Farm Catch Up

Spring has finally arrived! Well, sort of. At least according to the calendar if not the weather. It’s been too wet and too cold to be able to do much of anything outside except cleaning up the flower beds and yard. So let’s take a look at what’s going on in the ag industry since the last time I did one of these.

Dean Foods For Sale

If you’ve ever had a hankering to own one of the largest dairy processors in the world, now is your chance. Dean Foods, once the largest dairy processor in the U.S., is apparently trying to sell itself off. The company has been having a difficult time of it. It’s been forced to close processing facilities, it lost a major contract with Walmart, and its efforts to rebrand some of its products and buy into other businesses haven’t been successful, or at least not successful enough to prop up the company’s dwindling sales. It’s been missing its sales targets for something like two years in a row now, and there are no signs things are going to get any better. Supposedly Canadian based Saputo, the 8th largest dairy company in the world, is interested in acquiring Dean. If successful this would be just the latest in a wave of mega-mergers among agriculture related businesses in the last few years.

If you find these mega-mergers to be troubling, well, you should. Despite claims to the contrary, these mergers are resulting in the creation of huge, multinational companies that dominate their markets and often they have virtual monopolies on the product lines they sell.

Bayer Stockholders Angry

Speaking of mega-mergers, Bayer’s management is facing repercussions from stockholders over it’s acquisition of Monsanto. It was expected that a lot of large stockholders were going to disapprove of the board of directors’ and management’s acquisition of Monsanto at the annual general meeting of the company. While this doesn’t change what management has done, it does indicate that a lot of stockholders are very angry over the decision to buy Monsanto, and the subsequent legal problems over the lawsuits about the adverse health effects from RoundUp, and most importantly, Bayer’s plummeting stock value.

Frankly, buying Monsanto was a really bad idea from the beginning, and if the executives at Bayer didn’t realize it, the company’s lawyers sure as hell should have. Even back when the negotiations for the purchase started Monsanto was already facing thousands of lawsuits over the alleged cancer risks of glyphosate. Now there are about 13,000 lawsuits in the pipeline concerning the herbicide. No, that was not a typo. Thirteen thousand.

And that isn’t the end of Monsanto’s legal problems. There is the whole dicamba fiasco to be concerned about as well. The lawsuits over the damage the company’s dicamba based herbicide has done since it was released a couple of years ago, along with lawsuits over Monsanto’s marketing tactics for it’s dicamba resistant soybeans, are starting to pop up now and are only going to get worse. Basically Monsanto is a legal nightmare and it is dragging down Bayer with it.

Beef Industry Lawsuits

While I’m on the subject of legal problems, the beef industry has been hit with two separate but related lawsuits alleging the four biggest beef packing companies, Tyson, JBS, Cargill and United Beef Packing (together they control 80% of the US beef market) conspired together to manipulate the price they paid to cattle growers and the prices charged to consumers. Basically it’s another claim of monopolies using their lock on the market to manipulate prices. Just those four companies control about 80% of the beef market in the US. Anyway, I won’t go into depth on this one. I’ll leave it to you to follow the link and sort out the details if you’re interested.

Walmart Gets Into Beef

I mentioned Walmart briefly when I talked about Dean Foods. Dean lost a huge contract to make Walmart’s house brand liquid milk not long ago when the retailer decided to experiment with eliminating the middleman and become its own processor. It built a large milk processing facility, cut deals with dairy farms to supply milk, and cut Dean Foods out completely in one district.

Walmart is now trying to do the same thing with beef. It is developing its own end to end supply chain to supply beef to some 500 Walmart stores. This won’t take care of all of Walmart’s meat. Most of it will still be supplied by Tyson and Cargill. But it does indicate a troubling trend where these big companies are trying to develop a complete monopoly over not only sales, but supply as well. Costco is doing something similar with chicken, developing its own supply chain that will supply about 40% of its needs.

Trade Wars Continue: Updated 5/6/19

I had this section all wrapped up and ready to go when the you-know-what hit the fan and… Okay, here’s what’s going on.

I really want to talk about the China situation, but let’s deal with something closer to home first, the new NAFTA treaty, USMCA, the US-Mexic0-Canada-Agreement. The USMCA negotiations finished some time ago, a treaty was agreed to, and all is well and good now, right? (Side note: Am I the only one who thinks USMCA is the title of a Village People song?)

Well, no. Yes, the treaty was negotiated, but everything is most definitely not good because not only are we still operating under the old NAFTA treaty, the administration has still left the punitive tariffs in place that have been causing disruptions of the economies of all three countries.

So what the hell is going on? We have the new treaty, so why are we still operating under the old NAFTA and why are the tariffs in place yet? Because before a treaty can go into effect it has to be ratified by the US Senate, and the US Senate has been doing what it does best, acting like a bunch of petulant, spoiled brats who are more interested in back stabbing each other and playing at politics and dabbling in personal attacks than they are in actually doing their bloody jobs. Supposedly one of the reasons why the tariffs are still in place is because the administration is trying to use that to goad the Senate into doing something. And since that hasn’t worked, the administration has threatened to cancel the existing NAFTA treaty, which would cause utter chaos, if the Senate doesn’t get off its ass and actually do its job for a change.

Now let’s move on to China. Now if you haven’t really been following what’s been going on there, you can be excused for thinking that all is sweetness and goodness and we’re all well on the way to being best buddies and all of this trade war nonsense will be over soon and, well, no. Sorry, but no.

As you’ve probably found out in the last couple of days, despite all of the positive PR fluff that’s been released by both sides over the last few months, things have most definitely not been going well with the negotiations. While both sides have been putting out positive sounding press releases, there have been issues, as they say. Behind the scenes things have been more than a bit testy.

Yes, China did a soybean purchase, but that was more PR than anything else. While the amount they purchased sounds quite large to the average person, in actual fact it was little more than a token purchase to indicate good faith on their part.

Things did sound positive for a while, though. Both sides were stating that things were going well and that they were on the verge of coming to an agreement. But then something happened. I’m not sure what, exactly, but whatever it was put a definite chill on the whole thing. There are a lot of rumors flying around. One is that the Chinese are very much aware of the legal and ethics issues the administration is involved with here in the US and as a result they just don’t trust anything the White House says.

Anyway, we suddenly had the administration muttering vague threats that it was considering pulling out of the negotiations entirely. Then the administration started threatening to ramp up the trade war to new heights, doubling the cost of the tariffs and including even more Chinese products in the tariff war. Then the Chinese started threatening to pull out of the negotiations… Oh, brother…

As I write this (May 7, 2019) things look tense, and the effects from this little tiff are rippling through the economy. The stock market is down. Commodities prices have fallen. Corn is down to 3.55, soybeans are down to 8.20… Sigh…

Even more disturbing is the fact that statements being made by the administration indicate that the administration doesn’t really know how tariffs work in the first place. One statement implied that the administration believes that China is paying the tariffs and that they are actually good for our economy. If the administration really believes that, it shows a fundamental ignorance about what tariffs are. Let me explain.

A tariff is intended to discourage the importing of a particular product into the US by increasing it’s cost to the importer. Let me emphasize that by repeating it: “increasing it’s cost to the importer.” Not the country of origin, but to the person or company that is importing the product. So for the most part, China doesn’t pay anything extra on products it exports to the US (except indirectly through lost sales). The people who pay the tariff are the US companies that are importing the products. And that cost is passed along directly or indirectly to us, the consumers.

Let me emphasize that: China doesn’t pay the tariffs, we do.

This is one of the reasons why tariffs are generally a bad idea except under extreme circumstances. It causes as much economic pain or more to the country importing the products as it does to the country exporting them.

It also makes the stock and commodities markets very, very nervous, especially in this situation because they don’t know what the hell this administration is going to do next. The markets like stability. They like predictability. And this administration is providing neither of those things at the moment.

Well, I’ve been babbling along for far too long already here, so let’s wrap this up.

Hopefully in the very near future I’ll have some new radio equipment to talk about. I’m seriously considering going QRP and I’ve been looking at mag loop antennas and the Yaesu FT-818ND QRP transceiver. We’ll see how that goes.

Farm Catch Up

It’s bloody cold out there. In the last few of weeks we’ve had a 14 inch snow storm, some of the coldest weather the state’s ever had, followed by temperatures jumping from -37F to +50F in just a couple of days, then more snow, then back in the deep freeze again, then freezing rain and more snow. In other words, a fairly typical Wisconsin winter. So with nothing to do outside I might as as well do something to justify the name of this website and talk about farming for a while.

Stoned Pigs??

No, that’s not some kind of strange code or some new meme up there in that title. I mean seriously, we’re talking about feeding pigs weed. Well, sort of. Moto Perpetuo Farm in Oregon is feeding their pigs marijuana. They’re feeding scraps and outdated marijuana laced bakery products to their pigs because, well, they can, I guess. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone would do something like this as some kind of marketing gimmick. And I suppose it’s better to feed the stuff to pigs than landfill all those brownies, cookies and other stuff when they go stale. Feeding bakery waste to pigs and other cattle is a pretty common practice and has been going on for as long as there have been bakeries. But feeding them marijuana brownies? Well, hell, why not, I guess. As MrsGF said when I told her about this she said “Damn, I bet those are some happy pigs!”

I wonder what this is doing to the pigs, though. Marijuana is not a normal part of a pig’s diet and while it doesn’t seem to be harming them, no one knows for sure. They seem to be doing this for no reason other than as some kind of marketing gimmick and that troubles me.

African Swine Fever

I haven’t seen much about ASF outside of the ag press, but this is a seriously scary disease if you’re in the pork business. ASF doesn’t harm humans, but it is highly contagious among pigs, and almost always fatal. There is no vaccine or treatment for it. It can’t be cured. All they can do is try to isolate it, and that is proving to be almost impossible. In China it has quickly spread to more than 25 provinces. The country has instituted bans on moving live pigs and other measures to try to contain it, but that doesn’t seem to have done much good. It’s been hitting small Chinese pig farmers hard because they have trouble dealing with the restrictions and health measures. It’s looking like a lot, if not all of the small pig farms will be put out of business by this.

It’s been spotted in the EU as well. Authorities are urging hunters to kill wild pigs which can carry the disease. There has even been talk of putting up fences along borders to keep wild pigs from spreading it into adjacent countries. France has supposedly deployed the military along the border with Belgium because they’re afraid swine from Belgium will sneak across the border

There is a swine fever problem going on in Japan as well, but that seems to be a different strain of disease that isn’t related to ASF. The country has slaughtered thousands of pigs in some prefectures in an effort to halt the spread of the disease, and the farm minister called the situation “extremely serious”. The major concern there is that no one knows how the disease is spreading.

Whole Milk in Schools?

You may not know this, but it is illegal to serve anything except low fat or skim milk in public school lunch programs. Apparently the belief is that if you let one tiny, tiny bit of milk fat past the lips of a child they will immediately swell up to 300 pounds, get diabetes and drop dead of a heart attack. Yeah, right… As if the few calories they’d get from whole milk is going to make any difference to a kid who is gorging on chips, soda, candy, and sodium loaded fast food outside of school.

Anyway, a couple of professional criminals — ahem, excuse me, I mean congress persons, are trying to change that and are putting forward a new regulation that would permit whole milk to be served, accompanied by the usual hype from the dairy industry. The usual suspects, the various dairy marketing organizations, are hyping the hell out of this, using it as an opportunity to promote the alleged “health benefits” of drinking milk. They are desperate to try to prop up ever decreasing consumption of milk. About 10 ethically challenged bas… oops, a bit of a typo there… Ten congress persons have signed onto this thing so far and I would think more will join up because it’s “for the children”, makes them look like they really care when they don’t, and doesn’t cost them anything while letting them suck up those yummy bribes … oops, another typo there. I mean, of course, campaign contributions from the dairy industry. Wink wink nudge nudge…

Uh? What do you mean I’m a cynical old grouch?

Dicamba Antitrust Lawsuit

I’ve talked about the herbicide dicamba before so I won’t go into detail about it here except say it is nasty stuff with a habit of vaporizing and drifting long distances and killing and damaging millions of acres of crops, mostly soybeans, and a lot of other plants. Despite changing the formula of the herbicide, more strict application regulations, etc., nothing seems to have stopped the damage.

A new lawsuit has been started against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, claiming it violated antitrust laws when it introduced it’s “Xtend” brand dicamba resistant soybeans. Xtend soybeans have taken over almost 75% of the North American soybean market in just three years. The company claims this is because their seed is just better. The plaintiffs claim that sales are driven, at least partly, by fear.

The claim is that farmers are planting the stuff not because it’s better, but because they’re afraid they’re going to lose their whole crop if their neighbors use the stuff and the herbicide drifts over their fields. That fear is entirely justified because dicamba damaged or killed millions of acres traditional soybeans across the country since it came into widespread use when Xtend seed came on the market. They also claim that seed salespeople are actively promoting this fear, telling farmers that if they don’t buy Xtend seed, they risk losing their whole crop. The lawsuit claims that Monsanto knew about the risk of dicamba drift and deliberately exploited it in order to drive competitors out of the market.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto last year, denies it, claims that the herbicide doesn’t drift if used properly, and claims that damage from drift were down last year after new restrictions were put in place. The plaintiffs claim that the damage has been reduced because farmers have been forced to buy the Xtend seed or face losing their crops.

Rent A Chicken. Seriously?

In the “no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people” department: There is something out there called “Rent a Chicken”. For “just” $450 – $600 a season, this outfit will rent you a couple of chickens, a small coop, a bag of feed and a couple of dishes. And…

Oh, come on, really? The free range “organic” eggs you’ll get out of those two birds will cost you something like $20 a dozen. Plus you will experience the “joy” of taking care of a pair of birds that will try to escape, run out into the road and get run over, piss off your neighbors and leave chicken crap all over your yard for your kids to play in.

But apparently people are actually doing this. And enough of them are doing it to let this outfit have outlets in 23 states and parts of Canada and…

Look, you can get free range, organic eggs from small farmers around here for about $5/doz if you’re looking for eggs. And if you think a chicken is going to be your pet, well, tell that to the emergency room doctor when you have to take your four year old in to get her face stitched up after the bird went for her. Can you say tetanus shots?

Look, if you really, really want to have a couple of chickens for some reason, here’s how you can do it for free.

You can cobble together a pretty good coop out of an old pallet or two and chances are good you can pick up a couple free. The birds themselves? Check Craigslist or other community bulletin boards and you’ll generally find ads from people trying to give the things away because they found out what you’re about to find out, that chickens are A) stupid, B) vicious, C) annoying, D) filthy, E) without a carefully controlled diet the eggs they produce (if any) taste bloody awful, and F) drop dead for no apparent reason leaving you to try to explain to little Rachel why her bird went to live in chicken heaven, and costing you thousands of dollars in therapy bills when you haven’t even paid off the ER bill yet from the time the chicken tried to peck her face off. And as for feeding them, well, that’s free too because, well, your neighbors got bird feeders, right? Besides, chickens will eat damn near anything including small rodents, bugs, snakes and each other.

Fake Yogurt

Danone, makers of Dannon and Activia coagulated milk products (yogurt), bought a building in Pennsylvania that it plans to use to make “vegan yogurt”. Basically you take soybeans or some other legume or nut, process the hell out of it, spin off some kind of juice from it, throw in a bunch of chemicals and additives to make it vaguely resemble real yogurt, add a lot of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners and flavoring agents so people can gag it down, then throw in some bacteria, cheap vitamins mass produced in China, and then use a massive marketing campaign to convince you it’s “healthy”.

Anyway, the company has jumped into the fake dairy product market with both feet. Back in ’16 it bought the company that manufactures Silk and other vegan products for something like $12 billion so they want to get into the fake milk and dairy business really, really bad because, well, profits, of course. Sales of regular yogurt have gone flat or even started to decline in some areas so it has to do something to prop up the sales.

What really caught my eye in this story was the term “flexitarian”. I’d never heard of it before. What the hell is, some of you are asking, a flexitarian? A flexitarian, my friends, is a vegetarian who eats meat. Seriously. Oh, they say, I’m better than you are because I don’t eat a lot of meat… And, well, it’s all just pretentious drivel. It’s greenwashing on a personal level

Tinder for Cows

Yeah, seriously, Tinder for cows. A company in the UK has introduced an app called “Tudder” which lets farmers find breeding matches for their cattle by using a Tinder style app where you can swipe left or right as you page through a selection of cows and bulls. You can narrow things down by specifying various characteristics such as breed of animal, whether it’s organic or not, health, age, etc. I know it sounds silly but there is a genuine market for this kind of app. It isn’t being put out by a fly by night company, either. It’s backed by Hectare, which provides marketing platforms for trading cattle and grains that are used by about a third of UK farmers.

And, of course, the article offers the obligatory pun about a possible sheep version called “Ewe-Harmony”.

Big Dairy Is About to Flood America’s School Lunches With Milk | Farm Journal’s MILK Business

Big Dairy Is About to Flood America’s School Lunches With Milk | Farm Journal’s MILK Business

If you click the link above it will take you to a fascinating article at the Farm Journal (re-printed from Bloomberg News) about what’s going on in school food service with the focus on milk. Unlike the usual two or three paragraph news blurb that tells you pretty much nothing, this article goes into the situation in some depth and is pretty well written, and debunks a lot of the hype being pushed by various marketing boards.

It still puzzles some of my readers here that someone with his roots in dairy farming like me can be so critical of the dairy industry, but that same dairy industry stopped giving a damn about the health and well being of you and your family a long, long time ago. What it has focused on exclusively for decades now is trying to sell you milk and milk products any way it can. It has manipulated data, used misleading statistics, cherry picked information, ignored significant health issues, pressured retailers and school systems, and generally used every marketing trick imaginable to try to convince you that milk is good for you when there is significant evidence that indicates it isn’t.

The article isn’t just about milk, of course. It goes into details about the Obama era school lunch rules, the attempts to undermine them, shows how the big processed food manufacturers try to influence school lunch programs, and how so-called “experts” are used to try to influence things. One “volunteer adjunct professor”, whatever the hell that is, claimed that if a 16 year old girl didn’t drink milk and “doesn’t get enough [calcium] by the time she’s 30 her bones start to turn to dust”.

If it sounds like the dairy industry is growing increasingly desperate to sell you milk, that’s because it is. Right now the US alone has about 1.4 billion pounds of excess cheese in storage. That is not a typo. 1.4 billion pounds. Every year milk production goes up while at the same time demand is trending down. The demand for liquid drinking milk has been declining for decades now, and even cheese consumption has been flat or even declining a bit. In a rational world what happens when you have too much of a product is that you stop making so much of it. But one thing I learned long ago is that rationality seems to be in short supply.

Go take a look at the article if you have some time. It makes for fascinating reading and will give you an idea of how the food industry in this country is being manipulated.

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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 12.54.27 PM
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.”

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.

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.