buy. Here’s how it works. Imagine that you’re the owner of a large herd of Angus cattle in Iowa, and you’re wondering if jumping onto the branded meat bandwagon will boost your sales. To find out, you hire a team of marketing consultants. The consultants inform you that adding a brand name can be very effective as long as you follow their advice. First, they say, your brand name should include the name of a specific farm or person. If you call your meat “Marvin’s Beef,” for example, customers are going to assume there’s a Marvin somewhere who cares about his reputation, and, therefore, his meat. Without having to make any overt claims, you’ve created the illusion of quality. (Of course, the fact that the name “Marvin” was selected by your consultants remains your little secret.) You will boost sales even more, you are told, if you add “Iowa” to your label. Most people have a positive association with their own state. For example, when I was living in Oregon,...

Protecting Chicken Feed from Scavengers

Feeding livestock, invites “pest species” to come share in the bounty of free food. Whether its birds, mice, rats, squirrels, or deer these pests can dramatically increase your feed bills and harbor diseases. The best way to discourage these free-loaders is to simply make the food unavailable to them.  Chickens are one of the worst culprits for inviting pests because their food tends to sit out longer than other livestock like horses or cows who eat their grain immediately. To solve this problem some people are making a treadle feeder which works by opening a lid when the chickens step on a lever. A treadle feeder allows chickens constant access to feed yet keeps it away from rodents and wild birds.  When the birds are not at the feeder the lid is closed, and the food is safe. While the construction may take a little trial and error or some physics knowledge, it is nothing that someone with basic construction skills couldn’t do. Here is the link to directions for building your own treadle feeder: http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/building-a-treadle-chicken-feeder Written by Rachel Burmeister, Internship Coordinator 2011-2012...