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December 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.

Best of TATT 2012

Dec 27, 2012

 By Mary Boote

So by now you’re probably aware that the world didn’t end last week, as some readers of the Mayan calendar had prophesied. You may also know that the whole fuss about Apocalypse 2012 was based on a misinterpretation of a Mayan inscription.
Here at Truth about Trade & Technology, our board and Global Farmer Network members spent the year interpreting the news and politics of food—and forecasting a brighter future, as long as it’s based on free trade and doing what we can to ensure that all farmers have access to the technology they need to flourish.
From the start, we tracked the U.S. presidential campaign. In January, right after the Iowa caucuses, Tim Burrackencouraged the GOP to embrace free trade: "When Obama squares off against a Republican—whether it’s [Mitt] Romney, [Rick] Santorum, or someone else—he’ll be able to claim, accurately, that he has increased export opportunities for American farmers and manufacturers."
In March, John Reifstecktold the candidates to look at export growth as an employment program: "Exports generate jobs—and one of the most important jobs of the president is to generate exports." Dean Kleckner and other writers chimed in, urging Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority and for the White House to make the Trans-Pacific Partnership a top priority. As summer turned to fall, Bill Horan advised both Obama and Romney to accept a fundamental truth: "Global prosperity depends on an America committed to free-trade leadership."
When the votes were counted and President Obama was re-elected, John Rigolizzo, Jr.proposed ways to push America’s trade agenda forward, suggesting the appointment of Romney as a special trade ambassador to Latin America. Kleckner proposed Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar as U.S. Trade Representative in Obama’s second term.
The race for the White House dominated our election coverage, but we also responded to the presidential victory of Enrique Peña in Mexico. "He should push for greater acceptance of genetically-modified crops," wrote Francisco Gurría Treviño, a member of TATT’s Global Farmer Network, in August.
In June, we marked the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  Reg Clause helped us look back at a point of U.S. history that offered a bad trade policy lesson for all of us: "Two-hundred years ago this week, America’s worst trade war erupted into America’s worst shooting war."
For American farmers, this year’s most important election may have taken place in California, where voters considered Proposition 37, a badly flawed ballot initiative to put warning labels on some foods that may contain genetically modified ingredients. "Its wording is full of political agendas, bizarre contradictions, and hidden costs that will drive up your grocery-store bill," warned Ted Sheely in October. Even members of our Global Farmer Network felt compelled to comment. "If it passes," wrote Gilbert Arap Borof Kenya, "Proposition 37 will hurt global efforts to improve food production through modern technology."
Prop 37 suffered a bad defeat. "California voters sent a loud-and-clear message to special interests and anti-biotech agitators last week: Keep your hands off our food," wrote Sheely in the aftermath. Yet he also cautioned his readers: "Our victory last week is a case study in success, but almost 4.3 million Californians voted against us. We must continue to tell our compelling story." Within a few weeks, anti-GM activists were talking about new political campaigns in Oregon and Washington.
Whether you farm in India or North Dakota, many farmers suffered through some of the most volatile weather years on record. "How dry is it?" asked Terry Wanzek in August. "It’s so dry farmers need drought-resistant crops. ... We need more crop per drop." Mr. V. Ravichandranadded from India,"I am convinced modern technology holds out the promise of seeds that can endure the worst weather can throw at us."
One of TATT’s most important roles is to serve as a truth squad—and set the record straight when prominent media figures and publications spread disinformation about farm technology. In January, Horan responded to an article about GM food in The Atlantic: "This is a case study in how misinformation is born—and how it can spread, like a virus," he wrote.
In April, Carol Keiser-Long bemoaned the smear campaign against a safe beef product that became known as "pink slime": "Hundreds of Americans have lost their jobs and consumers are on the verge of losing an ingredient that is an excellent example of sustainable agriculture–all because we’ve let sensationalism trump science." In July, as activists tried to generate another phony controversy over something called "Agent Orange Corn," Horan warned that "the enemies of agricultural progress have adopted a plan to try to manipulate our emotions by raising the specter of a controversial chemical that is a part of our past and will have no place in our future."
This spring, Tim Burrack grew so concerned about propaganda that masqueraded as fact that he invited Oprah Winfrey to his farm. "Visit the land that I’ve worked since I was a boy," he wrote in an open letter. "See this place so that you’ll never again let bad articles on agriculture tarnish the pages of your magazine or the pixels on your website." In October, Burrack then aimed at Dr. Oz, who "let his program become a soapbox for wild accusations, unsubstantiated claims, and hysterical advice. ... Upon pulling back the curtain, we discover that Dr. Oz is no wizard. He’s a charlatan."
As some continue to push back against the technology, there are clear success stories for us to learn from. Ken Kamiya, a TATT Global Farmer Network member from Hawaii shared how "cutting-edge agriculture defeated disease and saved Hawaiian papayas…even as professional protestors peddle scientific ignorance to frighten the public about this essential food source."
But our work is not done.  TATT Global Farmer Network member Motlatsi Musi, talked about farming around landmines, literally, as South African farmers like himself worked hard to grow maize and other vegetables during the days of apartheid. "Yet farmers in today’s Africa continue to face landmines of the metaphorical variety:  As we try to obtain access to the latest agricultural technology, we see hazardous obstacles everywhere.  They must be removed."
Amid all the columns and controversies, TATT marked an important transition, as longtime chairman Dean Kleckner retired. "We all owe him a tremendous debt for having devoted his life to American farming," wrote Horan, who succeeded him.
The good news is that Dean plans to continue contribution columns—as do we all, into 2013 and beyond.
Mary Boote serves as CEO for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)

Time To Move Our Country Off the Export Cliff

Dec 20, 2012

 By Bill Horan:  Rockwell City, Iowa


You shouldn’t compare apples and oranges. Everyone knows that.

So does is makes sense to measure apple exports by counting oranges? Of course not. And yet this is precisely how the United States measures and is reporting its progress in trade policy.

That’s because we compute the value of our trade in dollars, when the most important measurement should be volume; the actual amount of products we sell to others.

Fixing our calculations will serve our long-term interests in trade, and possibly even help us avoid the fiscal cliffs in our future.

The United States hasn’t enjoyed very many economic success stories recently. Joblessness remains high, growth is stagnant, and now our President and Congress are engaged in a high-stakes game of political chicken over taxes and spending.

Amid all the gloom, farm exports have been a bright spot. The Department of Agriculture recently predicted that they would reach $145 billion this year, which is more than $9 billion above last year’s total. Even more impressive is the fact that it’s an all-time record.

So that’s good news. Except that even here, looks can be deceiving. In October, U.S. exports plummeted, not just in agriculture but across every major category of trade. They declined by 3.6 percent in the largest month-to-month drop since January 2009. 

That month was significant because it marked the beginning of President Obama’s administration. A year later, as he and the rest of us struggled through America’s ongoing slump, he made an important promise in his State of the Union address: In five years, he said, U.S. exports would double.

This pledge involved an interesting measurement "trick": For a baseline, he chose a year in which exports had hit rock bottom, following the global economic downturn. The regular turnings of the business cycle all but guaranteed a rebound. For a couple of years, it looked like President Obama might make good on his export pledge.  A goal that all of us want him to achieve.

This year, however, trade leveled off. We’ll be lucky if it comes anywhere close to doubling by 2015.

To complicate matters, we’re measuring in dollars rather than by volume. Dollars are a good way to evaluate exports, but not the best way. Currency valuations can mask the true story. For a better sense of our export health, we have to examine export volume. 

And here, the data are more troubling. The total volume of farm exports will be about 108 million metric tons this year. This is well below recent levels. The drought explains some of this but not all of it. Even with corn exports falling by almost half, we’re still shipping out fewer major commodities. We certainly aren’t on track to double anything.

One of the best ways to improve export volume is through policy: rules at home that allow farmers and businesses to thrive, and trade agreements with partners that allow goods and services to move free from artificial barriers. Success requires sensible regulations that protect consumers rather than onerous ones that hobble economic activity, plus an aggressive agenda of trade diplomacy.

These are long-term strategies. Adopting them now won’t save us from the oncoming fiscal cliff—it’s too late for that—but it will help our economy in the future.

A central dispute between the White House and Congress in their fiscal-cliff standoff involves spending. President Obama would like a new round of stimulus spending, even though it would add to the federal debt.

Properly understood, exports can serve the same purpose—but without the debt. Rather than creating programs and sending the bill to taxpayers, officials should push for new trade agreements that allow Americans to export goods and services abroad. They approved deals last year with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, but only after letting them languish for years. So far, the Obama administration has talked about expanding trade opportunities but it has not negotiated a single trade pact on its own.

More trade will create jobs and economic growth at no cost to the public treasury—especially if we strive to boost not just our sales value but also our sales volume.

Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa.  Bill volunteers as a board member and serves as Chairman for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

Standing Up to the True Mission of the “Just Label It” Crowd

Dec 13, 2012

 By Ted Sheely:  Lemoore, California


Anti-biotech activists are like zombies in a horror movie: No matter how many times you defeat them, they keep snapping back to life, determined to wreak brand-new havoc.

So a month after suffering a bad loss in California on Election Day, they’re shifting their misconceived movement to Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, and elsewhere. The next engagement is already well underway in the state of Washington, where the frightening extremism of what they really hope to achieve is also on full display.

Their outrageous goal is nothing less than a complete ban of crops enhanced by biotechnology--and they must be stopped.

Last month, 53 percent of Californians said "No!" on Proposition 37, a fatally flawed ballot initiative that would have mandated warning labels for safe food products that may contain ingredients derived from genetically modified crops.

Prop 37 was a bad idea from the start. It would have driven up grocery-store bills without aiding consumers at all. Farmers, doctors, scientists, and just about every daily newspaper editorial page in the state opposed it. In the end, so did most voters.

Yet anti-biotech activists are preparing to strike again. In Washington, they’re gathering signatures now for a ballot initiative modeled on Prop 37. They even have an official name for it: Initiative 522, or I-522. And they’ve raised almost $200,000 in its behalf, according to Linda Thomas of KIRO

Organizers are well on their way to meeting a goal of collecting 320,000 signatures by December 31. They believe this will give them more than enough to guarantee the 242,000 valid names they will need for certification by the secretary of state. If that happens, their proposal will move to the state legislature. As soon as January, lawmakers could approve the measure or allow I-522 to go on the ballot in November 2013.

Odds are the legislature will defer to voters. That’s what happened earlier this year with I-502, an effort to legalize and regulate marijuana. Supporters had gathered signatures, and lawmakers let it appear on the ballot. Last month, 55 percent of voters approved it.

It remains to be seen how I-502 will affect drug use, as selling or possessing pot remains illegal under federal law. But consider the irony: Shortly after Washington voters decided to relax drug laws, anti-GM activists are asking them to impose a crackdown on one of the safest and common technologies in agriculture.

Reasonable people can disagree on the decriminalization of pot. Yet the idea that voters would take a laissez-faire approach to marijuana and then almost immediately impose draconian restrictions on mainstream food ingredients is just plain bizarre.

The opponents of biotechnology try to present a reasonable face to the public, but their real agenda is radical--and it’s already on full view in the state of Washington.

On Election Day, as Californians were casting their ballots against Prop 37, voters in Washington’s San Juan County considered an even more dangerous measure: a total ban on the growing of GM crops.

San Juan County, home to less than 16,000 people, is tiny compared to California and its population of almost 37 million. So its drastic initiative didn’t generate much attention during the campaign season--and neither did the result, in which 61 percent of the county’s voters decided to outlaw the kinds of plants that farmers in much of the rest of the country take for granted.

This is the true mission of the anti-biotech movement: the utter elimination of genetically modified crops from the United States.

If the "Just Label It" crowd wanted to stop at labeling, its leaders would have condemned the vote in San Juan County. But they did no such thing. For people who love to spew out press releases and shout on blogs, their silence was curious--and also revealing.

The rest of us must speak out against both the effort to push new food-label laws and the even more harmful agenda that lies behind it. We know the truth about modern food and agriculture, and it’s our job once again to make sure voters hear about it as well.

Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade &Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

India Must Listen to Its Farmers: An Indian Farmer’s Appeal to Access Biotechnology

Dec 06, 2012

 By V. Ravichandran:  Tamil Nadu, India


Farming in India has reached a very crucial phase.  In a scenario of rising consumption needs and aspirations, and dwindling or varying natural resources, it has become imperative for India to innovate or access appropriate technologies that will enhance our agricultural productivity efficiently.

Since the Green Revolution in the 1960’s, researchers, government and the private sector have been working relentlessly to improve the efficiency and productivity of agriculture in our country, blending science with traditional knowledge so the farming system will be more responsive to the needs of its farmers.

Today, the progress we have made is in jeopardy. We are under attack from several anti-technology activists who are using false and unfounded allegations to question our desire to have access to better technologies and seeds. They have gone so far as to request that our Supreme Court place a ten-year ban on GM crop field trials in India;  a radical and ignorant proposal that could  devastate Indian agriculture at a time when farmers must grow more food just to keep up with a population that recently boomed past 1.2 billion people.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court rejected this outrageous idea.

The worst may be yet to come, however: The Court appointed a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) to assess the benefits of GM plants, but the body lacks a single member who is an expert on the science of how modern technology can improve farm productivity.

So the "expert" committee lacks expertise.

Early next year, the Technical Expert Committee will issue a new and more detailed report. It will receive full consideration, even if it includes suggestions as harmful as the one our country just dodged.

Enough is enough. Why must India’s farmers always be held back? We should enjoy the right to grow the food our country desperately needs.

India must transform its attitude toward biotechnology and embrace the science that is helping farmers in the United States and other countries achieve record levels of food production.

Around the globe, farmers have harvested more than 3 billion acres of biotech crops. The food they produce has become a part of conventional diets. Both farmers and consumers benefit: Farmers grow more food on their land and consumers see their food bills kept in check.

Yet India’s government has failed to keep up with the times.

A decade ago, it permitted the commercial cultivation of GM cotton—and ever since, yields have soared, both on my 60-acre farm in Tamil Nadu and across the nation. The proof of performance can be seen in our fields, where cotton production went up by 154 percent. The evidence is right in front of our faces.

Instead of trying to repeat this success by allowing farmers to grow other varieties of biotech plants, however, the government has permitted political protestors to dictate agricultural policy. More than 6 million of us now grow GM cotton, but we’re still forbidden from growing the kinds of food crops that farmers in Argentina, Canada, the Philippines, and elsewhere take for granted.

Nearly three years ago, we were about to take a big step forward with the advent of GM brinjal, a culinary vegetable that people in other countries call eggplant. Scientists recommended it and farmers wanted it. But the government said no, simply because a few loud voices were able to shout down common sense.

As I write this, I am battling on my farm to salvage my rice crop.  This year, I’ve had to contend with a drought, followed by a monsoon, and then a brand-new dry spell. Modern technology holds out the promise of seeds that can endure the worst that weather can throw at us--everything from low moisture to submersion in water. In addition to the challenges of climate, farmers also must beat their traditional foes: weeds, pests, and disease. I am convinced biotechnology can help with that too.

But only if we enjoy access to the best agricultural tools that science can deliver.

India is a poor country, and sometimes I’m forced to wonder if anti-GM activists want to keep us that way.

The choice is clear: We can remain poor, and always be reaching for the begging bowl, or we can work together to come up with 21st-century solutions to our most pressing problems.

Up to now, we have for the most part chosen foolishly. To reverse course, our Supreme Court must continue to treat the advice of its own Technical Expert Committee with the skepticism it so richly deserves.

The next step is to choose wisely. That means listening, at long last, to the people who appreciate the true potential of biotechnology: India’s own farmers.

Mr. 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 & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).

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