National perspective - Agriculture industry looks at national issuesWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, attended the annual Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NBCA) fly-in that took place at the end of March in Washington, D.C., addressing access and use of public lands. Industry leaders met with representatives from agencies such as Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Forest Service (FS).
Concerning agency meetings, “There are two things we are watching very closely,” Magagna notes.
Sage grouse plans
Federal land management agencies have been in the process of updating their resource management plans (RMPs), and plan amendments for the Greater sage grouse are due to be released in August, keeping western ag producers attentive to possible effects. These plan amendments are commonly known across the West as the sage grouse nine plan amendments.
“Livestock grazing is not considered a primary threat to sage grouse, but there are some things that we can do with grazing to enhance habitat with livestock,” he explains.
Magagna further adds that, at this point, the Lander RMP is the only updated plan that has been approved and released.
“The Lander RMP is not perfect, but we can work with it,” he says, noting that the nine plan’s impact remains to be seen.
The second issue PLC is concerned about is BLM’s new grazing handbook, which is also expected to be released later this year.
“BLM is currently in the process of revising its grazing handbook, and we are concerned about preference rights,” states Magagna.
Currently, producers maintain a certain preference for grazing a given number of animal unit months (AUM), regardless of how the producer may have used them in previous seasons.
“BLM has been discussing criteria that would let them reduce preference of AUMs that are not being used,” he explains.
Many producers have purchased their grazing rights from previous preference holders.
“Any reduction represents a loss of economic value,” he comments.
AUMs may be suspended due to lower carrying capacity or other land uses.
“BLM is proposing to have the discretion to ‘wipe these away’ if they feel that they are not reasonably likely to be made active in the foreseeable future,” adds Magagna.
Because the handbook is not considered a rule, revisions will not be made available to the public for comments, but producers could be impacted by proposed modifications.
“We will stay tuned to those changes and be strong in resisting them,” he states.
In other meetings, PLC addressed the FS, bringing up concerns about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Federal agencies such as FS must submit detailed environmental impact statements, reviewing the possible environmental affects of activities allowed on public land prior to taking action according to NEPA.
“We had some discussions about moving more expeditiously on NEPA permits to make them more available for producers experiencing temporary or permanent grazing losses,” comments Magagna.
Active land takes precedence for NEPA evaluations, leaving vacant allotments unevaluated for use.
“Not unexpectedly, the agency’s response is to point to reduced budget and lack of resources,” he says.
Provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act passed last December authorize the FS to renew permits using categorical exclusions, which PLC believes could free up resources to prioritize vacant permits. This would, in turn, make those lands available in a timely manner for producers seeking alternate grazing locations.
“FS and BLM are reluctant to use categorical exclusions because of the threat of litigation by Western Watersheds Project and other environmental groups,” he continues.
Although some agencies allow it, FS does not allow grazing by producers who do not own the livestock.
“Particularly after the drought in a good year with good grass, producers may have available pasture to bring in some extra livestock, but it is difficult if some of their year-round grazing is on FS land,” he says. “We would like to see some changes on that subject.”
Another important topic covered in Washington was the new public relations campaign that the PLC agreed on during their annual meeting last fall.
“We probably never realized how important it really was,” Magagna comments.
He is encouraged by the progress that teams are making on the project, identifying a message and conducting interviews to determine what resonates with decision makers, so that an effective campaign can be built.
Magagna notes that many other topics were discussed in Washington, D.C.
“We dealt with all of the usual issues, and they were all really good meetings,” he says.
Veterinarian speaks on the intersection of stewardship and technologyWritten by Christy Martinez
“Design or chance? Purpose or indifference? Sometimes when we’re doing chores or driving down the road, we start thinking about those things on a deep level. Is this here by chance, or is there a design?”
Those are questions asked by Gerald Stokka of Pfizer Animal Health.
“We have to come to grips with that question. The follow up is that, if things are by chance, then I can’t make a difference – this nature I’m looking at is indifferent to me. But, if things are designed, am I here with a purpose?
“I believe all of us are here with a purpose, and I’m grateful my purpose is to be a vet and be involved in animal agriculture,” says Stokka.
However, that belief is far from being shared by all of society today, and is especially not shared by Stokka’s fellow veterinarian Michael W. Fox, who believes that all life is equal, and humans do not have a greater purpose than animals.
“Because our planetary relations are sacred, that leads to the inevitable conclusion that it is unethical to value one life over another. Thus the life of one ant and the life of my child should be given equal consideration,” says Fox in his writings.
Stokka questions what Fox would do if both his daughter and an ant were in a street and being approached by an oncoming vehicle. “Which one would he save? That is functionally stupid, and it doesn’t work,” says Stokka. “A society cannot function that way.”
“Many of us have, for a long time, followed the philosophy written down thousands of years ago. While we don’t necessary articulate it, we follow it,” says Stokka, pointing to Genesis 9:3, which gives humans the authority to use animals for food.
“We raise cattle and slaughter them for food and many other purposes, and this philosophy tells me I’m ok with that,” says Stokka. “We’ve lost this generation, and we haven’t taught them what we use animals for.”
Stokka points out that stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. He gives a cow and her newborn calf as an example.
“Is that by chance? I don’t think so. I have a reverence for these creatures and what they’re able to do. I have a responsibility to provide wind protection and a little feed occasionally, and I depend on her to do a lot of things without me, and I don’t think it’s by chance,” he says.
“We get criticized for being factory farms, because the belief is that we make every decision based strictly on economics. How many ranchers have ever put a calf in a bathtub? I have to ask students why they think someone would put a calf in a bathtub. Is that an economic decision? We could save time and effort and let the calf die, but that’s not who we are. We feel we have a responsibility to these creatures,” he continues.
Technology also gets a bad rap today in relation to food production and nutrition, says Stokka.
“One of the major advances in the last century is refrigeration. Today you can go anyplace in U.S. and find fresh milk, and that doesn’t happen all by itself. That kind of infrastructure and technology isn’t in place everywhere in the world. We enjoy a lot of things because of technology.”
“The word technology has almost become a profanity – that somehow we are poisoning people by its use,” he says, pointing to antibiotics, vaccine, growth enhancement, parasiticides, estrus regulation and behavior modification as a few examples. “Through them we are able to feed the world by caring for animals with responsible resource management and the prudent use of technology.”
Along with technology, Stokka says there’s much dogma, or beliefs without scientific evidence, association with nutrition.
“Beef has been bashed for 30 years without any scientific evidence,” he says, using heart disease as an example and quoting from the book Good Calories, Bad Calories, “For a modern disease (heart disease) to be related to an old-fashioned food (fat) is one the most ludicrous things I have ever heard in my life.”
“It’s important for us to have the facts behind us. An analysis of 21 studies on the relationship of dietary saturated fat and coronary heart diseased showed there’s no significant evidence to conclude it’s associated with increased risk or cardiovascular disease,” he explains, suggesting that the health problems might instead be caused by those things that have been used to replace saturated fat.
He ends with a quote from Norman Borlaug that puts nutritional priorities in perspective: “While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called organic methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income food deficit nations cannot.”
“We need to merge the disciplines of philosophy, animal husbandry and animal science, or technology,” he says.
Gerald Stokka presented his information at the 2010 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup in Casper mid-December. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the
The truth and names for dairy cowsWritten by Christy Martinez
Casper – According to Greg Quakenbush of Pfizer Animal Health, the agriculture industry in the U.S. is in a battle for truth.
“We’re getting attacked on ethics, and we keep trying to answer with science,” he said. “We keep trying to answer an ethical question with science, and it doesn’t work. You, as producers, need to find your ethical voice.”
Quakenbush spoke to the 2010 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup in Casper, which ran Dec. 12-14.
Quakenbush maintained that the general public continually asks for the “truth,” but that they can’t handle the truth.
“We argue that we’ve done studies about the square footage needed for chickens, but they still put it on the ballot and vote for two more inches,” he says. “You absolutely have to speak up and find your ethical voice – if you truly believe the things we’re doing are right and moral, you’ve got to speak up.”
“In our society, ‘truth’ doesn’t always matter,” he said. “Social media doesn’t always have anything to do with the truth.”
Quakenbush gave as an example the truth about technology. “I work for an evil, wicked pharmaceutical company, and we also keep a lot of people alive. Somehow the American public believes that technology and corporations are evil, but we’ve doubled beef production with half as many cattle, thanks to technology,” he commented. “We’ve reduced consumer prices by 25 percent, we’ve reduced the impact on the environment, and have increased quality.”
He pointed out how the media often portrays the 1950s agricultural operation as ideal, where everyone had a home garden and all the dairy cows had names.
“If we were to go back to 1955 technology, and we needed to meet today’s demand for beef, we’d need 83 million more head of cattle, and we’d need more land equaling the areas of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado to get it done,” he added.
“Brazil, which is the same size as the U.S., still produces beef at a 1955 level, and that’s why they continue to clear the rainforest for grassland. Our technology is not only feeding us, but it’s doing it efficiently,” said Quakenbush.
Further, he said antibiotics, implants, vaccines, hormones and genetics have made a huge difference, and have greatly helped. He presented the truth about hormones, one of the large red flags in the media today.
“Peas have hormones in them,” he explained. “Four ounces of peas have 454 nanograms of estrogen, a cup of soy milk has 30,000 units of estrogen and three-and-a-half ounces of soy protein concentrate contain 102,000 units of estrogen,” he said.
“Four ounces of untreated beef have 1.2 units of estrogen,” he explained. “There is four times as much estrogen in four ounces of raw peas. Don’t let people fool you – fruits and vegetables have hormone compounds, and it’s normal and natural. This paranoia about hormones is way overblown. You might say it’s not true.”
Looking to implanted beef, Quakenbush said it only raises the amount of estrogen in four ounces by .2 units.
“When you hear we can’t export beef because we implant, can you see the BS involved? It’s not about the truth, and it’s not about science,” he stated.
Furthermore, Quakenbush pointed out that one birth control pill contains the same amount of estrogen as 125,000 pounds of beef.
“The cure is called hunger,” he said of the solution to the extreme selectivity of some parts of the American population. “Do you think, in Haiti, their first question is if it was a free-range chicken? I heard the other day that 80 percent of the women in the world spend half their day getting water for their families. We’re so affluent. Hunger will change that.”
Of antibiotics, Quakenbush says they’ve been used for 50 years, and have been deemed absolutely safe, and that the stakes are high in getting new products approved.
“Have you seen new pharmaceutical companies? We’re not consolidating to get bigger, but to stay alive through the regulatory system,” he said.
“The risk assessment of someone having an illness caused by giving a drug to a cow is one in 10 million,” said Quakenbush. He pointed out that the chances of being killed in a car accident are one in 6,500, and crossing the street one in 48,500.
“It’s not about science, it’s about their worldview,” he said of those trying to put a stop to antibiotic use in all livestock. “Why aren’t these people at the auto safety meeting, where the risk of people being killed is much greater?”
Of global warming and methane and carbon dioxide emissions, Quakenbush said some like to show a graph of the carbon footprint of a dairy cow in the 1940s compared to today.
“If you switch it around, and base it on units of milk production, the graph is incredibly opposite,” he said. “We have to look at that per unit of what we produce. We produce 443 percent more milk per cow today, using less inputs and less ground. Have you seen that in the media?”
Quakenbush said 95 percent of the objections and falsehoods related to technology, production, economics, efficiency, food safety, hormones, environment and nutritional value can be addressed with facts and honest science.
But, he said that doesn’t matter, because the truth is under attack.
“Our current culture is based on relativism and postmodernism, which say that truth is relative – you have your truth, and I have mine,” he explained. “Truth doesn’t work that way.
Two opposing viewpoints cannot both be true, but we live in a culture that says we have to be diverse and tolerant of opposing viewpoints.”
In addition to relativism, Quakenbush said many in America are consumed by a “pursuit for authenticity.”
“‘Authenticity’ says ‘I can’t find much meaning in life, so I’ve got to find something that helps me be authentic,’” he said. “They’re looking for meaning in life, and a cause, to give them the feeling they’ve done something significant. The current thing is to go back to life in the 1940s when the dairy cows had names and the sky was blue. They want to have a little garden and be like Grandma and Grandpa, but their reasoning is flawed.”
“Sincerity has nothing to do with the truth. People can be sincerely wrong,” he continued. “The Obamas have a vegetable garden, and they’re really sincere about it. Feelings trump the truth. They feel it’s wrong to raise chickens in a crate. That’s why we can’t trust science anymore, because scientists are emotionally engaged.”
“Everybody has world views, and they have absolutes. I have a Biblical world view, and because of that, I believe that man has dominion over animals, and that frames how I see things,” he stated. “Some people believe that animals have as much value, if not more, than people.”
“Ethics and morality are the battleground,” he said. “Know the truth about the business we’re in. Every one of you has influence. You have a sister who’s a nurse or a brother-in-law who’s a physician. You have a circle of influence, and you’ve got to know the truth. Find your ethical voice.
“If you’re bugged by dehorning, or branding, stop it. But if you think it’s ok and that it’s morally and ethically right, stand up and take the hit, but don’t be neutral about ethics.”
“Livestock people and vets still have a lot of credibility with the public,” he said. “People want to know the food they’re eating is safe, and if we don’t tell them, I don’t know who will.”