Agriculture

News

Turkey

Poultry DNA Sequencer a Powerful Tool in Antibiotic Resistance Research

December 21, 2016

A state-of-the-art genetic analysis tool has been deployed to Willmar, Minnesota, the heart of the state's burgeoning turkey business. According to an article in Agweek, beginning in 2017 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is implementing new restrictions that change how livestock producers use antibiotics in feed to promote growth. The action is being taken to address growing concerns that antibiotic resistance could threaten public health. Veterinary science professor Tim Johnson is leading the project, which is housed at the U's Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center. According to Johnson, the DNA sequencer "will improve the speed and the resolution of our ability to detect pathogens of the bad bacteria and the bad viruses" by helping researchers understand how pathogens travel and examining "emerging diseases of poultry and other animals to be able to quickly identify what's causing problems." The Consortium is hosting a three-part series on a related topic, Emerging Diseases in a Changing Environment, starting on Jan. 24; learn more and register here

News

Ear of corn

GMOs Fail to Deliver Higher Crop Yields, Lower Pesticide Use

November 1, 2016

According to an in-depth article in the New York Times, while "the controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat. . . the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides." This conclusion is drawn from data comparing the two North American countries to Western Europe, where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have largely been rejected. In fact, during the 20-year period studied, pesticide use increased in the US while in France, the biggest European agriculture producer, it has been reduced. Biotech companies like Monsanto defend their products, saying they can help meet the food needs of an explosively growing global population. However, Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, notes "they still 'haven't found the mythical yield gene.'" Read the entire article here

News

Flock of turkeys

UN Tackles Antibiotic Resistance

September 22, 2016

A new declaration by the UN General Assembly is intended to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms. According to National Public Radio, the resolution "requires countries to come up with a two-year a plan to protect the potency of antibiotics. Countries need to create ways to monitor the use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, start curbing that use and begin developing new antibiotics that work." While concerns about "superbugs" are widespread in public health circles, it took data showing the potentially catastrophic economic implications of antibiotic resistance to spur this action. One expert, Ramanan Laxminarayan, is optimistic about the outcomes of this campaign, comparing this effort to a similar one begun by the UN about the HIV pandemic; the article notes, "since 2004, there has been a 45 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths in countries supported by global HIV campaigns."

Lecture

News

Bread and cheese

Register for 2016 Healthy Foods Summit: Food, Microbes, and Health

August 25, 2016

Microbes are everywhere in our food system, inhabiting biomes from soil to human, for better or worse. This year's Healthy Foods Summit will be held on Oct. 27-28. On the first, on-campus day, food scientists, microbiologists, and policymakers will present recent research on how these tiny organisms can be better understood and controlled to ensure healthy, safe food for everyone. The second day at the Minnesota Arboretum will be more applied and practical, featuring talks by community farmers, grocery coops, small food business owners and restaurateurs. Early Bird registration fees are available until Sept. 23; student rates are also offered. For a full agenda, locations and to register, visit z.umn.edu/healthyfoods2016

News

Sean Sherman, American Indian chef

Focus on American Indian Food and Nutrition

August 18, 2016

A group of chefs and scholars that has been working for decades to restore Native American food traditions is experiencing new momentum. One of them is Sean Sherman, who draws from the indigenous cuisine of Midwestern tribes like the Lakota and Ojibwe, precolonial food cultures that were supported by sophisticated trade routes and intra-tribal cultural exchanges. Mr. Sherman plans to expand his catering business, Sioux Chef, to include a restaurant in Minneapolis that will not only feature Native American foods and bring jobs to the local community, but also serve as a driver for American Indian-owned food businesses like those he uses to supply walleye and wild rice. Want to learn more? On Sept. 26-27, the First Annual Conference on Native American Nutrition will be held in Prior Lake, Minnesota. The event is cosponsored by Consortium member center Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and will bring together tribal officials, researchers, practitioners, and others to discuss the current state of knowledge about Native nutrition and food science. Register here.

News

Model of crystal structure for CRISPR-Cas9

There's More Than One Way to Edit a Gene

August 15, 2016

The gene-editing technique known as CRISPR has generated immense excitement for enabling scientists to alter genomes "with unprecedented precision, efficiency and flexibility," in hopes of accelerating cures for genetic diseases. However, while CRISPR has been receiving the lion's share of attention in the media, a new article in Scientific American outlines its limitations: as researchers have used CRISPR, particularly the Cas9 tool, they've been reminded "how fragile every new technology is," according to George Church of the Harvard Medical School. The article describes several alternatives that researchers hope will offer more precise pathways for rewriting DNA, which plant scientist Daniel Voytas of the University of Minnesota notes is essential to the advancement of the field: “Everyone says the future is editing many genes at a time, and I think: ‘We can’t even do one now with reasonable efficiency.'" Each month seems to bring new advances in the field: read the article, which provides an up-to-date overview of what's happening, here

Conference

News

Field of corn

The Unfulfilled Promise of Corn-based Biofuels

July 28, 2016

According to an article in Bloomberg, "More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland – improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year." The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which led to mass production of corn-based ethanol, has proven to be sadly ineffectual; in fact, groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation have begun to realize that the use and manufacture of biofuels has had "severe, unintended consequences," partly as a result of the way regulatory regimes were implemented. Despite a political divide between legislators from the Corn Belt and others, a revamped RFS appears to be moving forward in the House of Representatives.  

News

Lakes seen from the air

The Supreme Court Opinion that Rewrote US Water Policy

May 26, 2016

A 2006 opinion by US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is still reverberating throughout environment regulation circles, having triggered a decade of fevered debate over how to determine which bodies of water are protected by the Clean Water Act of 1972. By positing that a waterway had to be part of a "significant nexus" with a river or wetland to be covered under the act, Kennedy's decision sparked dozens of lawsuits. Ultimately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corp of Engineers were charged with mapping flows of pollutants through waterways. The resulting 408-page report outlines a "legal shield" that the Obama administration hopes will protect what they've dubbed the Clean Water Rule from incursions by farm groups, developers and others. A discusson of legal and regulatory actions taken since the 2006 decision, as well as an overview of its expected future, can be found in a Politico article here. 

News

Turkey

The Looming Threat of Avian Flu

April 13, 2016

An article in this week's New York Times Magazine outlines the challenges of protecting the U.S. agricultural system from devastating diseases. Last year's avian flu outbreak was particularly destructive, with more than 21 states reporting cases of the H5 virus and more than 50 million birds killed. The article outlines some reasons for the growing seriousness of these outbreaks, despite a post-9/11 presidential directive to better protect "the agriculture and food system against terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies." Prevailing wisdom at that time "was that farms, deep in thinly populated rural areas, would not be a danger to one another." University of Minnesota professor of avian health Carol Cardona, DVM, explains: "The food system responded to 9/11 with changes further up the food chain.” she notes, leading to the establishment of organizations like Consortium member the Food Protection and Defense InstituteNow, the USDA is working directly with farmers and trade organizations to better protect farms from the flu and one another. The most thorough, up-to-date resource for information on avian flu and other epidemics can be found at the website of Consortium member the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). 

News

Yarger Lake

More than Five Years In, Mixed Progress on Clean Water

December 8, 2015

In 2008, Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to increase the state's sales tax; a good portion (33%) of the resulting funds is meant to "protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams." A post on the Minnesota Public Radio website evaluates whether these new resources have had a positive impact. Jeffrey Peterson, director of Consortium member the Water Resources Center (WRC), notes: "The available data. . . are mixed and difficult to summarize." He refers to water quality variations and fluctuations around the state; the time lag between implementation of new practices and measurable results; and the need to expand the number of watersheds being monitored. Peterson took over the top spot at the WRC in August, 2015 after 15 years in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University. 

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty

Philip Pardey
Philip G. Pardey , PhD
Director, International Science & Technology Practice & Policy
Professor, Department of Applied Economics
Director of Global Research Strategy for the College of Food Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station

Consortium Faculty

Mindy Kurzer
Mindy S. Kurzer , PhD
Director, Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute
Professor, Department of Food Science and Nutrition
Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Oncology & Transplantation
Director of Graduate Studies, Nutrition Graduate Program

Consortium Faculty

News

Volunteer helping little girl into protective bee suit

Busy Summer for U of MN Bee Squad

August 5, 2015

The University of Minnesota Bee Squad is taking advantage of the warm weather to advance their mission of fostering healthy bee populations through community outreach. An article in the Star Tribune describes how members of the Squad are partnering with Urban Ventures to involve low-income Latinas – the self-described Reinas de Miel or Honey Queens – in beekeeping. Another program, “Healthy Honey Bees and Communities,” is supported by Consortium student research funds. Its goal is to explore the practicalities of establishing community apiaries in urban areas. (Left) Children participate in an event run by grantee Ana Heck (kneeling) and others to promote better understand of the importance of bee pollination to our food system. In another important development, the University has broken ground on a new Bee and Pollinator Research Lab on the St. Paul campus, to be led by entomologist Marla Spivak. You can view Dr. Spivak's TED talk on honeybee colony collapse here; there are more photos and updates of the Bee Squad's activities on Facebook

News

Bee on flower

Consortium Grant Supports Research on Urban Beehives

June 16, 2015

Bees have been in the news lately, between President Obama's announcement of a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators and ongoing news coverage on the effects of -- and possible solutions for -- the decline of bee colonies. The Consortium is making its own contribution through our intramural grants program, which supports selected graduate and professional students in research and writing on the societal implications of problems in health, environment, and the life sciences. Last week, the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab & Squad unveiled hives in St. Paul that were partially funded by a successful 2014-15 Consortium grant application from Ana Heck, titled "Healthy Honey Bees and Communities: Implementation Recommendations for Community Apiaries in Urban Neighborhoods." The project, which is also supported by the City of St. Paul, will help develop best practices and guidelines for community groups wishing to establish sustainable hives in economically and culturally diverse neighborhoods.