Gene-editing: Improved animal welfare and food security?

I recently came across an article from the Progressive Dairyman magazine called Gene-editing tool could improve animal welfare and food security written by Holly Drankhan. I would strongly encourage reading it as it talks about some emerging technology that not only can make great advancements in animal welfare, but also help potentially make cattle more efficient in milk production and rebreeding.

Additionally, CRISPR technology differs from the technology used to created genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and it is important to understand the differences.

As quoted from the article:  “In the same way that spell-check identifies and corrects single-letter errors in a word or grammar errors in a sentence, gene editing can be used to identify and change the letters that make up the genetic code within an individual,” wrote Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal genomics and biotechnology cooperative extension specialist for the University of California – Davis Department of Animal Science, in an eXtension article published in 2015.

One of the major benefits of this CRISPR technology is creating cattle without horns (polled) which greatly increases safety for other animals and people. Check out the video here:

Where else could CRISPR technology be used?

**Note: no compensation was received for this post. I just believe the information was worth sharing.


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Technology: Reflecting on successes and challenges

What if I told you that some of the best scientists in the world have come up with amazing technology? Technology that could potentially save lives? Technology that could decrease water and pesticide use? Technology that would help people make a better living for themselves and their families?

Hopefully you are asking yourself why this technology is not being used? Or maybe you are thinking, get this technology into the hands of the people who can use it most.

Unfortunately, this technology is hung up in the regulatory process. Unrealistic timelines and costs to bring this technology to fruition…

This technology is biotechnology. You may be most familiar with biotechnology when a Vitamin A fortified rice (aka Golden Rice) was created or when biotechnology saved the papaya industry in Hawaii.

To better grasp these opportunities and challenges, check out 20 Years of Innovation: Reflecting on Successes and Challenges of Biotech Crops by Craig Rickard, executive director for plant biotechnology at CropLife International.

**Note: I am not receiving any compensation for this post. I just find the information very relevant and informative.


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Veganism for children?

This morning my husband sent me a link to an article that I thought I would share here with all of you, as it seems to be such a problem that laws in Italy may go into place. Veganism for childrenItaly may outlaw veganism for kids.

As published on The Daily Beast by Barbie Latza Nadeau:

Italians do love their wild boar pasta and thick Florentine steaks. So it is no wonder that not long after Chiara Appendino, the new mayor of Turin, announced that she would like to see her northern Italian town become the country’s first “vegan city,” Elvira Savino, an opposing politician, announced she had a beef with that. Then Savino promptly introduced a law that would make raising children on a vegan diet a crime.

Under the proposed legislation (PDF), which will be debated in parliament this fall, parents who raise a child on a vegan diet could face a year in prison if their child is over three years of age, and two years in prison if the child is younger. The sentence increases to four years if the vegan child develops a serious health condition, and up to seven years if the child dies from anything related to malnourishment.

This is not as far-fetched as at first it might seem. The law has a chance of passing.

Support for it gained traction this summer after two children in northern Italian towns were hospitalized due to vitamin deficiencies thought to be tied to their enforced vegan diets. In late June, a two-year-old girl in Genoa was treated in an intensive care unit of a local hospital after she became unresponsive. Doctors said she suffered from severely low hemoglobin and an extreme B12 deficiency. Her parents were investigated by social services and, though not charged with any crimes, advised that if their child falls ill again under similar circumstances, they could be charged with neglect.

A few weeks later, a one-year-old boy was nearly removed from his home in Milan after a local judge there ruled that his parents’ vegan diet was detrimental to his health and “incompatible” with the growing child’s nutritional needs. The child was breastfed by his vegan mother for most of the first year of his life, and the judge ruled that his mother’s milk was not sufficiently nourishing. The child weighed just 11 pounds, more in line with a three-month old baby, and far less than a child that age should weigh. The parents must now prove that they are providing high protein alternatives and supplements that include meat and fish or risk losing their child to foster care.

For all that, veganism is growing in popularity in Italy. According to the health ministry around 2.9 percent of Italians subscribe to the strict dietary lifestyle which avoids all animal foods, not only meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, but also eggs, milk and honey. (More than seven percent of Italians are vegetarian, which is rather less demanding.)

Italian health authorities do not recommend a vegan diet for growing children. In the Italian school system, parents can only ask that their child be given a vegan school lunch if they have a medical certificate that states specifically the child’s medical condition, which must be an allergy or intolerance, that prohibits them from eating foods made from animals, especially milk and cheese products, which are considered staples for Italian children.

When Appendino, who is from the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement party, introduced her vegan program for Turin, she noted the importance of education in adopting the vegan lifestyle and said she would dedicate her mandate to education in this area. “The promotion of vegan and vegetarian diets is a fundamental act in safeguarding our environment, the health of our citizens and the welfare of our animals,” her program states. “Leading medical, nutritional and political experts will help promote a culture of respect in our schools, teaching children how to eat well while protecting the earth and animal rights.”

The law introduced by Savino, who is from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia center-right party, would not make veganism illegal, but it would make it virtually impossible for parents to impose the dietary lifestyle on children under the age of 16.

“I have nothing against vegans or veganism as long as it is a free choice by adults,” she told Reuters. “I just find it absurd that some parents are allowed to impose their will on children in an almost fanatical, religious way, often without proper scientific knowledge or medical consultation. ‘Do-it-yourself’ on these matters is what terrorizes me.”

The International Vegan Rights Alliance has condemned the proposed law, calling it “unfair, extremely misguided and discriminatory” in an open letter to Savino, and threatening to take the battle for veganism to the European Commission of Human Rights if the law passes.

If the law does pass, it could theoretically also pave the way to other legislation that protects children, including laws that would make a diet of fast food or excessive sweets illegal, or that would prohibit children from sipping wine at their parents’ dinner table. By law, children over the age of 10 in Italy are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages like beer and wine if a parent or guardian is with them.

Andrea Ghiselli, president of the Italian Society of Food Science, argues that any legislation should encompass all bad food choices. “Why just focus on a tiny fraction of society that imposes veganism on children?” he says. “Why not make illegal all the bad food choices parents make for their children?”

 This post is not intended to start an argument. I want to simply shed some light on a potentially serious problem for children. I am not a medical doctor, so I will not issue medical advice. However, if you choose to feed your children a vegetarian or vegan diet, please do careful research to ensure they are getting all of the nutrients needed for their young and growing minds and bodies. What are your thoughts on this lifestyle and the potential laws against it?
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Creating lifelong learners: Summer Day Camp

August 12 is International Youth Day. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will be celebrating by highlighting the accomplishments of 4-H, a program that provides positive youth development by promoting citizenship, healthy living, science education, leadership skills, and more. Coincidentally, last week my office held its first ever Youth Summer Day Camp. We have actively been working on creating awareness about 4-H and Extension, and what we can provide to both youth and adults in our community. While this will take time, I am excited about how our camp went over. We are exploring the idea of hosting two to three of these annually.

The goals of the camp were that it had to be educational and it had to be fun. Judging by the youth evaluations we achieved both of those components! We hope that by introducing the youth to a variety of things, we are helping to create lifelong learners.

On Day 1 we did a hike around Spooner Lake, which is near Lake Tahoe. It is just over 2 miles, so perfect to do with kids. On this day the youth learned the differences between trees, shrubs, and forbs, as well as how to identify several within each of those major groups. We grilled hotdogs for lunch and rounded out the day talking about our forests and waterways.IMG_3609

On day 2 we went to the Library. They have computers on which each youth can learn how to code and program on, all of the skills learned resulted in a maze competition later in the day. They built mazes and the other teams had to solve them by writing in the code. We had circuit challenges, they learned how to create designs, and everyone got to have something printed by the 3D printer. IMG_3380

Day 3 was photography day. They learned how to take a good photo, how to work their cameras and change the settings depending on what they were trying to photograph. To hone their skills we visited Silver Saddle Ranch and the river. At the end of the day our instructor gave them tips on the photos they took and encouraged them to look for youth photography exhibits. For more check out Silver Saddle Ranch… Wordless Wednesday.IMG_3465

Day 4 was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Day. My colleague taught the youth how to make little cleaning robots which had to clean up an “oil spill” (aka rice). Youth also learned about polymers and their ability to absorbs and hold water in things like diapers or soil. The big hit of the day was learning about CO2 and dry ice, which provided endless fun. IMG_3533

Rounding out Day 5 was entomology, or the study of insects. We visited a bug and butterfly house where one of my colleagues taught the youth how to catch insects. The youth then learned how to identify what they caught based on wings, legs, and other distinguishable body characteristics. The youth learned how to euthanize an insect and how to pin it. They were able to start their own collections. Undoubtedly, we now have some youth who are home insect collectors. IMG_3590

I would say that our first day camp was a huge hit. All of the youth loved it, as did their parents. We are looking forward to future camps which encourage youth to become lifelong learners, ask questions, and have fun!


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Using Social Media to “Agvocate” for Farmers and Scientists

It is no secret that I am passionate about agriculture. I am a fourth generation agriculturalist, educated in various agricultural sciences, and I love the advancements that science and technology are bringing forward in agriculture and food production daily. I try to share my love of ag on all of my social media platforms.

Recently, I had a great interview with the wonderful people at CropLife International. CropLife International’s mission speaks to me, as it reads: We champion the role of agricultural innovations in crop protection and plant biotechnology to support and advance sustainable agriculture.

To read the interview check out Using social media to “agvocate” for farmers and scientists. You may also want to check out other blog posts with great information.

Croplife International can also be found on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

**Note: I was note paid or provided compensation in anyway for this interview or to share information about CropLife International. I just happen to believe in their mission, and we share a common passion for agriculture and the farmers and agriculturalists around the world.


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Animals and heat stress

This week in northern Nevada we are expected to reach 100+ degrees (Fahrenheit), luckily our humidity is low at 5-12%. This type of dry heat can be a serious problem for livestock. Also very problematic is high heat and high humidity areas of the country. With the humidity, the animals’ core temperatures takes longer to cool as the night time temperatures occur much later in the evening, if at all.

It is essential to ensure all animals (and humans) have access to plenty of clean, cool water. If possible, they need a place to get out of the sun, whether that be a shed/building or trees. Also, make sure any airflow will get to them, blocking wind or even a breeze can greatly increase their discomfort. Providing a water mist may be helpful and cooling to animals, however, droplet size is key! Large droplet sizes are best. Finally, if you must move or work livestock during these high temperature events try to do it early in the morning or in the evening when the temperatures start to cool down.

I have written about heat stress on several occasions, you can read more at:

Heat stress… How cattle are made more comfortable

Heat stress: Something to sweat about

Heat stress: What you need to know to make livestock shows a success


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GMO bill passed by Congress

Congress has passed a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) bill. According to MeatingPlace.com, on July 14, 2016 the U.S. House of Representatives voted 306-117 to pass a bill establishing a national mandatory system of disclosure for foods containing genetically modified or engineered ingredients.

The bill says, “To amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national disclosure standard for bioengineered foods, and for other purposes.”

Since the Senate also approved the bill on July 7, in a 63-30 vote, the bill will now be sent to President Obama who has agreed to sign it. The proposed bill was a compromise between Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee, and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), ranking member, that will give food manufacturers three options for affixing a GMO label to their goods:

  1. Text, a symbol, or a written statement on the package,
  2. A link to a website or a phone number to call to ask about the food product,
  3.  A QR (Quick Response) code that shoppers would scan with their smartphones to look up information about the food product.

Reportedly, there will be no penalties of fines imposed for noncompliance. Additionally, the bill’s requirements for labeling will be phased in over the coming years, allowing food companies time to adapt.

In reading through the bill, it outlines when a food would/would not meet the criterion expressed about as containing genetically engineered foods. It also states, “SAFETY.—For the purpose of regulations promulgated and food disclosures made pursuant to paragraph (2), a bioengineered food that has successfully completed the pre-market Federal regulatory review process shall not be treated as safer than, or not as safe as, a non-bioengineered counterpart of the food solely because the food is bioengineered or produced or developed with the use of bioengineering.”

The bill exempts foods in which meat and poultry are the main ingredients. GMOAnswers.com addresses the question of If livestock eat genetically modified grain, will there be GMOs in my meat?  The short answer is no, however to fully understand why, be sure to check out the article. Another interesting read is No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed (peer-reviewed journal article linked in article). The bill also exempts gene-edited food items, or items where genes have been removed. To learn more about gene editing, this article on Questions and answers about CRISPR does a good job explaining. Ultimately determining what exactly a GMO product is will be determined by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) reports Food Safety Magazine.

This agreement was reached just days before the nation’s first biotechnology food labeling law was set to go into effect in Vermont on July 1. This bill prohibits individual states from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered, creating a patchwork of varying state standards which would needlessly add cost for food companies that package foods and create unnecessary alarm among consumers, reports Mankato Free Press. Additionally, individual state requirements would make it extremely difficult for food manufacturers to distribute food products in multiple states without running into legislative inconsistencies, not to mentioning costs that would be passed to the consumer.

If you keep up on the labeling of genetically modified foods, then you know there has also strong opposition to it. GMO Answers addresses some of those concerns in Why do GMO companies seem like they are so against labeling GMO foods? 

Want more information about GMOs? Some great resources I recommend include:

What do you think about this new bill? Will it be something you look for when you shop for food?

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Ag lives matter… Slow down

We have all experienced inconsiderate and dangerous drivers, but in the agricultural community that risk can be even greater when large, heavy equipment is involved. Recently, a longtime family friend was telling our local branch of Cattlewomen about an experience that happened to her daughter’s friend.  Please read the editorial that Annalyn Settelmeyer submitted to the local papers.

Our teenage daughter, niece and their friends are helping on the hay crew this summer.  My daughter’s 15 year old friend was driving a tractor and hay tedder through Genoa yesterday.  At the main intersection stop sign, her tractor stalled. The tractor has fail safes and is difficult to restart in a fast manner. People behind her were upset started flipping her off, calling her a moron and questioning her parent’s linage. She had never been yelled at or called these names before and got flustered which in turn, exacerbated the situation.  She finally managed to get the tractor going and headed to Jacks Valley.

I grew up near Genoa and was ashamed of such bully-like behavior.  I would like to invite them to come drive a tractor.  People often talk about moving to the area because of the rural lifestyle, green open spaces, cattle and eagles in the fields. We are an agriculture based community and you will often see farm equipment.  This summer while you’re traveling around the valley, please remember we farmers and ranchers have a narrow window to get hay crops up for our cattle and hay customers.  This means more motorists and farming equipment sharing the roads.

According to the National Safety Council 1/3 of all tractor accidents happen on public roads.  Farm equipment moves slowly. A car traveling 55 mph toward a tractor can close a gap the length of a football field (300 ft.) in FIVE seconds.  Our equipment is only moving 15 mph so please slow down as soon as you see a farm implement and the slow moving equipment sign. Our equipment is heavy and difficult to stop.  We need room, don’t assume we can see you.  We don’t have the opportunity to move off the edge of the roads safely allowing others to get by.

The key to safety with farm equipment: caution and patience.  Please slow down.  Don’t follow too closely.  Never cut between the equipment and the escort vehicle if there is one, the escort is there to protect you and us.  Don’t pass until it is clearly safe.  Often it will be difficult or impossible to see where we are entering a field.  Please pay attention to our blinkers and hand signals.  Yes, when making that turn we do have to swing wide.  Yield to large wide equipment coming the opposite direction as well, our equipment is heaver and bigger than most passenger vehicles.

We understand we are delaying you, but please understand we don’t want to be on the road any more than we have too.  We are being as careful as we can.  The main issue is when others are impatient. We have to move in a diligent way to remain safe. We are doing our jobs in proving food for our families and yours.  Please remember, it is someone’s dad, mom, son or daughter driving that tractor.  We are your neighbors, your kids coach, your politician, your church member, and your pharmacist’s daughter.  We share a community together, please, for a short window each year, share the roads with us as well.   We love our teenage daughter, niece and their friends who are working hay crews this summer and are passing on not only a tradition, but a lifestyle that has been in this valley for generations.  Thank you so much!

If you ever encounter a piece of agricultural equipment, a combine, or livestock in the road please proceed with caution. These pieces of equipment are large and heavy, they cannot stop quickly. Ask yourself if passing the agricultural equipment in a dangerous spot is worth dying for or killing someone else? Is something so important that you can’t wait a couple more minutes to pass?


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Extension Publications… Flashback Friday

Several years ago I was cleaning out a filing cabinet I inherited when I started with Nebraska Extension. There were some fun publications I came across. At the time they were very real issues, and today they are still relevant.

Chickens

Hemp
Published in 1935, reissued in 1943. 

Have you ever found anything interesting cleaning out old files?


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