Corn Commentary

How to Write Like an Angry GMO Expert

judeDr. Jude Capper is a livestock sustainability consultant, professor of animal sciences, and a “bovidiva” according to her blog of the same name.

Last week she did a great post entitled “Activism 101 – How to Write Like An Angry Internet “Expert” on GMOs.” An asterisk after the word “expert” points to a footnote:

*Note that being an “expert” does not involve education, higher degrees or being employed within the industry in question. Nowadays you can only be an expert if you are entirely impartial, third-party, and preferably know nothing whatsoever about the system in question. On that basis, I’m off to write a book about Zen Dentistry.

She offers nine points on how to write like an angry GMO expert, the final one being - “If all else fails, invoke the name of the evil that must be named….ahem, Monsanto. If you say it three times into a mirror, an ancient agricultural god will appear and wreak vengeance upon the earth. Honestly, I saw it on Oprah.”

Jude is hilarious, satirical, and often outrageous and if so much of this blog post were not sadly true it would be a lot funnier.

Read it and weep or LOL - or both.

CommonGround Volunteers Show How Farming in the Snow Is No Cake Walk

Most consumers associate the cold, wintery weather that swept the country this week with staying indoors and keeping warm. Envisioning farming as a sunny day, warm weather gig, they often forget that farmers work to care for their land and livestock 365 days a year.

As snow and ice reign down on the roads, keeping kids home from school and adults stuck in traffic, many farmers are also vigilantly protecting their farms and their animals from the dangerous conditions.

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest blog post and a letter to the editor penned by CommonGround volunteers about how they care for cattle when the temperatures drop. Consumers worried about animal welfare can take heart. These farm women are taking action out of concern for their cattle, just like farmers across the country.

First, Sara Ross, a CommonGround Iowa volunteer, walks blog readers through what her and her husband do to prepare for a winter storm.

Preparing the Cattle for the Big Snowstorm

Sara and her husband, Kevin, prepare their cattle for an oncoming snow.

Sara and her husband, Kevin, prepare their cattle for an oncoming snow.

Everyone’s been talking about it all week…the big snow storm.  First it was suppose to start Wednesday night then it got pushed back to Thursday morning then Thursday around noon.  I’ve heard anywhere from 6-18 inches of snow forecasted.  Normally it would be all fun and games to be snowed in, but since we have cattle, we had to get them prepared for the storm.

Kevin wanted to move the cows from across the road, where they were out on cornstalks, to our side of the road where they would have more protection and be easier to feed and water.  We are a few weeks away from calving, but you never know when a big snow storm hits what will happen!

So, first thing this morning Kevin and I headed outside to get the cows moved to our side of the road.

To read the full post, click here.

CommonGround Nebraska volunteer Joan Ruskamp, who is well familiar with many of the questions consumers have about farming in the winter. She penned the editorial piece below To help answer questions she had seen in local papers.

Baby, it’s cold outside…but there’s still plenty to do on the farm

About this time every year, I begin to get surprised looks from people when I talk about all the activities happening on my family’s farm near Dodge, Neb. Together with my husband, we feed cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa. While the crops may not require a great deal of attention in the winter months, animal care on our farm is a top priority 365 days a year.

One of my many responsibilities includes walking through the cattle every morning, no matter the weather conditions, to make sure each animal is healthy. If an animal is sick and needs to be treated with antibiotics, we always adhere to label use under the supervision of our veterinarian.  We also adhere to strict withdrawal times, or a set number of days that must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply. And even though cattle have hair coats designed to handle living outdoors, in the cold winter months, we take extra care to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.

We provide extra bedding and windbreaks to help block the extreme cold. And in addition to shoveling our driveway during a snowstorm, we must remove or pile snow in the pens so that the cattle have dry places to lie down. We also must make sure that even during a snowstorm; the cattle are fed at their normal times with continuous access to water.

So, even though the winter weather might make you want to stay bundled up inside, know that farmers are braving the elements to make sure the animals are well cared for - because healthy animals equal healthy food for our families.


Joan Ruskamp, farmer, Dodge, Neb.

Can we Find Common Cause with HSUS?

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack raised more than a few eyebrows this week at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting when he suggested that animal agriculture should “sit down and make common cause” with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and that those who are “engaged in constructive engagement … shouldn’t be faulted for doing so.”

Now I know that there are not too many fans of the Humane Society in this room. But egg producers thought it was in their best interest to avoid fifty different referendums, fifty different sets of rules. So they sat down with folks and they reached common ground. After all, isn’t that what we’re asking our Congress to do? Isn’t that what we’re asking our political leaders to do? To sit down and make common cause? I think the egg producers have the right idea.

no-hsusThere is no doubt that most livestock producers in the United States consider HSUS to be a threat to their operations - their business, their livelihoods, their very lifestyle. But it is an issue that crop farmers, particularly corn growers, need to be concerned about as well since it impacts your largest customer base. As the livestock industry goes, so goes the corn industry.

The question of whether agriculture should sit down with groups like HSUS to find “common cause” is a poll question this week on and while the answers had at first been running well against such dialogue, the poll has now been “hijacked” by HSUS who got out supporters to vote in favor. Overnight, the poll received nearly 400 responses in the affirmative - and some of the comments of those supporters show exactly why all of agriculture should be very afraid of their agenda.

“Let animals be animals, not commodities.”
“Stop the torture and Killing of the animals.”
“People should just stop eating animals period - there’s no such thing as humane murder.”

The ultimate agenda is obvious - the end to animal agriculture. Once the livestock industry begins to make concessions to animal rights activists that drastically change production methods it becomes a very slippery slope very quickly. It will only be a short matter of time before allowing chickens more room in cages becomes allowing all animals the right to life. Treating animals humanely is not the same as treating them like they are humans - but many activists see no difference.

With that, the question may actually be, can there even be “common cause” to find?

Thanks Dominos For Not Caving to HSUS Whims

Farmers are always getting asked these days to get involved; write a letter, call your Congressman, but how about eat a pizza?  Now activation by the slice is something I think we can sink our teeth into and all wrap our minds around.

With many corporate players caving in to environmental whackos and misinformed consumer groups it is refreshing to see a major player in the restaurant industry like Dominos Pizza tell The Humane Society of the United States to “hold that thought” when they asked them to require pork suppliers to stop housing sows in gestation stalls.

When HSUS asked stockholders to bow down before their warm fuzzy image and the millions in lobbying and PR dollars they wield, Dominos shareholders rejected the resolution.  A Domino’s spokesperson explained that the company relies on animal experts to determine the best way to raise an animal that’s used for food.

Ok, now it is time for full disclosure on my personal bias. Unlike HSUS - that hides behind their false image as the savior of puppies and kitties, while giving a pittance to actual animal shelters.  When I was in college I have to admit to having a real gastronomic romance with Domino’s Pizza. The food was inexpensive which is critical to a student on a budget and they delivered faster than any other food establishment. Also, an important factor for those who get a random hunger for pizza late at night.

I still have that pizza problem today…love it, eat it weekly and still a fan of Dominos. I can openly live with this “pizza problem.”

One has to wonder how HSUS employees sleep at night knowing full well that they are spending their vast resources to drive a vegetarian agenda and hides a lifestyle choice as a moral cause. And they do so while constantly misrepresenting themselves to the general public.

Thankfully many people are taking note of the online “Farmers Paying It Forward with Pizza” campaign that was the brainchild of Clarence, Missouri pork producer and Ag blogger Chris Chinn.

The Brownfield Network became the most recent public entity to take note of Dominos act of corporate heroism. A logical decision really, but heroic none-the-less given the lack of spine and sense of right that seems to have invaded much of corporate America.

So, thanks to Chris, Brownfield and many others for bringing this into the light of day and challenging us all to show support of Dominos. And for the record I like my activism with parmesan sprinkled on top.

Deprivation Does Not Automatically Equal Ethical Superiority

If something is mainstream, why bother defending it?  Popular logic would dictate that behaviors considered normal by the majority of society do not require an active defense.  Society relegates personal accountability for maintaining our cultural norms to elite academics and social leaders.

Action takes an investment of time, energy and emotion.  With so many tasks requiring daily, immediate attention, who has the time?

Right now, hopefully, many carnivores do.  The New York Times issued a call for essays explaining the ethical case for eating meat this week.  As the winning essay or essays will be published in the news industry heavyweight, a lot is on the line.

For decades, vegetarians and vegans have claimed the ethical high ground in the dietary debate.  Issuing carefully constructed diatribes on the fundamental question of if it is right to eat meat, this minority group has dominated the more bookish discussions underpinning something as fundamental as what people should or should not eat.

While the anti-meat minority has not parlayed its philosophical success into popular adoption of the tenets it espouses, a halo hangs over the heads of those willing to eschew their carnivorous cravings in many American minds.

Instead of blithely dismissing actual vegetarians as too malnourished to win a cultural war, carnivores need to take a stand.  Surely, many meat-eaters consider their consumption ethical.  It is time to climb the ivory tower and issue a proclamation of our own.

Entries are due by April 18 for consideration in the NYT contest.  So, take a moment to ponder while enjoying a pork chop.  Then, put pen to paper.

Silence is oft construed as an admission of the opposing side’s superiority.  Send a message that meat-eaters make ethical dietary decisions.  It just so happens that they are delicious too.

While the New York Times will run only the essays it judges to be “the best”, Corn Commentary also welcomes your submission.  Click here to send a copy of your submission directly to our bloggers.  Then, check back the week of April 23 to view a collection of the best submissions.

Coldplay, Cartoons and the Clowns Over at Chipotle

For years now, musicians and actors have taken time out from patting themselves on the back during awards ceremonies to advance politicized causes.  The mega-produced shows, which take a public willingness to indulge the already pampered in self-congratulation all the way to the bank, now serve as a platform for entertainers to remind us that they are thoughtful, culturally-aware types.  Seemingly, it wasn’t enough for them to be richer and more attractive.  Now, they have to prove an intellectual and moral superiority by raising a ruckus on the hot issue of the day.

At the Grammy Awards this year, Chipotle cashed in on this trend releasing a two-minute commercial decrying the evil of modern animal agriculture.  Willie Nelson, long known to be a fan of a different type of farmer, strummed and sang to a Coldplay tune as cartoon images of a farmer and sweet little cartoon piggies drifted across the screen.

Personal repulsion to the insufferably self-aggrandizing, overly-produced, pseudo-intellectual impersonation of actual pain that underlies Coldplay’s music aside, the commercial plays upon the tendency of people to project what they want onto what they see.

Without a word, the ad strums along with melancholy nostalgia.  The pictures show that many animals now, yes, live in barns.  The sweet little cartoon pigs are shown actually locked behind a jail cell door like criminals. The farmer debates medicating himself, as shown through a thought bubble with a pill inside, or releasing his pigs back into pastures and blue sky with chickens running about too.

Luckily, it isn’t an actual depiction of how tender piglets might fare in a cold Iowa winter or how chickens do interact when left to their own devices.  Instead, it is the same sort of wishy-washy, rose-tinted vision that most people would like to be true, despite the many difficulties with the realities of such a situation. If you are already projecting an actual message for Chipotle, it isn’t a stretch to willfully block out the fiction underpinning the situation.

Instead of buying into the portrayal of agriculture in the commercial, Nebraska farmers and ranchers fought back by showing the amazing story of the livestock industry in a commercial of their own.  With solid information presented by actual human beings, the ad stands in stark contrast to Chipotle’s.  Unlike its counterpart it offers a forthright message too – Farming is ethical. Learn about it and become a fan.

As a public, we should applaud this effort.  Unlike the fast food giant, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska trust that an informed public will see how amazing agriculture actually is today.  They stand behind their production practices and invite those outside of the industry to learn more.  They do not create a dream world with sappy music and emotionally evocative drawings.  They treat thinking adults as such rather than signing them a lullaby.

So become a fan.  Farmers work hard every day to produce a wide-variety of healthy, quality food options for us to enjoy.  So many in fact, that it would be easy to avoid Chipotle, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept their uninspired brainwashing, in favor of a those other options until they hit a less condescending note.

BTW: If you want to know about the actual Chipotle, the one that they obscure through this kind of advertising, check out past reporting from Corn Commentary here.

The Cruelty of Missouri’s Prop. B Hypocrisy

A sad story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning tells how one of the area’s animal shelters was raided and 195 dogs and cats were rescued for the second time in their miserable lives. In today’s economy, donations are down at shelters and more pets are being abandoned and dropped off, creating a bad situation for people who want to help animals.

But at the same time here in Missouri, Proposition B, the so-called “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,” which passed by a narrow margin in last year’s election, is under review by a state legislature anxious to take a fresh look and lawmakers are being attacked in the local media. While animal rights activists are calling foul, they are ignoring a simple fact most voters were unaware of … shelters like the one raided are exempt from the new law.

If Proposition B was just simple language all about the welfare of dogs, why did those forces pushing for it last year exempt themselves?  If the Missouri legislature cannot dilute or delete Proposition B, perhaps lawmakers should take the opposite approach — try to remove the exemptions and force the shelters to explain why they should not be held to the same scrutiny they impose on others.

Thanks to this morning’s paper, I can think of 195 silent witnesses for the prosecution.

Prop. B’s Slippery Slope Begins

One of the chief arguments used by opponents of Proposition B in Missouri, which passed by a small margin in Tuesday’s election and restricts the size of dog breeding facilities and places burdens on them it exempts others from, was that it was a “foot in the door” for the Humane Society of the United States that would lead to similar regulations against livestock and other animal ag sectors in the state. That’s why its opposition was so broad for what could have been a very simple measure had it been worded right.

HSUS and its allies insisted all along it is just about the puppies and that agriculture is over-reacting in seeing a threat.

This morning, less than two days after Prop. B won, we see who was right. The groundwork is already being laid for extending HSUS influence in the Show-Me State, in the form of the popular comic strip Mutts – which has not only placed HSUS’s Wayne Pacelle on a pedestal in the past but actively promoted Proposition B before Tuesday’s election.

Didn’t take very long, did it now?

New Way to Help Chickens Cross to the Other Side

Years ago I wrote a blog asking what “happy chicken” tastes like. It was in response to a small but growing number of people who preferred free range chicken. The theory being that it was more humane letting them roam and fend for themselves than living in a building or in a cage.

Funny thing is that chickens have a pretty strong menu avoidance mechanism. In much of farm country free range chickens are referred to as coyote hors d’oeuvres. Most are smart enough not to wander to far from people and they head for the chicken house before dark because of the aforementioned coyote and or fox. And truth is we can’t feed a hungry world with these old school methods.

In today’s New York Times William Neuman says, “shoppers in the supermarket today can buy chicken free of nearly everything but adjectives… free-range, cage-free, antibiotic-free, raised on vegetarian feed, organic, even air-chilled….coming soon stress free.”

The stress is eliminated by a new process that puts them to sleep with carbon dioxide prior to slaughter. My immediate reaction was to think of about three inappropriate jokes/references but then I read further to see that Temple Grandin, a renowned professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a prominent livestock expert,  helped design the system.

There are other experts who note most of the time people don’t want to think about where their food comes from or how the animal was killed which may in itself be a problem. In fact those opposed to animal agriculture use this as a tool to shackle and inhibit the industry. They show video footage of inhumane examples of animal treatment and slaughter that are not the norm.

The same experts argue to fight back in this image war we should show consumers a real farm, a real high-tech and modern slaughter facility. Research does show that this kind of exposure might make someone stop eating hamburgers or chicken but they get over it in a matter of days. Afterwards they get inoculated to future attempts to shock them by these animal rights groups.

This I do know; with few exceptions livestock from hogs to chickens are cared for well and humanely. Many live in climate controlled environments, they see a doctor/vet more than I do, and humane husbandry is the rule. This too I know; if our trend towards food with lots of adjectives describing it continues you will pay lots more for food.

World Vegetarian Day? Who Knew?

Ribeyes and bacon and wings oh my! In case you missed it, today is World Vegetarian Day, the annual kick off of Vegetarian Month. The effort even has a web site to try to convince you of the benefits of the practice of going meatless.

There they say vegetarianism helps to create a better world because vegetarian diets have proven health benefits, save animals’ lives and help to preserve the Earth. I won’t debate the obvious holes in this sweeping litany of benefits but rather just say since when did my hamburger become a social issue?

They are even offering prizes of up to $1,000 to try to go meat free for a month. The web site comes complete with sign up cards to give to your friends. Have to admit I stopped and thought about it for a second. That much scratch would buy a lot or pork chops and filets.

Some people agree with a few of these vegetarian contentions and continue to eat meat for the simple reason that meat is good and provides pleasure at a very fundamental level.

Personally, I have the physical tools from teeth to the appropriate omnivorous body parts to eat meat and two millions years of experience in my genes so I think I will spend my energy trying to eat the balanced diet nature intended including meat and more fruits and vegetables.

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