Reflections on France, Organics and Science

In Biotechnology, Food by Cathryn

I would love to be like the French. From the culture, to the food, to the fashion, they hold a place in many American hearts that fell in love with movies set in France of, well, Americans falling in love.

That said- there are few parallels drawn between French diet outcomes that go well. Try the “French Women Don’t Get Fat” diet? I did too. I left it almost five pounds heavier myself…

I am getting to a point about science, so bear with me.

Cultural differences make certain ideas less applicable to your own life than they might seem. You can dream of walking around in cute striped shirts and stylish ballet flats, but it won’t make the local Walmart seem like a French bakery.

Similarly, applying a situation that has many variables that have not been accounted for scientifically can lead one to daydream in ways which might seem seductive but, in reality, may land as flat as my attempts at wearing a beret.

The Journal of American Medicine inspired my Francophile reflections with their recent study on the correlation between organics and cancer.

Let’s start with the fact that the study doesn’t consider smoking a behavior which should be considered independently. Always consider smoking independently. Every French movie, and many American classics, make it look incredibly cool if we are being honest. The reality isn’t cool- we all know that. So, conflating smoking with poverty seems more like adopting modern, incredibly biased mindsets that assume certain behavioral patterns amongst the lower class. Shortly, don’t French up your cultural stereotypes dressed up as science.

Next, let’s go to another finding that blows smoke in the face of science. Non-smokers who exercise and eat organic tend to have less cancer? And they tend to be wealthy? The plot twists skew the underlying message. Wealth affords people more choices much as living in Paris would allow me additional opportunities for exercise as jogging down the Champs-Elysees inspires greater exercise than sweating on a 20-year-old treadmill in my moldy basement.

Without controlling for the impact free time has on the well-intentioned exercise plans have on many, and with no consideration for the difference in outcome that local, pleasant exercise venues might have, it makes no sense to link the prevalence of organics in one’s diet to their health and tangentially link income. We would all love to be wealthy and a physical specimen fit for the Louvre. To think that circumstances such as lacking the time or funds to make that happen and, for whatever reason, then attributing good health outcomes to eating foods which are more expensive and, scientifically, are the equivalent of what paupers dine upon, is the same as mistaking the waft of a fine French perfume with that coming from a particularly flatulent hog.

Similar studies in the dowdier United Kingdom have found that cancer and imbibing solely upon organics do not decrease the risk of cancer. British royalty who have married into their positions aside, viewing this information like former colonists seems more reasonable.

Differences in wealth, status and social norms do impact what one does. Smoke? Drink? Live it up on KFC Double Downs? These choices will impact your health.

Attend workout classes with a support group of similarly motivated individuals, imbibe in moderation, forego smoking and snack upon creations based upon vitamin rich superfoods? These choices will impact your health, but you have to be able to not only afford them but also have a situation which elevates one to the emotional plane that dulls the draw of life’s great escapes.

Notably, none of this has to do with organics.

I would dare to guess that the French woman less prone to cancer and more prone to a healthy bank account balance looks fantastic. With a Yves Saint Laurent bag full of gym clothes tossed jauntily over one’s shoulder, it is hard not to sashay beguiling back to the flat for an enviable evening.

The woman who worked all day for far less than her male counterpart? With no financial angel in sight? Going home to a workout of cleaning, chores and the mental Olympics of keeping the family afloat? Logically, things might look a little less intriguing.

So, did the organic vegetables the charmed life afforded the first woman magically reduce her risk of cancer? Or did the multitude of stressors and detrimental factors facing the second, from stress-induced vices to the inability to afford, let alone prepare, fresh foods increase her risk of cancer so little that one could lithely attribute good health to unproven fairy dust produce marketed in a glittery organic cloud?

Organic foods may seem aspirational. Like many fairytales, the sell you magic beans. Cancer is scary for real reasons. Spinning charming tales of French ingénues skipping through cancer-free streets due to an organic diet, devoid of fact, is devoid of charm.

Reality requires one to wake up to harsh truths. The many outcomes of poverty and wealth impact everyone’s life in ways which seems to belong more in the vision of a German nihilist than a French romantic. Considering the implications of the genetic lottery to which we are all subject, looking at the vast situational differentials in Las Vegas might be more appropriate…

Everyone wants to buy their way out of the parts of life that resemble a Grimm’s fairytale more than a Paris dream vacation. Scientists, a wholly unromantic lot, have proven organics do not offer greater nutrition or greater safety than the foods that most American farmers, covered in dirt and sweat as they may be, toil to provide.

In cancer, science and food, fads like organics that seem to have a certain je ne sais quoi don’t really mean much more than the markup on buying an Eiffel Tower trophy at the tourist stand on the Champs de Mars or The final outcome of each transaction is the same; it just costs much more and feels much fancier in the interim.

Much like diets based upon glamourous sounding gamines in France, this study whisks one away to a world without care. Also, much like the diet, this study leaves the truly well-intentioned people who fall for it feeling disappointed by the empty promises and, maybe, even somewhat heavier for the toll it takes.

Colorado Farmers and Influential Voices on Food Come to the Table

In Biotechnology, Events, Food, State Groups by Cathryn

Now more than ever, Americans rely on one another to learn about hot-button issues and connect with others who share similar social views. For moms, food production is an issue that is constantly top of mind. Jan Kochis, Sondra Pierce, Kristen Schneider, Collen Peppler, Mary Kraft and Sallie Miller set out to build understanding and initiate a conversation with the dietitians, teachers and bloggers who moms turn to for answers at the annual CommonGround Colorado dinner conversation last week.

The six women are volunteers with the CommonGround Colorado program, a national grassroots movement launched by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to bridge the gap between the women who grow food and the women who buy it. This luncheon brought together influencers from the Denver area for discussions about today’s farming.

Throughout the evening, the volunteers told stories from their farms and used their agriculture expertise and experience as mothers to connect with guests on issues relating to our food supply. Spirited discussions on a variety of topics took place over two hours regarding the use of precision technology, such as drones, in farming; water rights; sustainability; the true differences in organic and conventional production; the meaning of grass-fed and natural labels; and a wide variety of other issues important to farmers and ranchers.

While many attendees had attended previously and returned to continue the conversation, several new faces joined the group and brought new, exciting perspectives to discussions. Returning and first-time attendees alike expressed enthusiastic interest in keeping the dialogue going by participating in tours of volunteers’ farms and ranches.

By providing credible facts about farming and food and fostering conversations between women and other supporters of today’s agriculture, the CommonGround movement increases the visibility of U.S. farmers and ranchers and the important role they play in America’s food supply.

In Colorado, Kochis, Pierce, Schneider, Peppler, Kraft and Miller will continue to engage with Coloradans at local events and through online conversations on social media sites. Want to join the CommonGround Colorado Conversation? Stay connected with the movement online:

Saving the Earth Also Means Saving the Earthlings

In Biotechnology, Food, International by Cathryn

In an opinion piece published in Agri-Pulse today,  Marshall Matz, an agriculture and food security specialist of the firm OFW Law, asks each of us to look inward and ask “Famine: Where is the Rage?” Beginning with the lack of outrage and action over the horrific famine looming in Africa, he makes a strong, possibly overdue case, for basing federal policies in science, in order to support more ag research and funding for food aid programs.

Citing the public outcry for action in the case of recent chemical attacks on civilians in Syria, he holds that the propensity for caring – and acting upon those emotions- about people across the globe remains alive and well. Yet, in the case of an overwhelming crisis such as that in Africa, we have turned away from the moral outrage over starvation due to a lack of agricultural understanding and the sheer enormity of the situation.

Urging action, Matz outlines how Americans can push their government to take concrete steps that would help end this humanitarian catastrophe. Calling upon the vision of Norman Borlaug, asking us to complete his dream, he pushes us to put saving 20 million lives ahead of “cage-free eggs and other nutritional fads.”

Underlying many of his arguments is a fact that has long been pushed aside. The choices we make as a society in terms of food have a massive impact on those who do not have the privilege of eschewing science in favor of the trendiest Facebook diet of the day.

Americans have been blessed with a bountiful food supply, and our farmers work tirelessly to provide a nearly dizzying array of choices. When we reflect upon it though, it is imperative that we consider the moral ramifications of what we push forth as the best path for everyone. Not everyone has the opportunity to make such choices for themselves.

Famine is not an intellectual concept. It is an urgent, dire need for food that could very well help sustain the lives of people suffering tremendously half a world away. For them, time is running out. If they ask why we don’t help, how can we justify waiting?

Corny Kicks

In Corny News, New Products, New Uses, Sustainability by Cathryn

Some of the most reputable brands in the United States have realized the renewable, sustainable wonder that is corn. Now, Reebok is trying to harness the green-power of the crop to increase the biodegradability of its product too.

This week, sources, including the New York Post, announced that Reebok will begin making sneaker soles from corn as a part of the brand’s Corn + Cotton initiative. While the cotton used will be sourced to ensure that it is grown organically, it is believed at this time that the corn used will be grown using normal production practices.

If reports are true, even more manufacturers of the country’s favorite comfy shoes plan to move in this direction as well, with Nike and Adidas planning similar programs to create sustainable, recyclable kicks.

It may be only one step in the right direction, but it will be in shoes that both respect the plant and the families who farm it. Renewable shoe soles- just another great example of the versatility of corn! To explore the World of Corn further, click here.

Farmers are Going Green

In General by Cathryn

First there was body-shaming, next came pet-shaming. The propagation of untruths on social media in the form of memes has become a national pastime.  It was all harmless fun until our nation’s farmers became the next target of a group of mean-spirited internet trolls.  But corn farmers are fighting back in an unprecedented fashion.

In order to raise awareness of the new phenomenon known as farmer-shaming, America’s corn farmers are dying their hair green. “This is not a fashion statement,” said National Corn Growers Association President Wesley Spurlock. “It’s being done to bring a stop to the wide-spread mockery and misperceptions of farmers by those who don’t make their living in agriculture.”  Scratching his lime green beard, he added thoughtfully, “We may not have the cache of the average food blogger, but in our profession, we have to pay attention to science or we can’t get anything to grow!”

“So maybe corn isn’t touted by talk show hosts as the greatest thing since probiotics,” commented NCGA Chairman Chip Bowling, “but it can still be fermented and turned into a Bourbon Fizz containing all the same sugar calories and effervescence of kombucha.  Green hair is a small price to pay if I can get just one person to ask me about what I do and what I grow.  Let’s have a real conversation!”

It took CEO Chris Novak a while to convince the entire Board of Directors to agree to the drastic measure but after sharing with them examples of dozens of hurtful, farmer-shaming memes popping up around the internet, one grower concluded, “I know that pickup-driving farmers may not appear to possess the same political correctness as a hybrid on Hollywood Boulevard but doggonne it! We do our part, too! The equipment we use on the farm can deliver nutrients to crops with a pinpoint accuracy that would make even Tom Brady green with envy.”

Farmers understand that because they only represent less than 2 percent of the population and operate in mostly rural areas, most Americans don’t really know what they do or why and how they do it. So if you want to get to know your food, get to know a farmer. If there’s not one near you, we’ve got you covered.

#AprilFoolsDay #farmershaming #cornstrong #misunderstoodGreen Wesley caption green chip caption

There’s Good Reason to End the Agriculture Versus the Environment Fight

In Conservation, Environmental, Farming, General by Cathryn

Suzy Friedman, director of sustainable agriculture at the Environmental Defense Fund, authored this post which originally ran in AgriPulse and on the EDF Growing Returns blog. NCGA has been allowed to share it on Corn Commentary with EDF’s permission.

On paper, I appear to be the picture perfect stereotype of an east coast liberal: I’ve been working at environmental nonprofits for over 20 years, I’m an Ivy League grad, and I live in the “bluest” county in Virginia. When it comes to first impressions in the world of agriculture, I’ve been met countless times with skepticism and even contempt.

The reality is that I spend nearly every waking hour of my career collaborating with farmers – exploring ways to implement on-the-ground practices that help producers save money and protect yields while also reducing impacts to water and air. After years of building relationships, I’m proud of the diverse and unlikely partnerships I’ve formed. Many of my closest friends and allies would be labeled as “big ag.”

But I’m worried that today’s political divisions will roll back the decades of progress reducing nutrient runoff across the Corn Belt and beyond. I don’t want to see doors closed because of assumptions on either side of the political divide that now dominate the country.

Urban elites versus rural America, farmers versus environmentalists, there are just too many fights to count. For example, the majority of farmers and agribusinesses cheered on the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, while dozens of environmental advocacy organizations (including my own), vehemently opposed his nomination. The “Waters of the U.S.” rule and the Endangered Species Act, generally unpopular with the farming community, are on the chopping block at the same time that environmental groups are receiving record-breaking donations to keep these regulations in place.

Everyone seems to be walking on edge and hesitant to engage in constructive dialogue. Even among like-minded conservation organizations, there is disagreement about how to proceed - should we protest, or roll up our sleeves and try to find common ground even with those who appear to be adversaries?

I’m of the latter camp – and I suggest we change the conversation to something that rings true, time and again: economics drive real change.

Sustainability and profitability can and must go hand-in-hand. For years, farmers have told me that environmental initiatives cannot come at the expense of profits. And that’s never been more true than today, as the economy was top-of-mind for voters in last year’s election.

To keep farming, growers need to be profitable. This is not easy, thanks to record low farm income levels and commodity prices. And from an environmental perspective, only those initiatives that make good business sense will get to scale and be truly successful. Many farmers lacks interest in agriculture as they get delayed payment after delivering their harvest. Farmers lack the ability to conduct due diligence on their buyer, so buyers can compete on payment terms, and therefore offer lower prices. This reduces the markt competition and further lowers prices. The growers are als forced to contact multinationals to sell their products. Blockchain can change all this by enabling real-time payment on delivery. Farmers will get immediate payments and buyers can save time and money. Also Farmers are finding bitcoin to be a compelling solution when selling their produce. A website and a trading app can help farmers to display and sell their products through online system. Check out the trading apps erfahrungen shared by users and farmers to find the efficiency of the trading apps in Agriculture and Farming.

Working in agriculture for nearly two decades, I’ve learned that farmers are innovators and business minded. They don’t want to be told what to do (let’s be honest – who does?), but they want to be given the opportunity to make decisions based on market opportunities.

So if environmentalists want sustainability at scale, what we ask of farmers has to be good for their bottom line. Regulations clearly have a role, and they can even make good business sense, but farmers are far more motivated by economic sustainability – they have families to feed and businesses to run.

I don’t see the political divisions letting up anytime soon. But I do think agriculture is one area where, because sustainable farming practices can and do lead to big cost savings and even increased yields, farmers and environmentalists can meet each other halfway.

Happy Corndog day

In Corny News, General by Cathryn

Every dog truly has their day, even corndogs. This year, those inflicted with March Madness will be adding America’s favorite treat on a stick to their March 18th menus for National Corndog Day.

The first National Corndog Day took place in 1992 in a Corvallis, Oregon basement on the first Saturday of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. College basketball fans Brady Sahnow and Henry Otley had been binging on basketball games for two days eating nothing but soda and potato chips, when Stan Sahnow (Brady’s father) went in search of something more substantial to feed them. Thankfully, Stan’s fears of the two boys dashing to the store for yet another round of soda and chips subsided when he found a box of 24 corndogs in the freezer. Stan knew these hot, crispy dogs wrapped in cornmeal on a stick would ensure Brady and Henry maintain the stamina needed for two ravenous young men to watch that day’s quadruple header from start to finish.

For those who prefer their corndogs homemade (and who doesn’t), try this tried and true recipe.

Corn and hotdogs – American goodness on a stick.

Corn and Animal Agriculture – Poised for Success

In agribusiness, Blogroll, Distillers Grains, Farming, feed, General, Livestock, poultry, soil health partnership, USFRA by Mark

Commentary by Chris Novak,
Chief Executive Officer, Chris Novak Publicity PhotoNational Corn Growers Association

 In less than a week’s time, colleagues in the cattle industry will head off to Nashville, Tennessee to participate in the 120th Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show. Further south, our friends in the poultry industry will head to Atlanta, Georgia for the largest annual trade show for the poultry, meat and feed industries in the country. With these two industries coming together, it makes it a good time to reflect on our relationships with those in animal agriculture. Collectively, beef, poultry, pork and dairy producers represent corn farmers’ number-one customer. It’s a fact of which we’re both proud and grateful. Over 39 percent of U.S. grown corn goes toward animal agriculture. Adding in distillers dried grains (DDGs), a co-product of corn ethanol production, brings total consumption figures to 47 percent[1]. Clearly, what is good for animal agriculture is good for corn growers.

The reverse is also true. Consumer skepticism in the nation’s food supply, negative media attention, and challenges to free trade threaten the health of all our industries. Knowing this, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is constantly looking for ways to contribute to the economic health of its largest customer in ways that are mutually beneficial. That is why we incorporated livestock-related objectives into our Strategic Plan[2]. Corn farmers recognize that livestock and poultry’s successes are vital if we are to achieve our stated goals of building competitive market demand for corn, and corn products, and enhancing customer and consumer trust in our nation’s food supply.

To accomplish the goals set forth in our plan, NCGA and its state affiliates engage in a variety of activities to help support animal agriculture. For example, we continue to invest in educational efforts – such as the Soil Health Partnership – that helps create new efficiencies in corn production and help farmers better utilize crop nutrients. Healthy soil results in a quality product, which in turn, is beneficial to livestock operations. We also work alongside our livestock and poultry producing colleagues in broad-based agricultural organizations – such as U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance – to help reduce consumer misperceptions. And we are collaborating with industry professionals, animal experts, and plant scientists to help deliver improvements in the nutrient composition of corn and expand the cost-effective use of DDGs in livestock rations.

Looking ahead, we want – and need – to do even more with our livestock and poultry colleagues. Farm and ranch families comprise just two percent of the U.S. population[3]. However, thanks to advancements in technology and agronomic practices, we collectively produce enough food to feed both American citizens and a growing world population. Developing economies have an appetite for quality protein from meat, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. NCGA’s vision is to feed and fuel a growing world. To achieve this vision, we must work together to continue to push for farming programs and trade policies that support all of agriculture.

Livestock producers and corn farmers have more in common than they do differences, and a whole lot to gain by working together. As our friends in the cattle and poultry industries head off to Music City and the Big Peach, we want them to know that corn growers sincerely wish you all continued success and prosperity – and we’re working hard to help you achieve it.

[1] World of Corn 2016

[2] NCGA Strategic Plan

[3] American Farm Bureau Fast Facts

Less Than a Lemonade

In Activism, Conservation, Education, Environmental, General by Mark

Guest Blog from CommonGround Kansas

Have you ever wondered how much weed killer farmers apply to their fields? CommonGround Kansas volunteers answered that question with a helpful visual — a cup of lemonade and a football field — before the Kansas State vs. Missouri State football game in Manhattan, Kan., Sept. 24.

Football fans braved thunder and pouring rain during pre-game festivities, which included the “Celebrate Kansas Ag” tent near the southwest entrance to Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Volunteers Kim Baldwin, Karra James, Melissa Reed and LaVell Winsor handed out CommonGround reusable cups with servings of lemonade to demonstrate how little glyphosate is applied to an acre of crops, which is about the size of a football field.

As farmers, we only use what’s needed to control weeds. We use a small amount of herbicide, which gets diluted to the proper application rate by combining it with a large tank of water. You can rest easy when you see a sprayer in a field. Most of the liquid you see being applied to the crop is water.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by for conversation and refreshments! To learn more about how farmers raise crops, visit kstate

Changing the World Through Farming and Food

In Activism, CUTC, Education, Farming, Food, General by Mark

By Lauren Stohlmann

We’re really quite lucky Matt Stasiewicz didn’t decide to become an automotive engineer. The work he’s done for agriculture is extensive and valuable for human health. Not that understanding engines isn’t important work, but creating a single-kernel sorter to reduce mycotoxin levels in market corn from Eastern Kenya, might be a bit more life-changing.

Stasiewicz originally enrolled at Michigan State as an engineering student. He was good at science and math, but he quickly realized that Michigan State’s engineering program focused mostly on automotive engines and he was not all that excited about cars. So he thought about what he could do to help people and what his interests were.

“What is immediately good for people? Food.”Stasiewicz - CUTC (003)

Stasiewicz chose to study food process engineering at Michigan State because he recognized that food is obviously a necessity to human life.

In this program, Stasiewicz had the opportunity to travel to Africa to learn first-hand the connection between food safety and poverty. According to the United Nations, one in nine people in the world are undernourished. That is 795 million people not getting enough nutrients in their diet and that poor nutrition leads to the deaths of 3.1 million children each year around the world. Up to 80 percent of food consumed in a large portion of the developing worlds, comes from 500 million small farms across the globe.

After returning home, Stasiewicz wanted to apply some of the applications he learned abroad to make a difference for other developing countries. “Corn is a staple. It is all they can afford, therefore it exposes them to aflatoxin more so than in other countries.”

Stasiewicz works at the University of Illinois as an assistant professor of food microbiology. He never would have guess he’d be living in the Corn Belt, but he’s thankful that it grants him this opportunity to study a branch of agriculture, “Where I work, it’s the right thing to work on. Corn is so prevalent in the modern food system. The scope of corn can be applied in many places.”

As someone who also studied philosophy and the ethics of technology during his undergraduate degree, Stasiewicz understands and has interfaced with the public about how modern technology and farming are changing and about their intersection. He understands that most consumers have the right to eat what they want and it is perfectly reasonable to accept that.

“The conversation should not just be about the food that we eat, it should also be about the system of making the food that we eat.” AKA farmers. “No one is in this to make biotechnology that causes harm to people,” Stasiewicz says. “It is easy for the general public to debate food and safety in turn, missing this fact.” He recognizes the importance of food choice no matter if someone drives a Lexus for dinner into the city or has to walk a mile just to collect water.

At the NCGA’s recent Corn Utilization and Technology Conference, Stasiewicz shared the research he has been working on, studying aflatoxins in Kenya. He researched the quality and safety of grain, screened for aflatoxins and understood that the distributions of aflatoxin were skewed, meaning that some of the kernels were “bad” and some were “good.” With that knowledge, he created a single-kernel sorter that segregates kernels of corn containing aflatoxins. His system uses circuits with LED lights to determine if there is aflatoxin present and uses a puff of air to push away the “bad kernels” to separate them from the good. His hope is to make a larger scale, rapid-scanning system that would one day used in grain elevators to sort the corn prior to being grinded. If successful, Stasiewicz can help reduce the amount of corn wasted and help supply more people and livestock with safe corn.

“It is important to make progress in the world. I’m fortunate I fell into a world of food safety where I can help,” Stasiewicz says. “It’s very fun to be at a land-grant university. I get to teach other people to do good work.”