Ag Policy Blog

If Only Biotech Crops Were Trendy Like Raw Milk

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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My Twitter feed has been filled with two distinct themes this week involving two divergent, yet linked topics.

Both topics demonstrate the passion people feel about their food and their willingness to ignore science when it doesn't fit into their own beliefs

For opponents of the multi-national seed company, the initial report of "contaminated GMO wheat" was like genetically-engineered manna from heaven.

Of course, I probably wouldn't have gone out on a limb earlier this week in defending Monsanto Co. following the "March Against Monsanto" had I been given any kind of heads up on the finding of genetically-engineered wheat in Oregon. Nonetheless, I'm staying out on my limb, hacksaw in hand, looking like Wyle E. Coyote in the process.

Yeah, there was a serious "oopsy" that could create a train wreck for exports comparable to the Bayer LibertyLink rice situation in 2006. One minor detail to keep in mind is the wheat variety carrying the Roundup Ready resistance was found on a single 80-acre tract out of a U.S. wheat crop of more than 56 million acres. Yet, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and every cautionary-principle group in the U.S. are now clamoring for universal testing.

For conservatives, the wheat controversy could lead to "Roundup-gate," but because of USDA's handling of the situation. No, this scandal goes straight to the White House. You see, First Lady Michelle Obama planted wheat in her garden this year. We were told in April by White House policy advisor on nutrition, Sam Kass, that the wheat came from Oregon or Washington and was an "experimental variety." However, the White House assured blogger Eddie Gehman Kohan of Obama Foodorama that there was no reason to believe the wheat is genetically engineered.…

A good patriot would call for the White House garden to be sealed off, sprayed with glyphosate and tested. Perhaps the House Government Oversight Committee also needs to investigate the source of the seeds.

All that said, 20-plus years of biotech crops without a related foodborne illness hasn't given Monsanto or the biotech industry the elevated trust among some people as, say, raw milk. Anyone following what's going on with the raw-milk movement has to realize that raw-milk products are trendy, wholesome, old-fashioned goodness.

You know a product has reached the trendy stage when someone wants to feature it in a coffee shop. Well, sure enough, a downtown San Francisco coffeehouse will have its first raw milk coffee bar.…

The Atlanta Food and Wine show had a raw-milk tasting event on Friday in which people "sipped with gusto," as one tweet posted.

Federal law bans interstate sales of raw milk, but allows states to decide whether raw milk can be sold in its borders. About half the states now allow raw milk sales. A big push at the moment is to convince Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to veto a bill that would allow selling raw milk in that state. The National Milk Producers Federation is among the groups asking Sandoval to veto the legislation. Massachusetts will also hold hearings on raw milk this summer.

Then there is the case of a Wisconsin farmer Vernon Hershberger, who was found not guilty of violating state laws on selling milk and cheese products without a license. He's become a folk hero of sorts after his farm was raided three years ago. Hershberger had created a food club to sell the dairy products from his farm.

“This is a huge win for food rights,” said Liz Reitzig, a founder of Farm Food Freedom Coalition, in a Wall Street Journal article.

No Justice, No Peace --- unless you have to fight with you kids over extra sitting time in the bathroom. Because, well, food freedom sometimes leads to its own "oopsy" that can cause minor problems such as extended bouts of diarrhea.

Earlier in May, five people in Pennsylvania became sick with Campylobacter from drinking raw milk from a farm. Food Safety news reported the same dairy had sickened at least 80 people in 2012.…

A similar outbreak of Campylobacter, one of the most common forms of diarrheal illness, also occurred this month in Alaska, stemming from a cow-sharing program. "These outbreaks are an unfortunate reminder of the inherent risks associated with raw milk consumption and underscore the importance of pasteurization," said Alaska state epidemiologist, Dr. Joe McLaughlin,…

A Centers for Disease Control study in 2012 found 73 outbreaks had occurred from 1993-2006 due to non-pasteurized milk products, resulting in 1,571 people getting sick, 202 hospitalizations and two deaths. Three-quarters of the cases occurred in states that allowed raw milk.

CDC reported in April that incidences of Campylobacter are up 14% since 2002-2008. Campylobacter illnesses are the highest since 2000. The infection, which is prone to infect children, comes from exposure to poultry, raw milk, production and untreated water.

Advocates point out there are higher incidents of foodborne illnesses with other products. True, but those foods also are eaten by a great deal more people than raw milk.

But, if you can get beyond the potential health risk, raw milk isn't corporate (yet), so it's all good.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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Ric Ohge
6/10/2013 | 5:20 PM CDT
Here's the thing. The current model of Biotech CAN'T be "trendy. IT's too old-fashioned. Other than switch from using a "gene gun" to "insert" the traits to using a Bacteriophage to more or less "infect" the target cell with it, little has changed in about forty years. That's "Cigarette Science." It spends little time or money on innovation and keeps pushing the old stuff like it was the newest thing. Meanwhile, the state of the art is now able to observe cellular expression on a quantum scale and is working on artificial life, fine-tuning existing DNA/RNA expression and actually rewriting the code within the living cell, again, all on a quantum level. If Biotech wants to be "trendy", then it needs to move back to the Lab and whip something up that's state of the art, the way Science in america used to, and become the Leaders and Innovators once again.
Bonnie Dukowitz
6/3/2013 | 7:24 PM CDT
We are all going to die from something. I am sure it will be somebody elses fault. If only I would live longer, I could sue somebody for dying. Even better, I could sue the medical profession for not dying and living longer.
ron shepard
6/2/2013 | 6:35 AM CDT
Just a note, the two deaths you site from raw milk were not from raw milk. The CDC had to admit from a Freedom of Information request that the deaths weren't from raw milk. I might add, 3000 people die each year from food, none are from raw milk.
Curt Zingula
6/1/2013 | 7:59 AM CDT
If you're intellectually blind and jousting with windmills, everything natural is good and everything man-made is evil. Especially evil if it can be tagged "corporate". Isn't diarrhea natural? LOVED reading this Chris - thanks!