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Livestock News & Views

August 28, 2014 2:51 PM

Cheeseburgers and Cowspiracy: putting livestock and climate change in perspective

Filed Under: Pam Baker | 0 Comments

Why, yes, this is a blog dedicated to livestock genetics and as odd as it may sound, this story does indeed involve some livestock gene manipulation. But let’s put first things first here at the intersection of climate change and farm gasses.

For awhile now, different environmental groups have pointed to the act of eating a single cheeseburger as the greatest environmental threat ever. Not just the deadliest environment killer on your plate but in the entire scope of all the things human beings can do to bring about an environmental apocalypse. Apparently we are all going to die from an onslaught of burger joints.

“The documentary film ‘Cowspiracy,’ released this week in select cities, builds on the growing cultural notion that the single greatest environmental threat to the planet is the hamburger you had for lunch the other day,” writes Jayson Lusk in his post on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal.

Duh duh dun cue the disaster movie music and watch this official trailer of the movie if you dare. I bet you’ll never eat meat or trust your neighboring farmer ever again. 

 “As director Kip Andersen recently told the Source magazine: ‘A lot of us are waking up and realizing we can choose to either support all life on this planet or kill all life on this planet, simply by virtue of what we eat day in and day out. One way to eat takes life, while another spares as many lives (plant, animal and otherwise) as possible,’" Lusk continued.

But wait, the alarm is sounded even louder and this time directed not at the lowly burger but at cattle ranchers. 


More Recent Posts
August 28, 2014 2:51 PM
Cheeseburgers and Cowspiracy: putting livestock and climate change in perspective
Filed Under: Pam Baker | 0 Comments

Why, yes, this is a blog dedicated to livestock genetics and as odd as it may sound, this story does indeed involve some livestock gene manipulation. But let’s put first things first here at the intersection of climate change and farm gasses.

For awhile now, different environmental groups have pointed to the act of eating a single cheeseburger as the greatest environmental threat ever. Not just the deadliest environment killer on your plate but in the entire scope of all the things human beings can do to bring about an environmental apocalypse. Apparently we are all going to die from an onslaught of burger joints.

“The documentary film ‘Cowspiracy,’ released this week in select cities, builds on the growing cultural notion that the single greatest environmental threat to the planet is the hamburger you had for lunch the other day,” writes Jayson Lusk in his post on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal.

Duh duh dun cue the disaster movie music and watch this official trailer of the movie if you dare. I bet you’ll never eat meat or trust your neighboring farmer ever again. 

 “As director Kip Andersen recently told the Source magazine: ‘A lot of us are waking up and realizing we can choose to either support all life on this planet or kill all life on this planet, simply by virtue of what we eat day in and day out. One way to eat takes life, while another spares as many lives (plant, animal and otherwise) as possible,’" Lusk continued.

But wait, the alarm is sounded even louder and this time directed not at the lowly burger but at cattle ranchers. 


August 22, 2014 3:41 PM
Preliminary results promising in beef genomics project

Alberta researchers are starting to get some promising results back from a five year study aiming to improve molecular breeding values and show how genomics can be used by beef producers to make better breeding decisions.

University of Alberta researchers split the composite herd at the Roy Berg Kinsella Research Ranch into control and experimental groups. Cows in the control group were bred to control bulls, while the other cows were bred to feed efficient bulls. The Kinsella herd is heavily influenced by Angus sires, but still includes traces of Hereford, Brown Swiss, Simmental, and other breeds.

August 14, 2014 5:03 PM
Saving heritage breeds preserves valuable traits and culture

Early in June, I booked into a bed and breakfast near Ravenscrag, Saskatchewan to work on a new writing project. The journey there ended up being a little more dramatic than I wanted – my Chevy Tracker lost a wheel on the highway near Kyle, Sask, and I ended up borrowing a car from some kind strangers for about 10 days – but the destination ended up being well worth the trouble.

Jim Saville, the proprietor of the bed and breakfast, had several different heritage breeds on the place. Maybe it’s the ag journalist or farm girl in me, but those critters made my stay even more enjoyable.  The Irish Kerry and Canadienne dairy cattle stood out in particular, for me.

August 8, 2014 2:32 PM
University of Alberta to honour beef researcher

Next week the University of Alberta is honouring Dr. Roy Berg, a man who changed Alberta’s cattle industry, by re-naming the Kinsella Ranch after him.

Berg conducted research at the ranch from 1960 to 1988. His research proved the value of hybrid vigour to the industry in a time when purebred herds were still the norm for commercial producers. He initially faced opposition, even scorn, from many in the industry, who christened his hybrid herd “Berg’s bastards” and “Roy Burgers.”

July 31, 2014 10:49 AM
Farmers benefit and suffer from legacy breed protection programs
Filed Under: Pam Baker | 0 Comments

In a story as old as farming itself, livestock breeds regularly come to be and cease to exist in the ongoing quest to feed more people. It’s not that extinction of any breed is the desired outcome, nor is its passing callously unnoticed. Indeed, many farmers see the value in protecting legacy and purebred breeds even as they pursue better genetic blends to increase food yields as a matter of necessity. From this duality come a number of breed and species protection programs. But many of those cut both ways; sometimes helping the farmers and other times threatening their livelihood.

It’s not just a desire to maintain a balance in nature that drives these genetic preservation efforts, although that is a practical undertaking as well, but an acknowledgment of the value in keeping extensive genetic material available in order to meet future challenges.

Programs such as the Smithsonian & SVF Foundation Biodiversity Project work diligently to this very practical end. As the name suggests, this project is a collaborative effort between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the SVF Foundation.

“The ‘Smithsonian & SVF Foundation Biodiversity Project’ is a terrific example of how a public and private partnership can address a formidable world challenge,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough in an article in Smithsonian Science. “By bringing together the cutting-edge scientific expertise of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute with SVF’s extensive genetic material, we will gather more information on rare and endangered heritage breeds to make a lasting impact on global biodiversity.”

“Heritage breeds of livestock carry valuable and irreplaceable traits such as resistance to disease and parasites, heat tolerance, mothering ability and forage utilization,” continues the writer of that article. “Protecting the genetics and traits of these breeds will help ensure genetic diversity, which could protect the global food chain.”

Both groups bring unique skills to the effort. The SCBI brings “scientists who are leaders in applying advanced biomedical approaches, including assisted reproductive technologies and germplasm cryopreservation, for enhancing the demographic and genetic diversity of endangered species.” The SVF Foundation, on the other hand, “preserves and manages germplasm (semen, embryos, blood and cells) from rare and endangered breeds of food and fiber livestock, elevating rare-breed conservation through biomaterials cryopreservation. The SVF Foundation will be able to reawaken a breed, with its full genetic diversity, within one generation.”

This project has no foreseeable downside and poses every conceivable advantage to farmers worldwide.

But there are other efforts afoot that pose a conundrum for farmers. These tend to focus more on preserving species we generally don’t think of as traditional livestock, e.g. deer and bison, but have historically been a source of food for humans nonetheless.