Tuesday, August 20, 2019

7 Radio Clips, Episodes, and Shows About Current Ag Issues

Here is a little tidbit about the CAST staff: A couple of us are former radio broadcasters, which means the medium (podcasts, too) reserves a special place in our hearts. 

And, naturally, we enjoy sharing various forms of ag communication. So, here are seven episodes, clips, and shows that we’ve shared in Friday Notes or on social media throughout 2019 that talk about current issues in agriculture.

Dr. Alison van Eenennaam - Animal Genetics, Food Marketing, and World Hunger
The Canteen Podcast with Ally Houston
From the website: “Dr. Alison van Eenennaam is a public sector academic at the University of California Davis using science to improve the efficiency of agriculture. I really think that this is a dynamite episode that reveals some truths about beef and dairy production that are not widely known, but should be. We talk about world hunger. GMO, food marketing, and how ruminant agriculture has its place at the table.”

'I Rue The Day We Ever Became Farmers': In Rural India, A Struggle To Survive
This story aired in early 2019 and displays the struggle of Indian farmers in a time when farmers across the world are feeling the stress from poor crop yields and low profits. 

176: Jan Libbey of One Step at a Time Gardens on Scaling Up, Scaling Down, and Partnerships and Networking
Farmer to Farmer with Chris Blanchard
While new episodes have not been produced since the podcast creator’s passing in 2018, these episodes (like the one above) provide insights from real farmers about their production and marketing practices for their small-farm businesses. The episode above was the last produced.

Newsline and Features
The USDA provides daily clips of ag-related stories ranging from farm computer usage data to crop conditions to nutrition advice. 

#88: Our Food Choices & Climate Change. The Science & Facts ~Frank Mitloehner
From the website: “Dr. Frank Mitloehner joins us to help unpack the reality of all things livestock, agriculture, and the industries’ associated planetary impact. It’s a complex multi-faceted subject, yet easy to follow with Frank at the helm.”

Organic Food
Science Vs.
From the website: “It’s an epic three-way battle this week -- organic vs conventional vs …science. Three out of every four American grocery stores sell organic products, but what are you really getting when you buy them? Better taste? Fewer toxic chemicals? A cleaner environment? Farmers Mark, Andy, and Brian Reeves, nutritional epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Bradbury, Prof. Cynthia Curl, and Prof. Navin Ramankutty help us sort it all out.”

191 – Indian Farmers Protest for Technology Access
Talking Biotech Podcast with Kevin Folta
While Dr. Kevin Folta, the 2016 BCCA winner, produces many insightful episodes featuring the various ways biotechnology can or could impact agriculture and medicine, we’re pretty fond of his interview with Dr. C.S. Prakash, the 2015 BCCA winner, about the current genetically engineered Bt crop use issue in India. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

This is How We Do It: Learn About CAST's Work

In honor of National Nonprofit Day (August 17), we are sharing how CAST operates in order to fulfill our mission.

CAST is a designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means we rely on charitable contributions from our supporters and members (along with grants) to accomplish our work. Without that support, we wouldn’t get very far. 

What We Do
CAST focuses on communicating research 
addressing some of today’s challenges in agriculture and food sciences. 

We synthesize credible studies to provide a balanced, comprehensive look at the challenges and recommendations that are part of topics such as food waste, animal ethics, gene technology, food labeling and so much more. 

Communicating science is part of our mission, which has remained largely unchanged since CAST came into being nearly 50 years ago. 

How We Do It
Our authors--experts and researchers in industry and academia who specialize in our paper topics--volunteer their time to write, edit, fact-check, peer review, and find funding to ensure these publications can reach our audiences--legislators, the media, farmers, students, and anyone interested or impacted by the topics we cover. We want to provide credible, balanced resources to aid the decision-making process for complex issues.

We want to provide these publications for as long as possible and remain a reliable source for those who look to CAST as a non-affiliated authority on agricultural and food science issues. 

3 Things You Can Do
Whether you're a member or just interested in staying in the loop, we have a few ways you can be more involved with CAST:

  1. Use our free reports, issue papers, and commentaries to spread awareness and information about agricultural issues. 
  2. If you think others would benefit from our publications, share our information with them. Follow us (@CASTagScience) on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop about our upcoming publications and announcements. 
  3. If you really like us and believe in what we do, please donate or become a member--we have a lot of options. And your contribution may qualify as a tax-deductible gift!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

CAST Announces Science Communication Scholarship

In 2018, we launched the first CAST Science Communication Scholarship*. This year, we’re getting more hands on.

We’re encouraging graduate students at the University of Arkansas to show us how they want to communicate their research to audiences outside their research community. By creating a 90-second video or podcast, or an infographic, students will creatively convey an exciting component of their research. 

After students submit their work, a panel of judges will provide feedback to the students to help strengthen their science communication strategy. Selected students are invited to the CAST Annual Meeting, held at the University of Arkansas, to network with like-minded scientists from across the nation, as well as participate in the sessions focused around trends in agriculture and communicating important ag-related issues.

Selected students will also receive a stipend as part of the scholarship and have their work displayed on CAST’s social media pages.

If you are a graduate student at the University of Arkansas:
Check out the application process, resources, and other useful information in our Google folder.

If you know a graduate student at the University of Arkansas:
Send the scholarship information along: http://bit.ly/CAST-SciCom-Scholarship-2019We’d love your help spreading the word and getting in touch with the next generation of science communicators.

2018 Scholarship Winners
Five students from the University of California Davis received the scholarship and attended our annual meeting held at the UC-Davis campus. You can read why they believe science communication, especially in their research areas, is important to them below.

Maci Mueller -- Gene editing in livestock production systems
Mackenzie Batali -- Food science, specifically coffee sensory research
Sarah Klopatek -- Beef sustainability 
Alonna Wright -- Microbial communities within crop soils
Rylie Ellison -- Agricultural and environmental chemistry

*CAST rotates its scholarship eligibility based on the location of its annual meeting. As the scholarship grows, we hope to include and support more students, regardless of the location of our annual meeting.

Friday, August 9, 2019

4 CAST Publications to Watch for This Fall

We are very pleased to share that we are working to finalize four papers for release this fall. 

All of these papers are the culmination of work by various task forces that are comprised of scientists, engineers, legal scholars, economists, sociologists, and other subject-matter specialists who generously contribute their time, energy, and expertise to help us assemble, interpret, and communicate balanced, credible, science-based information about food and agriculture. 
The titles and expected release dates of these new CAST papers:

September 2019:  Protecting Food Animal Gene Pools for Future Generations--A Series on The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050

October 2019:  Interpreting Agricultural Chemical Residues Measured in Food or Milk

November 2019:  Impact of Recruitment and Retention of Food Animal Veterinarians on the U.S. Food Supply

November or December 2019:  The Microbiome's Positive Impacts on Crops

From Kent Scheske, CAST Executive Vice President

Share Your Ideas With Us!
We want to hear what agricultural, food, or environmental issues matter most to you. If you have ideas for future publications, let us know! Your ideas might end up as the basis for a future CAST publication. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Agvocates Play Important Role on Social Media

Agvocates. Ever heard of the term? 

It’s the name many agricultural advocates (get it?) give themselves to describe what they do--support and champion for agriculture. Anyone can be an agvocate: farmers, agronomists, animal scientists, 4-H students, nonprofit organizations, Grandma Beth, Uncle Joe. All you need is a passion for agriculture--and maybe a social media account.

Some studies suggest social media is one of the best places to connect with people who share similar values, especially when it comes to emotive topics (i.e., topics that generate strong feelings and, I would add, are often spun as controversial). That’s why so many agvocates are actively involved on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram--even TikTok. They want to have a conversation and raise awareness about the facts, challenges, initiatives, or research in the field.

Let’s look at an example...
Many people eat meat and other animal products, but there is a lot of tension around their welfare. The topic especially becomes amplified when news breaks about the mistreatment of animals

Since most of what we see is the end product of animal agriculture (e.g., milk, meat, bone broth, etc.), we’re mostly left in the dark about how they’re treated unless we are directly working with them. We have an idea of what the animal went through for us to enjoy that end product, but when we read about actions (e.g., abuse) that violate our norms, our feelings intensify and we react negatively. This is when an agvocate's role matters most. 
Brandi Buzzard Frobose, a.k.a. Buzzard's Beat,
regularly weighs in on heated topics in the news,
bringing in her own knowledge and experience
 to explain what's going on.

Agvocates have the ability in that moment to insert their voice and experience into the conversation and influence the reactions of those who feel society’s norms have been violated. As Stevens, Aarts, Termeer, and Dewulf (2016) put it: 

“Social media offer a stage for all actors involved, such as farmers, citizens, consumers, politicians, and experts to engage in the conversation and voice their opinion.” 
This, in turn, generates more news and diffuses insight to a larger audience through social engagement with the agvocate’s content.

Of course, social media creates echo chambers in which individuals use their personalized space to reinforce their group’s norms. And sometimes this can turn out for the worst. 

But there is evidence that argues social media allows for an understanding of someone else’s life that would otherwise not be accessible to them. Studies focused on social media’s influence on empathy and perspective taking suggest younger people, such as adolescents, are able to understand and share emotions of those they follow on social media. And the type of content shared may invoke varying responses to how we perceive ourselves. In other words, staying connected might help us develop empathic skills.

This is why agvocacy matters--building relationships with people who are interested (even for a moment) that you could not otherwise reach may help build empathic skills. 

The takeaway: Agvocates, keep doing your thing. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Student Member Spotlight Q&A: Hannah

Our members are the lifeblood of our organization. They are students, farmers, researchers, department heads, industry experts, food scientists, agronomists--the list goes on. No matter their background, we all have the same wish: to assemble, create and share credible, balanced, science-based information. 

Read about who makes up CAST in our Member Spotlight series. In this post, you will meet  Hannah, a recent graduate and CAST student member.

Meet Hannah
A 2019 Iowa State University graduate who received a Bachelor of Science in global resource systems, environmental studies, and Spanish.

What agricultural issues are most important to you?
The top two agricultural issues that are most important to me are international trade policies and climate change effects on crop growth, yield, and revenue. 

How did you hear about CAST?
When I was a student at Iowa State, I was a member of the club IAAS (International Association of Agriculture and Related Sciences), and a CAST representative spoke at one of our meetings. He encouraged us to apply and become student members. 

Why did you decide to join CAST?
I decided to join CAST as a student because it allowed me to develop a perspective on professional societies and understand their importance to society, especially after undergrad graduation when most people lose access to academic resources.

What role does CAST play in our society?
Communicating agricultural sciences to interested professionals, students, and the general public. CAST helps our communities have access to important and credible research and news. CAST allows student members, young professionals, and experienced researchers to stay involved and up to date.

Thank you, Hannah, for sharing your story and supporting CAST!

Stay tuned for the next installment of our Member Spotlight series.

(Photo courtesy of Hannah)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Member Spotlight Q&A: Dr. Nathaniel L. Tablante

Our members are the lifeblood of our organization. They are students, farmers, researchers, department heads, industry experts, food scientists, agronomists--the list goes on. No matter their background, we all have the same wish: to assemble, create and share credible, balanced, science-based information. 

In our ongoing Member Spotlight series, we are asking current members some questions about their involvement with CAST and why they believe in our mission. 

Meet Dr. Nathaniel L. Tablante, a former CAST president and active supporter.

Dr. Nathaniel L. Tablante
Professor and Extension Poultry Health Specialist (Veterinarian) at the University of Maryland College Park

How long have you been a member of CAST?
I have been a member of CAST for 13 years. I joined CAST in 2006 as the representative of the American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP), an international association whose mission is to promote scientific knowledge to enhance the health, well–being, and productivity of poultry to provide safe and abundant food for the world. 

I became an active member and Chair of the CAST Animal Agriculture and Environmental Issues Work Group and served as CAST President from 2011-2012.  

How did you first hear about CAST?
I was not familiar with CAST until AAAP asked me to serve as its representative to CAST in 2006.

What agricultural issue is most important to you?
As a poultry veterinarian, poultry health, welfare, and food safety are of prime importance to me.

Why do you choose to support CAST?
I have truly been inspired by my experience with CAST and its mission to assemble, interpret, and communicate credible, science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector and the public. 

My experience with CAST paved the way for my American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Congressional Science Fellowship in the U.S. House of Representatives where I served as an agriculture and science policy advisor for a Member of Congress in 2013-2014.

What role does CAST play in our society?
CAST enables members of our society to understand and appreciate various agriculture, food safety, and environmental issues through its simple but objective and unbiased publications and presentations on these issues.
Thank you, Dr. Tablante, for your support of CAST's work for more than a decade. 

Stay tuned for the next installment of our Member Spotlight Q&A series.

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Nathaniel L. Tablante)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cross Country Bike Trail with Big Rural Benefits

The Great American Rail-Trail is a mega bike trail that will connect nearly 3,700 miles of rail trails and other multi-use trails to form a path across the country from Washington, D.C., to Washington State. The preferred route of the nation’s first cross-country, multi-use trail is detailed in a comprehensive report released by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and the route is presented here in an interactive map

This massive project is noteworthy for several reasons: (1) With everyone from LeBron James to your grandpa pushing bike use, the fitness benefits are obvious. (2) Bike trails boost local economies--especially in small towns. (3) This could be a great way for thousands to see America's countryside at a slow pace and with a ground-level view.

The High Trestle Bridge gets lit up at night.
These benefits are already occurring in localized ways. In parts of the country, the farm population has shrunk and small towns suffer. The bicycle has opened up a promising avenue for some communities. Families with babies in tow and bike clubs with weird names file along rural paths--many carved from railroad lines. A perfect example of this is the High Trestle Trail in central Iowa. Restaurants, smoothie stands, and nearby Main Street shops benefit from the traffic, and the path crosses the Des Moines River on a 13-story high renovated rail bridge. The structure was turned into a work of art and an educational outlet--the frames represent nearby coal mining of the past, and stations along the bridge include maps and descriptions of the area's development.

Many parts of the country provide wonderful bike trail opportunities, and some states organize annual rides to celebrate rural life. The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai) has been active since the mid-seventies. The ride involves an average of 15,000 to 25,000 folks migrating across the state for a week-long Odyssey through farmland and small towns. For many, sitting on top of a bike seat is about as close as they ever get to agriculture, but the event provides opportunities for many to smell the good earth (and the not-so-good manure), to see the amazing productivity of the land, and to meet people along the way--from vendors at pie stands to farmers gathered on Main Street to fellow riders from all over the world.

The following links lead to past blogs about Ragbrai:

** Your Momma, Andy of Mayberry, and 35,000 Bikers--a Harlan man opened up his basement to 25 bikers as a tornado roared through at 3:00 a.m., and a Tipton woman left a note on her door to bikers, "I'm at the church serving food. Go right in. Shower on your left. Fresh pie on the kitchen table."

**  Is This Heaven? Biking through Farm Country Mixes the Field of Dreams with Dante's Inferno--riders chomp on sweet corn, inhale slices of blueberry pie, and invade towns with no stoplights but plenty of hospitality. But the week can be challenging--cold rain, blast-furnace heat, blown tires, and the occasional accidental meeting of flesh and pavement. 

** Check here for a collection of Ragbrai photos from the Des Moines Register.

by dan gogerty (map from curbed.com and the bridge collage from traveliowa.com)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Infographic: CAST Publications Through the Years

CAST has an impressive publications record since our founding in 1972. 

We've published more than 400 papers, which equals out to be roughly 8.5 publications a year for 47 yearsLast year, we published six papers, which is double what we sent to press in 2017

Why don't we roll out the same amount of publications each year? Our authors and reviewers--made up of specialized researchers and experts--place great care in the information presented to stakeholders like you. We believe in presenting credible, accurate, and science-based information in order to better educate those who are invested in agriculture.

No matter what the topic--whether it's covering the latest issues in plant and animal science or food labeling concerns in your local grocery store--we are focused on communicating credible, objective science. 

Check out the various types of publications CAST has distributed since our founding in 1972 in our infographic below. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Infographic: Agricultural Practices and Their Impacts on Water

Earlier this year, CAST released two papers focused on water use in agriculture and the long-term impacts agricultural productivity can have on water quality and supply (above and below ground). 

Below is an infographic taking bits and pieces from the two papers to introduce a small part of the larger ag-water story. Both papers are accessible for free below.

You may use the infographic with credit to CAST.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Label Talk--Part 3: How Do We Fix Food Labeling Problems?

Last week, I shared some thoughts about why food labels (specifically process labels) are good and bad. This week, I am going to wrap up some thoughts about how we make the food mislabeling issue better through the recommendations of CAST authors (experts, researchers, and scientists), my thoughts, as well as others’ ideas. 

How do we fix this?

From the CAST authors
There are recommendations that experts, researchers, and even marketers prescribe. You can read a few of them in the short handout covering highlights from our food labels paper, but here is the main takeaway:  

Food labels should be clear communication points based on sound science that allow consumers to make the best decisions available. Food labels should not condemn certain foods based on misinformation (e.g., GMO v. organic foods). If a product can cause human harm, the authors suggest it should be mandatory. Any room for misinterpretation or misleading information should be minimized by providing a clear consensus statement backed by scientific evidence on the package. When that can’t be done, then the label shouldn’t be used. 

From me
We, the consumers, have a right to know what is in the products we are buying. We also have a right to choose the products that match our desires and values. In order for us to make the best choice, we need labels with clear messages that are based on strong scientific evidence.

Food shouldn’t be ruled out because it isn’t marketed as “clean” (What does that even mean? Any food that has been altered for packaging is processed.). And other food shouldn’t be marketed as healthy or “better for you” because it is made a certain way (organic Doritos are still junk food).

We need clear communication. We need to be able to understand what the package is truly saying about the food without an agenda. But that will be hard to work considering we are a society driven by consumer demands. There is give and take--we won’t be able to completely eradicate the problem of mislabeling, but we can get closer than we already are.

From others 
What originally sparked my interest in writing this "Label-Talk" series was reading what agri-bloggers have recently shared:

Farmer’s Daughter: 
  • Amanda Zaluckyj shared a survey showing respondents (i.e., consumers) care about the behavior of the companies they buy from, as well as which food labels matter most to them (see the chart). Amanda then unveiled the hypocrisy behind companies claiming they have good ethics. Her message: Companies need to be trustworthy, which starts by being consistent with labeling and not “using magical language that consumers feel good about.”
‘A Concerned Farmer from Minnesota’:
  • Wanda Patsche wrote an open letter to one of the Midwest’s largest food retailers asking them to make it their responsibility to provide clear labels on their branded products, and to fight misinformation about food processing on their social media content.
Farm Babe:
  • Michelle Miller has been a long-time advocate of clear, de-cluttered labels on food packages. Her recent trip to Australia made her notice a stark difference between U.S. food labeling practices versus those in Australia. She’s noted in the past her frustrations with labels by stating they are “just plain wrong”--they don’t tell the consumer the truth and they are lying about agriculture. In the end, misleading labels hurt agricultural and science education

Image form Pixabay/Pexels
Sorry, I made you read all that just to tell you this: 

There isn't a straight answer to fixing the misuse of food labels, there are just too many facets, but we can improve their use by focusing on strategies that remove misleading labels, reduce the misuse of labels, and provide clear, concrete messages backed by strong scientific evidence.

Final Thoughts
I believe it is important to mention how difficult it is to cover large, hot-button topics like food labeling. This blog series is a shallow representation of the depth of research, law, policies, regulations, etc. on the subject--there is just so much information and so many questions that can arise from looking for answers. 

But we have some great resources to help you get started.

If you have questions or comments from this three-part series or about our papers, please share them with us in the comments or on social (@CASTagScience). We’d love to hear from you. 

CAST also provides publications filled with credible, peer-reviewed research to create recommendations, list implications and precautions, and often provide case studies. These authors and reviewers are some of the top scientists and experts in their fields. We really care about providing credible, balanced information to nonscientists who are interested in agriculture, animal, plant, and food science. 
Check out our publications. 
Finally, if you have an idea for a publication based off a concern or question you have, drop us a line

By Kimberly Nelson