Friday, May 27, 2011

IACUC and Animal Research

This week marks the submission of my IACUC proposal which has been a much larger endeavor than I had originally supposed. For those of you who don't know, IACUC is an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and every research institution has one of these committees. The main purpose of the committee is to oversee research that deals with animals and ensure the animals' well-being by reviewing the protocols and making sure that the animals will be well cared far, that the research has a practical use in today's society, that animals will not be wasted needlessly in this research and that there isn't some crazy professor doing horrendous things to animals in the name of science.

What the IACUC committee is looking for is to see for starters that the researcher is and will be providing adequate daily care and alleviation of pain and illness for the duration of the project. Even if animals will die at the end of a project there is no justification for failing to provide adequate care to them before then. The IACUC committee is also checking to see if this research is applicable to mankind. How will the research benefit us as humans and what benefits does it have for animals? They also want to know if similar research has been done before. If similar research has been done before, how will this project be different? Science has a checkered past with unnecessary duplication of projects or projects that are duplicated in larger numbers just to find statistical significance so the committee wants to make sure that duplicate projects are limited and the first projects in new areas have statistical value.

All of these criteria have a specific goal of reducing research impact on animals and which focus on the 3 R's of research today: Replacement, Refinement and Reduction. Over time as we as a society have become more concerned about the experiences and plight of animals in research, the 3 R's evolved to have a central significance to responsible animal research. Each one has a specific focus and all 3 provide a cohesive body of work with which to judge the value of a research project and its impact on animal well-being. Ultimately we use the 3 R's to justify a project and its use of animals in combination with the project's assumed ultimate benefit to both animals and humans globally. Here's my understanding of the 3 R's in my own life and my obligation during research.

Replacement references the substitution of "lesser" animals, animal models or other laboratory analysis for life animals wherever possible. Refinement refers to procedures and using the best and least invasive procedures for data collection. Reduction is more of a statistical comment. It can refer to not repeating experiments needlessly as well as designing experiments in a way to use as few animals as possible so as to eliminate needless inclusion of animals in an experiment. This also helps the researchers themselves in many cases as it helps to reduce the budget for a project. Every animal fed and cared for through a project adds a cost to the project.

Animal research has provided many great benefits to humans over time, but it has also had great benefit for the animals studied as we gain a better understanding of them and can improve the care we provide to them. Ending animal research in today's society would be unreasonable and uncaring towards human patients who suffer worldwide today and even though this is something advocated by animal rights groups, we owe it to our fellow human beings to continue animal research to search for the cures to diseases from which they suffer. While I advocate caution among research projects towards the care of animals, the truth of the matter is that animal research benefits people everywhere in concerns such as increasing human food production, curing diseases, better understanding of biology and a greater appreciation to the diversity around us and I support this with all I am. As an animal scientist I am committed to providing appropriate care to the animals in my project and I am hopeful that my project can have a positive impact on our understanding of animal behavior and how we can provide good care to food producing animals while not sacrificing our ability to feed so many people with such few resources.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Waste of Food

As I sort through the leftovers from last weeks low turnout, this article from Feedstuffs was par for the course. I just thought I'd share it along with my own brief thoughts on the issue. The article speaks well for me, but I want to emphasize what a shame I think it is that food goes to waste in this country or in any other country while people, while kids suffer through the pains of hunger. How greedy and uncaring are we that we'd rather claim a loss on wasted food than give it away and deal with adjusting our accounting? What will it take for people to realize that farmers don't need to produce more food to account for and support world population growth. The problem and the fault lies with the bureaucrats and power-hungry dictators who care more about their own ego than solving world starvation.

When the concept of infrastructure was first pitched to me as the reason for world hunger, I was offended. I was frustrated that this problem couldn't be solved by my chosen profession. There is no GMO, no better managed dairy, no higher producing, better cared for sow that can solve world hunger. It was a blow to me, but should really serve as an inspiration to people. This world is a twisted place, but one thing has always been true the world around. When you waste food there is always a starving person in another country that your parents used as an example to make you clean your plate. Here in America, cleaning your plate isn't the problem - it's filling our plate too full in the first place and this is equally as condemning a waste of food.

With US ag exports through the roof, farmers are doing their part to feed the world. Time will tell if politicians will ever really care about feeding their people, but you can do your part to solve world hunger by not wasting food and being generous to others less fortunate when you have the opportunity.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Failure (duplicate post)

Not everything in my life can be a success, it's a fact of life. This was a reminder forced upon me at the Heifer International Fundraiser Lunch this past Friday. This was the 3rd year that our ASGSA has put this on to benefit Heifer International and unfortunately also the worst as far as turnout. I know not everything can be blamed on me - it was a group effort, it was on a really nice day, not all of the secretary's followed through on advertising, etc. - but I also helped in the decision not to pre-sell tickets this year and I think that led to a turn for the worse.

The end result of this is that we didn't raise enough money for Heifer as we had hoped and that a lot of people put in a lot of really hard work for a less than thrilling result. I felt at the end of the day as if I'd let people down a little. I hope that wasn't the case, but then again I more hope that it doesn't get brought up again in conversation in the first place. I don't like things not working out like they should.

But there was also a shining moment from my clouds of despair. The grad students showed up en masse to help with the lunch and for that I'm grateful. It was good if nothing else to get everyone together and to spend some time socializing and working over the food to feed the people who did show up. For that I am thankful and that was the uplifting part of the day. This group cares about service and they're willing to put the time into it. We had a chance to share food with some 40 people and outreach from animal science students is still outreach, regardless of how many people we reach. I just think it's a shame for all the help that we had to have only served 40 people.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A wow moment

Amanda just sent this post to me and I don't think you can read it without being moved. Andy is a great guy, one who even volunteered to help us out with our little Animal Science Pelotonia group and I only pray that God can help him through this loss.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Piggies! (duplicate post)

I went out for my second visit to the farm where my project will be taking place, and it's all starting to seem just a little bit more real. Work with literature, designing, planning and the like can become so abstract and the chance to get hands on and take pictures and conceptualize where things will really be was pretty exciting. I went through the simple stuff such as claiming a locker to keep some things in, meeting the farm employees and designing the main ideas of how this is going down. Right now I'm still held up by people who haven't completed their animal handling training requirements so hopefully we will get a move on pretty soon.

We also dropped in to see the little piglets. If I had seen my first pigs as piglets, I think I would have a much more happy impression of pigs. They are so cute and little, almost fragile looking like Wilbur in Charlotte's Web. But little pigs grow up to be mean biters, cannibalistic towards their neighbors and aggressive towards anyone. And don't think that they were any better in the wild. Old Yeller might be a Disney movie but the vicious wild pigs in it are totally straight to character. Thankfully we found a solution for this, and it's called bacon.

Speaking of bacon, I helped with the Ohio Lamb Chef's Day this week and got to experience new twists on many old products. I love lamb for it's unique taste, whimsical rearing grounds (the definition of beautiful pasture was coined when someone saw lambs grazing), and for its ability to eat anything and turn it into food for me (best thing about ruminants). But I loved lamb even more after getting to eat it prepared by a master chef. And this chef wasn't just a master at preparing food, but a great guy to work with and help. He explained everything so simply and yet got such amazing results from relatively unskilled volunteers. Very impressive and my personal favorite from the day was lamb bacon. I will try and remember to take a picture and give a description of it when I fry up the leftovers that I have in our refrigerator now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

HSUS targets Domino's

I’d pay extra money to the first company that slammed the door in HSUS’s face. It’s not that I don’t believe in taking good care of animals which eventually provide us food. It’s more that I don’t believe they even care in the first place about helping animals but more in just forcing their radical beliefs about vegetarianism on everyone else. However what bothers me the most is the method by which this change is pursued, the deceit, the lies, the propaganda to push their agenda over the edge.

They were at it again with their announcement of victory in the defeat of the ag bill in Florida to protect farmers from undercover investigators. And who wouldn’t want protection from the people who are willing to abuse animals in order to capture film. Mercy for Animals even publicly acknowledged that their investigator was one of the abusers on the video. Obviously this farm was doing some things wrong, and it’s great that these things will now be corrected with harsh fines, but there is no justification in this for the voluntary abuse of animals by a Mercy for Animals employee. And Mercy for Animals isn’t the only one lying about these things; they’re just the featured offender today. Defeat of this bill isn't a victory for anyone except those who plan to evade the law in an effort to make millions distorting the truth to the general public. Enjoy my link to this video, remembering that it is both tragic and a violation of animal welfare committed by an animal rights employee.

Dominos is one of HSUS’s targets these days, and it’d be a true shame for a company with such quality turnaround in their products (due in part to their new partnership with American dairy farmers) to change up the strategy and to focus on supporting highly controversial and scientifically unacceptable methods of animal housing. I like Domino's, and if they want me to keep supporting them, they should stand up for true animal care and discourage any semblance of a deal with HSUS.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Visiting the Dentist

I used to be really creeped out by our old dentist, a really nice guy that always asked too many questions, so I was pretty happy when we switched to a new dentist who was an old family friend. And that’s great, but my oral hygienist is just a little bit out there, if you know what I mean. Yesterday’s conversations started early down the animals for food conversation because she knows that I raise animals with my family and she’s mostly curious. But some of the things she holds as fact are like these gray hair “cures”, absolutely ridiculous.

Curiosity is a truly great thing, and yet a humbling revelation if you’re the asker of seemingly obvious questions. But what seems obvious to me is much more difficult to grasp in the minds of other people who never grew up on a farm or around animals, and this is the case with my hygienist. She has an organic consultant whose main goal in life is sell product, and more of it, and so he presents her with lots of ideas which she doesn’t know what to do with. She believes most of what he tells her, but says she’s skeptical, adding that he’s smart so she wants to believe he knows what he’s talking about.

Unfortunately, not every smart person is always honest, or always well educated. So I just wanted to spend a few minutes addressing some misconceptions that “health food” experts propagandize shamelessly. It’s a free world and you’re free to believe anything you want to believe, and to spend your money on whatever makes you feel better at the end of the day. My bartender the other night likes to buy meat and milk only from Giant Eagle because she believes that their product is fresher, of higher quality and she maintained that she could taste the difference, and feel it when she woke up in the morning. And who am I to disagree with that? I have firm confidence in the ability of science to prove or disprove these theories though, and that is what I’m here to tell people about since I’m an animal scientist.

Hormones are always a frontrunner in conversations such as this. And with kids reaching earlier maturity and prom season once more getting out of hand, who will debate that hormones in our youth are definitely a concern. But for all of the desire to get more “natural” in the world around us, I find it hard to believe that people just don’t see this as the natural way of things. What’s important here though is to remember that regardless of the cause of hormone increases in our children, animal products are not the cause. I’ve included an informative video to accentuate this point, created by the American Meat Science Association.

And then the topic of grass-fed animals came up. For starters, those of you who believe that by buying organic products, you are consuming grass-fed products, you are far from the truth. Organic more specifically refers to the use of antibiotics, GMOs and pesticides for food consumption and just like you can buy organic grains at the store, we can feed organic grains to animals. Organic has a small standard of welfare assurance in the certification, but there is also no proof to date that one method or the other is better for the animals (a focus of my own research).

So if you want grass-fed meat, then specifically buy grass fed meat. But don’t be fooled that it will change the impact of your diet on your health. This video by the American Meat Science Association does a good job highlighting the fact that, for example, while Omega-3 fatty acids are increased in beef fed on grass, it is not really any healthier to consume than grain-fed beef. To truly see a change in the Omega-3 fatty acid profile of your diet, you would need to switch entirely away from beef to something more like fish because the difference between grass and grain feeding is not significant enough to impact your health (unless you only eat beef 24/7, in which case you probably don’t care anyways).

The finale of this onslaught of misinformation which accompanied an unnecessary bloodbath that was my dental examination (even though I had such “beautiful teeth”) was her telling me that she buys a ginger pill which she consumes with her beef. She confidently stated to me that she was short on sex hormones (TMI?) and that the ginger converted her cholesterol to testosterone, leaving her healthier. A captive audience, I could do naught but sit and listen to this nonsense, promising I would look it up for myself when I got home. Of course, Dr. Google can find anything, even articles that discuss ginger reducing cholesterol. But the key words in any semi-reputable article would be “possibly blocks production of cholesterol in the liver”, “may reduce blood cholesterol” and “might thin blood”. Not anything I’d stake my reputation on, that’s for certain, and nothing online that was convincing in the slightest. This is one more moneymaking myth on a list which I get every time I go to the dentist.
If you want to comment on the morals of farmers, it’s interesting also to note that they could absolutely pull the wool over the eyes of the consumer, producing ridiculous products with unverified claims and pilfer the consumers’ pocketbooks one overpriced product at a time. But the farmer sticks to what they know is right: providing wholesome food to the consumer at prices they can afford. And for that, they should be commended.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Plant Sale (duplicate post)

With one more thing to add to the busy schedule I keep for the next year, I asked to be nominated for the presidency of our departmental graduate student association. Not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, I rarely ask to lead things if there is someone else capable of taking the leadership role when I can just as easily lead without the title. But this time, I wanted the title, the authority and to finally do something that I can look back and formally get credit for, so here goes. Hopefully they’re glad they voted for me when this is all over.

Our grad student association was pretty dead when I showed up last year. No offense to any grad students who read this, but that is at least the way it seemed to me and the other new people last year. Most people didn’t spend a lot of time with each, either in service projects or in social activities. This isn’t to say that the club wasn’t formally doing things, but the club in theory consisted of far more people than the few that actually showed up and did stuff. I had long talks with the now past president about frustrations with lack of group participation, and so my goal since last fall has been to encourage people to start joining in activities, starting as always with the big winners, sports and drinks. Everyone likes a little bit of social drinking as a group; as our Wageningen University president said, it made meeting people much easier. And honestly, it works well. We’ve had great participation in group drinks and sports, and everyone has been good at encouraging group participation so that we’ve all gotten to know each other a lot better.

Hoping to build on the momentum we’ve gained through the past year, I volunteered and was elected to the presidency in the hope that we can really mold this student body into a factor and a positive influence on campus. There are so many opportunities for us to make an impact even within our department, so hopefully this next year will be a great success.

It already started really well this past weekend when we served brats and burgers for the plant sale. Not only did this serve as a small fundraiser for us, but this gave us an opportunity to increase our visibility on campus. Many people stopped to talk and to ask questions, and this was a chance for students to talk about what they do at the Animal Sciences building and to discuss different factors of meat production for human consumption. We also served many grateful volunteers and so what started out as a fundraiser opportunity morphed in a broad-spectrum outreach opportunity which I was very proud to be a part of.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sunshine at last

I've been watching everyone else blog and report on the rain for the last few weeks, and we don't live on a flood plain or near one of the hugely overflowed rivers this week, but it has been wet here as well. But in an effort to avoid beating the dead horse, I'll refrain from elaborating on just how much water we've gotten. Needless to say, the breeze the last couple of days with 85F and sunshine has been a much-needed blessing and there is finally some hope of recovering the pastures and getting a vegetable garden in.

Record rainfall here for the month of April doesn't even begin to describe how soft the ground was getting, even in our yard. The dog finally started refusing to even go outside because she got tired of having to deal with the rain and stepping in the mud. Out on the farms, the pasture hasn't even been able to grow grass to keep up with the appetite and hoofprints litter the ground, damaging the roots of the plants so it's going to take a while to recover.

I remember a few years back when the dams almost breached because of the rain then, but that was on frozen ground with less absorption and increased direct watershed flow to the dam. This is different because the ground took everything it could first, before it started a mass migration according to the law of gravity.

But of course, our damage and the local crops not being planted long after they were due is nothing compared to the damage I saw today from the tornadoes in the South. It was unbelievable to see the footage from the tornadoes and even more astonishing to see the damage after. The South hasn't seen a swath of devastation like that since our very own Sherman marched to Atlanta and the resolve of the populace to bounce back is impressive. I saw a show this morning that highlighted the projects and groups who are helping to rebuild and those people should be commended for their efforts.

Hopefully this week we'll finally be able to start working the garden soil and planting all the starters my brother has going. Now if we can just avoid a long-summer drought or corn prices will be through the roof. It feels really good to have a hot sun beam down and to not have to run from car to building to not be soaked, but I worry that it won't be long before I wish that sun would be covered by some clouds again.

Obesity and its Impact

A recent post by Gene Baur with Farm Sanctuary reverts to two of the oldest arguments in the book related to animal rights and veganism. First he cancer research and what he deems to be a scarcity of results. Ask those who benefited from improved cancer treatments whether or not this has been worth it. Ask those kids who got to know their parents, those grandparents who got to hold their grandchild. And then try and tell me that cancer research isn't worth it. And then secondly, he addresses what he views as the main cause of cancer in humans. My thoughts on that are posted below, since he still has yet to acknowledge any of my comments, which I have kept very polite over the months.


"I'm disappointed that your link to "leading experts" is a promo for a highly biased, non-factual film focused on reducing national meat consumption. Why not give your readers links to true professionals, factual research and statistical evidence in favor of your point. If you did, your readers would see that there is no true evidence proving any of your points. If anything, your diet recommendation's only sound advice is use of it to limit obesity. And there is no shortage of evidence that obesity leads to a plethora of health issues so this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone.

"My family has grown, eaten and sold animal products in this country for over 200 years. During that time, we've worked hard raising food for the community around us and have no family history of cancer or other health problems, because healthy living is a much deeper issue than just what you eat. Animal products provide great nutrients that are not otherwise easily obtained in green food. These nutrients, combined with an active lifestyle can lead to happy, healthy living. But maybe you don't want your readers to know that?

"For example, I actively donate blood to the Red Cross, but every time I am there, there is a vegetarian or ovo-vegetarian who is denied blood donation because there hemeglobin levels are too low. Simple solution to this issue is to consume beef which provides a healthy amount of iron to the body, promoting blood health."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trent Loos Talk @ OSU

I mentioned previously that I went to see Trent Loos talk a few weeks ago, hosted by the Food Animals Club at the Ohio 4-H Center (which is a great facility for events like this on campus, if you’ve never been). This is not by far the first time I’ve heard Trent Loos talk, but it was definitely the first time I’ve seen him talk under the heading “Stop Defending Agriculture”. Trent Loos has traditionally been a huge proponent of speaking up and voicing your personal story, defending the American agricultural experience and the importance, pride and adventure of the endeavor. He even helped in the distribution of shirts, one of which I own, with the headline “In Defense of Agriculture. Embracing Technology. Feeding the World”. So naturally I was surprised to see this headline and wanted to know what had changed with Trent Loos.

Not as much had changed as I expected. He still talked about the disconnect from Americans and their food, about his garb (intentionally attracting attention wherever he goes), about his ranch and the lifestyle he pursues, about his definition of a cowboy (embracing the attitude, not a specific activity), about farmers and agriculturalists needing to get out and tell the story. One thing that he elaborated on more than usual was the hormones debate. I’ve obviously discussed this in detail more than once in my blog, but I think he made key connections which I can’t emphasize often enough.

Two big factors influence puberty: nutrition and genetics. Those of us who work with livestock know that we can select over time for an early puberty trait, and that the proper nutrition of an animal leads to more timely puberty onset and that puberty onset is very highly correlated to nutrition and body fat. Well, Loos takes this one step further in his talks by highlighting the plight of female athletes and their lucky avoidance of Mother Nature far into their late adolescence. He further highlights the over-nutrition crisis in this nation (something he and Michael Pollan agree on) and the impact that this should obviously be connected to the puberty claims about hormones contents in beef. These are all things I’ve addressed before, but he also added that the level of estrogen in a serving of lettuce is many hundred times that of a serving of beef – key thing to consider the next time someone tells you they don’t eat beef because of added hormones (something someone told me this past week at our grad student food booth).

These points aside, there was one key new ingredient to Loos’s talk to the group: we should not be “defending” agriculture anymore. Imagine for a second a defensive person, do you like talking to them? Do you gain anything from a conversation or debate with someone who does nothing but get defensive about their idea or their job, or their life? Then how is this any different that farmers who have been taught to be defensive of agriculture. Vehemently defending agriculture with the best-proven facts still won’t make nearly the difference as just sharing what you do with those people closest to, and I’m as guilty of this as the next person. I often get worked up about accusations towards farmers, but the truth of the matter is that no matter how good I feel about winning the argument, this attitude can often do more harm than good. This is why Trent Loos instead focused his talk on encouraging those involved or interested in agriculture to change the attitudes and misconceptions one consumer at a time. Engage people in the facts, the truth, and the story, but engage them in a conversation, not a defensive approach to agriculture.