Agriculture

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H. Morgan Scott

Video Available for Lecture on Agricultural Use of Antimicrobials

March 13, 2018

A lecture delivered on Feb. 28 by H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD, is now available for viewing via the Consortium's YouTube channel. In his talk, Prof. Scott discussed antimicrobial stewardship in the production of food animals. An article published by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a lecture co-sponsor and Consortium member, describes Scott's proposal of "an ethical framework for defining judicious use of antibiotics in animals." Last November, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a major reduction in the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals; according to Scott, that is "where things start to get a little tricky," since it indicates a pullback from preventive practices. Prof. Scott provided a nuanced consideration of the values shared by both sides in this contentious debate — for instance, both agree that "antibiotics enhance the health and well-being of animals and humans, that there is overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans, and that protecting the efficacy of antibiotics for future generations is a good thing." Scott was joined by Jeff Bender and Tim Johnson of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to CIDRAP, this lecture was co-sponsored by the Microbiota Theraputics Program. The next lecture in the series will be held on April 3, 2018 and will feature Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, MPH of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) and the Princeton Environmental Institute. He will discuss policies that can increase global access to effective antimicrobials.

News

Genetically modified yeast organism

BioTech Institute Scientists Engineer Self-Destructing GMOs

January 29, 2018

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to help prevent the spread of diseases and increase both crop yields and nutritional value, but according to an article in Science Alert, "There's a big problem. . . . When you release altered species out into the wild, how can you prevent them from breeding with untweaked organisms living in their natural environment, and producing hybrid offspring that scientists can't control or regulate?" Synthetic biologist Maciej Maselko of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member, is leading a team to solve this problem. Prof. Maselko's researchers have used the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to alter yeast microbes so they're genetically incompatible and incapable of mating with their non-GMO counterparts. They call this approach "synthetic incompatability," and it's a technique that could be used in a multitude of ways, including to curb invasive carp or increase the production of medicines derived from plants. Read the entire article here

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World Health Org logo

WHO Recommends Against Antibiotic Use for Healthy Animals

November 8, 2017

New guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. According to the WHO, "Over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance," a serious danger to global health that's the subject of the Consortium's 2018 lecture seriesDr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, states "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” However, H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD (Texas A&M University), who will be delivering the second lecture in the Consortium series, emphasizes that veterinarians and producers must work to achieve reductions in the need for preventive use of antimicrobials. In his talk, he'll explore the social norms, moral imperatives (to both humans and animals), and ethical features that should frame future antimicrobial stewardship practices. To register for the lectures, which are free and open to the public, click here

News

Andres Perez

Leadership Change at Center for Animal Health and Food Safety

October 11, 2017

Prof. Andres Perez, DVM, PhD, is the new director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS), an interdisciplinary team at the University of Minnesota. The Center is coordinated by the College of Veterinary Medicine, and is a Consortium member. Perez takes over for Dr. Scott Wells, who is stepping down after serving as director and co-director for the past six years. Prof. Perez joined the College in 2014 and is a veterinary epidemiologist specializing in the prevention and control of food animal diseases. He also holds the Global Animal Health and Food Safety endowed chair. Prof. Perez notes, “CAHFS has been an effective catalyst for lasting change in the animal health and food safety sectors, and I hope to continue that success. . . . The goal is to increase CAHFS’ portfolio in areas such as policy, online education and outreach, quantitative data analysis, aquatic health, and antimicrobial resistance.”

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty

Lecture

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The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers

Gulf "Dead Zone" Highlights Downstream Effects of Polluted Water from the Upper Midwest

August 7, 2017

Improving water quality throughout Minnesota has been the focus of ongoing efforts by organizations like the Water Resources Center (WRC), a Consortium member. An article from Minnesota Public Radio lays out potential solutions, referring to a recent report by the WRC "that recommends strategies like better regulation of farm drainage systems and moving away from planting corn and soybeans to perennial crops." Fertilizers like nitrogen and phosphorus from Midwestern farm fields wash into the Mississippi River and other watersheds, causing contamination. Road salt and golf course runoff are also among the culprits. One dramatic outcome is this summer's largest-ever "dead zone" downstream in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of New Jersey "where water doesn't have enough oxygen for fish to survive," according to NPR. Don Scavia, a researcher at the University of Michigan, "describes it as a kind of hidden environmental disaster. 'You know, it's 8,000 square miles of no oxygen. That can't be good!'" One example of an effective solution that Scavia points to is mandatory limits on nutrient pollution in Chesapeake Bay, which have helped the bay begin to recover since being put in place in 2010. 

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

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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

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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

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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. 

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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. 

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