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June 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.

Judging the Facts About Biotechnology

Jun 25, 2010

By Reg Clause – Jefferson, IA - Board member, Truth About Trade & Technology

 

 

In the Supreme Court’s first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the justices issued a resounding decision in favor of biotechnology.  The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision to impose a nationwide ban on GM alfalfa.

 

The Supreme Court is famous for its 5-4 split decisions, especially in cases that generate political controversy. The alfalfa ruling, however, was no nail-biter. The justices ruled 7-1 in favor of biotechnology.

 

The case marks a clear victory for American farmer choice in the matter of biotech seed. It affirms the idea that relevant government agencies and regulators set the rules that govern agriculture – and those rules must be science-based. The United States has benefited since its founding from a process of lawmaking and regulatory rules making.  When this is subverted by finding friendly courts or endlessly clogging our processes with frivolous suits, nobody benefits except the very narrow interest groups who happen to oppose progress.

 

Technically, the ruling in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms was procedural. Important legal and regulatory decisions lie ahead as the Department of Agriculture finishes an environmental assessment of GM alfalfa.  Farmers like myself agree with a robust and continuous process that assures me and all Americans that our food is safe and always available.

 

Yet the case also sets farmers on a course that may allow them to take full advantage of what GM alfalfa has to offer and opens up the possibility for plantings to begin within a few months.

 

Those opposing biotechnology obviously were hoping for a different result. For them, resorting to litigation was a desperate maneuver. They’ve lost significant battles over GM crops in just about every other arena.

 

Farmers across the country are adopting and planting GM crops as soon as they become available because the value is there in improved productivity and quality. This spring marks the 15th year that biotech crops are being planted in the U.S.  Today, the vast majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically enhanced to fight weeds and bugs. The broader public has responded favorably as well, especially when there is objective information provided.  Of course the public might be against GM seed if they are told there might be a problem.  That’s why I’m writing this article.  I haven’t seen these problems, research scientist inside and outside the industry haven’t been able to show these problems and our regulators didn’t find these supposed problems. The American people need to know that.  Let’s put some trust but verify into action on this important subject and question those who oppose important new things, “just because.”

 

As a farmer I do not take more risk than I can justify.  My legacy is my farm and the young people I leave to farm it.  When I see the decades of regulatory research into biotech seeds and the billions of acres planted over the years, I simply ask a question.  When there are no negative outcomes in the environment or human health discovered after so many years, is there not a point when those fearful of biotechnology can admit there is no longer need to just fear?  I want the regulatory functions to go on and get better if anything, but simply stopping progress with the courts is not a way to facilitate proper research and rules development.

 

Science also has come down solidly on the side of biotechnology. Research has shown that these plants pose no threat to anybody and may even enhance human health as new traits that improve nutrition become available. On the environmental front, GM crops have let farmers adopt no-till methods that fight soil erosion. Gains in yield allow farmers to produce more food on each acre of land, thereby reducing the pressure on wilderness areas.

 

The anti-biotech activists are applying a cynical approach to science, technology, and food production by hiring lawyers and seeking out friendly court venues. Yet these professional rabble-rousers have a lot invested in their litigious scheme. The Supreme Court’s decision probably isn’t enough to make them abandon it completely. Even if they don’t win on alfalfa, they’ll try to win on sugar beets--another important crop that they are attempting to thwart.

 

The good news is that the Supreme Court’s ruling will make it harder for them to succeed.   My goal in farming is to improve the environment in my care and provide ever safer food for Americans and the world.

 

All across our land I hope for us to all come together around achievable goals like mine.  If there are legitimate objections to the adoption of new farming tools such as biotech seeds, I’m waiting to hear them and would want to see such objections thoroughly handled.  Right now the objections appear to come without merit attached.  So sayeth our Supreme Court.

 

Reg Clause raises cattle, corn and soybeans on a fourth generation family farm in central Iowa.  He is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member (www.truthabouttrrade.org)

Honoring Those Who Mobilize to Feed the World

Jun 18, 2010
By Dean Kleckner - Chairman, Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

Farmers feed the world, but growing food is only one part of the hunger equation. Once food is harvested, it must make its way to consumers, whether they shop at the local roadside stand or at grocery stores on the other side of the planet.

Success requires effective channels of distribution--everything from competitive markets to sound infrastructure to free-trade agreements. Yet sometimes it also depends on the heroic efforts of humanitarians.

This year’s World Food Prize recognizes a pair of grassroots warriors who have made it their mission to fight hunger through charity. David Beckmann of Bread for the World and Jo Luck of Heifer International will share a $250,000 award for advances in food production. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over the announcement on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Beckmann and Luck will formally accept their honors this October at an annual conference in Des Moines.

The World Food Prize usually goes to research scientists or more rarely to public officials. As leading members of non-governmental organizations, Beckmann and Luck are different kinds of laureates--but they’re also critically important partners in the ongoing struggle to feed impoverished people. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that 1 billion people suffer from chronic hunger.

Nebraska native Beckmann is a Lutheran pastor who has led the Washington, D.C.-based Bread for the World since 1991. His Christian organization mobilizes activists on behalf of the hungry. Under his leadership, more than 72,000 active members who represent 5,000 local church congregations have leveraged the volunteer efforts of more than a million people. They’ve rallied public support behind increasing U.S. efforts to reduce hunger and fund development efforts in poor countries.

Bread’s army of citizen advocates has engaged an ever-expanding network of concerned people urging support for legislation to change the policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist,” says a statement released by organizers of the World Food Prize.

Jo Luck of Arkansas became CEO of Heifer International in 1992. From its offices in Little Rock, she took a group with about 20,000 supporters and a budget of $7 million and turned it into a $130 million organization with half a million backers as well as a global presence. Last year, Heifer International supplied food to more than 1.5 million needy people around the world. Earlier this year, she stepped down as Heifer’s CEO but will remain president until 2011.

A strong impact of Jo Luck’s legacy as the leader of Heifer is the binding together of people emotionally and economically, enabling them to envision and create a better life for themselves and their children,” says a World Food Prize release.

In addition to sharing our food and resources with the less fortunate, we must share our knowledge as well. Clinton made this point explicitly at the State Department: “Using science to feed the world is not only an imperative--it is a thrilling opportunity.”

Norman Borlaug certainly understood this sentiment. The “Father of the Green Revolution,” who died last year at the age of 95, founded the World Food Prize in 1986. His efforts to improve crop varieties as well as access to fertilizer and pesticides have allowed farmers to feed untold numbers of people who otherwise would not have had enough to eat.

As we transition from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution, (with Borlaug's support), we’ll need to share our science and technology with people in developing countries. If we’re to realize the goals of groups such as Bread for Life and Heifer International and truly eradicate hunger, then we’ll have to make sure that farmers in nations with poor food security have the ability to take advantage of the world’s most promising agricultural methods.

One of them is biotechnology. Millions of farmers already make use of it--but millions more could still benefit.

This is the very best kind of humanitarianism: helping people help themselves grow the food they need.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer and Council of Advisors Emeritus for the World Food Prize Foundation, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

Taxing a weighty issue

Jun 10, 2010
By Bill Horan – Rockwell City, Iowa - Board member, Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)


Politicians across America want to raise the cost of drinking. This year alone, they’ve called for new taxes on soda pop and other non-alcoholic beverages in at least 20 states and cities. There’s even talk about action on the federal level.

What’s behind this percolating movement? One motive is government’s insatiable thirst for revenue. Another is a desire to reduce obesity, especially among kids. They often work in cahoots: Let’s raise taxes to save the children, say advocates.

Yet raising taxes isn’t a good way to balance budgets or encourage healthier drinking habits. There is in fact a much better approach--one that avoids a tax hike and nudges consumers toward better habits while also preserving their freedom of choice.

Let’s start by pointing out that much of what fuels the drive for new taxes on soda-pop is a governmental money grab, plain and simple. The economy is rotten and politicians are trying to squeeze everything they can out of taxpayers. In the state of Washington, they’ve uncorked a new soda-pop tax: 2 cents on every 12 ounces purchased.

This may not sound like much. It’s a little more than a dime for a 2-liter bottle of Coke and a little less than a quarter for a 12-pack of Pepsi. But it does raise the cost of eating and drinking during the worst economy of our lives. Does this make sense?

Moreover, it would be a mistake to assume that the politicians will stop at a couple of pennies. Once they’ve established soda pop as a legitimate category of special taxation, they will raise its price whenever they stumble into a new budget crunch. No matter what the politicians promise, this should not be viewed as a one-time emergency measure. It’s a bold move to create a permanent stream of revenue for a government that refuses to confront its own profligacy.

In Colorado, politicians wiped out a 2.9 percent sales-tax exemption on soft drinks, also in the name of balancing the budget. Cities have been especially aggressive in pushing for soda-pop taxes: Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. have debated proposals.

Many of these efforts have failed, but this has done nothing to deflate the hopes of would-be taxers. “How could you be discouraged when major cities and states all over the country are considering the idea?” asked Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, in the Wall Street Journal. Last year, she authored an article for the New England Journal of Medicine that called for a federal soda tax.

Don’t discount that possibility. President Obama has spoken favorably about the idea of a special tax on food and drinks that use high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as an ingredient. The idea came up during the debate over health care. It wasn’t part of the final package, but it may receive fresh consideration as the law’s true costs become apparent.

Many of these tax proposals are disguised in the language of compassion for children. We have to raise taxes on soda pop, say many advocates, so that kids will quit growing fat from drinking it. But think about the fundamental contradiction: The tax raisers want to balance budgets via consumers who drink a lot of soda pop, while the nutritionists want to use taxes as a tool for reducing consumption of these same products.

There’s no way both groups can achieve their goals.

Robert Paarlberg of Wesleyan College--one of the most sensible voices in the arena of food policy--has proposed a worthy compromise. He suggests banning sugary drinks from food-stamp eligibility. Currently, the federal government spends about $58 billion on food stamps and roughly one in eight Americans receive them.

The beauty of this idea is that it would end a government subsidy and, in doing so, promote healthier drinking habits without trying to legislate them through tax policy.

Anybody who opposes this sensible idea probably isn’t serious about public deficits or childhood obesity.

Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and grains in Northwest Iowa. This fourth generation family farm has been involved in specialty crop production and identity preservation for over 20 years. Mr. Horan volunteers as a Truth About Trade & Technology Board member. www.truthabouttrade.org
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