' /> The Truth about Trade | AGWEB.com

Oct 1, 2014
Home| Tools| Events| Blogs| Discussions Sign UpLogin

June 2012 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.

Common Sense Labeling

Jun 28, 2012

 By Terry Wanzek:  Jamestown, North Dakota


The U.S. Senate wisely voted down a bad amendment to the farm bill last week, meaning that consumers won’t see their food bills skyrocket for no worthwhile reason.


So that’s good news. Yet this is Washington, D.C., where the threat of harmful legislation remains alive and well--and we the people must remain on guard.


As the House of Representatives begins to consider its own version of the farm bill, it too must oppose efforts by anti-biotech activists to encourage a patchwork of confusing regulations that would make food much more expensive without improving it even a tiny bit.


In the United States and around the world, we’re fighting a war over food. Most people don’t even know that it’s going on, but it affects all of us. The conflict pits ordinary consumers and farmers like you and me against radical activists and professional protestors.


We all want a plentiful supply of wholesome and safe food at a reasonable price. Their scheme is to devastate modern means of crop production for the sake of an anti-scientific agenda that will make it harder for families to feed themselves.


The war has many fronts, from international agencies to state capitols. The latest assault took place in the U.S. Senate. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont--an "independent" who calls himself a socialist--offered an amendment to the farm bill.


On the face of it, the Sanders amendment sounded reasonable: It would have granted states the right to establish their own rules for labeling food that contains biotech ingredients. In the last year, legislators in 19 states have offered three dozen bills on this matter, according to Packaging Digest. This November, California voters will weigh a ballot initiative to require labels on food that may contain GM ingredients.


Yet think about where state-by-state labeling could lead: 50 states with 50 different sets of rules about what information must appear on consumer products. Special-interest groups would have a field day. A dairy state might stop companies from printing the saturated-fat content on cartons of ice cream. Georgia could require peaches from South Carolina to carry labels urging people not to buy them. Just imagine what the busybodies in New York City might try to do. The mayor already is on a crusade to ban soda pop.


Before long, food companies would have to package the same food in a variety of ways. For most of us, Coke cans and Pepsi bottles probably would continue to look much as they do now. In New York, however, perhaps they’d carry skull-and-crossbones images.


That may sound extreme, but something like it is already going on: A group called "Label It Yourself" encourages activists to print their own warning stickers, visit grocery stores, and slap them on items that may contain biotech ingredients.


Few states would go this far. Yet incompatible rules could proliferate from state to state--and our food would start to cost more.


When an assembly line has to stop and reconfigure, production slows down and prices go up. If food companies have to change the look of their products, just to comply with an array of crazy-quilt regulations, consumers will pay more for food.


The labels wouldn’t make food safer because biotech ingredients are already 100-percent safe, as the federal government and groups ranging from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to the American Medical Association have determined. The labels simply would convey information that consumers don’t need, while also making our grocery-store bills rise.


Moreover, there’s a simple solution already in place. People who want to avoid biotech food already can do so by purchasing organic food. If the label says the food is organic, then it doesn’t have biotech ingredients.


For those who accept modern science and technology, and wish to continue to have access to a plentiful supply of wholesome and inexpensive food, a mandatory label is unnecessary and will only raise costs.


In the Senate, the Sanders amendment lost by a wide margin: 26 in favor, 73 opposed. If a new version comes up in the House, let’s hope that it loses again.


It would show that even in Congress, common sense can prevail.


Terry Wanzek is a wheat, corn and soybean farmer in North Dakota.  He serves as a ND State Senator and volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

Down Under Doesn’t Want to Be Left Behind When It Comes to Biotechnology

Jun 21, 2012
By Heather Baldock:  Kimba, South Australia
Psalm 63 speaks of "a dry and thirsty land, where no water is."
It’s not quite that bad where we live, but it’s close.  We need to be very conservative with our water use. We plan our entire livelihood and lifestyle around rainfall events.
My family farms on the Eyre Peninsula in the state of South Australia on the continent of Australia.
We "dry land" farm on some of  the driest agricultural land of the driest state on the driest continent on the planet.
Water is a precious resource. To make it here, about halfway between Sydney and Perth, we have to use water with care and efficiency. Drought is factored into our risk management planning.  Using no till farming is one tool we are using effectively to help manage the risk while improving our soil structure.
Rainfall is not the only challenge but we worry that it will worsen as the climate changes with models predicting a hotter and drier environment in our area.  As farmers, we need to adapt to meet this challenge.
I see biotechnology giving us one of the tools needed to breed crops that will help us manage the risk.  We need access to GM crops that can cope with increased temperatures and use water more efficiently.  And we need them sooner rather than later.
The ban on GM crops in South Australia, through a moratorium that’s been in place for almost a decade, is stifling the opportunity to meet the challenge of food production.
This is a huge mistake. Around the world, biotechnology is transforming agriculture for the better, helping farmers grow more food on less land and in sustainable ways. Australia should place itself on the cutting edge of this development.  In South Australia, we have amazing facilities like the Australian  Centre for Plant Functional  Genomics and  a state of the art Plant Accelerator that can  help us do this--and yet we’re failing to keep up, as countries from Brazil to Canada to the Philippines accept biotechnology and discover its incredible benefits.
Down Under can’t afford to get Left Behind.
Last month, PG Economics, a research firm in the United Kingdom, released a new report that describes why GM crops make so much sense. Between 1996 and 2010--the first year GM crops were commercialized and the latest year for which reliable figures are available--biotechnology boosted global yields by almost 160 million metric tons of corn and nearly 100 million metric tons of soybeans.
If the 15 million global farmers who used crop biotechnology in 2010 had lacked access to it--through bans like the one in South Australia or for whatever reason--they would have had to cultivate millions of extra hectares just to make up the difference. The amount of new farmland needed would be equal to about 30 percent of all the arable land in Australia.
So biotechnology isn’t just a boon to farmers. It’s also a conservation strategy.
GM crops are much better at fending off weeds and insects. Without the assistance of GM crops, there has been an increase in the reliance on herbicides and pesticides to manage weeds and pests.  In Australia’s cotton growing areas the introduction of insect resistant cotton has reduced the use of insecticide by around 85% resulting in healthier waterways, ecosystems and communities.  And this could be replicated in other crops.
Biotechnology also lowers production costs, which become a savings we can pass on to consumers. It shows that environmental and economic sustainability can work hand in hand.
In South Australia, we’d make good use of biotechnology right away, especially with the planting of canola. Over time, the innovation we’d most welcome is drought-resistant wheat. This crop would be a great addition to the cropping program in low-rainfall regions such as ours. The technology is not yet widely available, though it’s near.   And with the rate of productivity growth slowing over the last decade in Australia according to the "At a Glance 2010" publication released by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, it is certainly time for the next round of innovation on our farm.  The one thing most responsible for holding it back is politics, not science.
We’re eventually going to have to accept agricultural biotechnology in all of its forms. The world has more than 7 billion people on it, with the equivalent of more than two Chinas expected to join to the global population by 2050. Most demographers think that farmers will have to double their production by the middle of the century.
Success will require growing more on each parcel of land--and we’ll have to make sure that every parcel is doing its part, including the marginal ones in the driest and thirstiest parts of Australia.
Heather Baldock and her husband Graeme grow wheat, barley, canola, peas and lupins on a 3rd generation family farm on Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.  Heather is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).

The Trade War of 1812

Jun 14, 2012

 By Reg Clause:  Jefferson, Iowa



Two-hundred years ago this week, America’s worst trade war erupted into America’s worst shooting war.


On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain. The War of 1812 was on. Despite its name, the conflict would rage for almost three years.


These days, Americans don’t think much about what happened or why. Here’s the first sentence of historian Donald R. Hickey’s definitive book: "The War of 1812 is probably our most obscure war."


It’s obscure partly because it went so poorly. Who wants to remember martial humiliation? The British burned our national capital, in an event whose infamy ranks alongside the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor and the terrorist strike on the World Trade Center. The United States even tried to invade Canada during the War of 1812, but failed. We’re not supposed to lose anything to Canada, except maybe hockey games!


Then there’s James Lawrence, captain of the U.S.S. Chesapeake. In 1813, he sailed out of Boston, engaged a Royal Navy frigate, and uttered his famous rallying cry: "Don’t give up the ship!"


Now for the rest of the story: Moments after speaking these words, Lawrence died and his sailors did indeed give up the ship.


So it was that kind of a war.


Its beginnings were just as inauspicious. The War of 1812 started out as a trade war, with the United States trying to use commerce as a weapon, forcing Great Britain and France to respect American neutrality.


In 1806, we banned a list of British manufactured goods from our markets. The next year, we passed the draconian Embargo Act, which prohibited American ships from traveling to foreign ports. These moves were supposed to hurt the economies of Great Britain and France. Yet they devastated our own, while causing only minor inconveniences to our rivals.


The Embargo Act lasted about 15 months, but the reckless experiment with trade war continued: In 1809, Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act, which allowed American ships to travel abroad, except to Great Britain, France, or their colonies. It was another disaster. In 1811, the government banned all imports from Great Britain and France.


Supporters of these measures thought that a trade war presented a good alternative to a shooting war. Yet their aggressive protectionism worsened relations between the United States and Europe. Rather than preventing a war, trade restrictions helped launch one.


It just goes to show that nobody wins a trade war.


We should remember this in 2012, as we approach Election Day. In the months ahead, expect to hear a lot of tough talk from both Democrats and Republicans, especially on trade with China. There will be calls for limiting imports, demands for federal contractors to "buy American," and so on.


It’s hard to believe these policies would spark a hot war with China, but the world is full of surprises. The first foreign-policy crisis of George W. Bush’s presidency involved a mid-air collision between a naval intelligence aircraft and a Chinese jet, forcing the American crew to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island, where they were detained.


A year from now, a new president could face a similar confrontation, perhaps involving a political or military crisis over oil-drilling rights in the South China Sea. It’s impossible to plan for every possibility--but it’s also essential to avoid creating the conditions that can lead to a fiasco.


This is what American leaders failed to do in the run up to the War of 1812.


In fairness, the United States had a few proud moments in the struggle. Oliver Hazard Perry won the Battle of Lake Erie. Andrew Jackson prevailed at New Orleans. And after watching the botched British bombardment of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key penned our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."


Yet if we’re going to learn anything from history--and isn’t that the point of studying it?--then we should recognize what may be the most important lesson for the War of 1812’s bicentennial.


We should make trade, not war.


Reg Clause owns a 4th generation family farm near his home in Jefferson, Iowa.  His next generation grows corn, soybeans and cattle and the 6th generation is there too.  Reg volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

A Farmer's Testimony to Decontaminate an Organic Proposal

Jun 07, 2012

 John Rigolizzo:  Berlin, New Jersey


Farmers grow a lot of things, but money isn’t one of them.


Yet some people seem to think "cash crop" is a literal description rather than a figurative expression, judging from the subject of last week’s meeting of AC21--the acronym for the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. I addressed the panel during a public session, leaving my farm for a day to do it.


Our country is going broke faster than a roadrunner on hot asphalt. That hasn’t stopped certain sectors of the organic-food industry from demanding special compensation for when trace amounts of biotech ingredients show up in organic fields, suggesting that this poses a serious economic hazard. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has asked AC21 to study the dispute and propose a solution.


This assumes there’s a problem in the first place. The question has to be raised:  After all these years of proven technology, why are we still even entertaining the idea of GMO’s vs. the organic production of growing crops?


In my 50-plus years on the farm, I’ve learned a few things – some of them the hard way.  I can remember saving our seed stocks because we thought we had something special, only to discover a few years later that the ‘sacred’ strain had gone away anyhow.  I remember hundreds of variety trials, cross pollinating the parent stock with little paint brushes in an attempt to get a new hybrid tomato, pepper or sweet corn and then waiting years to get a viable, marketable variety that I could plant on my farm.  I also remember the years I hoped we might somehow be able to speed up that process.  Now, we can finally grow varieties with traits that sustain our agriculture while providing more nutritious food for our family and yours.


Farmers like me have grown billions of acres of genetically enhanced crops around the world. These remarkable plants have shown themselves to be both safe and popular, fighting weeds and pests so successfully that we’re now growing more food on less land than ever before. And protecting the land, an important natural resource, as we do it!


Yet a handful of outspoken activists are attempting to slow down or ban the use of biotechnology.  To support their ideological agenda, they are using the carefully chosen scare word- "contamination"- to describe the presence of biotech particles in non-biotech fields, suggesting that we’re confronting a vicious plague.


Their latest scheme is to demand that Washington establish an elaborate system of payments, to make up for the "contamination" that poses no health hazard to anyone.


Where will the money come from? That’s a good question. Perhaps farmers who use biotechnology will be forced to pay a special fee. Or maybe consumers will face a new tax on grocery-store food with biotech ingredients. Or possibly taxpayers in general will foot the bill. The only certainty is that it will cost a bundle.


We’ve seen this before in agriculture. In 1999, the federal government settled a class-action lawsuit filed by minority farmers, agreeing to pay $1 billion to make up for past discrimination. I followed the story in the news but didn’t examine it in detail, so I don’t have an opinion on the merits of the case. At the time, however, everybody thought it was over and done with.


Then, two years ago, Washington opened the spending spigot once more, committing an additional $1.25 billion to minority farmers who had missed the deadline to join the initial class-action lawsuit. The cost of the original settlement more than doubled and the whole thing reeked of politics.


More of the same may lie ahead. Does anyone doubt that trial lawyers will launch a third attempt to pry loose another billion from taxpayers? They’ve already filed lawsuits on behalf of Hispanic farmers and female farmers, hoping to expand the class of victims beyond African Americans.


The same thing would happen with a system of reparations involving biotechnology. Before long, everybody who grows organic crops--from industrial-scale farmers to backyard gardeners--would feel the urge to file a claim for damages. Costs would spiral out of control, but neither the quality nor the safety of food would improve.


Turnabout is fair play, so biotech growers should seek poetic justice. After all, organic farms often fail to control their weeds. If the seeds from these weeds "contaminate" the fields of biotech farmers, then perhaps the biotech farmers should receive their own reparations.


Of course, that would be ridiculous.


Our trading partners must gaze on in bewilderment. For years, U.S. officials have proclaimed, appropriately, the wonders of biotech crops, encouraging other countries not only to buy what we grow but also to adopt the technology for themselves. And now we find ourselves locked in a destructive internal debate about "contamination."


People say that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Maybe we should add that common sense is the best decontaminant.


John Rigolizzo, Jr. is a fifth generation farmer, raising fresh vegetables and field corn in southern New Jersey. The family farm produces for retail and wholesale markets.  John is a volunteer board member of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)

Log In or Sign Up to comment


The Home Page of Agriculture
© 2014 Farm Journal, Inc. All Rights Reserved|Web site design and development by AmericanEagle.com|Site Map|Privacy Policy|Terms & Conditions