Ag news roundup: the 2014 Farm Bill, antibiotics & obesity, and sustainable livestock production

farm-bill-signing-group-shot
President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill into law at my school, Michigan State University. He is joined by Sen. & MSU alum Debbie Stabenow (third from left) and Sen. Carl Levin (far left).  Photo by Kurt Stepnitz http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/michigan-state-the-perfect-setting-to-sign-the-farm-bill/.

…My senator, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), admirably led the charge in developing the 2014 Farm Bill, which reflects Americans’ changing taste for more sustainably raised food.  It brings new crop insurance protections to tart cherry growers (and other fruit and veggie growers) who formerly did not qualify for the insurance.  (Aside: Dried tart cherries, a Michigan specialty, have played an important role in helping me stave off the winter blues!)  Subsidies for traditional commodities were cut by almost 1/3 while support for programs to help farmers transition from conventional to organic more than doubled.  Read more about the new Farm Bill and Sen. Stabenow’s role in developing it in this New York Times article by Jennifer Steinhauer.

…It’s not news that it is common practice in commercial livestock production to feed antibiotics to make the animals gain weight quickly or that these antibiotics get into our soils and streams.  But this article adds a surprising new layer to the story of industrial use of antibiotics: What if the over-use of antibiotics in ourselves has contributed to the obesity epidemic in the U.S.?  The author, Pagan Kennedy, discusses research on the human microbiome that shows some interesting results, but the field of human microbiome research is in its infancy.  To learn more about the human microbiome, check out this fun, 5 minute, animated video from NPR–which has done a whole series of reports recently on the human microbiome.

…Finally, a recent comment piece in the journal Nature by Mark Eisler and others offers eight suggestions for raising livestock more sustainably.  This is really  important because the rising number of people on Earth whose rising standard of living allows them to eat more meat presents risks to food security and the environment.  (I’m not trying to insinuate that people in developing countries should not enjoy the same standard of living as some of us in the U.S.–I’m just pointing to the sustainability issues involved in producing that much meat.)  Every year, we feed approximately one billion tons of agriculturally grown grains to livestock; grains which otherwise could feed about half the world’s current population for a year.  The Nature article points to how livestock can be used to complement rather than rival crop production with some interesting suggestions like feeding livestock less human food and raising regionally appropriate livestock.  Instead of reading the comment piece, you can listen to the podcast while cooking up your next meal featuring locally raised meat.  *This article is open, so even if you don’t have full access to Nature you should still be able to open the article through the link at the beginning of this article.

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