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Northwest Iowa Dairy Outlooks

A local discussion of current science and issues concerning dairying in northwest iowa

Monthly Archives: October 2010

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Let’s Move!, a nationwide initiative created by First Lady Michelle Obama to promote making healthy choices and improving food quality in schools, are challenging school nutrition professionals, chefs, students, parents and interested community members to create tasty, healthy, exciting new recipes for inclusion on school lunch menus across the country.
Participants will form teams to develop, document and prepare at least one healthy recipe in one of three categories, including whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, or dry beans and peas. Their creations will be served in the school’s cafeteria and rated by students.

Fifteen semi-finalist teams will have their recipe evaluated by a judging panel during events held at their school, and the top three teams will compete in a national cook-off to determine the grand prize winner. Semi-finalists’ recipes also will be posted for online voting by the public to determine a Popular Choice Winner.

Executive Director of Legislative Affairs Kristina Butts said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendation to move to a plant-based diet is sending the wrong message to consumers. Adding to the misconceptions about the importance of meat in a well-balanced diet is USDA’s recently launched school lunch recipe contest that excludes meat from the recipe categories.

 “First off, USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendation for a plant based diet causes consumers to wrongly assume that they are eating too much meat. We are not eating too much meat. The fact is, plants already make up 70 percent of our diets. On average, Americans are consuming about 2.3 ounces of red meat per day, well within 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” said Butts. “By excluding meat from its healthy kids recipe contest, USDA continues to add to the misconception that meat is over consumed in the United States.”

The newly proposed 2010 Dietary Guidelines issued by USDA and Human Services suggests a plant-based protein diet. The guidelines are updated every five years. The final report is slated to be released yet this year. Butts said U.S. cattlemen and women need to encourage their elected lawmakers to ask USDA to use science and facts when finalizing the dietary guidelines. Butts said lean beef needs to be incorporated as part of the solution to curbing obesity and promoting a healthy lifestyle for children and adults.

“With the obesity epidemic growing and the baby-boomer generation aging, the benefits of high-quality protein like beef have never been more critical,” she said. “Calorie for calorie, beef is one of the most naturally nutrient-rich foods out there. A three-ounce serving of lean beef is an excellent source of protein, zinc, vitamin B and many other key nutrients. Beef works well in a well-balanced diet, accompanied by fruits and vegetables.”

I’m not sure if the contest is worth all the ink the media is throwing at, but I am sure that meat supplies basic and affordable nutrition. Moreover, producers need to recognize these thinly veiled attempts to change the American consumer’s perceiptions about nutrition that are not based in science. I bitch about the beef check off, but they are earning their keep if they keep the USDA focused on science and off the first lady’s political pet project.


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Yifat Susskind notes in her blog that as individuals, Americans are generous, often donating in response to crises abroad even while struggling to make ends meet at home. We tend to assume that our government’s foreign aid is similarly altruistic. But is it?

Since October 16 is World Food Day, it’s a good time to examine this assumption about U.S. food aid and begin to press for some much-needed improvements.

Many small family farmers in third-world countries have been  driven into worsening poverty, after U.S. food aid pours into their home regions. That’s not how food aid is supposed to work, but just look at the policy: your tax dollars are used to buy grain from U.S. factory farms, the same giant corporations that already receive $26 billion in tax subsidies. Then the grain is transported halfway around the world, using thousands of gallons of fossil fuel and releasing tons of harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The transport typically takes months while hungry people grow more desperate.

Once the food finally arrives, it floods agricultural markets, destabilizing fragile local economies. Small farmers are the first to go bankrupt. Most of them are women, who work small plots of land hoping to sell enough at market to buy cooking oil, flour, a bar of soap and a pair of shoes so a child can stay in school.

These women are more than the backbones of their families: in Africa, they grow most of the food. Unlike giant grain corporations, these women farm without fossil fuels and harmful chemicals. Their sustainable agriculture practices are critical to meeting the twin challenges of feeding people and protecting the planet. Millions of other small-scale women farmers are the people we want to support with our food aid programs. Instead, the policy undermines the livelihoods of those who hold the key to long-term food security in Africa.

Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution: the U.S. should buy food aid crops directly from local farmers in Africa. When the U.N. World Food Program did this, they were able to obtain 75 percent more corn to feed hungry families than when they purchased grain from factory farms in the U.S. Buying specifically from women farmers has an enormous added benefit. Studies consistently show that when poor women gain access to money, they use it to provide food, healthcare and education for their children.

Now is the perfect time to push for this innovative solution and Sudan is the best place to start. Here are three reasons why.

First, this fall, Congress will reform the 1961 U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, which governs how food aid is purchased and administered. The new policy should recognize that even widespread hunger is invariably a localized crisis and that food aid crops should be purchased directly from women farmers in the regions targeted to receive assistance.

Second, for the first time ever, women farmers in Sudan have organized a union, enabling them to produce enough grains to provide at least a modest portion of the region’s food aid. Sudan’s Women Farmers Union is supported by MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, in partnership with a Sudanese group called Zenab for Women in Development.

Finally, in less than 100 days, Sudan will face a referendum that is likely to split the country in two, a potentially destabilizing vote that may lead to renewed violence, forced displacement and worsening hunger and poverty for thousands of families. At a time of impending crisis for Sudan, we can call for an improved U.S. food aid policy committed to buying local, sustainably grown crops from small-holder women farmers, giving them the resources they need to hold their communities together.

Last month, President Obama launched a new global development policy. In a speech at the United Nations, he said, “We must be more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact.” Using our food aid dollars to support small-holder women farmers is a chance to do just that.

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The Dalhousie University website reports that a new paper released by Nathan Pelletier and Peter Tyedmers of the Dalhousie University School for Resource and Environmental Studies raises some thought-provoking questions about consumption and production in our food systems and in particular, the livestock industry. “Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000-2050” has been published in the October 2010 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Dr. Pelletier, a self confessed “foodie” and ecological economist, is interested in studying food systems and how they effect the environment both at the local and global levels.

“Food is a really unique area of consumption in that we have a great deal of control over what and how much we choose to consume,” he says. “As a result, we also have direct control over the environmental implications of our dietary choices.”

Focusing on the global livestock industry, the paper explores the relationships between projected growth in livestock production and world-wide sustainability thresholds for human activity as a whole. The paper focuses on three domains: greenhouse gas emissions, reactive nitrogen mobilization and appropriation of plant biomass.


Drs. Pelletier and Tyedmers’ research focuses on the 50-year period between 2000-2050. Using published data of the environmental impact of livestock production from the year 2000 and projections of livestock production and consumption from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the authors were able to estimate the potential environmental impacts in the 50-year period.

The news is not great.

It is estimated that global production of livestock will double in the next 50 years, which will in turn, greatly increase the environmental impacts of the livestock industry. Drs. Pelletier and Tyedmers estimate the livestock industry alone will account for 72 per cent of humanity’s total “safe operating space” for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, 88 per cent of safe operating space for biomass appropriation and nearly 300 per cent of the safe operating space for reactive nitrogen mobilization.

Nitrogen plays a pivotal role in both our natural and agricultural ecosystems. It is the most abundant element in our atmosphere, but when the nitrogen cycle is overloaded, the consequences can be very serious. An abundance of nitrogen can lead to ecosystem simplification and a loss of biodiversity as well as contribute to global warming, acid precipitation and eutrophication of bodies of water.  Industrially-fixed nitrogen is a large component of commercial fertilizer but it is estimated that only 10 tp 20 per cent of the nitrogen applied to crops is actually consumed by humans. The remainder is lost to the environment. While reactive nitrogen is not directly used in livestock production, it is used to fertilize the crops and pastures that feed livestock.

It is estimated that nearly 60 per cent of the biomass currently harvested annually to support all human activities is consumed by the livestock industry. This underscores the dependence of this industry on biological productivity and raises some serious questions about the sustainability of devoting such a large portion to the livestock industry.

This doesn’t mean that you should immediately stop eating burgers and steak and become a strict vegetarian. Human beings need protein to survive and livestock is a valuable source of protein and other nutrients. There are, however, also many other sources of protein that have the potential for a far less dramatic impact on the Earth.

For example, the paper also examines similar environmental projections that explore the implications of a shift away from livestock production to a more low impact source of protein such as poultry or soybeans. Although the authors stress that a total switch to poultry or soybeans is unrealistic, even a marginal decrease in livestock production would help to reduce environmental impact.

As consumers, we can also make a difference. “It is very well established that making changes in our diets can help reduce our individual and collective environmental impacts. What we need to focus on is a change in expectations. We need to re-establish appropriate levels of consumption in developed countries (where overconsumption of livestock products is prevalent), and curtail the rise of diets overly dependent on livestock products in the developing world. This will have both health and environmental benefits,” says Dr. Pelletier.

The article concludes by saysing, “So maybe the next time you’re in the grocery store, or farmers market, contemplating the 14-oz rib eye steak, opt instead for the chicken breast, or try that delicious tofu curry recipe you found on the Internet. Your planet will thank you”.

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MeatingPlace reports that consumers rate the Humane Society of the United States as the most credible source for information about farm animal care.

That finding, along with many others, was announced Wednesday morning here at the Food System Summit, as the Center for Food Integrity’s CEO Charlie Arnot unveiled the results of an annual survey on consumer trust in the food system.

In addition to the 15.88 percent of respondents who think HSUS is the most credible source of information about farm-animal care, 12.32 percent think farm-animal veterinarians are credible sources, followed by 12.02 percent for USDA representatives and 11.47 percent for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Farmers who operate large livestock farms were ranked last, with 5.50 percent.

“The closer you are to a profit motivation, the greater your credibility deficit,” Arnot said.

To determine the rankings, consumers were asked not to rank the sources but instead to specify the most credible and the least credible from a given set.

A statistically significant number of consumers changed their attitudes towards statements such as, “Raising animals indoors is beneficial to the animal,” after reading educational text.

A pool of 2002 respondents took the online surveys in August 2010.

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Gary Truitt with Hooiser Ag Today reports theNational Cattleman’s Beef Association has launched a series of blistering allegations against the Environmental Protection Agency. Last week EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified before the Senate Ag Committee that her agency is not out to get American agriculture. But, this week National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Chief Environmental Counsel Tamara Thies accused the agency of trying to put the cattle industry out of business, “It is ironic that as we strive to become less dependent on imported oil the policies of the Obama administration are likely to make us more dependent on imported beef.” She accused the EPA of waging a war to bring an end to production agriculture, “EPA exhibits reckless indifference to scientific fact, and instead imposes stringent regulations based on nothing more than its biased, anti-animal agriculture agenda that will leave many cattle operations with no recourse but to shut down.”

Speaking on Wednesday at a forum focused on the impact of EPA regulations on job creation and economic growth in the nation’s rural communities, Thies told members of the Rural America Solutions Group that EPA’s regulations will result in a loss of jobs, just the opposite of what the White House says they want to do. She said EPA regulations are causing economic uncertainty in the cattle industry and throughout rural American because they are “vague, overreaching, costly, unnecessarily burdensome, ludicrous, and sometimes illegal.”

Thies offered several examples of EPA regulations that could potentially stifle the U.S. cattle industry – including dust regulation. She said the EPA has laid the foundation to impose the most stringent regulation of dust in U.S. history. Thies said she could continue with more examples and explained that this vast array of new regulatory requirements will add to the cost of doing business – making it harder to pay bills, pay workers, expand, compete in the world marketplace, and satisfy America’s demand for safe, affordable beef.
Thies said cattle producers have made progress in decreasing the industry’s environmental footprint. In 2007, she says 13% fewer cattle were slaughtered than in 1977 but that those animals produced 13% more beef. By producing more beef with fewer resources, she said the total carbon footprint for beef production was reduced from 1977 to 2007 by 18%. On top of that, when compared to beef production in 1977, she said each pound of beef produced in modern systems use: 20% fewer feedstuffs, 30% less land, 14% less water and 9% less fossil fuel energy.

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This week U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced comprehensive immigration reform legislation aimed at finally addressing the broken immigration system with tough, smart and fair measures. The bill, co-sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), addresses long-standing, wide-ranging flaws in the immigration system that have been priorities of groups on each side of the immigration reform debate. Measures include strengthening border security, enhancing worksite enforcement of immigration laws and requiring the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. to register with the government, pay their taxes, learn English, pay a fine, pass a background check and wait in line for permanent residence. “The legislation Senator Menendez and I have introduced is an important starting point for this debate,” said Leahy. “It protects the rights and opportunities of American workers, while ensuring that American farmers and employers have the help they need. It promotes jobs to help spur our economy, it supports families, it helps to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows, and it enhances our border security. These are goals we can all share.” Summary of legislation: • Smart, effective border enforcement including: 1) triggers that must be met before any unauthorized immigrants can apply for permanent residency; 2) expanded staffing for Border Patrol; 3) involving border communities in developing enforcement policy and 4) more resources for the Border Patrol. • Effective and accountable immigration enforcement inside the United States, including: 1) heightened penalties for criminal offenses; 2) expanded penalties for passport and document fraud; 3) requirements for DHS to track entries and exits at the border and 4) common sense rules governing detention to ensure U.S. citizens are not unlawfully detained and detention conditions meet basic standards • Worksite enforcement including: 1) an employment verification system to ensure employers no longer hire undocumented workers that will be mandatory for all employers within 5 years; 2) criminal penalties for fraud and misuse of Social Security numbers; 3) protections for workers to prevent fraudulent use of social security numbers, correct government database errors, and combat employment discrimination and 4) a voluntary pilot program that allows individuals to submit biometric identifiers to demonstrate work authorization. • The establishment of a commission on Immigration, Labor Markets, National Interest to evaluate labor and economic conditions and link employment visa numbers to need. • Policies that put American workers first and protect labor rights by significantly expanding labor protections in the current H-2A, H-2B, H-1B, L-1 visa programs. • Creates the structure for a new nonimmigrant visa program (H-2C), with portability and a path to permanent residency, that addresses gaps in existing worker programs that have lead to undocumented migration and undermined labor rights. • Reunification of families separated by outdated immigration laws. • A registration program that requires undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of September 30, 2010 to register with the government, learn English, and pay fines and taxes on their way to becoming Americans (the Lawful Perspective Immigrant program). • Programs to promote integration and English-language learning among immigrants. • The Dream Act, AGJOBS and UAFA (the permanent partners bill.)

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