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October 2012 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

California’s Preposterous Prop 37

Oct 18, 2012

On Election Day, California voters will decide on another food labeling ballot initiative, one that is being watched intently by the food industry. If it passes, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, popularly known as Prop 37, would require genetically engineered foods to be prominently labeled as such and prohibit any processed food from being labeled as "natural" even if it is not genetically engineered. As with many ballot initiatives in California, Prop 37 is superficially appealing yet counter-productive from both a policy and economic standpoint.

Supporters of Prop 37 rely on the tried-and-true argument of the "consumer right to know." Asking Californians whether they want GMOs labeled is like asking a suburbanite "would you like a rose in your garden?" Obviously, everyone wants a rose for their garden and, unfortunately, many Californians will mindlessly support mandatory GMO labeling.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration establishes labeling requirements for foods nationwide. FDA requires all ingredients to be labeled and insists on special labeling if there are food safety or allergen concerns or other material facts that consumers need to know about an ingredient or product. FDA studied the question and has ruled, correctly, that crops produced through genetic modification do not require special labeling or attention.

Selective breeding and hybridization, first discovered by Gregor Mendel in the mid-1800s, have allowed farmers to produce many of today’s heartier, insect-resistant, more nutritious, and organoleptically desirable crops. GMOs, first introduced in 1995, are not much different from products produced by selective breeding. Instead of crossing two desirable genes from a pea, GMOs introduce a gene from a different species (for example, a fish) which enable a vegetable to be more weed or pest-resistant. New seeds like Monsanto’s DraughtGard® will help protect tomorrow’s most precious resource, water, and promote food security.

17 years later, GMOs appear safe and are dramatically contributing to food security and environmental protection. The concerns raised by the naysayers – those espousing the Draconian European "precautionary principle" – have not been realized. Non-scientific restrictions, including pejorative or scary labeling, of GMO crops are not warranted.

Vote NO on Proposition 37. Even the L.A. Times, never a bastion of moderate thinking, has come out against this ballot initiative. Unique labels for the California market will raise havoc in the food industry. If folks want to buy products that don’t contain GMOs, look for the "organic" label.


Not Many Differences between Romney, Obama

Oct 11, 2012

It seems like there is a lot going on all around us. We are right in the middle of harvest on the farm -- corn and soybeans a little more than half done. I’ll be on the combine next week, weather permitting.

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining three other former Secretaries of Agriculture at the University of Nebraska for a lively discussion to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created the land grant college system back in 1862. It was a great evening as Dan Glickman, Clayton Yeutter, Mike Johanns and I took questions from an audience of 1,500.

Did we have any absolute answers on ag issues? We certainly questioned whether the "lame duck" Congress would be able to write a new farm bill. Senator Johanns seemed the most confident. I said there was a better chance of passing a six-month or one-year extension of the current bill. All of us supported energy security, including ethanol.

The week before going to Nebraska, I was in Illinois, where I spoke to the DuPage County Farm Bureau. They had a big crowd celebrating their 100th anniversary. It was "old home week" for me. The Farm Bureau is where I first started debating ag policy.

Speaking of debates, let’s turn the page to the presidential election. Not much time left. Mitt Romney surged into contention with an outstanding performance in his first debate with President Obama. They still have two more debates left. Rural and farm voters are not going to make their choice on where the candidate stands on the farm bill.

There doesn’t seem to be much difference. Both candidates support a safety net. Both support renewable fuels. Farm voters are looking at bigger issues -- such as regulations, trade, the nation’s debt, property rights, national security. There was a time when the farm program was first and foremost; not any more. Polls show that Romney has a 14-point lead in the rural areas of swing states. President Obama leads in the cities.

Election Day will be here before you know it. There is too much at stake. Don’t be sitting on the sidelines.

Next week, I’ll be on the farm and Rick Frank will fill in for me. He has a very important issue to put on the table: California’s preposterous Proposition 37!

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website, which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.


How Canada Dealt with Debt

Oct 04, 2012

Look at our debt. Sixteen trillion dollars and rising. For every dollar our government spends, we have to borrow 40 cents. Are we in as bad a shape as Greece? No. Not yet, but if we stay on this path, we can get there.

Maybe we should look around for some country that has dealt with this kind of a problem successfully. We don’t have to look very far. Look north – Canada.

The Canadian debt problem was building over many years dating back to the 1960s. It just kept getting worse. The government was promising more than it could deliver. The markets were losing confidence in Canada. The country was paying more than 7% to borrow the money spent. Something had to be done.
In 1993, Prime Minister Chrétien came to power. Paul Martin was given the job of Canadian Finance Minister. They had to turn things around. The country was in a fiscal death spiral.

Deep cuts of spending of 10% were forced through. Nothing was spared. Their healthcare system was chopped. Block grants to the Provinces would force them to deal with the welfare programs. In 1998, their government passed bug cuts in taxes, including corporate and personal. This massive reform was accomplished by the liberal party. Hard to believe. However, Paul Martin points out that the driving force was not "ideology but arithmetic."

The Canadian Provinces had the same kind of debt problems. Their debt rating was downgraded. They had to "bite the bullet" also. The Province of Saskatchewan closed 52 hospitals, schools, thousands lost their jobs.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Our federal government and many states are spiraling downward. We are approaching our own day of reckoning. The "chickens are coming home to roost." Our own politicians could learn from the Canadian experience.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

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