Why the NYT article on MARC is wrong & what it might mean for animal ag research

Will U.S. animal scientists be allowed to do the research to feed a world hungry for animal protein?

A Handbook for Ranch Managers This is pretty much just FYI.

The livestock are important but, anybody that has been following this blog for any length of time, knows that it is the land and its management that is the most critical.

Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualTake care of the land and it will take care of the cattle that will take care of you and a protein hungry world. — jtl

By Alison Van Eenennaam via Beef Magazine

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian ViewBy now, virtually everybody who is involved in agriculture has seen the projections of world population growth by 2050. The prospect that we’ll add roughly an additional 3 billion people, from 7 billion now to 9 billion in just 35 years, is cause for concern.The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other MisfitsThat concern is not just for the planet, but also for those additional people. In short, how will we feed them all? The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates there will be a 73% increase in meat and egg consumption and a 58% increase in dairy consumption over 2011 levels worldwide by the year 2050.Combat Shooter's HandbookReconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps InstituteHowever, in the past two decades, public funding levels for animal science research have remained stagnant. Consequently, overall available funding has actually declined as the cost of doing animal research has increased substantially.

The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)  The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2) The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3)A 2015 report from the National Research Council (NRC) titled “Critical Role of Animal Science Research in Food Security and Sustainability,” noted that animal agriculture accounts for 60% to 70% of the total U.S. agricultural economy. The 400-plus page report recommends reinvigorating research in animal agriculture and recommends that, “Further development and adoption of breeding technologies and genetics, which have been the major contributors to past increases in animal productivity, efficiency, product quality, environmental, and economic advancements, are needed to meet future demand.”

The question is, will U.S. animal agriculture researchers be allowed to conduct this vitally necessary agricultural research, or will they be forced to stand by, disregarding proven approaches to genetic improvement that could help provide more sustainable sources of animal protein?

Apparently, if the decision were left to activists and The New York Times, it would be to discontinue research in animal breeding and genetic improvement, disease prevention and pathogen detection. Just 12 days after the release of the NRC report, an article titled “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit” was published in The New York Times. This article is being used by some activist groups, including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), to suggest that the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) at Clay Center, Neb., should be shut down permanently.

MARC is a USDA research facility that was founded over 50 years ago to unite federal government research on meat animal productivity, diseases, food safety and other industry challenges. It houses large populations of animals, including approximately 6,900 beef cows, 2,400 ewes and farrows around 950 litters of pigs per year. As such, it would seem well positioned to be an important player in conducting research on the development of breeding technologies and genetic strategies to meet this increasing global demand for animal protein.

Many of the shocking details in the story stemmed mainly from hearsay and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, some dating back to incidents that occurred more than 25 years ago. To date, none of the incidents recounted in the story have been verified or proven, at least not publicly. An investigation of the abuse charges is currently underway by the Office of the Inspector General. It would seem prudent to wait for the results of that investigation before condemning MARC and calling for them to close their doors.

As an animal geneticist, I have worked with the researchers in the Genetics, Breeding and Animal Health research unit at MARC, and personally visited the center on several occasions over the past decade. The story published by The New York Times does not reflect my knowledge of the current research that is being conducted at the center. Nor does it in any way align with my observations as it relates to the handling and treatment of animals at the center.

I have interacted with researchers at MARC, working to decrease the incidence of bovine respiratory disease, or pneumonia, in beef cattle. I am also well aware of the center’s large germplasm evaluation project designed to determine the performance characteristics of diverse cattle breeds and crossbreds, so that producers – both large and small – can select animals that are well suited to their particular environmental niches.

The article asserts that “the center has become a destination for the kind of high-risk, potentially controversial research that other institutions will not do or are no longer allowed to do.” Neither of the projects with which I am most familiar is controversial; in fact, my own publicly-funded laboratory investigates the opportunity to select for cattle that are less susceptible to respiratory disease. And the long-term germplasm evaluation project would just not be feasible using small land grant university research herds. If not for the large, permanent cattle herd at MARC, this valuable data on breed performance and adaptability would not exist.

I acknowledge that my experiences are anecdotal in nature, and represent a subset of the research done at MARC. However, I would argue that the same is true of the selected projects presented in The New York Times article, many of which were initiated in the last century.

A document outlining MARC’s research projects was provided to the author of the article, including those detailing research in disease prevention, breed evaluation and utilization, pre‐harvest pathogen control, improving feed efficiency and minimizing the impact of livestock on the environment. Furthermore, the reporter was provided with several examples of current research that MARC is performing that benefit animal wellbeing; however, coverage of these projects was absent.

Research evolves with time, and given new knowledge and evolving societal norms, research projects that were funded in the 20th century in many different fields of study, not just animal science, would not fare well today. Therefore, it is irrational to condemn them by today’s standards, which are built upon decades of additional data and methodological refinement.

The article states that “the center has one overarching mission: helping producers of beef, pork and lamb turn a higher profit as diets shift toward poultry, fish and produce.” It is unclear where this statement originated. MARC’s publicly-available mission statement is to develop “scientific information and new technology to solve high priority problems for the U.S. beef, sheep, and swine industries.” Even the article itself then goes on to state that since MARC was founded 50 years ago, it “has fought the spread of disease, fostered food safety, and helped American ranchers compete in a global marketplace.”

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Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualPlanned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual. This is the ideal squeal to A Handbook for Ranch Managers.  Although the ecological principles remain the same, what was originally known as “The Savory Grazing Method” now answers to a multitude of different names: ranching for profit, holistic management, managed grazing, mob grazing, management intensive grazing, etc. Land & Livestock International, Inc. uses “Restoration Grazing” under its “Managing the Ranch as a Business” program.” No mater what you call it, this summary and synopsis will guide you step by step through the process and teach you how to use it as it was originally intended. No more excuses for failing to complete your grazing plans.

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About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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