Trump's Pick for China Ambassador a 'Big Gift to Big Ag'
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has been nominated to serve as U .S. Ambassador to China in Donald Trump's Administration, a pick that has some of Big Ag's biggest players celebrating.
Donald Trump has chosen Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China. Twitter
Branstad is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history with 22 non-consecutive years and going under his belt. During his tenure, he has built significant relationships with Iowa's agribusinesses and has helped spur trade of the state's beef, pork and soy products to Asian consumers, and once struck a $4.3 billion deal with Chinese officials for Iowa's exports.
This past October, China signed a $2.1 billion deal for Iowa soybeans to feed Chinese livestock. In November, less than a week after Trump's presidential win, Branstad traveled to China to promote Iowa beef and pork. It was his seventh such trip to China as governor.
The Republican governor's friendship with Chinese president Xi Jinping goes back three decades after Xi visited rural Iowa in 1985.
"Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever," Branstad said after Trump's announcement.
At a Wednesday meeting in St. Louis with United Soybean Board and the American Soybean Association, Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley praised the president-elect's latest top-level pick.
"[Fraley] said Branstad's past work on behalf of biotech acceptance and advocacy for U.S. agriculture makes him an excellent choice for the role," according to Farm Journal editor Susan Luke.
China, Monsanto and Iowa are all linked by the humble soybean. Monsanto controls 90 percent of soybean production in the U.S. and Iowa happens to be a top soybean grower, with 97 percent of the state's soybeans grown from genetically modified (GMO) seeds. China is the world's largest soybean consumer, importing about 25 percent of all U.S. soy produced.
Soybeans sold to China are "the largest U.S. agricultural export as their value rose from about $400,000 annually during 1996-97 to as high as $14.5 billion in 2014," Fred Gale, U.S. Department of Agriculture agricultural economist told ChinaDaily USA.
China's booming population is driving increased meat consumption and increased imports of corn and soybeans to feed livestock. Incidentally, China has banned the cultivation of GMO crops, as Chinese consumers are generally fearful of the food's perceived health risks. Rather, the country buys GMO soy for cooking oil or animal feed. But in recent years, China has pushed for the domestic commercialization of GMO soybeans, spending billions on research. President Xi himself called for the domestic cultivation of GMO crops in 2014.
Branstad's nomination was also praised by Iowa Corn Growers Association president Kurt Hora, noting that China does not just buy corn to feed its animals, it's also a large buyer of U.S. ethanol.
"China is an important market for U.S. corn in all forms including the second-largest purchaser of U.S. ethanol last marketing year; and a critical buyer of U.S. distiller's dried grains (DDGS). The China/Hong Kong market is also the third largest customer for both U.S. pork and beef exports," Hora said.
Corn ethanol has been touted as an energy alternative, but the biofuel "might be worse than petroleum when total greenhouse gas emissions are considered," Scientific American explained.
Mother Jones's Tom Philpott called Trump's choice of Branstad a "gift" to Big Ag, highlighting the governor's close ties to Bruce Rastetter, the CEO of Summit Agriculture Group, a major Iowa pork and ethanol producer, who contributed $164,875 towards Branstad's run for governor in 2010. Eldon Roth, CEO of Beef Products International, contributed another $152,000.
Not only that, "back in 2011, the governor also tapped Rastetter's brother Brent, who then ran a business constructing industrial-scale hog-rearing facilities, to the state's Environmental Protection Commission. Branstad also signed into law one of those infamous "ag gag" bills, championed by Big Ag, that make it a crime to secretly document conditions inside livestock farms," Philpott wrote.
Ronnie Cummins, the director of the Organic Consumers Association, criticized Trump's latest pick.
"[The selection of] Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for U.S. Ambassador to China is good news for the factory farm cartel, the ethanol lobby, Big Pharma Bayer and Monsanto, but very bad news for organic consumers and farmers, as well as everyone in the world who cares about justice, healthy food and soils, the environment, humane treatment of animals and re-stabilizing our dangerously out-of-control climate," Cummins told EcoWatch.
Ken Roseboro, the editor and publisher of the Organic & Non-GMO Report, agreed.
"As an Iowan, I've seen that Governor Terry Branstad has been a big supporter of factory farms in Iowa, which threaten the environment, human health and quality of life for Iowans," Roseboro told EcoWatch. "His appointment as Ambassador to China is likely to accelerate that unsustainable trend since China is deeply involved in Iowa's pork production and factory farms."
Health and environmental advocates have been very critical of Trump's recent slew of nominations for his incoming administration. Just yesterday, the president-elect announced his pick of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 350.org's Executive Director May Boeve called Pruitt a fossil fuel "puppet."
"Donald Trump appears destined for the Guinness Book of Records for appointing the most corrupt and dangerous administration officials in U.S. history," Cummins told EcoWatch. "If I were a Reality TV host, my message to Donald and his cronies would be clear: You're fired."
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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