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Aug 27, 2014
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June 2014 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.

Growing Optimism

Jun 26, 2014

 By Motlatsi Musi:  Pimville, South Africa

 
 
Once, my farm was part of a war zone, just south of Johannesburg, South Africa. I had to be optimistic to drive a tractor through a minefield, as I did in the aftermath of South African apartheid. In fact, trying something new always requires a bit of optimism. Nonetheless, the first time that I planted genetically modified crops, I was nervous. Would they grow? Would they improve my yields? Or would they fail, as so many other crops in Africa had before them?
Nearly a decade has passed since then, and today I can hardly imagine farming without these important tools of technology. Although things are better now in South Africa, life has conditioned many of us to pessimism. Why wouldn’t it? Two-thirds of all Africans are farmers, according to the World Bank. That’s a higher rate of employment in agriculture than anywhere else on the planet. And yet Africa is the hungriest continent.What a cruel paradox: We farm the most and eat the least.
I’ve farmed for more than 20 years, starting as an ordinary laborer. In the wake of my country’s land redistribution, I own and farm 21 hectares and rent more. One of the biggest challenges for any farmer involves guarding crops from pests. In my experience as a farm laborer, my boss used tractors with huge booms to spray the plants. When the corn grew too high for driving, airplanes flew overhead and dropped pesticide. As smaller, independent farmers, we wore protective clothing and carried 12-liter knapsacks of pesticides through the field ourselves, often on tremendously hot days.It was a constant struggle against pests and for personal safety.
Pesticides break down before the food they protect reaches consumers, but exposure to them in large quantities can hurt farmers who don’t take proper precautions.So when pest-resistant GMO corn became available in South Africa in 2005, I wanted to try it. A non-profit group, AfricaBio, gave me guidance. I learned, for instance, that 20% of our seeds were non-GMO, so that our fields would fight pests but also provide a refuge, preventing them from developing a resistance to GMO corn. This approach contributes to the environmental sustainability of GMOs. Our goal, after all, is not to drive a species into extinction, but merely to protect our plants from its attackers. Ultimately, we seek a kind of peaceful coexistence.
During that first season, I started to see the results soon. My plants were bigger, stronger and healthier. During harvest, the yields increased by 34 percent. At that moment, I understood that biotechnology would be an essential part of Africa’s farming future.
We grow more, spray less and look forward to a future full of biotechnology.
A generation ago, much of Africa missed out on the Green Revolution, which brought modern agricultural practices to the developing world. Today, Africa must become a full participant in the Gene Revolution. Our governments must let us enjoy access to the biotechnology tools that fuel incredible agricultural production in the United States and so much of the western hemisphere. Why should we lack what those farmers have?
South Africa was an early adopter of GMOs, and for that I’m grateful. Too many other African countries have resisted biotechnology. They’ve responded to the misplaced worries of Europeans, who have largely refused to accept GMO foods. In my opinion, GMOs are perfectly healthy for human consumption. I’ve been eating them for years, from what I grow on my own farm!
The good news is that seven African countries—Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda—appear ready to join South Africa in commercializing GMOs, according to the latest report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). On my farm, I’ve hosted visitors from these countries and elsewhere. They want to see how GMO crops succeed, and I like to think that I’ve done my small part to inform and educate people who want to improve their own food security.
Many of the anti-GMO activists come from wealthy countries, where food security is taken for granted. I suspect that most of them never miss a meal. They remind me of the protestors from an earlier time, who complained about advances in conventional farming during the Green Revolution. Sometimes I wonder if they’re not against GMOs as much as they’re against every kind of new technology that farmers find helpful. I’d like to invite them to tour African farms, and see the hardship. Maybe that will change their hearts and minds.
GMOs changed my life for the better. I’m not just a subsistence farmer, as are so many of my fellow Africans, but rather a farmer who makes a profit. One of my sons went to college, where he earned a biomedical degree, and my profits paid his school fees. People are always talking about sustainable agriculture, and I’m a believer in this movement—especially if the definition of "sustainability" includes economic sustainability, and an appreciation for farmers who aspire to do more than merely feed their own kids.
When I started working on farms as a young man, the thought of giving away food never occurred to me. Today, however, I’m able to donate a portion of my crops to local charities, including a child-care center, an old-age home and a hospice. So agricultural biotechnology sustains me, my family and my neighbors—as well as consumers who I’ll never meet.
We need more GMOs, not less. We need new traits that help us survive droughts and adapt to climate change. We need seeds fortified with vitamin A, so that our children can get the nutrition that they need. Right now, we’re on the threshold of remarkable progress, all because we’ve learned how to make the most of our crops.
Let’s continue to do all that we can to grow as much as possible.
 
 
Motlatsi Musi farms maize, beans, potatoes, and breeds pigs and cows in South Africa. He is a member of Truth about Trade & Technology’s Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
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This column first appeared in the 2014 issue of Scientific American’s Worldview

Wheat trilateral strategy: more food with less inputs

Jun 20, 2014

 By Gerrid Gust:  Davidson, Saskatchewan, Canada

 
I’m a fourth-generation wheat farmer in Saskatchewan—and one of my long-term goals is to make sure the fifth generation on my family farm also has the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of technology.  We cannot let international trading rules be determined by scientific illiteracy and special interest pleading.
 
A growing number of people share this objective:  Earlier this month, 16 major groups in Australia, Canada, and the United States called for the commercialization of genetically modified wheat.  That’s up from the nine organizations that put out a similar statement five years ago.
 
We’re gaining numbers and strength.
 
Our ranks include some of the most forward-looking groups in the wheat producing and exporting world - from my own Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association to Grain Producers Australia and the U.S. based National Association of Wheat Growers to more broad-based groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation.  It’s not just farmers who are encouraging GM wheat: The Canadian National Millers Association and the North American Millers Association also have signed on.
 
We seek innovation, investment, and regulations based on sound science. "In addition to protecting the continued availability of wheat foods, wheat enhanced through biotechnology ultimately offers the promise of improved products, more sustainable production, and environmental benefits," says the new statement.
 
This is an essential strategy for global food security. Wheat currently accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s daily caloric intake. Yet demand for it continues to multiply, as the planet’s population increases and the middle class expands.  
 
We have to continue to grow more food on less land, using less inputs—something that biotechnology, as a tool, has enabled farmers to do with many crops, such as canola, corn, soybeans and cotton.  Why leave wheat farmers on the sidelines?
 
I’ve also experienced the advantages as we have grown GM canola on our farm for 18 years.  Biotechnology offers us better weed and disease control, which means we don’t have to devote as much time or resources to cultivation or spraying our fields. It decreases our use of expensive inputs and boosts our yields.  That’s good for farmers, good for consumers and good for the environment.  
 
I’d like to see the same benefits of biotechnology in wheat. Right now, however, there’s no such thing as GM wheat—at least not outside the test plots of researchers and the daydreams of working farmers like me.
  
Many critics resist biotechnology, and spend a lot of time and money scaring people.  For the most part, farmers understand the benefits but we recognize there continues to be uncertainty over acceptance in several markets.  Will our customers in Europe and Japan accept GM wheat?   Not today, but I am optimistic these challenges will be overcome once the truth about food safety, environmental benefits and consumer benefits becomes better known.
 
A lot of progress has been made in the 20 years since GM crops were first approved.  We now have a long and impressive track record with agricultural biotechnology—and mountains of hard evidence in support of the health and safety of GM crops.
 
Farmers around the world have now planted more than 4 billion acres of GM crops. People have eaten more than 2 trillion meals using ingredients from GM crops.  Although some misinformation and confusion still surrounds biotechnology, understanding and acceptance have grown. The environmental benefits from the reduction in the use of fuel, fertilizer and pesticides are simply too powerful to ignore.  The promise of more nutritious food is also a compelling argument that will eventually help win the day.  
 
Those are among the reasons why my organization endorsed the trilateral statement in support of GM wheat.  We want to help lay the groundwork for the adoption of this technology.   We don’t want anyone to say they were blindsided when this technology comes to our fields.
 
It won’t happen overnight. Although scientists already know how to produce GM wheat using the same proven technologies that have enhanced other crops, the technology won’t be adopted until all regulatory approvals are obtained.  The new statement from wheat groups makes this very clear: "Biotech wheat will be subject to rigorous scientific testing as well as extensive government approval processes before it is available anywhere in the world."
 
In the meantime, farmers and others have some important work to do:  we must informthe public about the value of GM crops and get systems in place that accommodate consumer choice.  If we do our jobs well, consumers, farmers and the planet will eventually reap the benefits of GM wheat—and many of us will wonder why it took so long.
 
Gerrid Gust and his family raise canola, lentils, flax and cereal grains including durum and soft white wheat on the Canadian prairies.  Gerrid is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
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Golden Rice: Let the Farmers Grow it and the Children Eat it

Jun 12, 2014

 By Rosalie Ellasus:  San Jacinto, Philippines

 
If we could provide a food that would save the lives of millions of kids, we’d do it.
 
Right?
 
That’s the miracle of Golden Rice, a genetically modified crop that fights vitamin A deficiency—a malady that has killed an estimated 8 million children over the last dozen years, mostly in the developing world. The lucky ones who survive often go blind.
 
Here in the Philippines, the problem is so severe that the government distributes vitamin A capsules to children under the age of 5 as well as to pregnant women.
 
This effort has reduced vitamin A deficiency in my country. Yet more must be done: 15 percent of Filipino children continue to suffer from this deadly form of malnutrition, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
 
Golden Rice is a possible solution and as a farmer, a tool that I want available in my country. It generates extra amounts of beta-carotene, a compound that helps produce vitamin A. Just one cup of cooked Golden Rice can provide small children with more than half of their daily vitamin A needs. If enough farmers grow Golden Rice, we might finally be able to defeat the scourge of vitamin A deficiency.
 
When I think about Golden Rice, I think about it from two perspectives: as a mother and as a farmer.
 
Like so many Filipino mothers, I serve rice to my family all the time. It’s the most fundamental ingredient in Filipino cuisine.
 
I’m also a farmer who grows rice during our wet season, which runs from now to October. Most of what I harvest goes to consumers I’ll never meet—but a portion of it winds up in the rice bowls my family use at home.
 
So I want to make sure that everything we grow and eat is safe, nutritious, and sustainable.
 
Earlier this spring, I was invited to attend a workshop sponsored by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a Philippines-based nonprofit independent research and training organization dedicated to reducing hunger and poverty through better rice farming and nutrition. One of its major priorities is to fight vitamin A deficiency through the widespread adoption of Golden Rice.
 
During my visit, I was impressed to learn that there are no hidden agendas behind Golden Rice. Agriculture is of course a big business, and companies are always trying to persuade me to buy their seeds or equipment. Most salesmen are fair and honest, but I still have to approach them with care and caution.
 
Golden Rice, however, is different. Its European inventors have granted free licenses to develop and grow Golden Rice on a not-for-profit basis. IRRI has worked to create local varieties of Golden Rice so that Filipino farmers can grow it and Filipino families can feed it to their children.
 
Many other kinds of genetically modified crops carry important advantages for farmers: The GM corn I grow on my farm each winter fights weeds and pests, allowing me to grow more food on less land and contribute to my country’s food security. Consumers enjoy abundance that’s affordable and nutritious, but they don’t usually recognize the role of technology.
 
Golden Rice, by contrast, is all about "biofortification." The whole point is to help consumers by fighting malnutrition. It’s not merely safe—it’s positively beneficial. It’s ‘Healthy Rice".  The research and development that have gone into it represent an extraordinary act of altruism. Making Golden Rice available to farmers will improve the lives of millions of people almost immediately—and everyone will know it.
 
Tragically, we’ve seen massive resistance to Golden Rice, led by the ideological forces and special interests that despise biotechnology in agriculture. They fear Golden Rice because they know its adoption will convince the masses that GM crops are good for us. Last year, a group of protestors even attacked a field where the IRRI was testing Golden Rice—an act of vandalism against scientific inquiry whose ultimate victims are the children suffering from vitamin A deficiency.
 
We all want to eat safe and healthy food—and we want regulatory agencies to support these efforts with sensible, science-based rules.
 
The next rule they should adopt involves Golden Rice: Let the farmers grow it and let the children eat it.
 
Every day we wait condemns more innocent children to blindness and death.
 
Rosalie Ellasus is a first-generation farmer, growing corn and rice in San Jacinto, Philippines.  Rosalie allows her farm to be used as a demonstration plot for smallholder farmers to visit and learn from.  She is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
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Learning How Food Is Grown From The Farmer Who Grows It

Jun 05, 2014

 By Brian Kelley: Normal, Illinois

 
A group of ladies visited our family farm a few days ago. The suburban "Field Moms" from the Chicago, Illinois area didn’t know much about agriculture and had sensible questions about where their food comes from. They were fascinated by the equipment and technologies we use, and left with a new appreciation for how hard and carefully we work to grow safe and healthy crops.
 
I enjoy sharing what happens on our farm in Illinois. Our door is always open, whether you’re from Chicago, New York, London, or Beijing.
 
The "Field Moms" hoped to learn more about how we grow the food they feed their families: Do farmers have a choice about what they plant? How do we maintain the soil? Where do crops go after they’re harvested?
 
Many people are also curious about genetically modified crops. Are GMOs safe?
 
It’s an important question, and the people who buy the food we grow must be confident that it is safe, nutritious, and sustainable.
 
Unfortunately, not all of our customers have the opportunity to visit our farms. Lots of what we grow stays here in the United States, but plenty of it ships to customers far away, even on the other side of the world. China, for instance, is an important destination for our corn and soybeans.
 
I wish everyone could see our family farm, just like those Illinois "Field Moms" the other day.
 
The first thing visitors learn is that we take health and safety seriously. We do it for our customers but we also do it for ourselves. My wife and I are raising three children at home. Putting them at risk is the very last thing we would ever do.
 
We grow about 3,500 acres of genetically modified crops each summer—a mix of corn and soybeans. If these plants and the food they produce were dangerous, we’d stop growing them. We don’t want to hurt anybody, least of all our own kids.
 
Our children are around GM crops all the time. They play near our fields, dig in our dirt, and ride their bikes alongside our plants. They also help out with farm chores. Finally, they eat food made with GM ingredients: Just about every day, the crops we grow on our farm go into the food our family eats.
 
I’m happy to report that our kids enjoy good health.
 
For our family, farming isn’t just an ordinary job. It’s a calling that requires humility and stewardship. Our crops supply the basic human need to eat. We do everything we can to make them safe and plentiful. Moreover, our agriculture is sustainable, in both the economic and environmental senses of the word—and we plan to sustain our farm for a long time. My father and my uncles brought me into the family farm. One day, when my children are old enough, I’d like for them to have the same opportunity.
 
We need to sustain our farm in another way: through education.
 
Two or three generations ago, lots of people knew a lot about farming because they farmed themselves or lived near those who did. Today, however, our society has become so good at growing crops that a small number of us can produce a huge abundance of food for the rest. In the developing world, urbanization—people moving from the countryside to the city—is one of the most powerful forces of the 21st century.
 
Much of this is positive and involves a search for economic opportunity, but there can be a downside as well. The more people move away from farms, the more vulnerable they become to rumors and propaganda about food production.
 
Facts and truth are the best antidotes. I welcome anyone to come and visit my farm. Anybody who drops by our place will learn that when they consume GM ingredients that trace back to American farms like ours; they’re eating what we feed our own children—the same safe and healthy food.
 
Brian Kelley grows corn and soybeans on a family farm with his father and uncles near Normal, Illinois.  Brian is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
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