Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cow Jailbreaks and Bovine Folklore

When it comes to bovine folklore, Yvonne the German cow is still our favorite (see below). But new adventures are added periodically--and the "happily ever after" ending of these stories depends on perspective. Some end with an animal frolicking in the pasture--some with the smell of steak on the barbie.

The latest episode has mixed results so far. Four Idaho cows escaped from a meat processing facility, leading Pocatello police on a chase through the city’s streets. Latest updates indicate that one returned, two are still on
the loose, and one was shot. Some think the cows had outside accomplices.

Last year, a cow on the way to the meatpacking plant escaped to the roof of a transport trailer and cruised U.S. Hwy. 50 with a semblance of freedom—for a while. This cow tasted freedom, but soon enough, others tasted it. 

Some livestock have their own type of Shawshank Redemption. Animals—including cows, sheep, goats, and chickens—that escape New York City’s urban slaughter markets are given a second life at the Farm Sanctuary, which has taken in more than 500 farm animals from the city in the last decade.
Two years ago, Mike the Steer from New Jersey escaped from a slaughterhouse, forded a river, and negotiated the streets of New York. He was granted clemency, and we assume he is peacefully chewing his cud at an upstate farm.

Yvonne (left) gets a nose bump from her son 
The legend of Yvonne the Gutsy German Guernsey has a bit more “Mad Cow” quality to it. After she jumped an electric fence, Yvonne survived in the woods for three months: In that time, she had a near collision with a police car, evaded a helicopter search, survived a brief shoot-to-kill order, and inspired a hit song in Germany titled “Don’t Let Them Take Your Freedom.”

Capture hasn’t diminished her fame.  Apparently Yvonne’s story will get the Hollywood treatment from a German production crew, with an animated film called Cow on the Run.

Most feeder cattle aren’t going to attain superstar status. They’re going to end up on the grill. But you can't blame a cow for trying. 

by dan gogerty (top photo from hutchnews.com, bottom photo from news.sky.com)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ag Appropriations, Pigman, GMOs on the Hill, and Wild Things

** Appropriations Bill Involves Agriculture:  As reported in this Progressive Farmer article, the House passed its appropriations bill for almost all federal agencies late Thursday night, and it included several policy riders for the USDA. Now on to the Senate.

** Pigman:  Iowa's most famous pig farmer is back in the spotlight. The National Geographic Channel has picked up Carl Blake's reality show, called Little Pig Man. This Colbert Report interview with Blake from some time ago adds a bit of spunk and humor to the topic. 

** GMOs on the Hill: A House subcommittee on Wednesday debated the role of the Food and Drug Administration in the regulation of food containing genetically engineered ingredients. Many legislators said they want to see one national set of standards for GE labeling and are worried about the “patchwork” of state rules that may develop. 

Alison Van Eenennaam (animal genomics and biotech specialist from UC-Davis) said the hearing began an honest discussion about national mandatory labeling of essentially a breeding method--genetic engineering--on a packaged food label. Her testimony included several references to CAST's recent Issue Paper about GMOs and mandatory labeling.

** Where the Wild Things Are--and Maybe Shouldn't Be: As this article says, city boundaries mean nothing to coyotes, or to any other animal that has discovered a food bonanza in urban backyards and parks. But conflicts occur

And as this blog demonstrates, coyotes ride trains and live near Wrigley Field--while human/animal interactions can be tense. A ground squirrel does not necessarily make for a good pet.

top photo from indystar.com and bottom one from npr.org

Friday, December 5, 2014

GMO--Debate, Publications, and Weird Fish

Intelligence Squared hosted a lengthy entertaining debate with a timely  premise--GMOs, yes or no? Charles Benbrook (Center for Sustaining Agriculture) and Margaret Mellon (Union of Concerned Scientists) argued against the motion. Robert Fraley (Monsanto) and Alison Van Eenennaam (UC-Davis) spoke for the issue. 
The audience post-debate vote went in favor of the GMO argument, but we'll let you study the facts and decide. The CAST organization has published two papers about biotech, and Dr. Van Eenennaam has been involved with both.
At the debate, Van Eenennaam opened her statements this way: "In the future, more people are going to need to be fed better with less environmental impact. GM foods offer one of those scientific solutions." Van Eenennaam is the 2014 Borlaug CAST Communication Award recipient, and she chaired the task forces for two well-respected CAST publications that are related to the biotech issue: (1) The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States, and (2) The Science and Regulation of Food from Genetically Engineered Animals.  
GMOs--Then and Now Down on the Farm

The First Biotech Fish

When we fished the farm creek in the early '60s, we were after bullheads and chubs, and I doubt any of us pre-teens would have known how to spell "salmon," let alone catch one. We definitely would not have understood genetic modification, and I don't recall Flash Gordon genetically engineering much of anything in the early science fiction I read by the glow of the night-light back then.

But looking back on it, I think we did have genetically engineered fish. The chubs all looked clone-like. They were shiny, small, and void of any personality, like minnows on steroids. We threw them back as soon as we could get the hooks removed. We older kids would then thread a freshly dug night crawler onto a barb for the little ones and toss our cork bobbers into a deeper area by a fallen tree or on a bend in the pasture. We wanted to catch our version of a science-fiction fish. To a ten-year-old, bullheads had to be the result of genetic engineering: oily skin, flat heads with beady eyes, and stingers ready to paralyze careless kids.
We only caught a few bullheads and none of us was stung. Bumble bees, poison ivy, and wayward hooks were more treacherous. But we kept hoping to catch the big one. We knew a monster bullhead was lurking somewhere in the deeper backwater areas of the creek.


Occasionally we had a few odd fish to take home, but Mom wasn't much interested in cooking up the remains of the day. We lived in hog and cattle country, so fish was not one of our basic food groups. 

Roundup Weeded Out Us Bean Walkers, Too

Genetically modified plants? Roundup ready soybeans? I’ll leave the debate to others, but it’s a fact: The soybeans grown in my home state of Iowa are at least 90% GMO, and that’s not likely to change soon. Fields look like English gardens, with precision rows and soft breezes rippling along the tops of weedless soybean plants. In one respect, it’s a shame. In the pre-GMO days, soybean fields had personality.
The classy ones were neat and orderly, with maybe a few weeds along the fence rows and waterways. The owners kept their cultivators sharpened, and they pounced when weeds showed above the bean rows, especially if drivers could see them from the road.
The casual soybean fields were mixed but salvageable. Wayward stalks of corn would shoot up, cocklebur patches hovered low and menacing, and sections of off-green buttonweeds tried to hide among the soybeans. Farmers usually battled these weeds, with varying results.

A few fields were fashion disasters. Clumps of volunteer corn dotted the rows, burrs and buttonweeds took over sections of the field, and iron weeds looked like sapling trees. Occasionally, thistle patches would get so out of control, somebody would just have to post an “Enter at your own risk” sign.
In the 1960s, soybean fields made for good talking points. By June it was obvious which would need to be “walked”—weeded by stoop laborers…or teenagers…or us. Farmers would hire youngsters to go row-by-row to pull weeds. My brothers, cousins, and I started walking beans on the home place about as soon as we were potty-trained, but Dad let us hire out to neighbors by the time we were 12 or so. Child labor laws were flexible then, and the 50 cents an hour wage that first year didn’t bring the IRS down on us.

We’d often start early to beat the heat; dew-drenched, with mud sticking to our Keds’ sneakers, we’d trudge along, pulling most weeds, chopping some, and basically wrestling with the ones that seemed more like outer space triffids. Heat, thirst, and blow flies were irritating, but mud clod fights with a cousin eight rows over could be dangerous.  It was satisfying to see the field get “clean and tidy” several rows at a time, but we were really after pocket money to buy a top-40 vinyl record or admission to the roller skating rink a farm family had set up in a nearby converted hog barn.
I’m not blaming the GMO crowd, but soybean fields are soul-less now—bland and beautiful, like some type of cloned fields of dreams. As I said, I’ll let others debate the ethics of genetically modifying plants, but I do know that you should be careful of what you wish for. Today’s soybean fields are what we worked so hard to get back when we were doing hand-to-hand combat with cockleburs, thistles, and “stink weeds.” Roundup weeded us bean walkers out too. 
by dan gogerty (GMO pic from boulderweekly.jpg)