Swimming in rams

Lisa graced us with twin rams right in the barn stall a few minutes before we were going to leave for church on Sunday.  One was very frail and weak looking, with original-Zuko‘s coloring. He is the only lamb with a name so far, Zuko 3. But he only needed a couple pumps of Nutridrench and he was off to the races by the time we came home from church.  His moorit brother was also on the smaller side, but both ram lambs are doing very well rambling after Lisa up in the maternity ward.  She was fretful and Badgerface was being kind of mean girl until she got on the move, but overall the ewes have been good to each other.

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Lisa and Zuko 3, she was trying to avoid the other ewes and rams and get some privacy.

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Zuko 3 and his brother. They are on the tiny side.

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We currently are waiting on Dottie and Grey and we have seven ram lambs and two ewe lambs out of five ewes. Azula turned out to have a little fawn colored ram upon much closer inspection.

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Sustainable Economics– Asking the wrong questions about organic food production

The Atlantic brings us an example of industrial agriculture setting the agenda.  It is completely true that you can get higher yields with GMO crops using industrial production methods versus going organic or sustainable with those same crops.  GMO corn, soy and wheat are not the only things humans need for complete nutrition, yet we are expected to embrace industrial production because it is still producing high yields of those crops.  Industrial production doesn’t work so well on potatoes and other root vegetables, or perishable vegetable crops.  Industrial organic is obviously not going to be as good as specially subsidized, cheap-energy fueled industrial non-organic.  And the much-praised industrially produced ‘golden rice’ is not yet proven in its task of supplementing a crucial vitamin.

Genuinely sustainable production is mostly regional, mostly adapted to the climate of the given region, can include organic methods, but it’s not mandatory, and is often more labor intensive. This can be limited to ramp-up with many things, though, and then it can be much less labor-intensive on an ongoing basis.

Energy is already a lot less cheap, and those much-trumpeted industrial yields are not as reliable as they once were believed to be.  And when you account for soil fertility issues, runoff damage, lower nutritional value and a complicated subsidy environment propping up farmer incomes in wealthier countries whether they actually produce or not, those absolute yields look very different.

I can’t figure out why people keep getting suckered into this trap.  It is a trap, because you can’t win if you are playing on the industrial field, with industrial help.  It’s obviously not going to get the same results.  But humans are not corn/soy/wheat machines, we need to eat other stuff, and industrial agriculture is not conclusively better or higher yielding for much of that more essential stuff.  People supportive of organic and sustainable alternative agriculture methods and practices really shouldn’t be allowing the industrial standard to predominate the discussion.  It’s just so insidious.  Diversity is key, not building up an ever more elaborate edifice of one-crop agriculture.

Golden Rice is Fool’s Gold

Sometimes the more extreme environmentalists are right and one case is Greenpeace flipping out about Golden Rice, which is GMO rice fortified with beta carotene.  For the childrenz.  It hasn’t been seriously tested for bioavailability or malabsorption problems on vitamin A deficient humans.  There was a smidge of testing done in the last couple of years after people kept pointing out the lack of human testing for this food that was supposed to be rolled out to feed millions.  And that testing didn’t really deal with the issue that not everyone can convert beta carotene to vitamin A effectively– especially, among, uh, women and young children.

The best any of it showed was that Golden Rice was equivalent to mediocre (and cheaper!) supplements.  Which are well-known for not being standardized in bioavailability.  You can only standardize the production, not how each human body works with absorbing nutrients from a pill, without the adjuncts in food that tend to enhance absorption and retention.

If people are not getting enough vitamin A, the solution is animal sources– meat (including bugs and offal), eggs, dairy (including cheese, butter, or ghee).  All cultures have allowance for one of those three options in some form or another and you are getting straight up vitamin A, not having to convert from beta carotene, which is quite inefficient, especially in a low animal products diet.  And some people can’t even make the conversion happen at all effectively and just need to get vitamin A from animal sources to avoid deficiency.

But of course nobody is advocating the spending of jillions of dollars on getting poor brown people more meat and eggs in their bowls of non-golden rice and maize.  Maize is next, once they can roll out the rice.  No, we’re supposed to keep shelling out tons of public dollars to private entities to develop golden rice and golden maize, both of which are extremely unlikely to solve the vitamin A deficiency problem and are highly likely to introduce some new fun problems of their own if they get out into mass consumption.

And way too many people use stuff like Golden Rice to shut down any discussion of simpler (possibly even *gasp* cheaper) alternatives to a very real and damaging problem.  The idea that increased animal product consumption might well pencil out cheaper and more ecologically sound and more deficiency-correcting than Golden this or that is of course crimethink.  No, questioning Golden Rice just means you’re a dumb environmentalist who hates the poor eating untested GMO food with possibly toxic levels of beta carotene because you want them to die of blindness or something.

Anyway if someone is talking about how swell engineered food like Golden Rice is, ask them why dessicated liver wasn’t used instead of spending the money on shiny technology to solve a problem that can be solved with, well, dessicated liver as one example.  There’s a supplement that could use some standardization and population testing, but would basically work at a fraction of the development costs of Golden Rice, with much reduced potential for side effects.

But there I go with the crazy talk again.  Oh well.  I’m just a silly luddite, clearly.