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June 2003


McDonald's Corporation, one of the largest buyers of meat in the U.S. fast-food industry, recently adopted a policy that prohibits its direct suppliers from using medically important antibiotics as growth promotants in food animals after 2004. The implications of such a voluntary ban in the United States remain to be seen, but a recent study by researchers in the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University provides some comparable evidence from Denmark. Economics professors Dermot Hayes and Helen Jensen, along with colleague Lennart Backstrom, compiled information they gleaned from interviews with Danish veterinarians, farmers, economists, and industry analysts and evaluated the economic costs of an antibiotics ban for pork producers. Denmark first imposed a ban in pork production at the finishing stage, which was considered a success, with producers encountering few additional costs. When the country further implemented a ban at the weaning stage, producers encountered severe health problems and incurred large costs. In addition, a complete ban actually increased the total antibiotics used, because Danish veterinarians were forced to prescribe additional therapeutic agents--those that were used most often in human medicine. The researchers estimate that a U.S. ban would increase costs by approximately $4.50 per animal in the first year. The total cost of a ban to the U.S. pork industry spread across a 10-year period could be in excess of $700 million. A briefing paper, "Lessons from the Danish Ban on Feed-Grade Antibiotics," is available at Contact Dermot Hayes, (515) 294-6185; Helen Jensen, (515) 294-6253; or Sandy Clarke, CARD communications, 515-294-6257

When Gerber wanted to expand production of organic squash in the Midwest for their Tender Harvest baby food line, the company came to Iowa State's organic crops specialist Kathleen Delate. "They asked if I could work with organic growers in Iowa to raise high-quality squash and heirloom vegetables for their baby food," she said. Valued for their full flavor, heirloom vegetables are old-fashioned cultivars grown from seeds passed from generation to generation, rather than from seeds developed through classical breeding, Delate said. "The main concern with growing organically raised heirloom vegetables in the Midwest is pest management. We needed to find what strategies control beetles, squash bugs and squash vine borers," she said. Delate established two on-farm sites for research and demonstration to evaluate how three methods of pest management affected plant health and crop yields: a kaolin clay product applied bi-weekly from plant emergence until a month before harvest; interplanting of buckwheat to supply food for a fly parasite of the squash bug; and remay row cover, a gauze-like fabric used to prevent colonization by the pests. After three years, project results indicate that row covers are the most effective. One farmer, who participated in the research, plans on selling her crop to Gerber as soon as she is certified organic, Delate said. Contact Delate, (515) 294-7069; or Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778.

Livestock producers increasingly are interested in receiving more value from their operations, and treating the liquid manure to create electricity provides an option. In addition to using the electricity on their farms, they often can sell excess power to area or regional utilities. Using an anaerobic digester to treat manure has other positive features, including odor control, excess heat production and weed seed control. Top Deck Holsteins, Inc., in Fayette County, has used a digester since July 2002. Manure from its 700 cows provides 130 kilowatts of electricity daily, according to Alliant Energy. That's enough to power 20 homes. To help farmers understand the process of anaerobic digestion and its financial opportunities, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agricultural engineering field specialist Dan Meyer has organized a manure digester conference for Wednesday, Aug. 20, south of Oelwein on Highway 150 at the Sportsman Restaurant. Speakers include representatives from two electric utilities with Iowa operations, university and private company agricultural engineers and farmers who currently use digesters. The conference is sponsored by ISU Extension, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Energy Center and Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Pre-registrations are $20 and due by Aug. 18. Contact Meyer, (563) 425-3331; or Sherry Hoyer, Iowa Pork Industry Center, (515) 294-4496.

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) recently developed and posted renewable energy information on their Web site ( to assist producers in applying for grants under the USDA and Department of Energy Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements program. The grant program is available to eligible rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers to develop renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements to their operations. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or legal residents and have demonstrated financial need. Grant funds may be used to pay up to 25 percent of the project costs. Eligible projects include those that derive energy from wind, solar, biomass or geothermal sources. Projects using energy from those sources to produce hydrogen derived from biomass or water are also eligible. AgMRC staff developed information on the wind, solar, biomass, biodiesel, ethanol and bioreactors industries and explain how producers can become involved in these value-added enterprises. A scroll bar on the AgMRC Website provides a direct link to the renewable energy information, and to the USDA forms required to apply for the funds. Producers with questions on renewable energy or the grant program are encouraged to call the center at (866) 277-5567. Contact Christa Hartsook, AgMRC communications, (515) 294-4430.

K-12 teachers and extension specialists are learning about biotechnology at four Iowa State University workshops this summer. The workshops are being held in Ames at the university's Biotechnology Outreach Education Center, which is part of the ISU Office of Biotechnology. Two workshops cover the basics of teaching youth or extension audiences about DNA principles and techniques, preparing for classroom laboratory activities and facilitating discussions of ethical issues. These two basic workshops are designed for science or agriculture educators who have little or no experience in teaching about biotechnology. Anyone who has completed a basic workshop can attend an advanced workshop for teaching more difficult activities in genomics, recombinant DNA techniques, bioinformatics, bioethics and more. New this summer is a two-day bioethics workshop on facilitating discussions among students or extension audiences about controversial topics such as transgenic plants and animals or human stem cell research. These workshops received support through a grant from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 00-52100-9617. For more information about summer workshops or other educational opportunities offered year-round, visit, or call (515) 294-9818. Contact Mike Zeller, Biotechnology Outreach Education Coordinator, (515) 294-5949; or Glenda Webber, Biotechnology communications, (515) 294-4749.


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