Thursday, December 4, 2014

Soy is bad?

Not many people understand what the food they eat every day is made up of. This is typically not a problem, but the general public is often misinformed on what they are consuming every day.  Soy is one of those products that a good portion of people say they refuse to eat because of reasons like "it affects your hormone levels" and also "it causes various cancer".  Being misinformed or uneducated can make claims like that very unnerving.
Soy is used in making many different food products and just because you won't drink soy milk, doesn't mean your not still consuming it.  There are two kinds of soy that is used in production, fermented and non-fermented soy.  Fermented soy foods include miso, soy sauce, and pickled tofu.  Non-fermented soy includes soy milk, tofu, soy ice cream, and soy chips.  Soy is also a component in many commercially available foods, so there is a chance that you are consuming soy even if it isn't a direct product.
A major component of soy is call isoflavones.  These are plant estrogens, named as such because they can attach to estrogen receptors in cells.  Soy also contains phytates that bind to minerals in foods and can lower their absorption.  These kinds of things are what started the claim that consuming soy can interrupt your hormone levels.  I have also heard claims that soy will disrupt your thyroid levels.  Any healthy person who has a reliable source of iodine can consume soy without it causing a thyroid problem.  There have been studies and trials done to observe the affect of eating soy on your thyroid.  Most studies done have shown that soy doesn't affect your thyroid.

I swear every time I turn around something new is causing cancer, so it wasn't surprising to me when I heard someone say that soy causes cancer.  After reading through a few articles I found that a lot of research points to the complete opposite.  A 2009 study on prostate cancer found a statistically significant reduction in risk for those who consumed around one serving of soy per day.  Due to the isoflavones in soy and binding to estrogen, there was a concern with soy and breast cancer.  The majority of evidence (based on two servings per day) has concluded that soy is either neutral or protective against breast cancer.

Soy isn't the only food product that is regularly criticized due to misinformation.  There are a lot of different types of foods and ingredients that will continue to be left of the shelf because one person said it's bad.  My hope is that some of the rumors about foods will be disrupted because of the public wanting to be informed and wanting to know exactly what they are consuming.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Grass fed what?

We've all heard rumors about grass fed beef.  It's organic, the cows are happier, it's better for you, and the list goes on.  There is certain truth in some of those, but they are not entirely truthful.  

I personally know a lot of people who eat grass fed beef because they are on the huge "I only eat organic things" kick.  Although I agree that eating organic can be good for you, it really depends on what you consider to be organic.  The standard of what is considered organic also varies depending on where you are at.  Essentially, to be considered organic, foods must be free of any synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and are also not processed using industrial solvents or synthetic food additives.  In the case of grass fed beef, most people would consider them to be organic because they are not fed grain like feedlot beef.  There is actually a difference between grass fed beef and organic beef.  Grass fed beef just means that the cattle foraged and grazed for their own food, except for during the winter they may be given a close substitute.  Being told that a steak or something is considered organic beef doesn't do much to tell you how the cow was raised.  It basically lets you know that the cow wasn't confined in a feedlot for it's entire life, wasn't in an overcrowded or unsanitary place, and wasn't exposed to artificial pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, GMO's or any other synthetic contaminants.  Essentially, my point being, just because you are eating grass fed beef doesn't necessarily mean you are eating organic beef.
Another thing that people like to say is that grass fed cattle are happier than cows in a feedlot situation.  I couldn't find much on wether or not cows are actually happier, except for all the animal rights websites telling me how happy a cow can be when it is allowed to be on a range and eat all the grass it's little cow heart desires.  Looking at pictures and comparing what it looks like to me it does appear that the grass fed cattle are happier.  The thing that makes me think is the feedlot cattle don't know anything different than a feedlot.  If something, like a cow, doesn't know that there is a better option, would it really be unhappy?  Or even know that it was unhappy?  Do grass fed cattle appreciate the fact that they spend a lot of time outside when they don't know any better?  It is really hard to put emotions, like happiness, on an animal because we don't know how their brain processes emotions, or if they even have emotions the same way that humans do.
Grass fed beef is better for you!  I can't even put a number on the amount of times I have heard someone say that.  This is true and yes, there are differences between the nutritional value of grass fed and feedlot beef. Grass fed beef has been proven to be leaner than feedlot beef.  It is also a lot higher in CLA's and Omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for growth.  This kind of beef can help lower cholesterol as well as lower your risk of developing heart problems and some cancers.  People can go around and say that grass fed is better for you every day of the week, but that wouldn't change the fact that it is expensive and can be hard to find sometimes.  The truth is some people aren't willing to spend the extra money to buy something even it is healthier for you.

So there you have it! A little bit of partially true rumors on grass fed beef


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Big Foot is actually a myth!

Yes, you have read correctly.  Rest easy, folks!  Once and for all, it has finally been determined that Bigfoot is indeed a myth.  As an enthusiast of Bigfoot hunters, my only hope is that I can do justice to this topic.

Cryptozoology is the study of animals whose existence is questionable, at best.  <>  One thing I love about Bigfoot propaganda is that there is plenty of it to go around.  There are stories of Big Foot sightings all across the US and in plenty of other countries as well.  As somebody who has traveled and moved quite a bit, I can tell you that there is no shortage of these types of stories.  Bigfoot, also called a sasquatch in the North or a yeti in the eastern hemisphere, has multiple personas.  In the pine barrens of New England, the Jersey Devil is the dominating variety.  In the cypress swamps of the south, Bigfoot is known as a skunk ape.  

Those of us lucky enough to trek through the ‘glades are all too familiar with this menace.  Dave Shealy is a memorable character, hot on the skunk ape trail.  He considers himself to be the leading expert on the topic.  You can visit his Skunk Ape Research Headquarters and he’ll even take you on a private sighting tour.  Well, lots of people are crazy so where’s the science in this?  It turns out that an Oxford researcher has completed a three year study on the topic.  Better yet, this work has been published!

Collaboration between Bryan Sykes and his colleagues represents six prestigious organizations from five different countries.  Dr. Sykes is a professor of human genetics at Oxford University; he has worked on several notable studies and first published in Nature over 25 ago.  Their latest endeavor is that they are the first to perform a structured analysis of 30 “Bigfoot” hair samples collected from all over the world.  These DNA samples were genetically identified as bear, horse, cow, raccoon, sheep, dog, tapir, porcupine, and human… but none from Bigfoot.  

The Proceedings of the Royal Society is a peer reviewed, reputable journal that publishes research related to the biological sciences.  This well respected scientific journal has a 2013 impact factor of 5.3 and first quartile ranking in the biology, ecology, and evolution categories.  Jeffrey Kluger sarcastically covered this story in a TIME magazine article.  Kluger points out that additional coverage of this study in The Guardian and Associate Press doesn’t do much to curtail these unfounded beliefs.  

If you are like me, you may be wondering “who paid for this?!”  This project was funded by the producers of a UK television show called the Bigfoot Files.  Dr. Sykes personally thanks Harry Marshall, creative director of Icon Films, in his manuscript.  Sadly, not all Bigfoot enthusiasts are pleased by this “discovery.”  Matt Moneymaker, the founder and president of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization and host of a television series called Finding Bigfoot, is challenging the validity of this study.  He has described this study as “scientifically meaningless;” many samples were not included in the final analysis as they only contained a few hairs... “like MOST authentic bigfoot hair samples!”  

Bryan Sykes includes this disclosures statement in his manuscript: “While it is important to bear in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and this survey cannot refute the existence of anomalous primates, neither has it found any evidence in support.”  Bryan Sykes is even quoted as saying “The fact that none of these samples turned out to be [Bigfoot] doesn’t mean the next one won’t."  This statement undermines the results of the study and gives new hope to mythical monster seekers around the world.  Not only do Oxford and the Royal Society validate this topic, so do top newspapers.  These types of affirmation encourage all supernatural beliefs in a way that is damaging to society.

Sumira Phatak

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Animals in Research.

When I first began my research project at Utah State University, I never expected the backlash I would soon receive.  As an avid animal lover, many of my former circles included like minded individuals.  We are the type of people who embrace our pets as family.  We support animal welfare causes and volunteer at humane societies.  When I chose to work in an animal research facility, I found myself in a bittersweet limelight.  I was thrilled about my new endeavor, but many of my friends were not quite so pleased.  

It was not long at all before the rumors started to emerge.  I started to receive random messages from friends inquiring “how the animal testing was going.”  I was suddenly having phone arguments with people I’ve known for a decade, about unrelated topics.  They were just so disappointed with my choice that there was nothing I could do to deflect the incessant attacks.  In their minds, I now spend my days torturing helpless animals in a dark, dingy dungeon.  All I could do is hope that with time, they will calm down and I will be able to explain what I am actually doing.  I will be able to explain why this type of work is so important, relevant, and necessary if only given the chance.  That time is now.

Animal activist groups love rallying people together with emotional photographs.  These types of photographs are intended to appeal to a wide audience.  We have all seen these types of animal testing photos.  Of course these images are upsetting; they are intended to appeal to the compassionate animal lover within most of us.  After increased awareness by activist groups like IAAPEA, PETA, and FoA, industrial testing has been greatly reduced.  It is now common to see a “not tested on animals” label on these types of products.  

Many alternatives to in vivo animal research are readily utilized.  In vitro research is performed in a controlled environment and usually pertains to cells grown in a petri dish.  Computer engineers have designed sophisticated modeling software that is used to make valid predictions.  Human volunteers are used for microdosing, neurological studies, and skinpatch testing.  We even have human simulators that are used for a variety of studies- everyone knows of the crash test dummy.

What these groups fail to share with the public, is that there are many different types of research involving animals and research alternatives do not always accurately represent the complex biological interactions in living organisms.  Basic research (e.g. physiology, embryology, and ethology) helps us understand the general structure, function, development, and behavior of biological organisms.  Applied research helps us understand the nature of disease, pharmaceuticals, transplants, and toxicology.  

Benefits of animal research are invaluable.  We perform cutting-edge surgical procedures that save lives everyday, including organ transplants, tumor removal, and emergency repair.  Advanced drug development has led to life-saving antibiotics, vaccines, anesthetics, and pharmaceuticals.  Currently we are able to prevent or treat a variety of illnesses, including: anthrax, leprosy, beriberi, pellagra, rickets, tetanus, pertussis, rheumatoid arthritis, streptomycin, diphtheria, poliomyelitis, rubella, measles, AIDS, Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, and several types of cancer (just to name a few!).  Insulin is readily available to treat diabetes, one of the most prevalent diseases in Western societies.  We have pacemakers, cancer chemotherapy, joint replacements, and treatment for psychological conditions!  Thanks to animal research, smallpox has been eradicated worldwide for over 37 years!  Thanks to animal research, activists will be able to protest for 20.8 years longer!

This necessary research continues to benefit humans and other animals.  We have advanced care for rehabilitating injured animals.  We have developed improved nutrition and enrichment for animals living in captivity.  Those of us with cats and dogs annually vaccinate and protects our pets from diseases that are otherwise lethal: rabies, parvo, heartworm, distemper, rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, Chlamydophila, canine Adenovirus, Bordetella, lyme disease, and feline leukemia (just to name a few!).  We have made substantial advances in agriculture, including reducing stress during transport.  Pets, livestock, and animals in zoos live longer, more comfortable, and healthier lives as a result of animal research.

The mice in my study live in a temperature, humidity, and light cycle controlled facility that is designed to model an optimal native environment.  They have unlimited access to food and fresh water; cages are changed weekly and fresh corn cob bedding is supplied; nesting squares and bedding huts to provide enrichment.  Full time staff check on my mice several times a day (so do I) and we have immediate access to expert veterinary care, whenever needed.  We handle them gently and with care, in a way that minimizes stress.  To put it bluntly- my mice are living better than most people’s pets!  If you still aren't convinced, check out these 40 reasons why we need animals in research.  

Sumira Phatak

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

“Big Ag”

Whoever thought that agriculture of all things, would be referred to as “Big Ag”, spoken in a scathing tone of voice? And the farmers….cruel, money hungry scoundrels that are surely the ones responsible for E.coli outbreaks and people becoming ill. I mean, if they didn’t feed their cattle such a horrible diet, then undoubtedly the problem would resolve itself. Consider this quote regarding E.coli in beef:

 "It's not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay, and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new—that is, recent in the history of animal diets—biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms." –Nina Planck, New York Times

Well there you have it. If it’s in the New York Times, it must be true. Unfortunately this is just one example of a widespread problem of information that is, partially or entirely, incorrect being communicated to the public. Let’s consider 5 common misunderstandings regarding E.coli that were discussed at a 2009 luncheon by Washington State University’s Veterinary Medicine Extension:

1.       "Cattle farmers are responsible for the E coli O157:H7 problem"
2.       "Feeding cattle grass or grass hay reduces E coli O57:H7 shedding in cattle"
3.       "Meatpacking plants are responsible for the E coli O157:H7 problem"
4.       "Consumers are responsible for the E coli O157:H7 problem"
5.       "Public health agencies are responsible for the E coli O157:H7 problem"

Each of these misunderstandings can be explained and/or debunked. The first thing that needs to be understood about this bacteria is the difference between generic E.coli and the 0157:H7 strain. Generic E.coli is found naturally in the G.I. tract of many living creatures, including humans and animals. It lives and grows there harmlessly and is shed in feces. There are hundreds of strains of E.coli and many of them have no effect on humans but may be a risk to certain animals. E.coli 0157:H7 is one particular strain that is causes toxicity in humans and was responsible for the Jack in the Box outbreak in the early 90’s, thus the reason it is so well known. Of course, the average consumer is completely unaware of the distinction between 0157:H7 and other strains or even that multiple strains exist. But let’s return to our myths.

1.       This probably began and picked up momentum from a tiny, incomplete study (3 cows) done by Cornell University, which was then extrapolated to the entire industry. Unfortunately, it was done a by a credible university and without looking into the details, it provides fuel to the fire for reporters looking for culprits to blame in the event of an E.coli outbreak.

2.       After 15 years of studies, there is no consistent evidence supporting the statement that grain-fed cattle shed higher amounts of E.coli 0157:H7 than grass or hay fed cattle. Most of the studies indicate they are about the same. 

3.       No they are not but there is some criticism of the meat processing system that is legitimate. Ground beef is the most likely culprit here. The whole basis of ground beef is that it’s an inexpensive meat. It’s made in very large batches, with the scraps and cheap cuts of meat from many, many animals. This increases risk of contamination due to the sheer number of animals being used and the increased surface area that could be exposed to bacteria. Additionally, testing for E.coli 0157:H7 is complicated by the massive amount of product. Random samples collected from these super batches of ground beef may test negative but that does not guarantee the entire batch is negative.

4.       Consumers are cooking the meat they purchase in their kitchens or on the grill, not in a sterile lab using aseptic technique. So if E.coli 0157:H7 is present, there is a high likelihood of contamination. Meat packaging does not necessarily lend itself to aseptic removal from the package and on to the cooking surface. That being said, one way in which consumers share some responsibility is in the absolute public rejection of gamma radiation of meat to eliminate bacterial organisms. This is an FDA approved method, analogous to pasteurization of milk, but the perception of it has been soundly rejected.

5.       Public health agencies are simply responsible for detection and reporting. If they fail in these responsibilities, then they’ll be accused of being remiss in their duty or worse, trying to conduct a “cover-up”. To try and hold them responsible for the presence of E.coli 0157:H7 is ludicrous.

The United States has some of the best food safety in the world. But there are a huge number of people and variables involved in producing and processing enough food to meet demands. So the next time there is the temptation to jump on the bandwagon of accusations against conventional farmers, please take the time to do some research first. 


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Natural GMO

I grew up in rural western Iowa. In the past two decades, the landscape has become dominated by the Midwestern cash crop, corn. Row after row, acre after acre, mile after mile is filled with perfectly straight columns of neatly arranged specialized green grass. While most see these fields as vast emptiness, or perhaps the perfect scene out of the horror movie series “Children of the Corn,” I see peace, solitude and home. Most of these plants thrive and produce bushels upon bushels of corn at a higher rate than any other area in the world. The secret isn’t simply the rich black soil, abundant rain and high humidity. Part of the success story lies in the fact that most of these plants are GMOs. Recent media survey after recent media survey suggest that there is an growing concern among the general American public about GMOs. While Jimmy Kimmel does an excellent job broadcasting how little the American public actually knows about GMOs, a more reputable source has pointed out that most American’s don’t actually know a whole lot about GMOs and their role in today’s food sources.

GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms. Their use in American culture dates back approximately 30 years. While mainstream ideas of GMOs are centered around food products genetically modified with particular genes for drought resistance, parasite resistance or increased yield, the first GMO routinely used in America is much different. GMOs took the spotlight when E. coli was given a gene to produce insulin, creating the product Humulin. In all animals, insulin is produced naturally by the pancreas in special Pancreatic Beta Cells. Insulin is secreted in response to an increase in blood sugar causing cells throughout the body to absorb the excess sugar for energy use and storage. Without insulin, the body eliminates sugar through the kidneys in a condition most American’s know: Diabetes Mellitus. Prior to Humulin, insulin products were derived from beef and pig pancreatic tissue... post-slaughter.

So, it’s a proven fact: GMOs have been saving lives and taking names for over 30 years. So why is the science behind genetic modification so dirty and controversial? Some claim that genetically modifying natural foods is simply unnatural. There is potential to disrupt natural processes in the body, and to that, I say I agree. Genetic modification of organisms does disrupt natural processes, sometimes. It’s called evolution. Think I’m being sarcastic? Well, just a little bit, but here are some awesome examples of how natural GMOs have shaped our human existence.

The year was 1832. London is a bustling cultural center, an over-populated metropolis, and the opening stage of a deadly epidemic. A naïve population of northern Europeans are massively exposed to a highly contagious bacterium, Vibrio cholera. The result the exposure is massive diarrhea. The bacterium releases a toxin which attaches to gut mucosal cells causing massive release of chloride ion into the intestine. Water and sodium are pulled out of the cell and follows the chloride into the gut creating a diarrhea. The end result without the advances of modern medicine is death in over 80% of the cases.  All naïve individuals are effected, except for a subpopulation of individuals that are genetically modified. So what genetic modification saves you from cholera? The same gene that causes cystic fibrosis. The same mutation to these chloride pumps that causes lack of fluid production in the upper respiratory tract, build up of thick viscous mucous and eventual complications in humans also protects intestinal cells from over-secreting chloride when activated by cholera toxin? The key to success? Only have one copy of the gene. Those individual that are carriers for the disease and only have one copy of the gene do not have symptoms of cystic fibrosis yet have enough protection mutation in their intestinal cells to protect them cholera toxin diarrhea.

But Cystic Fibrosis isn’t the only genetic modification that’s changed humanity. While gin & tonic is the natural exogenous preventative for the devastating disease of malaria in those hot and humid environments, African’s have been beating malaria naturally for thousands of years. How’d they do it? As it turns out, the continent is covered with genetically modified people. Africans that live in malaria endemic regions are also more likely to have sickle cell anemia, a condition that leads to extremely fragile and misshapen red blood cells. Untreated, the condition is fatal. How has this deadly genetic disease survived so long in this population of people? The key is, once again, to have a single copy of the modified gene. Some red blood cells remain normal while others are mutated and misshapen. The malarial parasite (Plasmodium) is not inhibited from infected people with the mutated gene, but these individuals do not succumb to the severe disease state that their unmutated counterparts do. 

The list goes on and on. Without mutations to the basic genome that makes us all more alike than different, we never would have survived the Yersinia pestis plagues killing off countless Europeans over the centuries as well as those pesky outbreaks in Eastern Asia. Influenza would have ended humanity with the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. Being genetically modified has its perks. As with everything in this world, the key to success is control and moderation.
Genetic modifications shape our existence, there’s no doubt about that. Media tends to highlight how rapidly scientists are producing new GMO foods that stock our shelves. Organic and all natural proponents suggest that these products are ultimately detrimental to the body and the environment. To this, I’d like to point out a few flaws in the idealogy. First, humans aren’t that intelligent. I mean, sure, there are more than a few brainiacs dotting the landscape, but we aren’t super-humans (well, not yet). The genes for these GMOs are all natural. Scientist get the idea tocreate a GMO by taking a naturally existing organism, figuring out how itthrives, isolating the gene that does the job, and harnessing this gene’s power. Well, that kinda makes the lines of the term “all natural” kind of fuzzy, doesn’t it? Secondly, thanks to the recent world food talks, and the yearly World Food Prize announced last week in Iowa highlighting the increased need for food in the world, aren’t there other alternative arguments to consider? Such as, how can we produce enough food to save the world? To quote my good friend Mandy, “What the people in the world need is food, not pretentious strawberries!” 


Sunday, October 19, 2014

"You Have to Suck the Venom Out!"

It’s a beautiful day: the sun is out, the trees are green, there’s a nice breeze, and the only sounds are the singing birds in the trees and the crunching of leaves under your boots. Hiking in the woods of the Great Basin with a friend in the late afternoon provides a sense of peace and happiness that only comes when the beauty of the world surrounds you. You look up at your friend as you walk, conversing about anything, when all of the sudden, you feel a sharp pain on your calf that convinces you to look down. Rattlesnake. Amidst the conversation and the distractions of the forest, you didn’t hear the warning of its rattle, you didn’t see the venomous snake, and you didn’t have a clue what to do next.
“You have to suck the venom out!”
A common misconception surrounding venomous snake bites is that it’s a good idea to suck the venom out of the wound. For our purposes, the properties of rattlesnake venom will be discussed in specificity (there are multiple effects of venom depending on the snake). Rattlesnakes belong to the family Viperidae and the subfamily crotalinae. Crotalinae produce hemotoxic venom, which create hemorrhaging by blocking the paths of the red blood cells through blood vessels and damage tissue. With these effects, sucking the venom out would be extremely dangerous. In order to suck out venom, one would have to cut the punctures open wider, though it is virtually impossible to suck it out hard enough to get all the venom out. Even so, if venom were to be sucked out of the wound, there would be a chance of spreading the venom throughout the body of the person sucking the venom through his or her saliva as well as irritate the wound site on the bite victim. There are many misconceptions surrounding what one should do in the event of a venomous snake bite, namely using tourniquets, opening the wound, and applying ice or electrically shocking the wound, but the only safe way to treat a snake bite is through antivenom.
For a rattlesnake, the antivenom would be a crotalinae polyvalent substance, which would counteract the hemotoxin. This is created by extracting venom from a member of the crotalinae subfamily, injecting small dosages of it into an animal for several weeks (usually a horse, sheep, or goat) in order to create antibodies, then extracting the animal’s blood and centrifuging it to separate the antibodies in the serum from the blood. This serum is what is used as antivenom, and though it can be very expensive, it is completely and absolutely necessary to successfully treat a venomous snake bite.

So next time you’re bitten by a venomous snake, PLEASE do not try to suck the venom out or have your buddy suck the venom out, but remain calm, call an ambulance, pay attention to the way the snake looked (if you don’t know what kind of snake it is), and be treated with antivenom. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

    We’ve all heard it. The dairy industry is corrupt. The milk that we buy is full of antibiotics and growth hormones. I mean that’s what the media says, so it must be true, right? Adolescent girls are hitting puberty earlier, cows are living in squalid conditions and forced to produce massive amounts of milk and let’s not forget cancer! Obviously milk is not a safe bet and dairy farmers are devious manipulators, cloaked in plaid shirts and overalls, with a scheme to fill the public with toxins and make money doing it.
     Forgive me while I get on my soap box. As a dairy industry professional, my skin crawls when I hear statements like this. The media has slandered the dairy industry for the use of growth hormones in cows to increase milk production and antibiotics to treat mastitis based on lots of speculation and very little fact. The public has then taken this and amplified it ten-fold. The result is a widespread fear and shunning of milk consumption, which hurts both the livelihood of dairy farmers and the diet of consumers as milk is replaced by less nutritionally valuable foods. But let’s review some of the common myths surrounding what’s in our milk and separate fiction from fact.

1.      BST. Otherwise known as Bovine Somatotropin or rBST, which is recombinant Bovine Somatotropin. BST is a protein hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland of every cow and helps regulate metabolic processes. rBST is a synthetic version of this hormone, manufactured by Monsanto Company, which was FDA approved in the early 90’s for use in dairy cattle to increase milk production. So yes, there was a period of time where the use of rBST in cows really took off. Although BST is a hormone already naturally produced by the cow, it could be said that farmers were giving their cows’ growth hormone. However, this period has passed. Due to the unfavorable response from consumers, the popularity of rBST has decreased dramatically and most milk processing plants have banned its use, even though it is still FDA legal. Seven of the ten largest milk plants in the U.S. do not allow the use of rBST in their milk. So the question still remains….is there BST in the milk? Yes. Cows are still naturally producing it, just as they always have, which means some ends up in the milk. No testing has ever shown that the use of rBST caused residues to appear in the milk or that it has any effect on humans.

2.      Antibiotics. You may have heard the word “mastitis”. What is mastitis? It simply means an infection in the mammary gland. Cows get mastitis. Guess what? Humans do too!! A lactating gland is very susceptible to being infiltrated with bacteria, especially if any type of milking device is being used, whether it’s a milking machine or a breast pump. Humans get infections all the time (respiratory, sinus, wounds, etc.) and we take antibiotics for them. We give antibiotics to our pets when they have an infection. So why is it suddenly malicious to give them to cows when they have an infection? The FDA has very strict regulations on the use of antibiotics in food animals. Any dairy cow that is receiving antibiotic therapy for mastitis is removed from the milking herd and placed in the “hospital” pen, which is essentially a quarantine pen for sick animals. The milk from those cows does not go in the bulk tank, does not get picked up for processing and is usually discarded. EVERY single time the milk truck picks up a tank of milk, a sample is pulled and tested for antibiotic residue. The test is rapid and the result is known usually before the truck is even unloaded. So the take-home message of all this is…no, there are not any antibiotics in your milk.

3.      Organic dairies. People that buy organic milk are envisioning pastoral green fields, with spotless pet-like Holsteins grazing serenely and not so much as a tube of medicine in sight. Well, part of being a certified organic dairy IS that the cows must be allowed some access to pasture, but that may also be a desert field of sage brush. Also, it is true that organic farmers are not allowed to use ANY type of antibiotic on their cows, even if it will be life-saving. The untold story is what gets used instead. Mastitis is just as common on an organic dairy, as on a conventional dairy and in the absence of options, some farmers resort to infusing strange combinations of vinegar, oil, alcohol, detergents or other household compounds into the udder, in hopes that it will “cure” the mastitis. It doesn’t and in some cases can result in extreme pain and toxicity to the animal and even be fatal.

So my take-home message is this: don’t believe everything you see on TV or read on the internet! Food animal production is hard work and like every type of business, it has its good apples and bad eggs. But instead of simply taking things at face value, do your homework. Look closer into statements being spread before perpetuating the cycle. And know that the quality and safety of milk and dairy products in the U.S. is some of the best on the planet. Every farmer I have ever worked with truly does enjoy their lifestyle and does their best to take care of their “girls”.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chicken noodle soup often brings back warm memories for most people. Whether you remember Mom bringing you fresh warm soup when you were sick, or if your memories revolve around snowy wintry evenings, sitting down for a cup of steamy soup to warm up after shoveling the driveway, most Americans have some emotional attachment to this simple creation.

Chicken soup triggers a different memory for me; it goes something like this: it's a crisp fall day and you've been invited to a picnic tomorrow. You've been asked to bring a dish and you're excited to try out your mother's world famous chicken noodle soup recipe. After stopping by the grocery store to pick up fresh veggies and chicken breast, you head home to begin your afternoon of work. You've prepared chicken stock from scratch (boiling together veggies, seasoning and non-edible chicken pieces and bones) and have added your cooked chicken bits, fresh chopped veggies and al dente cooked wide egg noodles a local Amish shop produces. You bring the pot up to a boil, place the lid on and turn the gas down to a simmer for 25 minutes. You're using your family's hand me down soup pot that youre certain has five generations of love cooked into that copper bottom. This pot is different than your newer conventional pot because the pot edge and lid form a swan like s curve around the entire edge. With your borderline OCD behavior, your cooking area is immaculate, all pots, utensils and associated goods are sterile before and during use, and the pot edges are never dirtied. After 25 minutes of boiling and simmering, you turn off the burner, careful not to disturb the pot, and proceed to head off to bed after your evening of toiling away at the stove. An hour later, your mother wakes you up exclaiming that you've left the soup out on the stove and you need to put it in the fridge or it'll surely spoil! You obviously don't want to give your friends food poisoning at the picnic, so do you get out of bed and refrigerate the soup, or is it okay where it's at? Explain your answer.

I'd like to take a moment to thank Dr Rachel Robson for the general basis of this question and apologize for any inaccuracies. Dr Robson had the unfortunate opportunity to teach my microbiology course during my undergraduate education. She did an impeccable job lecturing the basics of germ theory to us poor 19-22 year old mold-able minds. One lecture was spent discussing the amazing work performed by a genius named Louis Pasteur, a hero to many microbiologists. Among his outstanding advancements include an experiment involving a swan neck flask and broth. With a hefty load of basic microbiology knowledge, 200 years of advancement in the field, and a handy set of crayons for the extra credit question, we should have been prepared to answer this question.

From a young age, we're educated with the knowledge gained by our ancestors over thousands of years. While most people conjure up images of high school teachers, coaches, professors or primary investigators when the word "teacher" or "mentor" is dropped in a conversation, it's important to recognize that the majority of our education is likely based on our home life. What we learn as children tends to stick with us for life because "I say so." We want to grow up to be like our parents, hanging on their every word and mimicking their behavior. We do as we're told, even when we think differently than what we're being told (with obvious exceptions during those rebellious teenage years).

So, what would you do? Mom knows best, right? Well I'm sorry Kay, but we've established that statement isn't always true. The refrigerator similar to what we now know was invented in 1913, so what we do prior to 1913 to preserve food? Well, building on knowledge gained over hundreds of years of experience, we canned. So why did we replace scientific knowledge the instant the fridge showed up? The principle in canning is to kill bacteria in a high pressure, high temperature apparatus (alternatively open boiling systems may only use a high temperature water bath). When the minimal remaining gas in the container cools, it loses energy and compresses, pulling down on the lid creating a sealed, anaerobic environment. Louis experiment worked on a similar principle: eliminate bacteria & prevent them from contacting nutrient rich sources. Louis and Dr Robson were probably disappointed in the answers of many of my classmates that day. Sure chicken noodle soup is a delicious concoction of basic amino acids and more complex proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. Everything we and bacteria need to grow and thrive. So why dont bacteria spoil that soup that I decided to leave out on the stove top overnight? That little s curve that the hypothetical question highlights works exactly like the delicate swan neck s curve in Louis flask. After boiling away any bacteria the only way to for bacteria to spoil our delightful soup is by contamination from an exterior source. That s curve traps any bacteria just like that plumbing under your sink traps heavy objects and debris that you flush down. Without a push from the outside environment, the bacteria are never exposed to the soup and soup remains sterile. The question posed after this lengthy scenario brings into question why do you do what you do in everyday life. How much of life is dictated by social convention? How much do you do simply because thats the way I was raised" or "when I was a kid we…”

In this blog, we propose the science behind the photo. What we take for granted in everyday life, what were taught is right simply by social convention or how emotions dictate our decision making process are brought into question in a scientific light. Please read with an open mind and consider how your life is impacted by the simple science in everyday life. I still put my soup in the refrigerator at the end of the evening, but sometimes I think about the hundreds of years of scientific progress that made making that soup a safe and delicious meal, even days after I cooked it.