Podcast: ‘Greedy’ factory farms? Milk without cows; Vaccine for melanoma

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Farms are larger today than ever before, but it’s not because they’re “greedy factory farms.” Milk of the future might not come from cows but yeast fermented in laboratories. An experimental, personalized vaccine for melanoma helped treat eight people suffering from the disease. How long until we start to see cancer vaccines hit the market?

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP editor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

Critics of ‘Big Ag’ are wont to complain about the ever-increasing size of so-called “factory farms.” Is this growth evidence of greedy plutocrats swallowing up their smaller competitors? Not quite, says Canadian farmer Jake Leguee, who points to a less sinister explanation that springs from basic economics.

Following the industrial revolution, the number of farmers dwindled as people moved into cities from the countryside in pursuit of better living standards. Those who remained on the farms, also hoping to live better lives, bought up the abandoned land in order to boost their production and make more money, a trend that will likely continue as long as younger generations are tempted to leave agriculture for other career prospects in urban settings.

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This doesn’t mean modern agriculture is perfect. Complaints that federal farm subsidies discourage innovation and create moral hazards, for example, have persisted for many decades. Nonetheless, the growth in farm size isn’t by itself something to be opposed.

Thanks to fermentation and genetic engineering, animals are no longer the only source of dairy products. The FDA has already approved the use of lab-grown whey protein, used to produce ice cream, and more products—including milk itself—are expected to hit the market in the coming years. The technology is an exciting leap forward for food production, but it also raises some pressing questions. Will lab-grown dairy products face an anti-GMO backlash? Moreover, will environmental groups and dairy farmers, often harsh critics of each other, form an alliance to oppose the technology?

We usually take vaccines to protect ourselves against infectious diseases. But now researchers are developing vaccines designed to boost our immune system’s ability to defeat cancers, including melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Combined with existing treatments, personalized cancer immunizations, vaccines developed from tumor cells in individual patients, could help many more people survive a melanoma diagnosis. One such immunization proved effective in a small clinical trial, indicating that vaccines could become a powerful adjunct therapy after additional research.

Related article:  Viewpoint: 'Political populism' dictates Europe's bureaucratic anti-GMO crop rules

Subscribe to the Science Facts and Fallacies Podcast on iTunes and Spotify.

Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s managing editor. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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