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October 2010 Archive for The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

Standing Up Against Gene-ocide

Oct 27, 2010


By Roberto A. Peiretti – Cruz Alta, Cordoba Province, Argentina
I tried to keep my cool. But when the enemies of biotechnology attacked me at a forum a few years ago, I couldn’t help myself. I believe strongly in the value of genetically modified crops and I wasn’t going to sit back and take their abuse.
So I blurted out a statement so provocative that it surprised even me: “You’re guilty of gene-ocide!”
It was a play on words, of course, a punning reference to “genocide.” I’ll confess to a bit of crudeness. I don’t normally talk this way in public.
Genocide--the systematic extermination of a whole race or culture--must rank as one of humanity’s greatest sins. As words go, this is not one to use lightly.
But I am totally serious about the meaning behind the allegation--and I am fed up with the foes of GM crops. While they exhibit a sense of moral superiority, they are showing their scientific illiteracy. They know next to nothing about farming or genetics.
Even worse than their ignorance are the deadly consequences of their hysteria: The opponents of GM food are condemning untold numbers of people to lives of poverty and malnutrition. The results of their actions are especially severe in developing countries, where the difference between thriving and starving may hang on the quality of a single harvest.
Access to biotechnology is not just about business -It is about lives.
I became familiar with GM crops in the 1990s. I grow soybeans, corn, wheat, and sunflowers in the Pampas region of Argentina--a fertile but also intensely competitive area.
I had the honor of managing one of the first test plots of GM soybeans in my country. Right away, I saw that these amazing plants were incredibly effective at controlling weeds. I applauded their approval as a commercial product and knew that farming never would be the same.
Even before this, my family was committed to no-till agriculture because it made so much environmental sense. We wanted to fight soil degradation through enlightened farming practices--but this can be difficult when you’re also trying to defeat weeds and pests that are difficult to control without a significant amount of crop protection products. Planting Bt corn helped us deal with the weeds and pests while protecting the soil.
Biotechnology gave us a tool that turned no-till agriculture, weed and pest control into allies rather than adversaries. We didn’t have to choose between the two. We could have both.
Consumers may not see this benefit directly, even as it conserves the environment and helps keep food prices in check. What they want to see are the ways in which biotechnology can improve their lives directly.
Consider the case of Golden Rice--a product of genetic modification that provides one of the world’s staple crops with the ability to address vitamin A deficiency, a problem that causes blindness in millions of children.
This is an entirely preventable affliction--a kind of slow-motion genocide that we must end. We have to allow biotechnology to supply a solution through the widespread adoption of Golden Rice. Only ignorance--a commitment to gene-ocide--stands in the way.
The United Nations estimates that about a billion hungry people currently go hungry. We have to figure out a way to feed them--and to feed billions more who will share our planet by 2050.
Biotechnology and its synergy with no till agriculture have the potential to improve nutrition and feed a growing world by boosting agricultural productivity and profitability in a sustainable fashion. This is a synergy we need if we are going to succeed in doubling global agricultural production during the next thirty to fifty years.
Simply put, we must develop the capacity to provide food for all of humanity in a sustainable way.
Biotechnology is an essential part of the solution because it allows us to produce more food on existing agricultural land. I’ve witnessed the results in my own fields. The experience has convinced me that farmers everywhere need to enjoy the ability to plant GM crops within a no till environment..
The time for pretending that agricultural biotechnology is a subject over which reasonable people can disagree is over.
When you get right down to it, access to biotechnology isn’t really about economics, science, or the semantics of “gene-ocide” and “genocide.”
It’s about something else entirely: It’s about human rights and the possibility of eradicating hunger from the face of the earth..
Mr. Roberto Peiretti produces corn, soybeans, sorghum, wheat and sunflowers near Cruz Alta, Cordoba Province, in the Central Pampas region of Argentina. Trained as an agronomy engineer and holding a Masters in Science degree from Oklahoma State University, Mr. Peiretti was one of the developers of the No-till system that is widely used in Argentina today. Mr. Peiretti is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network. www.truthaboutrade.org

Who's Leading Now?

Oct 20, 2010


By Dean Kleckner (www.truthabouttrade.org)
The late James H. Boren once observed that it’s hard to look up to a leader who keeps his ear to the ground.
So it might be said that U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk wasn’t looking very leader-like on a trip to Arkansas earlier this month. According to news reports, he cited a recent poll in which a majority of Americans expressed doubts about the value of international trade. Then he said that the Obama administration won’t push for free-trade agreements until the public changes its mind.
Excuse me, but aren’t political leaders supposed to lead?
In these trying times, we need men and women with true leadership potential--not cowardly drones who seek merely to join Washington’s herd of poll-sniffing mediocrities.
It’s something to keep in mind as we approach Election Day--and listen to the promises of candidates who say they want us to entrust them with the responsibilities of state.
Granted, a close examination of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal public-opinion survey that Kirk mentioned is a read-it-and-weep experience: 53 percent of Americans said that free-trade agreements have hurt the United States, up from 46 percent three years ago and 32 percent in 1999.
Free-trade agreements may not win any popularity contests right now, but the fact is that we desperately need them--and a lot more of them. One of the main lessons of the 1930s is that economic isolationism can deepen and lengthen downturns, turning recessions into depressions. That’s the rotten legacy of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
Back then, Americans would have profited from better leadership. What they got was Herbert Hoover, a president who knew that anti-trade legislation was a bad idea, but who signed Smoot-Hawley into law anyway.
He buckled to public pressure and did the wrong thing. Today, he’s remembered as a failed leader--and deservedly so.
As we confront our own crisis, we must turn outward rather than inward. We have to sell more American-made goods and services to foreigners. This is especially true in rural areas, where agricultural exports are vitally important to farmers and ranchers.
President Obama seems to understand this. That’s why he has called for the United States to double its exports over the next five years. This is a worthy goal, but reaching it will require hard work.
The good news is that the administration is planning for success. The president has called for a Trans-Pacific Partnership that promises to improve trade ties between the United States and Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Now it wants to add Malaysia to the roster of TPP nations. Last year, Malaysia bought American-made goods and services worth $10 billion, including $700 million in farm products. These figures will rise if the partnership shifts from idea to reality.
The bad news is that Obama’s actual record on trade is disappointing--at least so far. We’re still waiting for Congress to approve free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. They’ve languished for years and Obama has done little to persuade members of his own party to end their obstructionism. To make matters worse, the White House has embraced protectionist schemes involving everything from low-cost tires to long-haul trucking.
Success with any of these trade accords will take genuine leadership--both from the White House as well as from the next Congress. The choices that voters make on November 2 will shape trade policy, for good or ill.
In a democracy, we expect political officials to listen to the opinions of the public but we don’t want them to act as robots who take their marching orders from the latest surveys. “Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment,” said Edmund Burke, the great 18th-centuary parliamentarian. “He betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
In other words, political leaders shouldn’t govern by taking polls. They ought to listen to what their constituents say, consider it seriously--and then get down to the real business of leadership.
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade &mTechnology. www.truthabouttrade.org

Freedom to Choose - A Farmer's Basic Right

Oct 16, 2010


By Gabriela Cruz - Portugal (www.truthabouttrade.org)
Late last month, European farm ministers gathered to discuss the possibility of letting national governments set individual policies for growing genetically modified crops.
It remains to be seen what they’ll do, though anything that allows farmers to break through the anti-GMO gridlock that dominates Brussels is a step in the right direction--not just for those of us here in Europe, but for farmers almost everywhere.
It’s not a hard principle to understand: Farmers should have the freedom to choose the technology and tools that are best suited for their farm, allowing them to safely increase their yields, productivity and profitability. And that includes the millions of women who operate smallholder farms in developing countries.
Unfortunately, the European Union doesn’t afford us this basic right even as farmers in many other countries enjoy it. Throughout North and South America, farmers grow biotech crops as a matter of routine. Over there, GM corn and soybeans are conventional food products.
In Europe, however, we’ve seen only two new GM crops approved for commercial planting in the last 12 years. When it comes to agricultural technology, we’re literally living in the 20th century.
I’m doing my best to stay in the present. I started to plant GM corn in 2006. Ever since, I’ve been growing it with my sisters on our family farm in Portugal. We’d like to grow more, but regulations keep us from realizing the full potential of this important tool.
This makes no sense. Governments should empower farmers to do their best, not deny them the ability to produce as much food as possible.
If the enemies of biotechnology prevail, humanity will pay a dear price. The challenges of feeding the planet’s people are swelling, not shrinking. World population is expected to expand by 50 percent between now and the middle of the century. That’s about 3 billion new people.
Global warming may make the task of feeding these extra mouths even more difficult. That’s especially true for farmers in my part of the world: The International Panel for Climate Change has forecast increasing dryness for the Mediterranean region. Some areas of Portugal already have seen water prices rise by 40 percent.
Biotechnology offers one of the most promising solutions to this emerging problem. Scientists can generate crops that make more efficient use of water, which allows them to tolerate drought conditions. Glyphosate resistance is another characteristic that allow us to fight off the weeds that suck water and nutrients from the soil. Nitrogen efficiency is also on my and European policy makers wish list of biotech traits. I practice no-till and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) on my farm today. That practice will become even more sustainable when biotech crops can be planted, providing additional environmental benefits
Yet these innovations will remain fantasies as long as misinformed activists and journalists dominate the European debate over biotechnology and crowd out the responsible views of scientists, Nobel Prize winners and farmers.
Perhaps it’s time to turn agricultural biotechnology into an issue of women’s rights. My sisters and I know from personal experience how GM crops have improved our quality of life. We want more of it for ourselves and more of it for women who farm in other countries.
Around the world, women involved in agriculture outnumber men. Yet many of them can’t take advantage of biotechnology. Europe’s hostility is one of the main reasons why. Because so many developing countries export food to Europe, they’re reluctant to approve GM crops that they know European regulators will reject. African farmers may fare the worst: They’re not only strikingly poor, but they’re also unusually dependent on trade with Europe.
The fact that EU regulators are responding to unfounded fears rather than actual science is beside the point. The reality is that European markets remain closed to many biotech products. The trickle-down effect is to deny economic opportunity and stifle innovation among some of the planet’s poorest people, including women who would benefit from even a small amount of uplift.
This is ironic because so many Europeans treasure their worldly sophistication. The EU’s policies on agricultural biotechnology, however, are just plain backwards. They deny opportunities to me and my sisters here in Portugal. Abroad, they condemn millions of subsistence farmers to chronic poverty. Women arguably suffer the most because they’re directly involved in food production.
Policies that keep women destitute are the opposite of enlightened progressivism. They are downright illiberal.
Maria Gabriela Cruz manages a 700 hectare farm that has been in their family for over 100 years. Growing maize, wheat, barley and green peas, they use no-till or reduced till methods on the full farm. She has grown biotech maize since 2006. Ms. Cruz will receive the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award in Des Moines, IA on October 13, 2010. Ms. Cruz is President of the Portuguese Association of Conservation Agriculture, a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network and a participant in the 2008 and 2010 TATT Global Farmer to Farmer Roundtable.

Strangulation By Regulation

Oct 07, 2010

By Ted Sheely – Lemoore, California (www.truthabouttrade.org)
When the Environmental Protection Agency thinks about farmers, it must have in mind the lyrics from that song by Kansas: "All we are is dust in the wind."
That’s because the EPA wants to regulate the dust that farmers produce as they run combines through their fields and drive down gravel roads.
Federal bureaucrats seem to have forgotten that food production is a challenging business--and yes, sometimes it kicks up a bit of dust.
What’s next? Regulating backyard gardeners who grow the flowers that make the pollen that causes neighbors with allergies to sneeze?
Don’t be surprised if it comes to that. As Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said in a recent hearing, the EPA makes a habit of threatening farmers and ranchers with "burdensome, duplicative, costly, unnecessary, or, in some cases, just plain bizarre" regulations.
Farm dust is a perfect example of federal overreach. Nobody has shown that farm dust is a public-health hazard. Judges have determined that the research is "inconclusive" but they’ve stopped short of blocking the EPA’s draconian rules.
Frustration with the EPA is bipartisan. Republican congressman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma agrees with Sen. Lincoln. He called the EPA "an agency gone wild" and warned that "if the EPA is allowed to continue down this path, the only choice for many farmers and ranchers will be to stop farming altogether."
This is a crystal-clear example of a federal government that doesn’t have its priorities straight. Unemployment is sky-high. The challenges of joblessness are especially severe in rural America. Shouldn’t our overlords in Washington strive to get people back to work? At the very least, they shouldn’t go out of their way to make life more difficult for struggling families in these hard times.
Yet that’s what the EPA seems designed to do. My own experience with the agency is a tale of chronic frustration. It can feel as if EPA has a boot planted to my throat, trying to choke the life out of me.
"Why has an American agency decided to declare regulatory war on such a large swath of American people?" asked Gerald Simonsen of the National Sorghum Producers at a forum in Washington last week.
I know exactly what he’s talking about. Friends of mine who grow corn are worried about the future of atrazine, an important crop protection tool.
I have my own hassles with the EPA. The latest involves irrigation. Here in California, water is at a premium: We just don’t have enough of it. Federal regulations are a big part of the reason why, but that’s another story. The bottom line is that we have to use water with maximum efficiency so that we can grow the food that Americans need.
I can’t afford to lose any water, so I save every last drop--even when I’m flushing the sediment from my irrigation tape. After the water cleans out my lines, it flows into a holding pond. From there, I can reuse it.
Recycling water is an example of sustainable agriculture at work. It allows me to get the most out of limited resources.
But the EPA may make me halt this practice. It’s worried that trace amounts of herbicide and pesticide possibly will show up in my holding pond.
So instead of seeing my recycled water as a source of life for a farm that grows food in a dry land, it may treat my water as a potential source of environmental contamination.
The coming micromanagement could be severe. Previous experience with the EPA teaches me that I should anticipate a worse-case scenario--and then assume that the result will be twice as bad.
I don’t want to pollute anything--and I certainly don’t want to pollute my own farmland, where I live and work. Nobody has a greater stake in my farm’s safety than I do.
I support sensible regulations. It’s the insensible ones that drive me batty. The problem is that the EPA often refuses to exercise common sense. Its one-size-fits-all approach is bad for everyone.
The only people it helps are the regulators who seem to think that their job is to produce a bumper crop in onerous new rules, without a care for whether rural America produces the food that our country needs.
Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

(Note - a version of this piece also appeared in The Washington Times).

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