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July 2011 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.

Greenpeace Declares War on Food Security

Jul 28, 2011

By Jeff Bidstrup: Queensland, Australia

You might think that a group called Greenpeace wouldn’t be so warlike. Yet the disturbing activities of this radical organization reveal an addiction to violence and a perverse determination to destroy good scientific research whose goal is to feed the world.
In July, Greenpeace and its allies launched a new round of aggression against biotech food, attacking sites in Australia and Germany. Earlier this year, they targeted the Philippines.
Nobody knows when or where they’ll strike next. If we don’t halt their harmful ideology however, farmers, consumers, and the environment will pay a hefty price.
The raid in Australia was especially provocative. At a test plot near the capital of Canberra, Greenpeace militants razed a small field of genetically modified wheat. The crop vandals attacked at dawn, scaling several fences, breaking out their whipper snippers, and videotaping the whole thing. They took so much pride in their havoc that they boasted about it in a press release.
What they did was break the law--and set back scientific research that aims to develop new technologies for fighting hunger and malnutrition.
Around the same time, others launched a similar assault in Germany. These pseudo-eco-terrorists “overpowered the security guard” (as a news report put it) and ravaged fields of fungal-resistant wheat and potatoes cultivated for industrial use.
One crop company says it may pull out of Germany. Perhaps this is a sound business decision when research and investment can shift to friendlier locales around the world and elsewhere. At the same time, it’s a disheartening move--the agricultural equivalent of letting the terrorists win.
Australia and Germany are prosperous countries whose citizens don’t starve to death. Many of our neighbors are developing nations with booming populations and food-security challenges are a different matter. Yet even they suffer from anti-biotech incursions. In February, Greenpeace ripped up GM eggplant fields in the Philippines.
Greenpeace seems to cling to the romantic notion that organic agriculture can feed the world. This is ridiculous. A century ago, cutting-edge agricultural science was based on organic principles. The result was often poor production, disease, and famine. In the 21st century, we must do better, taking advantage of modern technology--and especially biotechnology--to meet the enormous demands our global population puts on the world’s food supply and resources.
Whilst many of us have a soft spot for them trying to save the whales, in this instance, the public and the media should treat Greenpeace not as a plucky advocacy group but rather as a criminal organization. The perpetrators of the raids in Australia, Germany, and the Philippines must be brought to justice. Those who aided them should face legal consequences. It may well be a well-organized publicity stunt to raise funds and profiles, but destroying science that will help alleviate hunger and disease, and reduce our load on our natural resources when we produce food, is just plain eco-terrorism – the opposite of what they claim to be.
Here in Australia, we’ve experienced the benefits of GM cotton. Farmers have decreased their pesticide use and maintained a steady supply of affordable fiber for clothes.
Now we need to develop genetically modified wheat to fight the droughts, salinity and frost that so often plague our continent. Crops that can produce under our often harsh conditions at maximum efficiency are essential if consumers are to pay reasonable prices for their food and the environment is to survive the stress on its resources.
Success will require scientific research, innovation and sensible regulation. That’s why test fields are indispensible. They allow us to study various biotech avenues, refine them if necessary, and commercialize them when ready.
A mountain of data already proves that biotech food is perfectly safe. History shows it is safe and beneficial. If we’re to grow a new generation of crops that produces more food while using less land and fewer resources, we’ll need more research, free from harassment.
If activists want to oppose biotech food, that’s their choice. They can purchase organic food at their grocery stores. Yet nobody has a right to break laws and destroy property. Misinformation may inspire you to campaign against life-saving insulin because it’s derived from biotechnology, but you can’t burn down the insulin factories.
We’re supposed to settle our differences through debate and deliberation. Greenpeace and its ilk reject this approach. They’ve even skipped over a strategy of civil disobedience in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. They’ve gone straight to hooliganism.
Greenpeace’s founder, Dr. Moore has described the Greenpeace of today as “eco-extremist”, believing the organization is “anti-human, anti-technology, and anti-science.” He is correct.
Greenpeace has lost its way. Our duty is to resist them, by legal, peaceful means.
Jeff Bidstrup and his family grow cotton, wheat, sorghum and chickpeas in Queensland, Australia. Mr. Bidstrup is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network and the 2008 recipient of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award.

Stop the Madness: A Public Thank You For Correcting a Broken Trucking Promise

Jul 20, 2011

By Cheryl Koompin - American Falls, Idaho

Amid all the partisan fights in Washington over budgets and debt ceilings, the Obama administration quietly solved a $2-billion problem earlier this month.
On July 6, the United States signed an agreement with Mexico that ends a vexing dispute over trade and trucks. It wipes out Mexican tariffs that have hurt potato farmers like me as well as many other Americans during the toughest economic times many of us have ever experienced.
We already face enough challenges on America’s farms, from worrying about the weather to figuring out how we’re going to pay for skyrocketing fuel and fertilizer costs. The last thing we need is interference from Washington—but that’s precisely what we received when Congress decided to break a treaty promise to Mexico.
The White House deserves congratulations for putting a stop to this nonsense. The controversy never should have erupted in the first place and it dragged on for far too long. Right now, however, I’m just glad it’s over—and I’m pleased to give the Obama administration the credit it deserves for negotiating a good settlement.
The root of the problem has been the refusal of Congress to abide by a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Clinton-era economic compact aimed at easing the flow of goods and services across the borders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
NAFTA has achieved its main goal of boosting trade ties with our closest neighbors. Because of the agreement, U.S. exports are up and our costs as consumers have gone down.
At the behest of special-interest groups and their allies in Congress, however, one provision of NAFTA failed to become a reality. Long-haul Mexican truckers were supposed to receive access to U.S. highways as they delivered products to American consumers who wanted them. This aspect of the treaty made economic sense because it eliminated many of the delays and inefficiencies associated with border crossings, which translate into higher prices for ordinary Americans. It also guaranteed that Mexican truckers would meet U.S. safety standards.
Just as this part of the deal was going into effect, Big Labor launched an ugly campaign against Mexican truckers, suggesting that they drive dangerous jalopies that threaten murder and mayhem on American roads. This was pure propaganda. Mexican trucks that were certified to drive on U.S. highways were as trustworthy as American trucks. Safety data proved it.
Unfortunately, the smear job worked. Congress blocked the trucks from entering the United States, even though this meant backing out of an international treaty obligation.
So the Mexican government retaliated. They legally slapped stiff tariffs on a wide range of American products, including the frozen potato products that are at the heart of my farming operation here in Idaho. They also targeted dozens of other U.S. agricultural goods, such as cherries, pears, and Christmas trees.
My farm’s sales to Mexico plummeted. Processing plants in our region laid off workers. A couple of them shuttered.
Who benefited? The Canadians. Their business went up as much as ours went down.
I was furious—not at the Mexicans, who simply wanted a fair shake, but at our own government for flouting its commitments and essentially inviting this retaliation. Farmers like me became casualties in a trade war that we neither started nor wanted.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that American businesses lost $2 billion. This was Washington’s accomplishment in the service of a special interest.
So I’m glad this madness is finally over. Better late than never.
“We have an agreement that not only will ultimately eliminate punitive tariffs, but it also provides opportunities to increase U.S. exports to Mexico and helps to expand jobs,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The deal also restores our country’s reputation because it finally puts us in compliance with treaty obligations we had ignored for years. If we refuse to keep promises to one of our closest trading partners, other nations will be reluctant to lower tariffs on anything made in America.
Let’s hope that the Obama administration now builds upon this success and finds new ways to help us export our goods and services.
Cheryl Koompin is a partner in Koompin farms, producing commercial and seed potatoes, feed corn, fresh peas, wheat, medicinal safflower and mustard in Power County, Idaho. Cheryl is a guest author for Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

An Olympic-Sized Economic Freeze Out

Jul 14, 2011

By Tim Burrack – Arlington, Iowa (www.truthabouttrade.org)

The whole world is striking business deals with the Koreans--except for the United States.
The International Olympic Committee is the latest entity to jump on this economic bandwagon, having selected the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang as the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The decision means the Koreans will invest as much as $6 billion on infrastructure over the next seven years and another $1.5 billion on the games themselves.
Just a few days before this announcement, a trade agreement between Korea and the European Union took effect. It wiped out 70 percent of tariffs, rising to almost 99 percent within five years. The Europeans already sell more than $90 billion to the booming Korean market each year. Now they’ll sell even more, as Korean prosperity continues to rise and the Olympic spending-spree hits its stride.
Much of Europe’s gain will come at the expense of the United States, which at the moment sells about as much to Korea as the Europeans do. Yet our goods and services will continue to face high tariffs, putting us at a severe disadvantage against our competition.
How strange that just as South Korea scores the Winter Olympics, we’re choosing to freeze ourselves out of a great economic opportunity.
There’s a simple way to fix the problem: Congress must approve the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
This action is long overdue. Our diplomats actually concluded a trade agreement with the Koreans in the spring of 2007, a month before the Europeans even began their own negotiations. Yet for more than four years, we’ve delayed final approval, like skiers waiting in line at the top of a crowded hill.
It turns out that the rest of the world refused to join us in standing still. When the EU-Korea trade agreement went into force on July 1, the Associated Press called it “a come-from-behind victory of sorts for the EU over the United States.”
In other words, the United States had positioned itself to go for the gold. Now it has forfeited this chance and is struggling for a place on the podium.
Cho Yang-ho, who led the Korean effort to secure the Winter Olympics, said the Pyeongchang decision would “expand winter sports to new regions of the world.”
Likewise, approval of the U.S.-Korea trade agreement would expand business opportunities for Americans in Korea. It would increase U.S. exports by about $11 billion per year--an important boost if the United States is to make good on President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015. It would be welcome news for a stumbling U.S. economy as well. Last week, the unemployment rate inched up to 9.2 percent.
Americans need all of the work they can get. Improved access to nearly 50 million South Korean consumers would help.
The politics shouldn’t be difficult. The president says he wants this deal. Democrats in the Senate say they want this deal and last week they passed it out of the appropriate committee. Republicans in the House of Representative say they want this deal and last week they also passed it out of the appropriate committee.
And still Washington can’t seem to get it done.
These professional partisans are now battling over Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that means to help workers displaced by foreign competition. Obama and congressional Democrats vow that TAA must be a part of any trade package. Congressional Republicans object, insisting that a debt-ridden federal government must turn off the spending spigot.
I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of legislative horse-trading. That’s the politicians’ job, not mine. In all of the wheeling and dealing over spending and taxes and the debt ceiling, however, our elected officials in Washington ought to be able to come together on a trade agreement that they all claim to want.
Success will require political leadership, which ultimately must come from the White House. Obama famously failed to bring the Olympics to Chicago. Yet if he can shepherd the Korea trade agreement through Congress, along with a couple of smaller but nevertheless important pacts involving Colombia and Panama, he’ll possibly go on to earn a gold medal in job creation.
Tim Burrack raises corn and soybeans on a NE Iowa family farm. Tim volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

Food Security Depends on the Truth of Science

Jul 07, 2011

By V.K.V. Ravichandran: Tamil Nadu, India

Investigators are still trying to determine the root cause of the E. coli outbreak in Germany, but they already know the grim death toll: 50 lives gone as of last weekend, due to the consumption of bean sprouts contaminated by a new strain of the bacteria.

The source of fatalities may be an organic farm in Germany or possibly seeds grown in Egypt. What we know for certain right now is that the solution to the problem of food-borne illness is technology—and that’s true whether we’re talking about advanced nations in Europe or developing countries, such as my own, in Asia and Africa.
Yet many influential advocacy groups seem to think otherwise. These self-appointed guardians of our food supply fight modern farming practices like biotechnology and irradiation—approaches to agriculture that might have stopped the spread of the deadly German affliction. They would have jumped all over a health crisis that implicates genetically modified crops, for example. When the potential culprit is the primitive techniques of the organic food industry, however, they hush up and hope the unpleasantness simply will go away.
Here in India, we may pay dearly for their silence because we desperately need access to the best agricultural methods in order to produce safe food as well as enough of it.
By some estimates, India must double its food output by 2020 just to keep up with a booming population. At the same time, we’re seeing reliable farm hands flee from rural areas for improved economic opportunities in cities. So when our nation needs its farmers to produce more, we’re forced to make do with less help.
Biotechnology offers one way out of this dilemma. As an Indian farmer who grows Bt cotton, I’ve seen its potential firsthand. I’ve grown biotech cotton since it was first approved for commercial cultivation in 2002. It’s nothing less than a miracle crop that requires fewer resources and produces greater yields than old-fashioned cotton. Most cotton farmers agree with me: I suspect that more than 90 percent of India’s cotton famers take advantage of biotechnology.
Yet our government has refused to approve biotechnology in food crops such as brinjal (eggplant), in large part because political activists have created a phony controversy fueled by scientific ignorance.
The enemies of biotechnology are always touting the "precautionary principle," which is the European idea that innovations must be shown to be completely risk-free before the public can take advantage of them. This is a virtually impossible test to meet and it stands in the way of Indian progress in agriculture.
Applying this same standard to organic agriculture probably would wipe out the whole industry. Many Indian farmers, including a lot of organic farmers, use a traditional crop-protection tool called panchagavya. Its ingredients include cow dung and cow urine. Indian farmers have used panchagavya for generations and I’m personally convinced that it’s safe. But there’s also little doubt in my mind that if European farmers were to seek permission to use panchagavya, they would have a hard time winning approval from regulators who rely on the precautionary principle.
The double-standard is maddening. Biotech crops are built to resist the pests and infections that create pathways to disease, including E. coli infections—and yet they’re treated with insurmountable levels of suspicion by activist groups that claim to care about our food supply. The same is true with irradiation, a treatment that might very well have destroyed the E. coli in those German bean sprouts. In a terrible irony, the German government once blocked a European Commission proposal to make more use of irradiation, possibly even turning it into what some have called "the fourth pillar of public health," alongside the chlorination of water, the vaccination of children, and the pasteurization of milk and other liquids.
We won’t ever completely eliminate diseases from our food—but we can contain them, if we’re willing to embrace biotechnology and irradiation.
I’m hopeful that India will live up to its national motto: "sathyameva jayate." In Sanskrit, that means "truth alone triumphs." When it comes to food security, our obligation is to listen to the truth of science rather than the lies of scaremongers.
Mr. V.K.V. Ravichandran owns a 60 acre farm at Poongulam Village in Tamil Nadu, India where he grows rice, sugar cane, cotton and pulses (small grains). Mr. Ravichandran is a member of the Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer Network.
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