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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Cowboy Commandments to Air Travel

For those of you that are regular readers, I will warn you that this is not my normal beef industry related post. But more of an open letter to the thousands of people at airports who cause my blood pressure to rise on a regular basis and have threatened my faith in humanity. To the rest of you, I hope you can still enjoy and maybe learn something.

I am frequent flyer at Denver International Airport to the point that airport parking attendants and TSA officers know me by name (with TSA pat downs the way they are, they should probably buy me dinner too). In my trips, there are a lot of people flying that are inexperienced in air travel and it takes a while to get used to the procedures. The most frustrating part for those of us that fly often is that most of these people also completely lack common sense and manners. It is as if all regard for others goes out the window when they step into the airport. They’ve got places to go and the rest of us are in their way.

So for those of you that haven’t flown in a while, the following can serve as a guide through the process. For those that fit into the second category, this guide will stop people in the airport from giving you the evil eye and wishing they still had their toe nail clippers to see if they could be used as a weapon.

1.       Thou shalt be calm and remain that way. Everyone going through the airport is headed somewhere important as well, so don’t think you are more important than they are. The flight personnel are there to help you get on your flight, they will try to help if you give them the time to help. Just relax. If you checked in on time and security is slow that day, they will typically hold the plane for you. It has happened to me more than once. The only person slowing you down is you. If you act anxious and in a hurry in the security line, you are asking for a patented TSA pat down and the rest of us will be glad to see you get one.

2.       Thou shalt be on time and prepared. Like anything else in life, showing up ON TIME is half the battle. I recommend getting to the airport an hour before boarding time (instead of take-off), so you have time to park, ride the shuttle, check bags, get through security, find the gate, grab a bite, etc. The other half is being prepared. Check your flight status and security wait times. If you can check in online, it usually saves time and hassle. Eat something (preferably not Mexican food) before you get there if you don’t want to spend money on overpriced food.

3.       Thou shalt dress thyself and thy children appropriately. I’ve been in airports in 35 states and 3 countries, and the temperature in every single one was between 70-75 degrees F. You don’t need a coat; just put them in the bag. Your belt, jewelry, shoes, cell phones, wallets, etc. all have to go through the screener, so please just put them in your bag when going through security. Save us all a lot of time and hassle. That goes double for your young children. Every time I fly out of Denver, there is some young couple at security with their 3.5 children that they are trying to get wrangled through security. Organization will save major time and headaches, as will slip-on shoes or boots.

4.       Thou shalt pack appropriately. Ladies, this means please don’t try to push that 50 pound bag weight limit. Half of you will be repacking at the check-in because you are two pounds over, and the people behind you won’t be happy. Have your carry-on packed so that you can get your laptops and such that have to go through the scanner easily. Despite the TSA agents at every airport listing off the things to take out before you go through the scanner, I bet a quarter of travelers leave their laptop, camera, toiletry items (aka the stuff they were just telling you about) in the bag.

5.       Thou shalt read the signs. I would swear that a third of America must be illiterate, judging by people in airports. As soon as you enter an airport, there are signs telling you where to go, what to do and how to make things simpler. But despite ten different signs in three different languages saying all shoes must be removed, people keep walking into the metal detector with their shoes on. You can blame Richard Reid, TSA, and the rest of the world or you can read the sign and put your shoes in the tray.

6.       Thou shalt move slowly. In case you might have missed it. We are all riding on the same planes. Being the first one through security and to the gate gets you there at the same time as if you walked slowly, didn’t bump into me, cut me off or step on my foot. So walk at normal speed, keep your head up and watch out for the 69,000 other people flying through DIA today.

7.       Thou shalt not carry-on thy pet. Just because you put your dog in a Tebow jersey, does not mean it should be flying in the airplane. I’m sure “Fluffy” will make it down below with the rest of the luggage where I don’t have to hear him freak out or smell him have an accident. I can deal with most children on airplanes, because they are my own species and typically act fine as long as they have a toy and some gum so their ears pop. Your dog might be a person to you, but unless your blind or he speaks English, he’s just another annoyance for the rest of us.

8.       Thou shalt listen to airport/airline personnel and be polite to them. This is one that will be your biggest benefit. Most airport personnel (ground crew, TSA, flight attendants) like helping people and will guide you through the process making the trip more pleasant if you are polite and follow the rules. If not then you are making their job harder, so you deserve to have a problem. Yelling and cursing them about delays or cancellations has to be one of the stupidest things I see in airports. Though you might be frustrated, being mean isn’t going to get you anywhere, just be polite, explain the situation calmly and you are typically in for some service. If not, you’ll end up in the rat infested hotel on standby for a 10 pm flight two days from never.

9.       Thou shalt not do obnoxious things in flight. Simple things to pass the time on a plane that do not disturb your neighbor: reading, watching movies, listening to music, knitting, sleeping, working on laptop, talking quietly. Things that cause people to contemplate jumping out the emergency exit: having a conversation with someone across the plane, painting your toe nails, loudly eating a packed three course meal on a one hour flight, allowing your child to run around the plane, trying to talk to me about how awesome Jersey Shore is. If you wouldn’t want the person next to you to do it, don’t do it.

10.    Thou shalt not stand directly on top of the baggage claim. You are waiting for your bag. So are the other 300 people that were on the plane. Just step back until you see it then step up and get it. I’m sure you can see it from three feet back. That way the rest of us can get to our baggage without having to step over you and having to risk “accidentally” hitting you in the knee with our bags.

If you follow these simple commandments, your time spent in the airport will be much more pleasant and so will everyone else’s. So fly smart. Be courteous. Travel safe.

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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Are Cattle Genetically Modified?

I was confronted with this question on a flight last summer. I was talking about the beef industry and what I do with a fellow passenger when she began asking if we genetically modify cattle “like corn and soybeans.” It’s an interesting question and one I was not sure how to answer but that day was a good time to try and I have pondered on it since. The answer would depend on your definition of genetically modified and whether or not you believe that is a bad thing.

Now I won’t pretend to be intelligent enough to understand the process of the genetic modification in crops. From my research, some of the first modifications were done of tomatoes to keep them from softening as they ripen which was approved by the FDA in 1994. Corn, soybeans and other crops have been modified to be Roundup® Ready, allowing farmers to kill weeds without harming their crops. Both of these things allow for a more desirable product for consumers and for more production with better production practices. Both are positives for the industry and consumers.

If you place selective breeding under the umbrella of genetic modification, I would say that we have genetically modified cattle and it is not a new thing. The hundreds of breeds of cattle, from Lowlines to Angus to Nelores, that roam the world’s pastures today and since they have been domesticated are a product of that. Even today, we select breeding stock out of populations to enhance production. Whether it is using a Bos indicus for added heat tolerance and parasite resistance, or a Limousin for added muscle and feed efficiency, the industry has bred cattle to adapt to different environments, enhance productivity and fill the ever-changing consumer needs and desires.

Take the period of 1970 through the 1980s, when consumers desired a leaner product and the industry needed more production per head. Performance, muscle and frame size became the selection criteria for a majority of the industry. We changed cattle from a frame score 4 baby beef to a frame score 7.5 with more muscle and less fat. Today, the industry has found a more manageable frame size to go along with increased performance.

These changes were, and currently are, supplemented with technologies like artificial insemination and embryo transfer that give producers the opportunity to multiply the best genetics possible at a level and for a value never before seen. Breeders sample the best genetics available for the cost of a straw of semen or the value of a frozen embryo. EPDs also became available, giving producers a selection tool that applied across the entire breed population.

Cloning is also a technology that has become available to the industry and is maybe the most controversial. The way I look at it and the way I see it being used in the industry is mostly as an insurance policy for genetically superior, high value animals that might not survive long enough to meet demands for their genetics. Some AI sires that haven’t produced enough semen to meet demands are cloned along with some donor cows. Steers that show exemplary performance characteristics have been cloned and their genetics used. But this technology is not very prevalent due to the cost and the fact that the genetic rate of change in the industry tends to dictate that by the time a clone is made, their genetic superiority has been lost. Most cloning is done in the show steer industry where the target remains more constant.

The newest technology, which probably holds the most promise in today’s industry, is genomics. By genotyping animals and finding markers that are correlated to particular traits that are hard or expensive to measure can yield accelerated and more precise selection. Research is currently underway for a number of these traits of economic importance namely feed efficiency, fertility and disease resistance.

Feed efficiency takes a large data collection system and is hard to quantify in an EPD due to small sample size and difficulty of definition. With genomic markers we can select individuals without having to go through the phenotypic test. Genomic markers indicating fertility would help enhance replacement heifer selection, and reduce the cost of developing heifers that have decreased genetic predisposition for fertility. Since this is the number one reason for culling in the national cow herd, it could greatly enhance productivity just by increasing the percent national calf crop by 1%. Disease resistance, bovine respiratory disease in particular, could decrease calf crop and feedlot mortality and morbidity, saving millions of dollars in pharmaceuticals and improve animal health and well-being.

This was more information than the lady on my flight really wanted to know, and maybe more than you wanted. But her main worry was whether the genetic modifications were safe. The answer was definitely. None of these technologies change the nature of beef but rather the quality and quantity. By improving efficiency through selection, the industry has been able to produce more and healthier cattle that produce more beef per animal in less time. Thus increasing production and decreasing greenhouse emissions while providing a safe product to the consumer.

Don’t forget that even though Yahoo! might not think much of a degree in agriculture, a lot of us did. A majority of agriculturalists have a college education. They are not only educated. They are driven. They stay up-to-date on technology and are always looking to make more with less, and do better with what they have, in order to provide the world with full bellies.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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What’s in the beef?

I read the following in a recent press release on MeatPoultry.com and I thought I would share.

According to the office of U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY), more than 60 fast-food companies, livestock producers, meat and poultry processors and retailers received a letter from the congresswoman asking for disclosure of the use of antibiotics in the products they sell.

“In the past year alone, we have had more outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella associated with contaminated meat and poultry than any other year, leaving behind a trail of victims that cannot be treated with common antibiotics,” she wrote in the letter sent to fast-food companies.

Companies are asked to respond to the letter by June 15, 2012, providing information about their policy with suppliers regarding antibiotic use; consumer education programs relating to antibiotic use; percentage of meat and poultry supplies that come from animals given antibiotics for therapeutic vs. non-therapeutic reasons; and any planned policy changes regarding the use of antibiotics.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Slaughter. “We just want to know, ‘what’s in the beef?’”

Some of you might know Mrs. Slaughter from her 2007 legislation titled The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which aims to limit the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry. In December, she authored an Op-Ed piece for the Huffington Post, “What’s in Your Christmas Ham?”

She is still trying diligently to move this legislation through Congress and is now turning to the media to drum up a public outcry in order to move it. Her theory is that long term feeding of antibiotics to livestock will cause pathogens to develop that are resistant to antibiotics. This would let bacteria experience a non-lethal dose of the antibiotic so they have the ability to adapt. Antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella are generally used as examples. Most research shows this is not reproducible but there are many political forces pushing this agenda.

The simple fact is that there is very little antibiotic feed for growth promotion. Some tetracyclines like aureomycin are used during periods of stress or as a mass medicate to prevent illness for groups in a new environment, but are not fed throughout the feeding process. The large amount of fed antibiotics in USDA or FDA statistics are ionophores (Rumensin and Bovatec) which have some antimicrobial properties but are mainly used to shift the rumen’s volatile fatty acid production to enhance the production of propionic acid. This yields enhanced gains and feed efficiency which is good for the environment with less feed being used to produce beef and less greenhouse gas emissions emitted from the back end of the cattle. Ionophores are not used in human medicine and pose no threat but the industry is in danger of losing them as a tool with Mrs. Slaughter’s legislation.

I can understand the fear and believe that antibiotics like tetracyclines and pencillins should be used judiciously to ensure health of both animal and man. But with broad based legislation, we throw the baby out with the bath water. We reduce producers’ ability to treat animals in a timely manner, prevent infection and improve production efficiency, all for a theory. Scientists are split and no connection between antibiotics used in animals and resistant bacteria has been proven.

Another potential cause of antibiotic resistant bacteria is the prevalence of antibiotic prescriptions in human health care. “So you have a cold? Here have some antibiotics.” The common cold is a virus and antibiotics don’t kill viruses. Also, a large group of people don’t complete their cycle of antibiotics. They feel better so they stop taking the pills. This also exposes bacteria to levels of the antibiotic that are non-lethal allowing them to adapt.

To put it simply, we, as beef producers, use these FDA approved products according to label instructions or through extra label instructions from a veterinarian to treat sick animals and to prevent illness in some cases. There is no rampant use of antibiotics in the industry for the simple fact that they are very expensive. Ranchers work in a small margin commodity business that punishes overspending. So the sick are treated, cattle are vaccinated or illness is prevented, in order provide the best health and care for the animal, not to improve gains.

Natural and non-hormone treated cattle programs are becoming more popular with the consumer and more ranchers are buying in for the premiums. I get to work with a number of these ranchers because Limousin work well in these programs. For most, it is doing business as usual with their record keeping and methods being verified by a third party.

All antibiotics have a withdrawal period set forth by FDA to prevent them from being in the system of the animal when slaughtered. Cattle must pass pre-mortem and post-mortem health inspections by USDA veterinarians at processing. Processing plants have plans in place to prevent contamination that were partially described in “Do Cattle Understand Death?” These plans also account for a wash post mortem, time spent in a freezer, cleaning procedures at every juncture and testing of final products for contamination by USDA inspectors before they are shipped.

Most foodborne illness can be accounted for after the cattle have left producers’ hands and by undercooked food. I appreciate a good rare steak, steak tartar or a burger cooked medium but these do come with the risk that any bacteria present, either from the cook’s hands or other contamination, might still be alive.

So what’s in the beef? Delicious protein, iron and fats that contribute to healthy, happy, well-nourished people, all thanks to producers that look out for their animals and the public’s health.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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