Politics of the Plate

By Barry Estabrook

All’s Fair: Cloned Cow Wins Iowa 4-H Competition

One of my favorite events at our rural county’s annual agricultural fair is when the youthful 4-H club members show their prized cattle. Well-scrubbed teenagers clad in white shoes, white pants, and white shirts proudly lead their well-groomed bovines into the arena where they are judged and ribbons awarded. You almost expect to see a pipe-puffing Normal Rockwell peering from behind his easel on the sidelines.

I don’t think I would have gotten the same warm, nostalgic feeling at Iowa State Fair  a few weeks ago. Tyler Faber, age 17, took home the blue ribbon in the “Big Steer” category for a 1,320-pound behemoth named Doc. The beefy steer, it turned out, was a clone.

Doc had been made from a steer named Wade, who won the blue ribbon for Faber in 2008.

Faber is the son of Dr. David Faber, president of Trans Ova Genetics, a company that specializes in genetic reproductive techniques (among its products are cloned rodeo bulls). “The steer was shown at the fair to highlight cloning and what it can do,” Faber Sr. told the Des Moines Register.

Mike Anderson, livestock judging director for the fair told the paper that entering a clone, an animal genetically identical to one that had taken a previous ribbon, was acceptable.
“We didn’t know at the time that Doc was a clone, but it’s not against the rules,” Anderson said.

Perhaps the fair should consider changing those rules. Producing a string of winners might be good PR for corporations that like to play around with livestock DNA, but it hardly seems like allowing clones to enter the competition is fair to kids who either don’t have dads in the genetic reproduction business or who can’t come up with $20,000 to buy a cloned calf.

Should the rules remain unchanged, Faber’s victory shouldn’t be hard to replicate.


Beeting the System: USDA Thumbs its Nose at a Federal Judge

In August, a coalition of environmental groups and organic seed growers won an important court decision when a federal judge determined that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had wrongly allowed commercial sugar beet growers to seed their fields with seeds genetically modified to survive applications of Roundup, an herbicide produced by Monsanto. The judge soundly rebuked the USDA for failing to undertake environmental studies required by law.

Less than a month later, the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club find themselves back in court. In an attempt to make an end-run around the ruling, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who, like many Obama appointees, has a long track record of being friendly with Monsanto, announced that the USDA would issue permits for GMO sugar beets to be planted—provided farmers not allow them to flower and produce seed.

The judge had found that the GE sugar beets, which can cross-pollinate table beets and Swiss chard, may contaminate organic and conventional crops and threaten those farmers’ livelihoods.

Explaining that the USDA wanted to create an environment where all types of farmers could grow all types of crops, Vilsack said, “The steps we have outlined today not only respond to the concerns of producers while complying with the court’s ruling, but also further USDA’s continuing efforts to enable coexistence among conventional, organic, and biotechnology production systems.”

“USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops. Despite numerous court opinions, congressional mandates and federal investigations, it continues to act illegally,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety, in a release. “The agency and Secretary Vilsack seem to see their mission as defending Monsanto’s bottom line rather than protecting farmers and consumers.”

Paul Achitoff an attorney for the plaintiffs , added, “USDA’s persistent refusal to comply with environmental laws in the face of one court decision after another is remarkable.  This is yet another instance of USDA serving Monsanto’s interests at the expense of the public interest, without regard to the rule of law.”

Unfortunately, as was shown time and time again during the Bush years, if you have the President on your side, you can ignore the rule of law.

(Photo credit: Trans Ova Genetics)

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

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