Corn Commentary

What’s in My Beef?!?!

Today, Corn Commentary offers a guest post from blogger Lana Hoffschneider, a CommonGround Nebraska volunteer. Hoffschneider, along with 85 volunteers in 15 states, is participating in a movement that looks to open a conversation between the women who grow food and those why purchase it.

CommonGround was formed by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to provide our nation’s female farmers with opportunities to connect with their urban and suburban counterparts on an issue important to all of them – the food they feed their families.

lana-kidsAnyone else feel overwhelmed by the quantity of information out there about food and food safety? I’ve recently been on a quest to increase my knowledge about food safety, and feel like now I can’t eat anything!! I swear there’s a study out there to prove anything. So how do we sort out the information… the studies, the food labels, the facebook posts, the news stories, what our friends tell us, etc?!?! I can’t promise I have the answer to that… but I’ll give you my take on it! Read on…

Since we have a feedyard, I’m going to direct my comments to beef, and hopefully answer some of your questions about what you’re eating. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a scientist, and I’m not a meat processor, but I can tell you what happens at our feedyard.

One common concern about beef is hormones. Yes, we give our cattle implants (they go under the skin on the outside of the ear). The main active ingredient is estrogen. The implants are given to increase feed efficiency and rate of gain. From the information I have read, yes – some of the hormone passes into the meat, but no – it’s not at high levels. in fact, check this out:

  • 4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen
  • Average level in a woman of childbearing age: 480,000 nanograms/day of estrogen
  • Average level in a pre-pubertal girl: 54,000 nanograms/day of estrogen

So – I’m not worried about that. Period.

Next, how about shots… vaccinations, antibiotics, etc?

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

First of all, I think you might like to know that all shots go in the neck region of the animal.  This prevents any needle damage in the meat.

Second, you need to know that there are specific “withdrawal times” that antibiotics have – which means an animal cannot be harvested until after a specified number of days of receiving the antibiotic.   And yes – our cattle receive antibiotics (administered by a veterinarian).  It’s the right thing to do – we take care of our animals when they’re sick! Here’s a great blog post about this… Antibiotics in beef farming.

So I’m not worried about that. Period.

The last thing I want to hit on is regarding the talk about meat causing heart disease, cancer, and whatever else.  I understand that doctors give special instructions on diet for particular situations – listen to them.   If that’s not you – then here’s what I think.   MODERATION – everything in moderation.

We eat beef from cattle from our feedyard.  I feed it to my family.  We have 2 daughters – yes, I think about hormones and early puberty and the thought freaks me out on a lot of levels.  But I don’t change the meat we eat or the milk we drink because of it – I don’t think that’s what causes early puberty.

If you’re like me, and feel frustrated about information about our food… just keep in mind that there are so many health benefits in a variety of foods.   If you want to get radical about something, get radical about the amount of sugar you eat and the amount of processed/fried foods you eat.  Then eat a variety of foods, in moderation.

I think of it like weight loss.  There’s no magic “meal pill” that will be a perfect meal for your body just like there’s no perfect “diet pill”.  It’s not rocket science.  To lose weight, eat less and exercise (in most cases).  Same with making food choices – eat in moderation, and eat a variety.  No sense in getting overwhelmed and freaked out!

Now go eat some meat!

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

This post originally ran on the CommonGround Nebraska blog.

To learn more about the CommonGround movement, click here.

Confessions of a GMO Convert

lynasA leading environmental activist and critic of genetically modified food recently announced the error of his ways and his conversion to being a supporter of biotech crops.

“I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment,” said author and activist Mark Lynas during an address last month to the Oxford Farming Conference.

Lynas explained his change of heart towards GM by saying, “I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.”

In his one hour address to the conference, Lynas made a strong appeal to both the environmental community and governments to see the importance of safe biotech crops in feeding a growing population, invoking the sacred name of Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution.

Before Borlaug died in 2009 he spent many years campaigning against those who for political and ideological reasons oppose modern innovation in agriculture. To quote: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

And, thanks to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries, we are perilously close to this position now. Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

Worth reading, watching and quoting.

Growing African Agriculture

As Africa’s economy is growing and the population is urbanizing, more people are getting removed from food production – but some are calling on Africa to “think agriculture” for jobs.

af-ag“Agriculture should be Africa’s number one priority, especially when it comes to employment,” said Philippe Egger, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Bureau of Programming and Management, in a recent commentary on the ILO website.

The reality is that agriculture in Africa has been neglected by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers alike. This carries a high cost: Per capita food production has barely grown over the last 50 years, at a pace of 0.06 per cent a year. With the population rising at 2.6 per cent a year, food imports have increased at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent since 1980, with cereals accounting for the largest share. Africa receives close to half of the world’s total cereal food aid.

Yields are comparatively low at an average of 1.3 tons per hectare of harvested land, less than half the world average. Yields have increased at an annual rate of just over 1 per cent, while the world average grew 2 per cent.

Egger suggests that Africa needs to focus on “raising food output per unit of land among the large majority of small-holders” by using an “agriculture first” strategy that includes “wider use of fertilizer and sound water management techniques; support to rural infrastructure and market access; and agricultural research.” But there is no mention of increasing use of biotech crops.

While there is no official ban on growing GMO crops in most of Africa, Europe’s restriction on imports of biotech crops has a significant impact on what farmers in Africa will plant.

A recent story in Europe’s Farmers Weekly, written by a farmer from the UK, claims that the European Union’s GM policy is “starving Africa.”

The EU is a market for much African produce and these restrictions are preventing many African farmers from growing GM crops. GM crops that could improve yields dramatically, or are more drought tolerant, or resistant to local pests, are being overlooked.

Bluntly, children in Africa are starving because their farmers are frightened to grow GM crops for fear that they will be unable to sell their produce.

That is blunt – probably a bit exaggerated as well – but the point is that both African food production and employment could benefit from growing more biotech crops. Bluntly, biotech crops increase yields which grows the agricultural economy – and helps feed starving children.

Minnesota Corn Growers Court Taiwan

The 2012 drought caused a little shake up in the top four corn producing states that produce more than a billion bushels a year. Normally Iowa and Illinois take the top two spots – sometimes Illinois is first but mostly it’s Iowa. Nebraska takes third and Minnesota usually comes in 4th. Last year, however, Minnesota moved up to second place because they actually increased corn production while the other three states were down due to the drought.

mn-corn-taiwanEncouraged by such a good year, the Minnesota corn growers are aggressively pursuing export markets and recently went on a trade mission to Taiwan. “We just want to emphasize that we had a very good crop this past year,” said Minnesota Corn Growers Association president Tom Haag, who noted that they also stressed the safety of genetically-modified corn. “We’re feeding them to our own livestock, so it’s safe for them to feed.”

Haag says they were able to meet with high level government and industry officials in Taiwan during the trade mission and would like to return the favor. “Every two years Taiwan has a mission to the U.S.,” he said. A delegation goes to Washington, D.C., to sign an agreement regarding corn purchases and then they visit corn producing states. “Two years ago when they came, they missed Minnesota as a state to visit and we were over there to convince them to come this time to show off our state,” said Haag.

Corn is Taiwan’s top agricultural import from the United States, with an annual trade value of $805 million.

Chicken Wing Shortage Claims Are as Bogus as the Calls of a Replacement Referee

Frozen Chicken Wings in Cold StorageNewspapers, online sources and television reports alike have spent days now terrifying a hungry public with reports that party food favorite buffalo chicken wings will be in short supply this Super Bowl. Linking the supposed shortage to a variety of factors, from the drought to government biofuels policy, these reporters need to check their readily available facts.

Chicken wings will be abundant for the Sunday night football festivities in 2013. Actually, chicken wing supplies are currently 68 percent higher than at this time last year. All of the commotion is for naught.

Using data available to the public, and to the reporters who promote this bogus story, the above chart details the amount of chicken wings in cold storage over the past few years. This information, updated monthly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides unbiased, factual data about our nation’s food situation. As it turns out, there will be wings enough for all.

So how does such blatantly false fodder gain national attention?

A group, interested in whipping up public panic and a loud uproar that could work to their own benefit, concocts a pace quickening story that ties directly into a major event. Media outlets, looking for a quick space filler that will attract attention without creating additional work for already strapped staffers, picks up said story. Then, the attention grabbing atrocity takes on a life of its own.

The age old strategy might have worked too. If only it weren’t for those pesky publicly available government reports.

So go ahead and invite a few extra friends over for the big game without fearing a fight will break out over the wings. America’s farmers have you covered.

Crying Fowl on the Chicken Council

Big Food is running in circles to rehash old – and incorrect – claims about renewable fuel.

This time, it’s the National Chicken Council trying to scare football fans about the supply of chicken wings, and it’s déjà vu all over again: the industry repeatedly ignores the true drivers of food costs.

Despite the Chicken Council’s claims, the poultry industry hardly seems to be cutting back on feed and animal production.

Click here for the full post as it originally ran on the Fuels America blog.

Agriculture Losing Advocates in Senate

Two strong advocates for agriculture in Congress are retiring after this term, leaving a void in the Senate that could make it even more challenging for farmers and ranchers to have their voices heard on the Hill in the future.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced Saturday that he would not to seek reelection in 2014. “I’m 73 years old right now,” Harkin said in a statement. “When the current Congress is over, I will have served in the United States House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for a total of 40 years. After 40 years, I just feel it’s somebody else’s turn.”

Saxby ChamblissOn Friday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) announced he would be retiring after serving a combined 20 years in the House and Senate. His reasoning is different than Harkin’s. “Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation’s economic health,” Chambliss said.

Both of these lawmakers have served in leadership positions on the agriculture committees in both the Senate and House and have helped shepherd several farm bills through Congress. Certainly both of their reasons for not seeking reelection are very good ones. There is definitely something to be said for limiting terms in Congress and no doubt a lack of action in Washington, but agriculture needs its friends on the Hill and they are getting fewer and harder to come by. We can only hope that they will be followed by others who see the importance of our nation’s food system.

Meet the Faces of Farming & Ranching

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) has found four fresh Faces of Farming & Ranching to represent American agriculture to the general public.

The four represent a range of agricultural commodities including corn and soybeans, hogs, cattle, and dairy and they were chosen through on-line voting and a panel of judges from nine finalists announced last month at the New York Food Dialogues. The winners will act as national spokespeople, and will share stories and experiences on a national stage to help answer consumers’ questions about how food is grown and raised to feed our nation.

When the four were introduced by USFRA this week, they were asked what they believe is the most important story for agriculture to share.

usfra-chinnChris Chinn of Clarence, Missouri is a 5th generation farmer with her husband Kevin, his parents and brother raising hogs, cattle, hay and row crops. “I think it’s more important for us to listen to the concerns that people have about how food is produced so we can have a more open dialogue,” Chris said.

usfra-gilmerWill Gilmer and his father own/operate a dairy farm in Lamar County, Alabama that has been in continuous operation since the early 1950s. “It’s important that we help people understand what the new things we’re doing are, why we’re doing them and how it’s beneficial to them in giving them great choices at the grocery store,” said Will.

usfra-prattKatie Pratt and her husband Andy (7th generation farmer) and their two children raise corn, soybeans and seed corn in Dixon, Illinois in partnership with Andy’s family. “One of the stories that needs to be told is that we are families operating businesses,” said Katie.

usfra-stoneBo Stone jointly owns P & S Farms in Rowland, NC with his wife Missy and his parents where they grow corn, wheat and soybeans, hogs and cattle, as well as strawberries and sweet corn that are sold at their own roadside market. “We are all consumers of our products and I’d like for everyone to know that we’re in this together,” he said.

Listen to those comments in response to a question by farm broadcaster Jeff Nalley: USFRA Faces of Farming

Find out more about the winners here or watch this video to learn more about them.

The Relevance of Agriculture

Definition of Relevance \ˈre-lə-vən(t)s\ – noun
a : relation to the matter at hand
b : practical and especially social applicability

I’ve heard the word relevant in relation to agriculture several times in recent months – from Senator Chuck Grassley, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and National Corn Growers Association president Pam Johnson, among others. Not that they are questioning the relevance of agriculture, but that Congress and society in general seem to be not just questioning, but even ignoring, the relevance of agriculture.

What is more relevant to a productive and sustainable society than a consistent, affordable and nutritious food supply? Nothing. What will it take to make the non-farming public realize that what they take for granted is not only relevant but vital?

ag-equalsOne way would be if we encourage this whole notion of “grow your own” subsistence farming. Most people would gain a whole new appreciation for farmers if they had to produce all, or even part, of the food they need to eat. They would also gain a whole new appreciation for crop protection products when they get insects and diseases in their crops. If more people had to keep chickens to eat eggs they might have a greater appreciation for poultry housing and antibiotics.

Relevance is all about being able to relate, and the majority of people have a tough time relating to farmers and ranchers. We’ve also never experienced any type of food shortage in most of our lifetimes, so it’s really hard for most Americans to relate to going hungry because the crop didn’t come in. There’s enough food to feed a neighborhood in the average convenience store – or enough to feed a whole starving village in sub-Saharan Africa where they don’t have convenience stores.

Food is what makes agriculture relevant. Agriculture literally equals food – not to mention feed (for more food), fiber for clothing, and fuel for energy. But mainly food. Without the farmers, there is no food.

As long as food is relevant, agriculture must be relevant to society and to its representatives in government.

Dropping HFCS Doesn’t (Necessarily) Drop Dress Sizes

In 2012, Americans consumed less high fructose corn syrup per person than they have since 1997. Dieters, who have become increasingly conscious of calories in HFCS sweetened beverages such as soda, have dropped their HFCS consumption but not the extra weight.

Levels of obesity continue to grow despite waning HFCS consumption? How could this be when pseudoscientists such as the great Oz have prattled on endless about the evils of corn sugar?

This week, public health and nutrition expert Marion Nestle gave a simple, concise explanation. Noting that the attention paid to obesity has had a negative impact on HFCS consumption, she pointed out dieters need to reduce their overall sweetener consumption to see a real impact.

“A lot of attention has been paid to obesity, and that’s hurt high-fructose corn syrup,” said Nestle. “Now, if only people weren’t making up for it by eating more sugar.”

In short, the truth about sweeteners is quite simple. Sugar is sugar whether it is from corn, cane or beat.

This academic, fact-based approach to nutrition does not offer dieters the same sweet solution that demonizing a single food does, it does offer results. Thoughtful, deliberate moderation does work, whether one needs to drop another pants size or drop the fad diet fluff.

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