We are still calving. I wish I had something to complain about right now, but I really don’t.
The official start date was May 1, and nine days in I’m right around 300 head of new babies on the ground. There hasn’t been a blizzard to battle through, everyone is being semi well-behaved, and the grass is finally starting to get a little bit of green to it.
I did only one “stupid” last week. That was using my trusty sorting stick to clean out a drainpipe on a windmill, and for some reason I ended up letting go. I was on a tight schedule so it needed to wait a bit before I could figure out my MacGyver move to fish it out, and in my time crunch the Boss Man decided that he would handle the job for me. I’ve been informed we now have a sorting stick fisher in case I decide to do something stupid again.
I’m going to take a little bit different spin on the column this week. I’ve received a couple of emails from Flying Diamond Beef customers asking about mRNA vaccines in cattle. They have gone so far as to ask what our protocols for mRNA vaccines are. How are they used? How are we going to label the beef to show that it has received a mRNA vaccine? There have been a whole host of other questions to go along with those.
I for one, haven’t followed much of the livestock mRNA news frenzy that is going on lately. That’s for a couple of different reasons. The first is it doesn’t affect me at this point. The second is I’m too busy with calving to really give a flying rat about roll-your-eyes media.
Unfortunately, when I have to stop and take the time out of my day to talk beef consumers through their concerns, it becomes an important topic, and one I want to make sure that I know what I’m talking about.
So, what is an mRNA vaccine? RNA stands for ribonucleic acid, which is a nucleic acid present in all living cells that has structural similarities to DNA, but it is different. Certain viruses use RNA as their genomic material. There are different types of RNA in cells, one of which is messenger RNA (mRNA). Messenger RNA carries the genetic information to make proteins.
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Now mRNA vaccines work by introducing a piece of mRNA that corresponds to a viral protein, though it should be noted that whatever receives an mRNA vaccine is not exposed to the virus or infected with the virus. Instead, the immune system recognizes that the protein (produced by using mRNA vaccine) is foreign and to fight it, antibodies are produced. These antibodies remain in the body so if the immune system is exposed again, it can quickly respond.
Messenger RNA vaccines have been in development for ages, but with the introduction through the COVID-19 vaccine, the talk escalated. The vaccine is quicker to respond to new diseases, and unlike traditional vaccines that require large amounts of a virus to be raised and purified before being injected to elicit an immune response, mRNA encourages the body to make a little tiny piece of protein to elicit that same response.
Now I’ve heard all kinds of conspiracy theories about mRNA in livestock – everything from it will change the consumers’ DNA if they eat meat from an animal, to the idea that producers are mandated to give livestock mRNA vaccines. That’s all fake news and incredibly misleading.
There are mRNA vaccines that are being used in the swine industry for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, and it is showing promise in combating other diseases such as African swine fever. With huge economic loses from both, having a vaccine available to combat these is a massive step in the right direction. Like any vaccine usage, withdrawal times are necessary to follow, even though mRNA vaccines have a relative unstable shelf life and are quickly absorbed by the body.
Misinformation about the vaccine making changes to the genetic makeup caused some states to look at legislation that would require product from animals treated with mRNA to be identified as “potential gene therapy product” even though it does not change the genetic makeup of the animal. That’s a potentially huge setback that could really affect livestock health.
At this time there are no mRNA vaccines licensed for use in cattle, though some are in development. If an unusual disease outbreak occurs, mRNA vaccine could potentially be the difference between our livestock surviving or dying.
It’s important that we don’t hinder progress because of those that want to take some fake news agenda and run with it. Emotion sells, but it’s important to get to the science behind everything.
We saw a massive lack of science during COVID, and we need to make sure we do our part to not hinder progress from science. Do your research, and make sure that the information that you are talking about is not only coming from a reputable source, but has the scientific backing behind it to stand strong. And watch out for the personal agendas.
Most importantly, push the message that livestock producers continue to care about the health and safety of not only our animals, but the products we produce. It’s going to become more and more important all of the time to make sure our side is heard.
Jaclyn Wilson is more than a rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. She’s an artist with a welder’s torch. She holds leadership positions with several agriculture organizations. She can be reached at email@example.com. This column represents the views of one person and are not necessarily the opinion of the Midwest Messenger.