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PSU College of Ag sows misinformation

by Kim Seeley


Thirty years have gone by since I graduated from Penn State University with a degree in agricultural economics. Today, I am disappointed, bordering on angry, with our publicly funded university’s dairy and animal science department. Actually, I am embarrassed that my alma mater has lost its educational commitment to provide our children with truthful, honest information.


The recent “Myth Busters” series presented by the animal science department at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days gives us a firsthand look at unprecedented educational bias. Statements regarding organic, sustainable and grass-based systems are an attempt to quell a grassroots movement that is gaining consumer momentum.


The increased demand for sustainably raised animal products is here to stay. Restaurants, colleges and individuals are voting with food dollars.


Several times as a guest lecturer at Penn State, I have repeated to classes that some of our agricultural books have chapters missing or intentionally torn out. Is this what we pay money for? Should we as citizens continue to allow corporate dollars to influence what is taught and not taught? Is this education?


Or should we demand a balance of multiple disciplines to let a student make decisions and choices, and to graduate with a complete and honest education? How can any educator ignore well-documented links between our modern food system and health problems?


I believe an education is a journey through books and teachings that lays the foundation for a person to formulate opinions and ideas based on science and facts, while respecting the natural forces that civilization has witnessed for decades.


When I was attending Penn State years ago, I met a host of wonderful professors and fellow students of various professions and all walks of life. In my four years, I learned that we were being groomed to form opinions based on truth, experiments and continual discovery. What we all would have to figure out on our own was how to balance scientific theory, economic reality and social and environmental justice. I eagerly returned to our grass-based dairy farm and began to implement some of what I had learned.


Within a few years in the real world of dairy farming, I began to realize much of what I had learned was not working as planned. I also came into contact with other farmers who were starting to question our college training.


You see, there were forces at work in agribusiness that interfered with fairly priced supply and demand. There were people at work in industry who didn’t have the best interest of the farmer in perspective. There were farm lenders, and educators, caught up in the mantra of cheap energy, cheap food and more production per unit that was luring unsuspecting farmers down a path of unsustainable debt.


Food started to emerge as a generic, mass-produced commodity that could be produced anywhere and under almost any conditions without respecting the principles of land stewardship, water quality and animal husbandry.


Isn’t it great when our intuitive “feelings” are also scientifically right? The health benefits of grass-fed animal products are no longer a “feeling,” and they are far more than an intuition. There is substantial scientific proof to support benefits available to both humans and animals when cattle are raised on grass, the way nature designed them to eat.


Managed intensive grazing produces top-quality animal results while protecting the ecosystem from nutrient leaching, soil erosion and pesticide residuals. Pasture-based dairy products put American butter and cheese in a class every bit as good as those European imports.


Do you want proof? Stop by your local farmers’ market and buy some 100 percent grass-fed cheese and put it next to some Brand X store cheese. Compare both the color and the texture, and you have just discovered some of the most obvious differences.


Should we be the researchers? Yes, if that’s what will get it done. It is exciting to be discovering more every day.


The cow is an amazing animal if allowed to choose from nature’s bounty of beneficial forages. Forage diets also protect our meat supply from E. coli–contaminated meat recalls. Just read the article “Grain feeding and the dissemination of acid-resistant Escherichia coli from cattle” by Francisco Diez-Gonzales, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota in the department of food science and nutrition.


Research recently completed at Penn State, funded by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Farm Aid and the Northern Tier Sustainable Meats Co-op, compared fatty acid compositions of grass-based meats to feed-lot meats. Results showed that all meat is not the same, that production methods do matter.


If you have ever visited the Web site, then you’ve seen the many scientific references supporting the benefits of grass-fed beef. Wait, did I say scientific references?

The site is so comprehensive that it even has subcategories to help you sort through the science.


Consumers are perfectly capable of making food choices if labels are honest and the information about food production and processing is truthful. Isn’t it our land-grant university’s mission to work for the common good of our citizens and provide all the information we are entitled too? We, the people, need to demand accountability and honesty from those at Penn State who are paid by the people.

Kim Seeley is president of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, co-owner of Milky Way Dairy Farm and co-founder of Northern Tier Sustainable Meats Co-op. Both farm enterprises supply Penn State's sister school, Pennsylvania College of Technology, with all of its fluid milk and a majority of its ground beef requirements.

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