Postcard from the World Ag Expo
Last week marked the largest proportion of climate change naysayers gathered in one place since Dick Cheney walked into an empty room. Volunteers at the entrance to the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, screened people as they presented their ticket.
“Do you believe in global warming?”
“It sure is cold out today. I should have brought a sweater,” I answered dutifully. I didn’t mention that it was strange that I could survive without a sweater in mid-February in the first place. I kept my answer as simple as possible. The deception worked, and I was allowed into the expo.
The World Ag Expo is the meeting place of industrial agriculture. Around 100,000 people visit the show every year to shop for tractors, irrigation supplies, carousel milking machines, cow vitamins, pesticides, herbicides, Posilac, teat dip, farm security systems, buildings, shade covers, and methane digesters, just to name a few items.
The show made it easy for folks to register their animals under the National Animal Identification System. I intended to quiz the NAIS reps about my legal requirement in registering my hen, Henny the Huge, or the bobcat that ultimately killed her, but I spent too much time talking to the Monsanto and AFACT people. Next year I must attend all three days.
I am always amazed at the technological advances in agriculture on display at these events. It is an astounding thing, for instance, how much milk you can squeeze out of a dairy cow using technology. Some of the innovations are good, some not so good — but they are impressive nonetheless.
Fill'er up on downer cows? Your car may someday be fueled by spent dairy and beef cows. Slaughterhouse waste may be the fuel of the future, reported John Boesel, CEO of CalStart, who is working to bring Swedish biofuel technology to California. The Swedes are agricultural waste chefs: they cook recipes of slaughterhouse and other agricultural waste to create a beef-based biofuel. And to think that the Westland/Hallmark people worked so hard to turn those cows into food when they could have powered a Bay Area fleet of Toyota Priuses.
A solution for E. coli 0157:H7 in raw milk?
While at the show, I got a cell-phone call from a friend. “You must visit booth 1633. It is the answer to raw milk’s E. coli problem. Tell them I sent you.”
Actually I don’t remember what booth number it was, but when I got around to the booth I said “My friend sent me here to look at your E. coli 0157:H7 zapper.”
With all of the high-tech products at the expo, I was expecting a vaccine or some sort of complementary bacteria. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was looking at a teat dip product. Teat dip is the stuff they use to clean a cow’s udder before milking.
Paul from INON explained that the teat dip cleans something like 99.6% of 0157:H7 off the udder and conditions the udder at the same time. Having had need for a human version of “teat dip” one brief time in my life, I appreciated the conditioning feature of the product.
“Would you drink raw milk from a cow after using this teat dip?”
“It depends on the cow’s health," said Paul. "I have had raw milk before."
Seeking another opinion, I took the INON promotional materials to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) booth.
“Here is a teat dip that kills nearly 100% of E. coli 0157:H7 off the udder of a cow. Is this the solution you have been looking for in raw-milk regulation?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, I’m just an analyst. I can’t answer that question.”
There’s no official word, then, on this teat dip. But it certainly has the potential to help California raw dairymen meet the new coliform requirement and condition their cows' teats at the same time.
A solution for E. coli 0157:H7 in beef?
Several companies have vaccines in development for E. coli 0157:H7. Apparently the vaccines kill E. coli indiscriminately, bringing up the question of the vaccine’s impact on the bacteria balance in the cattle's rumen. Like many technologies that may cause new problems of their own, a better solution might actually be feeding the cattle grass instead of grain. (There was a debate about this in the Ethicurean's comments section a while back.) This “traditional technology” of grass feeding may end up being less cost effective than steer vaccinations.
There’s no need to be concerned just yet, however. A microbiologist at the expo tells me that the vaccines are at least two years away, and that perhaps Bioniche was jumping the gun on its press release.
Monsanto: Savior of small dairymen — even the whole world
“The effectiveness of Posilac does not depend on dairy size. It helps small dairies increase their yield and stay in business. In fact, since you need fewer cows to produce more milk, you can reduce feed inputs and cow emissions. We’ll have more land to plant GM crops, and California’s dairy land will have improved air quality.”
The above is not actually a direct quote from anyone in particular, just a repetitive refrain I heard at the expo. The Monsanto promotional materials not only make me want to become a dairyman (woman) but also to start shooting up Posilac. Posilac is the brand name for Monsanto's genetically modified bovine growth hormone, which it prefers to call recombinant bovine Somatotropin (rbST). Posilac makes cows produce more milk. It also seems to make consumers rather alarmed, which is why those dairies who don't use it like to advertise the fact, and why Monsanto is encouraging state legislatures to stop them from doing so. Unsuccessfully, so far.
“Why are we talking about rbST? It’s gone!” a dairyman asked the AFACT people in one of the seminars.
A Monsanto rep chuckled later and said “Posilac is here to stay.”
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