Engineering Help for the Great Lakes

By Howard Tong

Howard TongMy name is Howard Tong, and I’m using my degree in environmental engineering to help solve algae issues in the Great Lakes.

I have always been interested in the natural environment. As a kid, I was amazed at everything from Canada’s majestic arctic landscape to the calming, light rain showers I experienced while growing up in the city. Over time, however, I learned about many environmental issues that threaten our natural world, and those issues made me very concerned – my vivid imagination of what could happen only made things worse.

After a lot of doom and gloom, though, I decided I could make a difference by building a career focused on finding solutions. Now, with a degree in environmental engineering from the University of Waterloo, I am working on algae issues in the Great Lakes from both a drinking water and agricultural perspective.

As my undergrad came to a close, our class had the opportunity to help a drinking water treatment plant in Elgin County prepare for a potential harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie. Algae blooms in the summer months have already been a major problem for some municipalities surrounding Lake Erie, and after site visits and much lab work, we proposed a few solutions that could be used to retrofit the plant if the need arises.

Fast forward to my job at Farm and Food Care Ontario, where I’m working now as an environmental research assistant, and I am once again investigating algal blooms. This time, however, it is from an agricultural perspective.

When I was looking at the problem from the drinking water perspective, I looked for treatment solutions to eliminate toxins and bacteria. From an agricultural perspective, I am now looking at ways to prevent the problem by reducing nutrient runoff from farms — just one several causes of algae problems.

Read More: Farm Initiatives to Protect the Great Lakes

While the environmental world is vast, it is great to see a connection between municipalities and the agriculture industry in handling this shared problem. In the end, both types of solution are valuable to minimize the risk of harmful algal blooms.

Solving the algae problem in Lake Erie and other waterways is a huge challenge, but that’s why I decided to become an environmental engineer in the first place. The natural environment is truly a complex system, and every day I seem to have more questions. Thankfully, though, I have also learned many answers.

Straight Talk: Let’s Get Real About Technology and our Food

It’s understandable that many consumers are curious about about how their food is grown. After all, we put food in our bodies, share it when celebrating or at times of mourning, and are responsible for what we serve to our precious children. At a time when anyone can broadcast their own personal message to millions of followers in seconds, there’s no shortage of opinions and advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat.

The tough part is, the science of health and wellness is far less sexy than many food bloggers and celebrity-du-jour personalities would have you believe. Unfortunately, the words “safe”, “affordable” and “abundant” don’t get the heart pumping like “toxic”, “Frankenfood”, and “genetically modified”. Teasing out fact from fiction about our food is not always easy or straight-forward.

This week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on the effects of genetically engineered (GE, sometimes also called GMO) crops on human health, the environment, and agriculture. The broad study combed through 900 studies and compared conventionally-bred crops to their GE counterparts.

Hear More: Click here to hear “Debunking Food Myths” with Yvette d’Entremont, the Sci Babe

The panel of scientists came up with a rather ho-hum conclusion: GE crops are pretty much just crops. One of the scientists involved in the study went on to say that GE is not “the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”

Ultimately, the study confirms that crop varieties containing GE traits are safe for us to consume and safe for the environment. They’re also not a silver bullet to any one challenge in agriculture  — but anyone involved in farming recognizes there are always trade-offs when you’re working with Mother Nature.

The Academy of Sciences’ report also noted that the distinction between “genetically modified” and not is becoming less obvious, as technology, such as CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, creates new varieties of crop types indistinguishable from non-modified lines.

Will this Biotech 2.0 ease the fears and distrust many consumers have of technology in food production? That’s the big question that many in agriculture would love to see answered with a resounding yes.

Curious about how your food is grown? Follow this link to The Real Dirt on Farming

More than Farming: What’s a crop science regulatory consultant?

By Matt McIntosh

MorethanFarmingWhat career possibilities were you indoctrinated with as a child? Did your parents or others suggest you become a lawyer? A tradesman? Perhaps even an engineer of trains or mechanical design? What about a crop science regulatory consultant?

To that last one, I suspect your answer is no.

I know that, for my own part, I never heard such a title in my younger days. Considering I grew up a farm kid and have been working in agricultural communications for years now, I’m willing to bet very few of my less-agricultural peers have heard of it either.

What is a crop science regulatory consultant you ask? In short, it’s an individual that assists companies in registering new products – insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides for instance – with the government. Governments, as we know, need to regulate things, and registering agricultural products for sale and use within a given political jurisdiction involves long, rigid certification processes – this is particularly true in Canada, which has some of the strictest food safety regulations in the world.

Someone has to know the process, after all, and be willing to complete the associated paperwork.

Continue reading

Barn fires are devastating to all involved

By John Maaskant, chicken farmer and chair of Farm & Food Care Ontario

barn fire 4a

Stock photo

There have been a lot of news stories lately about barn fires in Ontario. Without exception, the stories have been tragic and the incidents devastating to these farm families in so many ways – with the loss of animals being at the very top of that list. Often, a barn fire affects an entire community with neighbours joining together to support each other and help clean up the terrible aftermath. Economic concerns, while very real, are always secondary to the loss of farm animals that these farmers have raised and nurtured.

And it doesn’t matter what type of farm animals are involved. The dairy farmer who milks his or her barn full of cows every morning and night – and knows each of their individual traits – is as emotionally affected as a pig farmer, horse owner or chicken farmer like me. Continue reading

Why I Think Dairy Supply Management is Important

Jean L Clavelle

Let me begin by saying that this is an incredibly complex issue. To be truthful I do not fully understand how supply management impacts international trade or even really the nuts and bolts of the supply manager system itself so I will not discuss that here (Dairy Farmers of Canada have produced some fantastic background information http://www.dairyfarmers.ca/content/download/1164/13161/version/2/file/Economic-Rationale2011_EN.pdf on the economics of supply management if you would like to know more). Despite my ignorance, I do think dairy supply management is incredibly important to dairy producers and Canadian consumers.  And I want to attempt an explanation of why from the perspective of a consumer not as someone with a dairy background (which I do not have).

Under this system producers are paid a fair price

Producers are paid a fair price

Many have critiqued this system but it seems they have oversimplified and under complicated the issue to the extreme.  It had been said that supply management isn’t good for the producer or for the consumer.  But I think ‘they’ are wrong.

So what is supply management?  Supply management controls the volume of milk produced on a provincial and annual basis. Provincial boards manage the milk supply to coincide with demand for their products.  By effectively controlling production, expensive and costly surpluses are avoided.  A price is then set by a federally managed board based on cost of production, consumer price index and multiple other factors.  Not just anyone can supply milk either, dairy producers purchase quota essentially for the right to sell milk. Without quota no one can legally sell milk.

So why do I think it’s important?  Well, the objective of supply management is two fold 1. to provide Canadian consumers with an adequate supply of the product at reasonable prices and 2. to provide efficient producers with fair returns.  And that is the crux of my argument.  Under this system producers are paid a fair price.

Continue reading

Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones. Continue reading

It's All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Reprinted with permission from Hurdhealth.com

 

It’s All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Posted by
After all of the recent Panera and Chipotle hype about antibiotic free production, I decided to look at the data. This is also a follow up to my previous blog about antibiotic free (ABF) meat; I am going to present some data to back up my claim that there is very little difference between conventional and ABF – in other words, it’s all antibiotic free, baby! #ItsAllABF!

Due to farmers following appropriate withdrawal times, there are very few violations. In fact in the last three years of USDA testing no broiler chickens have been found with violative residues for the scheduled (random) sampling. For beef only 2 violations out of 1,600 samples were found and only 3 out of 2,200 from market hogs.  Note that antibiotics are not toxins, there are useful and very safe products used by us all.

The Bottom Line

The residue detection levels in the 3 classifications that I analyzed (beef cattle, market hogs, and broilers) are extremely small and well below the levels that would cause adverse effects to a human eating the meat. In addition, if an animal tests positive for residues, it does not enter the food supply.

Meat from an ABF farm would supposedly have zero levels of residues – but, if you aren’t going to get sick or be affected by the perfectly healthy, wholesome conventional meat, why should you pay more for something that potentially carries more foodborne illness?

From a veterinary perspective, I am concerned with the internal struggle that the ABF farmer must face. Most farmers get some premium for raising ABF meat, so if the animals get sick does the farmer treat and lose the financial benefits of ABF or wait a day or two? Waiting can increase mortality and spread of infectious disease significantly. What about the veterinarian, who has taken an oath to prevent animal suffering, but management will only let him treat a small percentage of the barns? Can these restaurateurs really argue their ABF meat provides a better “conscience choice,” if it comes at the cost of additional mortality and animal suffering? Continue reading

Expert Panel Addresses Hidden Camera Investigation at Manitoba Swine Farm

Kansas City, MO. (Dec. 10, 2012) – The Animal Care Review Panel, a panel of animal wellbeing experts, created to analyze undercover video investigations at livestock farms, has examined undercover video from a Manitoba hog farm and concludes while some of the animal handling practices shown are improper, most of what is seen are widely considered acceptable and humane.

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) created the Animal Care Review Panel to engage recognized animal care specialists to examine hidden camera video investigations and provide expert perspectives for food retailers, the pork industry and the media. The panel that examined the recent video in Manitoba was comprised of Dr. Laurie Connor, University of Manitoba; Dr. Jennifer Brown, Prairie Swine Centre; and Dr. Robert Friendship, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.

The experts viewed a 3-minute video segment produced by the group Mercy For Animals. The news magazine television series W5 also used clips of the video in a report.

Their report follows: Continue reading

Bad, bad big city press

Guest Blog by Steve Kopperund,  Ag issues consultant

 

I’ve decided the general media are pretty much amateurs or hacks when it comes to accurately covering issues in food and agriculture. In no other area of our lives – including the arcane world of high finance – does a single profession get it wrong so much of the time. I’m allowed to say this out loud because I was a general newspaper reporter before I was an agbiz reporter/editor before I was a lobbyist. Continue reading

I Occupy Our Food Supply everyday

Guest blog: I farm with my father and grandfather on 2,300 acres of land in northwest Indiana. Scott Farms grow corn, soybeans, popcorn, and wheat. I graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Soil and Crop Management in 2003.

Today is the day.  The Occupy movement is going to occupy the food supply.  According to the occupiers and Farm Aid president Willie Nelson large corporations have too much control over our food.  I won’t deny that there has been a lot of consolidation in the food and seed markets over the years, but that seems pretty common and big does not equal bad as some occupiers would have you think. Continue reading