A2 Milk. Again…

as2mlkI hadn’t really planned on talking about a2 milk but it’s started to show up at a few stores locally and some people were asking me about it. I thought I’d covered so-called “a2” milk here before in depth but a quick search through the archives only turned up a couple of brief comments about it. I know I wrote about it before so either the search failed to turn it up in the archives or I published that piece somewhere else. I suppose it could have been on my defunct Tumblr blog. So I’m going to take a look at it again and if I did publish this before, well, it won’t be the first time I’ve repeated myself. Hey, I’m old. I’m lucky if I can remember my phone number some days.

Now, the news…

Back in mid summer a2 Milk (the company) got itself a new CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka, brought over from Qantas Airways because apparently selling airplane tickets is just like selling milk.

Just two months later, in September, Hrdlicka abruptly sold all of the stock in the company that she owned, some 357,000 shares.

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Note clever re-use of cow drawing from past blog entry thus saving writer time so he can watch cheesy Korean soap operas.

Now when the brand new CEO of a company abruptly sells every single share of the company she heads up, a lot of people sort of stare and go WTF??? The company issued a statement saying that she did so to meet “tax obligations”. And, of course, everyone sort of chuckled and said “yeah, sure she did”. Especially after those people found out that the company’s CFO, Craig Loutit, sold off 150,000 shares in the company a couple of weeks before the CEO did, and, well… Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, when the CFO sells off a large percentage of his shares in the company and the new CEO who has been on the job for only two months sells off all of her shares in the company?

And then came the announcement that Nestle is jumping into the “a2” milk market by selling infant formula based on “a2” milk in China, a major market for the A2 Milk company and…

Well, let’s sum things up here:  The CFO of the company sells off a large chunk of stock in the company. Shortly thereafter the new CEO sells all of her stock in the company for “tax obligations”, and a few weeks later Nestle announces it is moving into what had been A2M’s exclusive territory with a virtually identical product… Nope, nothing to see here. Let’s move on, shall we?

What the heck is a2 milk anyway?

There is a lot of different stuff in milk, and some people are sensitive to some of the things in milk or are even outright allergic to some of the components. My oldest son, for example,  is mildly lactose intolerant.

So prepare for your eyes to glaze over because I’m about to get all sciencey here for a few minutes. Or you can take a nap until I’m done with this and pick it up when I’m finished with this part.

Woman Stomach Ache
He’s either having stomach cramps or trying to keep the alien baby from bursting out of his stomach. And what the hell kind of pants is he wearing, anyway?

The biggest problem people have with milk is lactose intolerance. Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to fully digest the lactose in milk, resulting in gas, bloating and even diarrhea after eating dairy products. They don’t make enough of an enzyme called lactase which is needed to digest lactose.

Or is it? Here’s where it starts to get complicated and more than a little controversial.

One of the components of milk is a protein called beta-casein. It is present in significant quantities, making up about 30% of the total proteins in milk. There are two different types of beta-casein, a1 and a2. The only difference between the two is a single amino acid. Beta-casein contains a total of 209 amino acids whether it is a1 or a2 type. The difference is that at position 67, a1 milk has a histidine and a2 has a proline. Now when digested in the small intestine, this histidine may cause the release of a peptide called beta-casomorphine-7 or BCM-7 because that’s a hell of a lot easier to spell. And BCM-7 is what causes the controversy. (I say may produce BCM-7 because there doesn’t seem to be any consistent proof that BCM-7 is even produced in the human digestive system in the first place. But let’s ignore that for the moment.)

Back in the 90s there was a study that indicated that BCM-7 was not a good thing, well, in rats, anyway. There was a claim that it caused diabetes because apparently some rats in the test that were fed a1 milk produced BCM-7 and got diabetes, while rats that weren’t fed the stuff didn’t.

Only that was mostly bunk, as it turned out. The study was seriously flawed. As were others that claimed a1 milk caused not just diabetes but heart disease as well. A paper published in Nature (you can read it yourself here) debunks the whole theory that a1 type milk caused any such problems in human beings. The conclusion of the paper was that:

there is no convincing or probable evidence that A1 beta-casein in cows milk is a factor causing DM-I diabetes.

It was also concluded that the same was true when it came to chronic heart disease. There was no evidence that a1 type milk was a factor in causing CHD. Another study supported the study published in Nature (abstract here) and says that

Evidence from several epidemiological studies and animal models does not support the association of milk proteins, even proteins in breast milk, and the development of T1D [type 1 diabetes]. Ecological data, primarily based on A1/ A2 variations among livestock breeds, do not demonstrate causation, even among countries where there is considerable dairy consumption.”

So how did these health claims for a2 milk get to be ‘a thing’ as they say?  Why does so-called “a2” milk even exist as a product?

In the 1990s someone came up with a genetic test to determine if a cow would produce the a1 or the a2 type of protein, and a company called A2 Corporation was started in New Zealand in 2000 to try to make money off it. They started a campaign to try to make people terrified of a1 milk by claiming that a1 type milk was responsible for heart disease and diabetes, and even tried to link it to schizophrenia and autism. It even launched a campaign to try to force the New Zealand government to declare a1 type milk a health hazard and require warnings on packaging.

Then the push back began.

First the New Zealand Commerce Commission turned up and pointed out some labeling issues. The company was claiming there was no a1 protein in its milk. But there was. Testing indicated there was indeed a1 type proteins in the a2 labeled milk and finally the company had to admit that they “could not be certain that there was no A1 in A2 milk.”

Then the NZ Food Safety Authority and Australia’s Ministry of Health and Food Standards got involved. Warnings were issued, threats were uttered, and finally the company had to withdraw its claims about the health effects of a1 and a2 milk, fines were issued, companies linked to the product went under, and, well, the whole thing was a mess.

The company itself, now called “The a2 Milk Company Limited” withdrew health claims for its product except the claim that it may cause less gastric distress for those who have problems consuming other types of milk.

That is the only alleged health effect that has any kind of actual scientific backing, but even that claim is dubious. There were a couple of apparently independent studies, very small ones, that gave some indication that for people who experience gastric distress from consuming milk, consuming “a2” milk might cause fewer symptoms in a few cases. But those studies each looked at only about 40 – 50 people, and the results were self-reported in at least one of those studies, so it isn’t really known if what they were experiencing was accurate or not.

But that hasn’t prevented a lot of other people from making the same unsubstantiated and outright false claims that the original company and its founders tried to push. While scrounging around doing research for this piece I found dozens of websites making the same health claims that got the company in trouble back in the early 2000s.

Let’s wrap this up because this is getting longer than I really wanted.

  1. Despite what some of the promoters of this stuff claim, “a1” milk does not cause disease in human beings.
  2. Despite what some of the promoters claim, “a2” milk does not cure anything.
  3. The only difference between “a1” and “a2” milk is a single amino acid in a single component of a milk protein.
  4. All dairy cows produce both the “a1” and “a2” type proteins, whether they have the so-called “a2” gene or not. The only difference is that cows with the genetic marker produce a larger percentage of the “a2” type. So-called “a2” milk still contains some “a1” type proteins.
  5. If you are truly lactose intolerant, you still should not drink “a2” milk because it contains normal lactose. You will still experience the same discomfort, bloating and other symptoms.
  6. If you are allergic to any of the components of milk you should not drink “a2” milk because it still has all of those components.
  7. The only alleged health benefit with any kind of actual proof is an indication that a small percentage of people who experience gastric distress from consuming milk experience somewhat less gastric distress when consuming “a2” milk, but even those few studies are questionable.

So why do people pay extraordinary prices for the stuff? As H.L. Mencken allegedly said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the [American] public.”

Farm Catch Up

I wasn’t going to do one of these for a while yet but some interesting stuff has been going on in the world of agriculture that I wanted to pass along… Oh, all right, I was bored, okay?

ADM and Perfect Day Make Cow Free Milk But Not Really

According to a wildly misleading headline on Fortune’s website, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and a San Francisco start up

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Actual real cow. Not a yeast.

company claim they can make real milk (they aren’t, not even close) with yeast. According to the article, they got “some yeast” from USDA, then “They then got a cow’s DNA sequence, had it printed via 3D-printer, and inserted it into a specific location of the yeast” according to the article. And if that statement makes you scratch your head a bit, well, yeah, I understand. That’s about as misleading as the story’s headline is.

No, they aren’t making actual milk. Not even close. All they’re making is a casein and yeast not cowwhey which are chemically similar to that produced in real milk. Casein and whey are not milk, they are merely two components of the complex compound that milk really is. Nor are they really trying to if you read carefully. They’re planning on selling the stuff as an ingredient to the food processing industry, not as some kind of substitute milk.

Trade War Drags On. And On. And On. And On…

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Shooting ourselves in the foot. Get it? Yeah, I know I can’t draw shoes.

While the administration is touting a new trade agreement hammered out with Canada and Mexico, don’t hold your breath waiting for any kind of improvement in that sector. Treaties still have to be approved by all three governments before anything goes into effect. And even if it is approved, the administration still has its steel and aluminum tariffs in place which were what helped to trigger a lot of this trade war nonsense in the first place.

And despite comments from D.C. that there will be an agreement with China real soon now, the information coming from Asian sources doesn’t indicate anything of the kind. At the Asian – Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in New Guinea attended by VP Pence the mood was anything but pleasant. The Chinese government said the US exhibited a “blaze of anger” during the meeting and Pence was “unhelpful”. Pence openly accused China of intellectual property theft and a whole laundry list of other alleged misconduct and, well, the whole meeting was pretty much a fiasco.

Will The Federal Farm Bill Pass This Year?

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Farmer Bill, not the Farm Bill.

The current farm bill expired in September. A lot of programs which did not have permanent funding are shut down until a new bill is passed by Congress and signed by the president. Some ag marketing programs are closed, food aid to locations outside of the US are shut down, as are a lot of conservation programs, because once the farm bill expired the funding for those programs ended. Crop insurance and the SNAP (food stamps) program are both permanently funded so they continue even though the bill has expired.

While I’m sure the GOP would love to get the farm bill out the door before the Dems take over the House in January, that doesn’t look likely at this point in time. The House leadership is apparently not going to back down on its insistence to include strict work requirements for the SNAP program, and the Senate already voted those down by a 2-1 margin. I’m not going to delve into what’s going on in the fight over the SNAP program because I promised myself long ago I wasn’t going to descend into politics in this blog. Considering the difference in opinion between the two bodies of Congress, I suspect the Senate would be more than content to let the farm bill languish until the Dems take over the House in January.

Complicating things is Congress facing a Dec. 7 deadline to pass a funding bill to avoid the government shutting down. The administration is threatening to veto any funding bill that doesn’t include funding for “the wall”, so you can expect this to start to get nasty pretty quickly.

It’s possible that a farm bill might get passed, of course, but I’d think the chances of that are less than 50/50 right now.

[Edit: as of Nov. 23 it seems the Senate and the House may be getting closer to an agreement on SNAP issues and might actually produce a bill to present for a vote before the end of the year. At the moment I have no idea what’s actually in this compromise, nor do I know the chances of it actually passing.]

Milk Prices

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Gadzooks! He can draw a barn!

It’s no secret that the prices dairy farmers have been getting for milk has been utterly horrible for a long time. Wisconsin alone has lost 584 dairy farms just this year and 1,086 over the last two years. You’d think that with that many farms going out of business there would be a significant reduction in the amount of milk being produced, but that isn’t true. What generally happens is that when a dairy farm goes out of business the cows end up being sold to other dairy farms that expand their operation. So while the number of farms goes down, the number of producing cows doesn’t change very much.

As we get close to the end of the year there is a trend in the ag press to start publishing optimistic articles claiming that the price of milk is going to go up, sometimes significantly. Unfortunately those overly optimistic claims are generally based on data that is looked at in isolation. For example, about 12 states in the US report that milk production has declined significantly. If you look at just that fact, that might indicate milk prices might be moving up. But it also ignores the fact that the rest of the milk producing states have actually increased production by as much as 10%. Overall, milk production in the US has gone up about 1 – 2 % (the number varies according to who’s data you look at) despite the reduction in the number of dairy farms in operation.

News on the international scene is even worse. The last big sale conducted by Global Dairy Trade in New Zealand had prices dropping on almost every type of milk product being sold. And this is despite the fact China has, according to some reports at least, lost a considerable percentage of milk production.

What it boils down to is that there is very little information to support the claim that there will be a significant increase in the price of milk any time soon.

Farm Bailout Payments

farmsinkThe administration promised that the trade war it started with much of Europe, Canada, Mexico and China wouldn’t harm farmers, and came up with a bailout plan to help financially support farmers and reduce the impact of the loss of exports to other countries. So how is that going? According the administration it’s going wonderfully. According to the actual facts, well, not so good according to at least one source.

According to the administration the program is wildly successful. In actual fact less than 8% of the money the administration claimed it was going to give out has actually been paid as of Oct. 31, and a lot of that has been given away to non-farm interests. And while the dairy and corn farmers have been hit hard, the bulk of the money seems to be going to soybean growers, with other farmers being offered so little that it’s actually insulting.

Still More Stuff!!

Taking a look at a very curious cell phone health scare, FDA’s approval of dicamba for two years, the farm bill, fish oil, vitamin D, farmland prices, and other, well, stuff…

 

Yet Another Cell Phone Scare

A significant number of people have been claiming cell phones cause cancer ever since cell phones started to come into common use. And every once in a while another “scientific study” is trotted out to support that claim. Invariably it turns out that either the study was badly flawed or the story was the result of some news reporter who didn’t know how to read a scientific paper, didn’t understand statistics, or was even just making stuff up.

images.jpgThe latest scare is the media claiming there is a study that “proves” cell phone use causes brain cancer. Even NBC apparently bit on this one. And all of these news reports ignore the fact that this study is, well, weird and it’s results highly questionable.

The study is real. You can read it yourself  here . And if you actually read it, which most of the news media didn’t bother to do, you’ll notice some very curious things which don’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense.

There were actually two studies, one of rats, one of mice, looking at the effects of exposing both groups to radio waves in the frequency ranges used by cell phones. The exposure began in utero, by exposing the mothers of the animals to RF (radio frequencies) before they were born, and continued during the entire study. They were exposed in a set cycle, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off.

Now, of the animals who were exposed like this, the male mice, female mice and female2d418532a97bbb869201f29d4a1cad50.jpg rats showed no increase in cancer. None. But male rats, on the other hand, did, with a small percentage of them developing brain and/or heart cancer of a specific type.

Let me repeat that, the only animals that showed any adverse effects were male rats. Not female rats. Not male mice. Not female mice. Just male rats. Why did only the male rats develop an elevated risk for cancer? Why didn’t the mice develop cancer as well? Why not female rats? Don’t know. And the numbers of male rats that were affected were really quite low as well, down in the single digits. This is a very odd result and it makes one think there might have been something else going on here other than exposure to cell phone radio frequencies.

And here is another odd fact: The animals that were exposed to cell phone radio frequencies actually lived longer than those in the control group which were not exposed to RF. So on the one hand male rats had a slightly elevated risk of cancer, but at the same time all of the animals exposed to cell phone radiation lived longer? 

There are some very odd things going on with this study that need to be explained before one can draw any kind of conclusions from it. If you want to read a review of the study by a real doctor, go over to Neurological by Steven Novella. He takes a better and more in-depth look at the study and its problems.

And here’s another point. Despite all of the people claiming cell phones cause brain cancer, actual epidemiological data indicates that it doesn’t. We’ve been tracking brain cancers for decades, going back to many years before cell phone use became common. If there was a relationship between brain cancer and cell phone use, the number of cases should have started to increase within a few years of cell phone use becoming widespread. But it hasn’t. The incidence of brain cancer has been essentially flat for decades.

So why do these stories keep popping up? Money, of course. Scare headlines generate eyeballs on TVs and clicks on websites, and that means increased revenue for the hosting entity. And since things like editorial integrity, accuracy and common sense have long ago flown out the window in favor of profit at any cost, we get garbage like this.

Dicamba Approved by EPA

Despite all of the very serious problems associated with the use of the herbicide dicamba, it’s been approved for use by the EPA for the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons. While the agency and the makers of the stuff are touting new rules that will, they claim, reduce or eliminate the problems with drifting, the new rules aren’t much different from those in place during 2018 when more than 1 million acres of crops were damaged by the drifting herbicide. A lot of farmers who normally wouldn’t plant the GMO soybeans that are resistant to the herbicide it feel they are being pressured into paying for the more expensive seed just to keep their crops from being damaged by drifting herbicide from their neighbors.

Election Fallout: The Farm Bill

As usual, the Farm Bill has been languishing in the Congress for months now. The problem has been that the House wants to make dramatic changes to the SNAP program that, among other things, would require almost everyone except children and the elderly to work at least 20 hours a week in order to get benefits. The Senate doesn’t want anything to do with some of those changes, and there has been no real attempt at compromise between the two bodies. But now that the House will be controlled by Democrats come January, I think you’ll see some people trying to desperately get anything passed before the change over to prevent the Dems from having any influence on the bill.

Vitamin D Study & Fish Oil

For years now supplement makers have been pushing vitamin D and pushing it hard, making claims that range from the silly to the dubious to the downright dangerous about the stuff. And while D is important, do you really need to take a supplement at all?

Well, a 5 year long study says no. Vitamin D supplements did absolutely nothing to reduce the risk of cancer or heart problems or stroke. Zip. Nada.

Another study also looked at fish oil supplements and the results were disappointing there as well. Fish oil didn’t lower the risk of heart disease or cancer either. But here was a statistically significant lowering of the risk of heart attack. The lowering of risk of heart attack was especially noticeable among African Americans. They aren’t sure why but there is some suspicion that it might be because African Americans could be eating less fish than the rest of the population.

One good thing about the study was that it while it showed that D supplements did no good at all and fish oil supplements didn’t do very much, there seemed to be no adverse side effects from taking either of them at the levels used in the study. The same can’t be said for a lot of the other snake oil the supplement industry pushes.

The supplement industry is a pet peeve of mine. It scams people out of billions of dollars a year by selling products with vague promises that they will do something to help them, when, in actual fact, they do nothing to help people and can even be down right dangerous. Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994  supplements are almost totally unregulated. Supplements are not approved by the FDA, are not tested by anyone except the manufacturer, and they don’t even have to prove they’re safe before they sell them. The FDA is specifically denied authority to regulate or test these products. The only time the FDA can step in is if there is evidence that a product has actually harmed someone. This means that ineffective and even dangerous products can be sold freely until it becomes obvious that people are being hurt by them.

Even more troubling is the fact that independent analysis of a lot of products discovered that what you see on that label may not actually be in the product itself, and that there could be a lot of things in there that aren’t listed on the label. When tested for content, it’s been found that a significant percentage of these products have inaccurate labels. Some had little or none of the “active” ingredient in them. A lot of them had fillers that were not listed on the label. Some were contaminated by things that were downright dangerous. Some had actual prescription drugs in them. Basically you don’t know what the hell is really in that capsule.

What it boils down to is this: If you eat a reasonably well balanced diet that is fairly heavy on vegetables and fruits, and eat fish once or twice a week, you don’t need supplements of any kind. You’re getting more than enough of the right nutrients to keep you healthy. The health claims made by these supplements, whether herbal or vitamins or oils or whatever, are completely bogus.

Farmland Prices Relatively Stable

I found this one a bit surprising. Prices for corn, soybeans and milk are horrible and don’t show any sign of improving any time soon. A lot of farmers are in serious financial trouble. Wisconsin alone has lost almost 500 dairy farms just this year. So you’d think that farmland sale prices and rental prices would be going down. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Prices have been stable and even creeping up a bit in some parts of the country. In this area farmland prices have been up about 4% overall. But as the article in that link over at AgWeb says, this isn’t going to continue. Farmers have been operating right on the edge, financially speaking for 3-4 years now. With corn sitting at around 3.70 on the commodities exchange (and cash price being quite a bit less than that), well, if you’re paying $200/acre rent or more to grow corn, you might as well not even bother.

In this neck of the woods land prices have been stable, even creeping up a bit, but that’s due to the big mega-dairy operations needing land for manure disposal. If they don’t have enough acreage to dispose of their manure, they can’t get operating permits, bank loans, etc.

Some of the rental prices I’ve been hearing of in this area are a bit ridiculous. One fellow told me his neighbor was renting a 20 acre parcel to one of the mega-farms for $600/acre. They crop it, yes, but they wanted it mainly for manure disposal. Now I’m not going to question the fellow’s statement, but, well, $600/acre is just crazy and I suspect he misheard that figure.

I am really glad my sister and I sold the farm when we did. We got out almost at the peak of the market in that area. If we’d waited another year or two to sell we’d have gotten $1,000 – $2,000 per acre less than what we did.

The FoxConn Fiasco

If you live in Wisconsin you might have noticed something rather curious, the state administration’s campaign ads and the administration itself aren’t talking very much about the most high profile financial fiasco scam deal the state has ever been involved with, the $4 billion plus the state promised to shell out in tax breaks, cash payments and other payouts in order to have FoxConn build it’s factory here. This deal was supposed to bring 13,000 high paying jobs to the state, add still more jobs in various support industries, and help to turn the state into the “Silicon Valley” of the midwest.

And the whole thing has turned into a stinking, reeking mess that smells worse than the local manure lagoon.

Exactly what FC is going to be building on that big hole it’s digging down in southern Wisconsin is anybody’s guess right now, but one thing we can be sure of is that it is definitely not going to be the $10 billion “Generation 10.5” facility the company originally promised. Back in May a news service out of Asia claimed that FC was going to be drastically scaling back the whole plan. FC denied this vehemently. But within about two months it finally admitted that the Gen 10 plant was not going to be built. Instead it was going to be putting in a so-called Generation 6 plant, which was about a quarter of the size of the original facility. But it would be building a Gen-10 plant there sometime in the future. Maybe. It would definitely fulfill its promises about the $10 billion investment and 13,000 jobs. Maybe. It would be done in “phases”, though, not all at once. Maybe.

Well, no.

By the end of summer that story had fallen apart as well. An FC spokesperson told a local paper that it was never going to build a Gen-10 plant here because by the time they had it up and running the market would be glutted with product from other makers. And when you consider the fact that FC apparently never even looked into buying the equipment that would have been necessary to build the Gen-10 plant according to industry analysts, and didn’t make arrangements with Corning to build the required glass manufacturing facility on the site (Corning, BTW, refused to build the facility unless the state coughed up hundreds of millions more in tax breaks and cash), and other things that have come to light since this all started, even someone a lot less cynical than I am would suspect FC never intended to build a Gen-10 plant here in the first place.

And then to make things even more interesting, the spokesperson, said that the Gen-6 plant quite probably wouldn’t be in operation for very long, and all those “good paying” assembly line jobs that they were claiming they were bringing to the state, well, there pretty much weren’t going to be any. Eventually what the facility will really do, they said, was to work on the development of FC’s technologies in displays, cellular and computers. The facility will eventually employ 90% “knowledge workers” and only 10% assembly line work, and most of the assembly line work is going to be done by robots, and, well, that pretty much flushes the hope that the company would employ the lower skilled minority workers from south east Wisconsin right down the drain.

The whole plan has simply evaporated in a puff of smoke. The facility they promised isn’t going to be built. The facility they now claim they will build probably isn’t going to actually operate for very long. The 13,000 jobs has now become maybe 2,000 – 3,000, and 90% of them are going to be “knowledge workers” engaging in research and development. And while R&D is enormously important, well, that’s not the 13,000 allegedly good paying blue collar jobs the company promised in order to sell this boondoggle in the first place.

Now there are a few safeguards in place. FC isn’t going to get $4+ billion out of us. But they are still going to get at least $1 billion from the state out of this deal and the state and local governments are still on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements. While we, the people of the state are going to get, well, we aren’t sure what we’re going to get yet, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be the deal the administration and FC promised when this all started.

The administration should have known better. Seriously, it should have. About 15 minutes worth of research on Google would have told them that if you’re dealing with FC, well, leave your wallet and credit cards at home, count all your fingers when you get your hand back after you shake hands with them, because they’ve done this before. High profile, high dollar projects have been reneged on in India, Vietnam, Pennsylvania, China … And remember that this is the company that had to install nets around the roofs of buildings on its factories in China because it allegedly treated its employees so badly they were committing suicide by jumping off the roofs.

Yes, this is that company.

Now I’m not saying that the politicians down there in Madison deliberately lied to us about this deal. But, well, let’s face it, this current crop of people inhabiting the state capital aren’t really all that bright, now are they? That’s glaringly obvious from the things they’ve said and done over the last eight or ten years. Their primary focus down there isn’t doing good things for the people of the state, it’s getting their asses re-elected so they can hang onto their little bit of power, cling to their fancy offices, go to “fund raising” events where they can guzzle cheap champagne and get their pictures taken with the rich and powerful, and pad their expense accounts. So when FC came along and dangled all those bright, shiny promises, they bit like a starving fish at a worm, and never noticed the hook. They totally ignored all of the warning signs, totally failed to properly research this, totally failed, well, totally failed at just about everything on this deal. And now they’re off soliciting bribes attending fund raising events, and we’re stuck with paying the bills.

Why Do You People Eat This Stuff?

Welcome to a new irregular feature of grouchyfarmer.com, Why The Hell Do You People Eat This Stuff? (Hopefully a very irregular feature because researching all this stuff takes a lot of work and time and, well, I’m lazy, okay? Can’t help it. It’s — genetic… Yeah, that’s it, it’s genetic. Not my fault, blame my ancestors…)

TheMcThing
It’s Back

Hmm? What? Oh, yeah, sorry, got off the track there. Back to the topic. Uh, what was I talking about, anyway? The bloody cats got me up at 4:30 in the morning again to feed ’em and I’m still a bit woozy — Oh, that’s right, It is back, isn’t it? The so-called “McRib”.

Yes, the abomination that is the “McRib” sandwich is once again available at the home of the leering clown. And along with this culinary horror also comes the usual hype and B.S. associated with it. The fast food chain has sent out the usual PR fluff items trying to gin up sales of the thing, launched TV and internet ads, it has an app you can use to find where it’s being sold, it’s even making a big deal out of starting a relationship with Uber to deliver the things. So let’s take a look at it.

First of all, just what the hell is it, anyway? If you deconstruct a McRib, take that patty off the bun, pick off the onions and pickles and wash off the corn syrup they laughingly claim is BBQ sauce, what you have is, well, it’s just nasty looking, but ignore that for the moment and just look at that piece of meat.

Now I’ve been a farmer, and I’ve worked on farms on and off for decades, and frankly, I don’t know what that thing is. That didn’t come off of any animal I ever saw. That’s because it is something called a “restructured meat product”. And before you ask “what the hell is a restructured meat product, I’ll let the inventor of the process, Roger Mandigo, a meat scientist from Nebraska and member of the “Meat Hall Of Fame” (yeah, seriously, there is a meat hall of fame), tell you in his own words in an interview in 1995:

“Restructured meat products are commonly manufactured by using lower-valued meat trimmings reduced in size by comminution (flaking, chunking, grinding, chopping or slicing). The comminuted meat mixture is mixed with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins. These extracted proteins are critical to produce a “glue” which binds muscle pieces together. These muscle pieces may then be reformed to produce a “meat log” of specific form or shape. The log is then cut into steaks or chops which, when cooked, are similar in appearance and texture to their intact muscle counterparts.”

So basically the McRib is, well, kind of sausage, really. (Trivia Tidbit: It was originally going to be a boneless pork chop)

Now what’s actually in that sausage is a matter of hot debate out on the internet. And the internet being what it is, some of the notions about what’s in it are, well, frankly too disgusting to go into in detail. But let me assure you that there is nothing nasty in that meat. Seriously. What it’s really made out of is ground up pork shoulder, and pork shoulder is a perfectly fine piece of meat.

But it isn’t, well, a rib, now is it? There is absolutely no actual rib meat in the thing. It’s more of a “McPorkShoulder” sandwich if they were honest about it.

So, how in the world do they get away with calling a hunk of pork sausage that has no rib meat of any kind, a “McRib”? Isn’t that blatantly mislabeling the product? I have no idea how they get away with it. If you want to know that, you need to go have a little chat with the FDA or FTC or USDA. Maybe it’s a menu naming thing. Calling it what it really is, a “McGroundPorkShoulder Sausage Extruded Into a Vaguely Rib Shaped Patty That Doesn’t Have Any Rib Meat In It At All” wouldn’t fit on the menu board.

Now, the sauce… Oh, dear lord, the sauce… Basically it’s corn syrup with a bit of tomato thrown in, some spices, a lot of vinegar and some smoke flavoring.

The whole thing from start to finish is a fraud misleading. It isn’t made from ribs. It isn’t even a cut of meat. It’s a sausage dipped in flavored corn syrup.

And if you think the sandwich is a bit iffy, take a look at all of the hype and hysteria you see in the media about the thing because that’s even more questionable than the sandwich is. If you believe the press releases McD and it’s advertising agencies put out, people are absolutely wild for this thing, will drive cross country to get one, and when it isn’t on the menu they pine away, wasting away into nothing like crazed drug addicts until it shows up again and…

And it’s all BS. All of it. If people were actually that wild about the thing, the chain would have it on the menu all the time because, well, money. The fact of the matter is that when it was first introduced in the 1980s, sales were horrible. People just didn’t like the thing. It was pulled off the menu in 1985 because sales were terrible. Outside of a few regional areas, it just didn’t sell. (For some reason it sells well in Germany.)

They kept trying, though, for some reason. The chain tried promotional events for it, limited runs, various marketing schemes, etc. It tried to tie it to the Flintstones movie in 1994. Sales “did not meet expectations”, as they say. And finally in 2005 the chain seemed it was finally going to give up on the thing entirely and dump it once and for all and announced it was going away forever.

And then something rather odd happened. An on-line petition popped up to save the sandwich. It was all rather tongue-in-cheek and silly, almost satirical. Other websites started petitions to keep it. The chain announced a “farewell tour” of the product, and gradually the petitions and news stories about demand for the sandwich started appearing in the media. News media that really should have known better started finding people who were desperate, or claimed they were, to “save” their favorite sandwich, and the hype drove sales up. A second “farewell tour” was launched the following year with even more hype being generated and…

Well, it was all a marketing scam. The on-line petitions were, for the most part, outright frauds. The original website with the petition turned out to be owned by the company. Most of the media stories about demand for the sandwich were also misleading. A lot of the “news stories” were actually supplied by the advertising company running the campaign. There were no huge numbers of people clamoring for the sandwich to remain on the menu.

Now, every fall, the cycle repeats. The McRib is brought back with the accompanying hysteria, all of it generated by the company’s PR firms. You’ll see the same headlines, the same stories, appearing year after year because they just keep recycling the same press releases.

Look, there’s nothing actually horrible about the sandwich. Yes, it has way, way too much salt. The BBQ sauce is mostly corn syrup. The bun is your standard, generic, mass produced bread like substance. It is edible. Personally I think it tastes horrible. I bought one the other day to do research for this. I took one bite and, well, the rest went into the trash bin. But if you like it, fine. It’s no worse than anything else on their menu over there.

What really upsets me is the blatant manipulation of people by this whole marketing campaign of theirs. All of this hype, the phony demand for the sandwich, the people who are “addicted” to it, the long lines, the frantic searches to find it — it’s all a PR stunt, it’s all deliberate manipulation of people in order to sell a product no one needs and almost no one actually wants. And that, in my opinion, is the worst part of all of this.

I Wanted To Tell You About This Bread…

I’ve been making my own bread for some time now. I suppose using a bread machine the way I do is “cheating” somehow according to some people. Don’t care. All I know is that the results can be amazingly good. Even better, we know exactly what’s in that loaf when it’s done. We haven’t bought bread at the store since we started doing it some three or four years ago.

Anyway, this one, an oatmeal bread, has become our favorite here. It’s simple, has great texture and flavor and is even relatively healthy. We’ve been going through about 2 loaves of this stuff a week since I discovered this recipe.

So here it is:

1 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons honey

2/3 cup quick cooking oats (we’ve been using standard rolled oats with good results, not the ‘quick cooking’ kind)

2 1/3 cup unbleached bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast.

This is about as simple as bread can get, and the results I’ve been getting are excellent. I put in the ingredients into the machine in the order listed, but your machine may want something different. Just follow its instructions.

And yes, that’s a Hello Kitty toaster sitting there. I originally bought that to irritate the family and make then question my sanity, which is always great fun. The strange thing is that it’s turned out to be the best toaster we’ve ever had.