Friday, July 20, 2007

Originally printed in Feedstuffs July 22, 2007

Fighting for what we know is right

I just spent four exciting days in San Antonio, TX at the 2007 joint meeting of four animal science societies. ASAS, ADSA, PSA and AMPA were all present and 3500 registered attendees made it great. I was fortunate to be asked to give the keynote address during the opening session and made a statement that I believe will turn out to be truer than even I realized at the time. The fact that the meetings took place at the site of the Alamo may not have been an accident.

In 1836, with Santa Anna and his Mexican army invading Texas, it was the battle at the Alamo that made all of the difference in the overall outcome of the war. Had William Barrett Travis and company not held Santa Anna off for 13 days, Sam Houston may not have gathered the forces necessary for the Texas Nationals to ultimately win the war. Today in the world of food production, the invaders are the fabricators of truth over fact and they are armed with an arsenal of emotion that is attempting to trump science. I have no doubt that it will take a strong stand by a few brave individuals who will eventually stall the invaders long enough for the rest of the scientific community to gather their facts and their motivation and eventually prevail.

So many tremendous scientific discoveries were available for inquiring minds in San Antonio but it seemed as though animal welfare held the buzz. Animal welfare is quite simple. We need to provide the animals in our care with adequate food, water and protection from predators and the environment. Anything we worry about in addition to these basic needs is satisfying the emotions of humans not food animals. With that said I felt too much of a “defending animal agriculture to the animal rights community” attitude throughout the scientific population. If the seats had been filled with animal rights zealots would the science these professionals presented have satisfied their demands? NO!

By the same token, Santa Anna was not attempting to solely take control of San Antonio and the Alamo. This was one small battle in his quest for control of the State of Texas. So goes the battle of animal welfare in regard to the animal rights community. They represent such a minute percentage of the population but the blast they make by demanding better care for animals rings like the cannons over the Alamo in 1836. However, we must not lose sight of their real mission. It is not better treatment for animals; it is the complete liberation of animals. Therefore, no amount of validated science is going to satisfy them.

It is high time someone draws a line in the sand as William B. Travis did by saying, “We will fight to the death.” I feel too many in the scientific community as well as the industry are beginning to wonder if it is really worth the fight. Let’s not forget whom we are working for here. The bottom line is research and science that benefits the American consumer. Our mission is to research and discover more efficient ways of converting natural resources into human consumable products. Land grant Universities are supposed to use taxpayer dollars to help in ensuring that our people have safe, high quality food products and sustainable natural resources.

At the same time a Live Earth concert was taking place, directly blaming animal agriculture for being the leading cause of global warming, we should at least have the scientific community within animal agriculture rallying around the notion that we don’t care how much education and extension it takes, we will explain in a consumer-friendly manner the benefits of science and technology on reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment.

To be very clear and to the point, technology such as gestation stalls, caged layers, veal stalls, free-stall barns, rBST and CAFOs are just a few of the management tools that have assisted consumers in their quest for the safest, most reasonably priced food available to any society around the world. Any wavering from anyone in the food system by suggesting that maybe we can’t explain the advantages to the activists is like Colonel Travis saying, “Okay. You have us surrounded. We will concede one wing of the Alamo.” Remember, the results of the Alamo have implications far beyond what it meant to the state of Texas to maintain their independence from Mexico. It also had national implications just as there are national food security issues that are in jeopardy if the scientific community in animal agriculture starts waving their white flag! Remember the Alamo and that should have taught us that we must always fight for what we know is right.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

It's so 'deer' to my heart


IN the last five years, while speaking to groups of dairy and beef cattle producers, I have referenced the thousands of dollars land-grant universities spend on research to determine the cows' contribution to global warming. The best response I got was a unified snickering.

Well, today, I can find you a news story almost daily discussing how the number-one culprit of global warming is the cow. The finger-pointing certainly has accelerated since last November, when the U.N. released a report indicating that the cow now provides more greenhouse gases to our environment than fossil fuel combustion through transportation.

A news report from the Miami Herald this past week noted: "Scientists say deforestation, almost always to facilitate planting crops and raising cattle, accounts for about 20% of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Environmentalists are pushing to allow countries and companies to offset their emissions by paying to preserve forests elsewhere, such as in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Group of Eight nations, meeting in Germany earlier this month, pledged to help poor countries reduce deforestation to provide 'a significant and cost-effective contribution toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.'

"Researchers say forest is being increasingly cleared to make way for big cattle ranches and large soybean farms -- especially in Brazil, which accounts for about 60% of the forest land in Latin America and the Caribbean. The amount of forest lost each year from 2000 to 2005 averaged 11,077,734 acres, the study showed -- about the size of Maryland," the article continued.

Now, let's point out that an assumption is being made that even soybean acres are being planted in order to feed the cow and not just some in Asia.

I don't make that comment in passing. In fact, we can document that the economic growth of China and its demand for soy is contributing greatly to deforestation.

No one can argue that deforestation still occurs in places it shouldn't. I think we all understand that the forest is a vital part of proper planet health, but the real story must be evaluated.

At risk of sounding like a flag-waving patriot, let's take a closer look at what is going on here at home.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a report in April 2006 entitled "U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Sinks," which contains data through 2004. This report indicates that U.S. livestock grazing, feeding and manure management systems are superior to those elsewhere in the world.

EPA data show that production of food animals in the U.S. contributes less than 2.4% of total greenhouse gas emissions (measured in carbon dioxide equivalent). In comparison, fossil fuel combustion contributes approximately 80% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said there are 748 million acres of forest in the continental U.S.

U.S. Forest Service archives show that in 1920, there were 732 million acres of U.S. forestland. Therefore, according to 2003 figures, the U.S. has 16 million more acres of forestland than it did in 1920.

Yes, the truth of the matter is that in the U.S., where we lose nearly 2 million acres of prime farmland to concrete, condos and consumers annually (concrete manufacturers rank higher on the list of greenhouse gas contributors than livestock, by the way), we have managed the natural resources in such a manner that today, our environment is better off than it has ever been.

The problem is that elected officials will not take the time to really break down the U.N. report to uncover the truth -- the truth being that the U.S. is a shining example of how we can utilize resources without negatively affecting the planet.

A perfect example is the fact that we have the same number of beef cows now as in 1955, yet we produce twice as much human consumable beef.

You don't need to have a keen understanding of science to figure out how much better off our natural resources are, either.

Let's use a little cowboy logic: In 1930, the U.S. deer population was 300,000. This compares with recent estimates that put the deer population at around 30 million -- 100 times the 1930 number.

In comparison, the beef cattle population has remained unchanged since 1930, and there are two-thirds fewer dairy cows.

The white-tailed deer population currently far exceeds its carrying capacity, and the animal is considered a nuisance.

Could the deer population grow at that rate in an adverse environment? Absolutely not! Oh, wait. Deer also emit enteric fermentation. Improved environmental conditions in the U.S. have allowed deer to create more greenhouse gases than at any time in the history of the world. Quick, notify the U.N.