This bread was dumped at a park along a Great Lakes beach for the gulls, geese, and squirrels that live there. Beach visitors often assume high bacteria levels that close beaches to swimmers are solely due to sewer overflows, but animals that defecate in the area also contribute to the problem.
This past summer beaches around the Great Lakes were closed in record numbers because of high bacteria counts. One government study indicates part of the problem might be animal feces, but the public does not seem to be aware that of the connection. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
This past summer beaches around the Great Lakes were closed in record numbers
because of high bacteria counts. One government study indicates part of the problem
might be animal feces, but the public does not seem to be aware that of the connection.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
High levels of bacteria in the water can make swimmers sick. Cameron Davis is with the
watchdog group, the Lake Michigan Federation. He says more can be done to stop the
contamination if sewer plants are improved and if beach visitors were more aware that
leaving food waste and feeding gulls and geese adds to the problem. That’s because the
birds defecate more, causing higher levels of bacteria along the shore.
“So, we’ve got the sewage treatment agencies saying ‘Oh, no. It’s the geese and the
gulls,’ and we’ve got the people feeding the birds saying ‘Oh, no. It’s sewage treatment
plants.’ So, you can see, it’s a combination of sources and there are things — I don’t care
what anybody says — there are things we can do to help solve the problem with all those
Davis says local governments need to start identifying and eliminating those sources of
beach contamination, starting with improving sewer plants and getting people to clean up
after their visits and to stop feeding wildlife at the beaches.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Most of the cattle raised in the Great Lakes region spend their lives in a feedlot, fattening up on corn and other grains before becoming dinner themselves… but there’s a growing number of organic farmers looking at putting their cows in the pasture. They say grass-fed beef is a healthy alternative. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brad Linder has more:
Most of the cattle raised in the Great Lakes region spend their lives in a feedlot, fattening up on
corn and other grains before becoming dinner themselves. But there’s a growing number of
organic farmers looking at putting their cows in the pasture. They say grass-fed beef is a healthy
alternative. Brad Linder has more:
(Sound of cows mooing)
Here on Natural Acres Farm in Millersburg, in Central Pennsylvania, 120 cows have their heads
to the ground. They’re chewing on tender shoots of grass instead of ground corn or some mixture
of grain feed.
Steve Shelley is in charge of marketing beef for Natural Acres. He says cows are designed to eat
grass, but most farmers today find it cheaper and easier to buy commercial feed made from grains
“You know farmers nowadays. Well that’s the way their dads did it, so they’re doing the same
thing. It’s much easier to go out and dump a bucket of feed into a pen for that animal to eat than
it is for that animal to be out, to get the best benefit from the soil.”
And Shelley says another reason most farmers use grain feed is that it takes longer to raise cattle
on grass. Grain-fed cows are ready for slaughter within a year, but Natural Acres cows can take
six months to a year longer to reach the same size.
But Shelley says that convenience for the farmer comes at a cost to the cattle. Shelley says cows
raised on corn get sick more often than grass-fed cattle. As preventative measures, cows
traditionally have antibiotics mixed in with their feed and require frequent visits from the
Cows on organic farms are naturally healthier. And since Shelley’s marketing his product to
consumers interested in “healthier meat,” the animals also don’t receive growth hormones or other
chemicals often found in commercial beef.
Natural Acres runs an organic foods shop on-site. But Shelley says the market for such products
is pretty small in rural Central Pennsylvania. Most of the beef isn’t sold here. Instead, much of it
is shipped to restaurants and stores, where people are willing to pay premium prices.
“In a grocery store, you may pay anywhere from a $1.75/pound to $2.00 for a pound of beef.
Retail, we get $4.09.”
Being able to charge more for beef is only one of the perks to raising cattle on grass. The farmers
who raise grass-fed beef don’t have to pay as much to the veterinarian.
“The animals rarely get sick. And I have talked to hundreds of people who raise animals on
Jo Robinson is author of the book, “Why Grass Fed is Best.” She also runs the website
‘eatwild.com,’ which compiles research on grass-fed cattle.
“The big surprise, I think – and this wasn’t known until about 1998 – is that an animal raised on
pasture has five times the amount of cancer fighting fat called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA.”
Robinson says CLA helps prevent cows from developing tumors. There is some evidence
suggesting CLA has the same effect on humans, but it’s not yet clear if eating grass-fed beef is a
way for people to fight off cancer.
Robinson does point out that CLA is just one of the reasons there’s a growing demand for grass-
“Some people gravitate towards pasture finished meat because it’s free of hormones and
antibiotics. Some people are aware of the nutritional benefits. They like the fact that it’s lower in
saturated fat, higher in omega 3 fatty acids, higher in vitamin E, and a number of other
substances. It’s simply a healthier product all around.”
Robinson says she first started looking for American grass-farmers in 1997, and only found about
sixty. Now, she says, the market has grown to include at least ten times that number, which still
only represents a small portion of the American Beef Industry.
Paul Slayton is director of the Pennsylvania Beef Council, the non-profit organization charged
with promoting the state’s beef industry. Slayton says less than 1% of the state’s beef production
comes from grass farms. But he says those farms do fill an important role.
“I see it being a very viable part of our production in this part of the country, because we have
such an eclectic consumer group. And there are some consumers that just won’t eat anything else
but organic. And somebody’s going to be providing their food.”
As the beef industry is recovering from public concern over mad cow disease and e. coli bacteria,
Slayton says anything that convinces people meat is safe is fine by him.
And as for the taste of grass-fed beef, Steve Shelley from Natural Acres Farm says it might be
more familiar than many people think.
“Many times when I go and do a taste test at a store or something, a lot of the older people, when
they try it, make the comment: ‘This tastes like beef used to taste.'”
Shelley says the meat is leaner and can be tougher if cows aren’t fed a little grain before slaughter.
But Natural Acres is experimenting with different types of grass that might lend a more
consumer-friendly texture to the beef.
Shelley says it’s a combination of taste and nutrition that gets most people interested, even some
people who had given up on commercial beef altogether. Shelley tells one story about a man
who’s wife had banned meat from their house for five years.
“So he bought a hamburger and finally got her to try it, and at the end of the day, he gave me a high five, and he said, ‘I can eat beef
again! She’s given me permission to bring beef into the house!’ Well, that really makes you feel
So grass-fed beef is entering households that hadn’t seen any beef in a while for environmental
reasons or because of health concerns. While the beef might be a taste of days gone by, organic
farmers are getting better prices for their meat than even in the best of days past.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brad Linder.
A recent report finds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture needs to work more closely with Customs inspectors in order to stop foreign animal diseases from hurting livestock in the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
A recent report finds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture needs to work more closely
with Customs inspectors in order to stop foreign animal diseases from hurting livestock
in the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has this report.
When foot and mouth disease hit livestock in Britain, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture quickly notified its various agencies, state and local governments and even
veterinarians. They received notices and guidance on prevention of outbreaks of foot
and mouth disease in case the disease found its way to U.S. shores.
But the USDA did not notify Customs inspectors. In fact, according to a report by the
General Accounting Office, Customs received the information only after formally
requesting it, more than a month after the British outbreak. The GAO reports that many
Customs inspectors said they felt ill equipped to adequately process international cargo
and passengers at U.S. ports of entry. The GAO report noted that the Department of
Agriculture has taken steps to improve notification to Customs, but the USDA still needs
to establish clear procedures and find a more permanent solution.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Those worried about food safety say it’s time for a uniform animal identification system – one that could rapidly isolate animals suspected of carrying contagious diseases. Wisconsin agriculture officials have taken the lead on this type of preventative action but will need the help of all the Great Lakes states to make it work. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Jo Wagner has more:
Those worried about food safety say it’s time for a uniform animal identification system, one that could rapidly isolate animals suspected of carrying contagious diseases. Wisconsin AG officials have taken the lead on this type of preventive action but will need the help of all the Great Lakes States to make it work. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Jo Wagner has more.
There’s growing consensus among agricultural officials that some type of universal animal identifier is needed to trace animals from birth to the marketplace. Especially in light of recent occurrences of “mad cow” and “foot and mouth” diseases in live animals overseas and the nasty form of e coli in meat products here. Wisconsin secretary of agriculture, Jim Harsdorf says the ID system started in Europe. Now it’s moved to Canada, where it’s mandatory, and Harsdorf says Holland has a central database containing information on all the nation’s animals.
“It’s housed in one location and the producers within 48 hours have an animal ID’d after it’s born and that animal ID stays with it for life.”
Federal officials in the United States have been slow to implement such a system though, so Harsdorf says state officials are working to come up with one. It might be tied to different identification networks that farmers already use to keep production and reproduction records, herd health, vaccinations and the location of cattle that are sold, or it could be a totally new system that keeps some or all of those records on one central computer database managed by state, private or non-profit organizations.
Wisconsin state veterinarian Clarence Siroky says public feedback surprised them. State officials were expecting farmers to want only a voluntary system but what they found at public meetings was that producers want a more comprehensive mandatory system nationwide
“We move cattle all over the United States rapidly…we can have one cow at least touch 27 other states within a week…one pig can touch 19 other states within 24 hours.”
For those reasons, Siroky says, all animals will have to be included, not only cows, but sheep, horses and pigs. In England for example, cows are identified, but sheep are not, and he says sheep were implicated in the rapid spread of foot and mouth disease there.
That concerns Ted Johnson. He’s a Wisconsin dairy farmer who likes the idea of a universal identification system because it would quickly pinpoint the location of animals that might have come in contact with a disease.
“If in the event of an outbreak of some highly contagious disease, it could be stopped very quickly and we wouldn’t have to have wholesale slaughtering of cattle.”
Still Johnson says many farmers are concerned about how much the ID would cost, who would maintain the records, and who would have access to them.
“The worst case scenario would be if that information is released and there is some doubt about the information or if the information is used in an incorrect manner, the perception can be there’s a problem on individual farms.”
State veterinarian Clarence Siroky says that’s why input from farmers, processors, privacy advocates and consumers is important as the technology is developing.
Still to be decided is the type of animal ID that would be used. Siroky says it could be a tag placed on the animal’s ear. However, some animals already have so many different ear tags, he says one ear can look like a Christmas tree. Other possibilities include a computer chip or other type of recyclables monitor placed inside an animal.
Meanwhile, AG secretary Harsdorf says the records included in a computerized type of system could be very beneficial to consumers at the supermarket.
“At some point in time, you’re gonna have the ability to go through a grocery store and see up on a screen when you buy that package where it came from, a picture of the operation — it’s almost mind boggling to see what could happen down the road.”
Still, farmer Ted Johnson worries all the talk right now about the need for animal identification might create a consumer backlash.
“I feel as a producer our food supply is very safe. I don’t want the perception to be that an animal ID program is being instituted because we have a problem.”
But a potential problem without plans to deal with it could create havoc for the agricultural industry, and so far veterinarian Siroky doesn’t know when a system with wide support might be in place. He does say animal health officials are on high alert for the appearance of any contagious diseases. At the same time, he says even if Wisconsin comes up with a proactive plan, unless other states adopt a similar identification method, any tracking system would have limited effectiveness. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Jo Wagner.