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Cheeri-uh-oh

Cheerios
In case you missed it earlier in the week, General Mills announced that its leading brand, Cheerios, would make the move to GMO-free ingredients. They decided on the change, they said, because that’s what their fans wanted.

The only problem is, original Cheerios — the only cereal in the Cheerios franchise that’s changing — is made primarily from oats, which are already GMO-free. In other words, there are no GMO varieties of oats, so there aren’t any GMO oats grown.

To be fair to General Mills, they are changing the source of their sugar, which can be genetically modified. Currently, General Mills uses sugar from sugar beets and corn, which can be genetically modified, but not always. Instead, they’re planning to use cane sugar, which is not currently genetically modified.

But even that doesn’t really mean much. According to Cornell University professor Margaret Smith, those changes won’t alter the cereal’s make up at all. Smith explains further in a Cornell University press release:

“Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA (which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism) and no protein (which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism). Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.

“This means that the new version of Cheerios that is being made without use of genetically engineered varieties will be nutritionally and chemically identical to the previous version.”

The better questions is, is that really going to be a ‘significant investment’ as General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas says? My money is on no, especially when they aren’t changing any of the other varieties, like Honey Nut Cheerios or Apple Cinnamon Cheerios.

Either way, it leaves an interesting question to ponder: Did General Mills really feel the need to switch from GMO ingredients to non-GMO ingredients, or are they looking for a little bit of free publicity at little to no cost to them? My money is on the latter.

For more information — and opinions — check out these articles and blogs. They bring up good questions.

It was cold today, did you know that? I bet you did. A whole host of businesses were closed, including the Illinois Farm Bureau, planes were grounded, government offices shuttered and police and government agencies were begging people to stay inside. With -45 to -50 degree wind chills, you have to. Or else you might lose some important body parts.

But guess who didn’t get to stay inside today? Farmers. Including my mom:

Winter Weather

And, my uncle, aunts and grandpa, who were out milking cows. And every other farmer who had livestock to take care of on this cold winter day. They don’t get a day off just because the cold temps are ‘life-threatening,’ according to the DeWitt County Sheriff. The cows still need to be milked, horses need to be hayed and pigs need to be fed. Twenty-fours hours a day, seven days a week.

Winter Weather 2

Since most of my Facebook friends have a farm background, I’ve seen a lot of posts today asking folks to remember the farmers outside working.

But, the best one I saw was from a Chicago-area mom. In fact, it was from one of last year’s Field Moms! Thanks, Amina, for remembering to thank the farmers growing your food.

And make sure to check out Amina’s blog, Momma Mina. She has some pretty cool stuff, including posts about her time as a Field Mom!

Regulations are often cited as the bane of any farmer’s existence. But what about Santa? He may not have to deal with the traditional EPA regulations with which most farmers deal, but he does have to consider US Department of Transportation regulations, especially if he wants to keep that rig of his legal.

To help us comb through the long list of USDOT regulations, IFB transportation expert Kevin Rund is on hand to review Santa’s sleigh and his mandatory requirements. Thanks, Kevin, for your help in compiling this tongue-in-cheek holiday regulatory article!

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Transportation regulations can be a headache for Santa, too, as he climbs into his sleigh.

As Illinois Farm Bureau senior director of local government, I have been helping Santa, a member of the North Pole County Farm Bureau, understand the complexities of modern transportation rules. I was able to gain some new information in researching Santa’s special case.

Santa doesn't get to just hop in his sleigh and go - at least not if he plans to abide by USDOT regulations.

Santa doesn’t get to just hop in his sleigh and go – at least not if he plans to abide by USDOT regulations.

Special provisions have been built into transportation regulations to accommodate the singular vehicle type operated by Santa Claus. Known as the ‘Claus clause,’ these rules may be broadly applied — if anyone else happens to own or lease flying reindeer and a sleigh.

Which means the jolly old elf will need to meet the following requirements:

Santa will be pleased with the conspicuity marking requirements. That red and white reflective material fits nicely with his Christmas color scheme.

In addition, Santa had to get special authorization for his trip because there is a red light on the wrong end of his rig — Rudolph’s nose.

As an animal-drawn vehicle, Santa’s sleigh is required to display an SMV (slow moving vehicle) emblem — despite its blinding speed and the fact that it more often than not is airborne. Though the fluorescent orange clashes with red and green, Santa cheerfully applied the ASAE S276.5-compliant emblem to the back of his sleigh.

As a private carrier engaged in international commerce, Clause Inc. has a staff of elves busy arranging jurisdictional reciprocity with transportation officials across the globe.

A special Unusual Situations Department of Transportation (USDOT) number was assigned to Santa, but he was allowed to put it on his sleigh, instead of the power units (the deer are OK with animal ID, up to a point). Santa’s number ends in “25,” so he’ll have to update it in the fifth month of even-numbered years. And being required to have a USDOT number means he has to have the Unique Christmas Registration (UCR) as well.

Because Santa drives only once each year, he is issued a specialized CDL (Christmas Driver’s License). But that license is required to have an endorsement for customized air breaks (go figure).

In the spirit of giving, Santa shared a couple of his special CDL test questions with me:

Seatbelts should be worn: A) during rooftop landings; B) when navigating between tall buildings; C) at all times as a driver and as a passenger; or D) over Belgium and Norway.

Whenever you travel at night, you should: A) make sure you are well rested; B) drink plenty of milk with cookies; C) periodically polish Rudolph’s nose; or D) avoid wind turbine clusters.

In researching Santa’s situation, I did learn the equipment requirements for his sleigh and deer were specially modified under the Claus clause.

  • Air brakes have been given a whole new definition.
  • Glazing mandates are out the window.
  • Headlights were replaced by Rudolph with his nose so bright.
  • Fuel system rules have been modified to accommodate moss.
  • Coupling devices … Santa preferred not to be specific.

Santa realizes he has done his share to commercialize Christmas, so he knows he’s a commercial carrier. But he still finds the new medical card certification choices (NI, NA, EI and EA) to be very confusing. Santa is considering adapting a form of Bessie Bingo and make his decision using a 2-by-2 grid and nature, a system he calls “Dasher designation.”

To wrap this up, truck drivers should take note of Santa’s off-street parking abilities. Santa’s rooftop technique satisfies all Motor Carrier parking regulations while preserving lane widths on local roads and streets.

I’m not naïve to the plight of the world population and agriculture over the next half century. As the population continues to increase, farmers are going to have to find new and better ways to feed the growing population – and they’re going to have to do it with less land and resources.

Not to mention, they’re going to have to do it in a way that preserves and protects the environment.

To many, that may seem like a contradiction. After all, most environmentalists will tell you farmers are to blame for most of the environmental evils, including water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. And those, they say, can be attributed to one sector in particular: livestock production.

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Moving cattle to summer pasture in Nebraska.

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But is that really the case. NPR’s The Salt examined the world livestock production industry and came to some interesting conclusions. If you have a few minutes, it’s definitely worth the read.Nebraska 13

Wyoming Ranch

Whew. It’s been a while.

So, to ease back into this, I’m going to start by directing you all to another blog we think is worthy of some attention:

Dairy Carrie and her post on why dairy farmers are sometimes mean to their cows.

It seems like every other day we’re exposed to a new animal abuse video, new accusations of mistreatment and new calls to end animal agriculture.

But a little context here before you go crazy. Carrie isn’t talking abuse or mistreatment. She’s talking necessary measures that dairy farmers have to take in order to keep their animals healthy and productive. And sometimes those measures don’t exactly look friendly, but they are done for the greater good of the animal.

Calf

Buck-teeth beauty!

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Growing up with dairy cattle, I can tell you that Carrie hits the nail on the head. If you’ve ever seen a cow treated for milk fever, it doesn’t look pleasant. And it isn’t – especially for the farmer. But without that treatment, the cow will sicker than ever or even in danger of losing her life.

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Sleepy girls…

So, meander on over to Carrie’s blog and take a look at her explanation on why dairy farmers do what they do when it comes time to treat a sick animal. Chances are, what seemed mean at first will make a whole lot of sense.

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That’s what cow love looks like!

First, check out this video:

What are your thoughts? I have a couple:

  • I get that he’s a comedian, really, I do. And the material is a little bit funny. I mean, daylight savings time is pretty ridiculous nowadays. But I find the entire bit pretty condescending.
  • Does this guy eat? Or actually have to work? For anything?
  • Respect can’t be high up on the list of his people skills.

Out in the Cold

You know what’s amazing? Every time I turned on my TV over the last eleven days, I’ve seen something about the government shutdown. The national media have rehashed it 1,000 times. How it’s affecting furloughed employees. What does this mean for the economy? Common, everyday tasks and information that is now impossible to do and get because the government is partially shutdown. Even how it’s affecting middle America and farmers.

Shoot, as an IFB employee, I’ve gotten most of those calls from the media.

What’s more amazing? The fact that the national media haven’t picked up on one of the biggest impacts of the partial government shutdown: South Dakota farmers and ranchers being left out in the cold.

Don’t be surprised if you need me to further explain. After all, there’s been little to no national media coverage about the blizzard that ravaged western South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska last weekend.

But ravaged it was. While the western plains states are accustomed to early snow, they aren’t accustomed to inches of rain followed by feet of snow and 70+ mile per hour winds – all in the first weekend of October. And their livestock aren’t accustomed to it, either.

Which is why it’s estimated more than 70,000 cows in western South Dakota are now dead. And that doesn’t include sheep and horses that perished in the storm, either. Without FSA and USDA offices open, farmers and ranchers have no one in which to turn. Add to it there’s no new farm bill, and ranchers are really left out in the cold, with no disaster relief programs or indemnity programs.

For livestock producers and folks involved in agriculture, that’s gut-wrenching enough in itself. Losing animals is never easy. But, for me, what’s worse still is some of the internet chatter I’ve read following Facebook photos and information surfacing about the blizzard.

It’s the clearest illustration I’ve ever seen of the disconnect between farmers and ranchers and the general public.

SD Blizzard 2 SD Blizzard

Because of the lack of national media attention, a South Dakota rancher posted a picture to Ellen DeGeneres’ Facebook page, asking her to cover the story on her talk show and the comments got a little heated, as you can see above. As of last night, more than 6,000 people had commented on the photo. Some, just to leave well wishes, and others to question the efforts of farmers and ranchers. Still more, ranchers themselves, to comment on just what they could and couldn’t do.

Now, I’m no rancher. But in my previous life working for an ad agency (and animal health company), I’ve had the chance to visit and interview a whole lot of ranchers and I can tell you this, most of them would have given their left arms to be able to save their herds. Here are the complications with which they dealt:

  • Most cattle were still on summer pasture, meaning there are fewer draws and creek beds in which to hide out. On a normal year, South Dakota may see some early snow, but nothing that would prevent cattle from staying on summer and fall pastures through the middle to end of October.
  • Being that it is still early fall, most cattle and horses haven’t had the chance to grow their winter hair yet, which would have insulated them from 24+ inches of snow.
  • Ranching is the backbone of South Dakota, with many ranchers owning hundreds of cows. When those cows are on summer pasture, further away from homes, it’s much harder to move them quickly to another pasture. And, in many cases, shelter wouldn’t be an option anyway because of the shear number of animals.
  • Most importantly, from the ranchers I know and have interviewed, I can tell you this isn’t just a loss of profit. Sure, that will be a tough cross to bear. But many of these ranchers have been developing their genetics and family lines for generations. Meaning the cow, with the calf at her side and the unborn calf, that is lost is three generations of herd genetics those ranchers can’t get back by going out and buying a replacement. It just doesn’t work that way.

So what’s the point? The point is it’s time for more questions and less judgment. Or even, more support and less judgment. Farmers and ranchers aren’t out to make the quickest buck and leave their livestock high and dry. And, if you don’t believe me, check out some of the articles and blogs from the very best sources, the ranchers themselves.

You can read some of the best here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here (warning: some of these pictures are tough to see), here, here and here. Oh, and this last one, too.

If you would like to help support ranchers in South Dakota, visit the Ranchers’ Relief Fund.

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