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Aug 29, 2014
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February 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.

Biotechnology is Making South Africa and the World Better

Feb 27, 2014

 By Eve Ntseoane:  Kaalfontein, Gauteng Province, South Africa

 
I used to be skeptical of GM crops. Then I saw what they can do. Now I’m a true believer: Biotechnology is a boon to farmers everywhere, most especially in the developing world.
 
My farm, Eve’s Eden, is in South Africa, on 539 hectares. About half of my land is arable. Beef cattle graze on the rest.
 
I went into farming in 2007, after my country’s government distributed land to previously disadvantaged groups. That year, I planted 100 hectares of corn. But pests ravaged my crops. I managed to harvest only a little more than two metric tons per hectare—a big disappointment. The same thing happened the next year. So I quit planting and devoted my land entirely to cattle.
 
Three years ago, however, I learned how biotechnology protects crops from pests. This was an intriguing idea, but my earlier experience had turned me against raising crops of any type. I didn’t want another letdown.
 
I planted GM corn in a test plot of two hectares and hoped for the best.
 
The result was astonishing. The pests stayed away. Those two hectares yielded 14 metric tons of corn. All of a sudden, my land’s productivity had tripled. I grew more food on less land.
 
Now I’m sold on GM crops, as are millions of other farmers. The latest annual report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has the details: Last year, I was one of the 18 million farmers in 27 countries who planted GM crops on 1.6 billion hectares—an area of land equivalent in size to one and a half Chinas.
 
A particular line from the report’s press release resonated with me: "Nearly 100 percent of farmers who try biotech crops continue to plant them year after year."
 
That sums up my experience: I tried biotech crops and loved them, and now I can’t imagine farming any other way.
 
One year ago, ISAAA reported that for the first time, farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America planted slightly more GM crops than farmers in North America and Europe—in other words, the developing world outpaced the industrial world in utilizing this technology. The 2013 report shows that this gap has continued to widen, with developing countries now accounting for 54 percent of GM-crop plantings.
 
All signs suggest that this trend will continue. In 2013, Bangladesh approved GM brinjal (also known as eggplant), an act that India and the Philippines hope to follow. Indonesia authorized GM sugarcane for food and Panama endorsed the planting of GM corn. In Africa, seven countries are on the verge of commercializing GM crops: Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda.
 
This is no surprise to me, as I’ve seen the benefits of GM crops with my own eyes. Yet my story is just an anecdote. Data drives the ISAAA report: Between 1996 and 2012, GM crops have generated 377 million metric tons of food that simply wouldn’t exist without biotechnology. Farmers also have eliminated about half a billion kilograms of pesticide from the environment and conserved 123 million hectares of potential farmland.
 
These benefits only will grow in the future.
 
Biotechnology already is helping farmers defeat pests. Within a few years, it will help us resist drought—another constant scourge to those who work the land.
 
Agriculture always has been a risky business. With the looming threat of climate change, however, it seems riskier than ever.
 
For the last three years, my region of South Africa has suffered dearly from a lack of moisture. Many frustrated smallholders have quit farming.
 
We need a solution—and biotechnology may provide it soon.
 
In the United States last year, farmers planted 50,000 hectares of drought-tolerant corn, according to the ISAAA. They’ll probably grow even more this summer.
 
Drought-tolerant corn will reach Africa in 2017, says the ISAAA report. When it does, the effect will be immediate and profound: "Drought is the biggest constraint to maize productivity in Africa, on which 300 million Africans depend for survival."
 
Biotechnology is making the world better—and we’re only beginning to understand and appreciate how it can help us in the future.
 
Eve Ntseoane is an emerging farmer, raising maize and beef cattle in Kaalfontein, Emfuleni Municipality in Gauteng Province, South Africa.  Eve is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network(www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

US Needs Trade Promotion Authority to Close Trade Deals

Feb 20, 2014

 By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa

 
"Today in America……a farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history."
 
"And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped "Made in the USA."
 
President Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union address
 
In public, President Obama talks up the value of free trade. Unfortunately, he doesn’t where it may matter most: in private.
 
This failure comes at a bad moment, as trade ministers prepare to gather in Singapore on February 22 to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact that promises to improve the flow of goods and services around the Pacific Rim. By refusing to push for trade at every opportunity, President Obama threatens American job creation and economic growth.
 
I live in the middle of the country, in the landlocked state of Iowa. But trade matters to me, as it does to farmers and ranchers all over the United States. Half of our soybeans and a third of our corn ships overseas. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that foreign sales of American fruits, grains, meats, and dairy almost have tripled since 2000.
 
This activity provides an incredible stimulus to our economy—and there’s more on the way, if only we choose to take advantage of it.
 
The planet is adding people all the time. Our global population will top 9 billion in 2050. That’s significant all by itself. But there is another important number we are watching and must plan for.  In a similar time span, an additional 2 billion people will move into the middle-class and many of these consumers will expect to eat protein-rich diets. Think about what that means: two Chinas of potential new customers. Today’s China is already the leading buyer of U.S. farm exports, edging out Canada.
 
America’s farmers are ready and willing to keep on planting, harvesting, and selling, especially as new technologies help us grow more food on less land.
 
To take full advantage of this prospect, however, we’ll need political leaders who are committed to maintaining existing markets and opening new ones.
 
President Obama’s reluctance to lead the way became clear on February 3, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a fellow Democrat, emerged from a long meeting at the White House. A reporter asked Reid if he and the president had discussed trade. Reid’s reply was as blunt as it was discouraging: "No."
 
Less than a week earlier, Reid had rebuked President Obama for urging Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a legislative device that will help the United States negotiate free-trade agreements. "We need to work together on tools like bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’" said the president, in his State of the Union speech.
 
Hours later, Reid punched back: "I’m against fast-trade," he said, referring to TPA. "I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now."
 
Coming from a man who has served as President Obama’s dutiful lieutenant for the last five years, this was an astonishing remark. A day after the president had addressed the nation on prime-time television, conversation in Washington switched away from what he had said and toward Reid’s open defiance.
 
So when President Obama and Reid met to review legislative priorities, everyone expected the president to dress-down his erstwhile ally. Yet President Obama decided to avoid the matter entirely.
 
When it comes to trade, the White House strategy is all style and no substance. It involves saying nice things in public and doing nothing in private.
 
President Obama’s greatest accomplishment on trade is to have persuaded Congress to approve agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. These deals are already benefiting American consumers and producers—and the president deserves a portion of the credit for their final passage.
 
Yet they had been negotiated during the Bush administration. If presidents were pitchers, Bush would earn the win and Obama would get the save.
 
Baseball clubs can win games without 9th-inning relievers. But they can’t win without good starters.
 
President Obama’s trade team has started two sets of talks that may yet produce results in separate deals with the EU and 11 Pacific Rim nations. We’ve already heard a lot about these opportunities in speeches.
 
Now it’s time for the President and Congress to take some pitches and hit a couple out of the park!
 
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).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Chipotle Unnecessarily Tears Down Agriculture to Build a Brand

Feb 13, 2014

 By Ted Sheely:  Lemoore, California

 
In the boardrooms of Madison Avenue, they call it "values branding": a marketing strategy in which a company tries to instill a feeling of righteousness in the customers who buy its products.
 
But what kind of values would inspire a corporation to wage a smear campaign against America’s farmers?
 
That’s the question I asked after learning about the latest ploy of Chipotle Mexican Grill: a series of four 30-minute videos, scheduled to debut next week on Hulu, the online television service. Called "Farmed and Dangerous," it is, in the words of the New York Times, "a full-throated attack on ‘industrial agriculture,’ complete with a Dr. Strangelove-like scientist inventing eight-winged chickens."
 
Apparently the show also features exploding cows.
 
Maybe it’s funny, if you enjoy that sort of thing. Like a Super Bowl commercial with a laugh-out-loud gag, however, the point is not simply to earn a chuckle. Chipotle wants to boost its sales. "Farmed and Dangerous" is an expensive scheme to suggest that the act of buying burritos and tacos at Chipotle is morally superior to the act of buying them elsewhere.
 
As a business decision, it may make sense. But let’s not forget what this really is: propaganda. And it is intended to mock and discredit the honest work of farmers like me.
 
That’s rich, coming from a corporation that owns more than 1,500 restaurants and boasts a stock-market value of more than $15 billion. Its shares currently trade at about $550 apiece.
 
Chipotle was once a small fast-food restaurant chain in Colorado. Then, in the 1990s, McDonald’s became a major investor and Chipotle experienced super-sized growth. By the time McDonald’s sold its stake, Chipotle was a fast-food success story.
 
For the last few years, Chipotle has tried to brand itself as a source of "natural" and "sustainable" food. Steve Ells, its CEO, recently wrote about Chipotle’s "commitment to remove GMOs from our food to the fullest extent possible." He added that "there is an active debate" over the safety of foods with GMO ingredients.
 
That’s true, in the sense that there was once an "active debate" over whether the earth is round or flat. Every responsible organization that has studied the safety of GMOs has come down squarely on their side, from the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization. The only people who dispute these findings are modern-day flat-earthers.
 
Not only are GMOs a proven source of good nutrition, they’re also good for the environment. They help farmers conserve soil and let us grow more food on less land. Mainstream foods with GMO ingredients can and do exist side-by-side with organic foods and other options. That’s what happens on my farm in California, where I raise GMO cotton alongside organic onions.
 
As a practical matter, Chipotle is going to have a tough time keeping its food-sourcing promises. I once did business with a major retailer that considered moving its entire line of t-shirts and underwear to all-organic cotton. It quickly became obvious that there wasn’t enough organic cotton in the world to meet this demand. Organic crops are niche products, hard to grow and expensive to sell.
 
The same rules apply to Chipotle. The fast-food chain is almost certain to hike its prices this year, according to accounts in the business media. Perhaps consumers are willing to open their wallets. And who am I to say they shouldn’t? Choices are good, and Chipotle is free to try to persuade people to pay a premium for their food.
 
Yet Chipotle’s customers should think twice about their options. Last year, the progressive magazine Mother Jones took a close look at the corporation’s claims and offered this advice: "If … you want to eat organic, avoid GMOs, and get food that’s locally sourced—your best bet is to go to a grocery store."
 
As a farmer, I welcome an open dialogue and discussion about how I grow the food my family and yours eats. It’s a great story and I’m very proud of what I do.  Sarcasm, however, is not a productive route to building that type of conversation.
 
"Farmed and Dangerous" shows that Chipotle is not content to promote a positive image of itself, or to achieve a peaceful coexistence with American farmers who participate in modern agriculture. Instead, it wants to build itself up by tearing others down, rejecting the famous observation of Irwin Himmel: "No one has ever made himself great by showing how small someone else is."
 
Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, onions, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley.  He volunteers as a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Fruitful Lessons from Papayas to Oranges

Feb 06, 2014

*Note - this week's column first appeared at The Huffington Post on Feb 3

 

By Joni Kamiya-Rose: Kaneohe, Hawaii

 
It was the saddest sight I’ve ever seen: My father’s fields turned into a diseased wasteland of trees.
 
Where papaya trees once stood, thick with leaves and fruit, only dead stumps remained. His life’s work as a farmer seemed to vanish, due to a lethal virus that nearly wiped out Hawaii’s papaya industry.
 
Access to cutting-edge technology saved my father’s farm and Hawaii’s papayas—and if we learn the right lessons from this story, it may rescue America’s oranges from a similar threat.
 
Growing up on a farm, I couldn’t imagine a life without papayas. Even as kids, we helped with the crop. I thought my dad was the meanest dad in the world: He forced us out of bed on Saturday mornings to do our part. When my friends were watching cartoons, I was washing papayas, slapping stickers on them, and preparing their wooden cases for shipments.
 
It really wasn’t that bad, of course. We also took breaks at the beach with my grandfather and played in a stream next to the field. It was good family time, and we also learned about the importance of hard work and dedication to quality.
 
So when the papaya ringspot virus attacked in the 1990s, it ravaged not only the economy, but also a way of life. Our family and the other papaya growers watched helplessly as the virus would start as rings on the leaves and fruit, eventually weakening the tree so much it could not produce fruit.  The only way to control the virus was to chop down the trees. The empty spots in the fields eventually became depressing acres of stumps.  Papayas, a staple for many elderly folks, became almost non-existent in the markets, meaning there were less local fruits.
 
I was in college then, and farming didn’t look like a professional option. The papayas were dying. My father was suffering. So I went into a completely different field.
 
I played a small part in protecting Hawaii’s papayas, however. As a student, I worked in my university’s plant pathology lab, aiding scientists who researched ways to defeat the ringspot virus. I inoculated trees and planted seedlings, under the guidance of researchers who understood the promise of biotechnology.
 
Science eventually saved Hawaii’s papaya—as well as my father’s farm. Today’s papaya trees carry a natural resistance to the ringspot virus. My father’s farm is back in business. His fields are full of trees that bear safe and nutritious fruit. People eat what he grows once again.
 
We owe it all to biotechnology.
 
I think of my family’s story whenever I hear about the current threat to America’s oranges.
 
The daughters of orange growers soon may look on their fathers’ fields and see nothing but empty fields. Some of them already do, in fact.
 
That’s because a bacterial infection has started to devastate orange groves in Florida and beyond. Spread by bugs, it attacks the roots of orange trees. They drop their fruit before it ripens. Then the trees begin to die.
 
The phenomenon is called "citrus greening." It first showed up more than a decade ago. In the last few years, it has appeared just about everywhere Americans grow oranges.
 
Farmers, scientists, and other agricultural experts now wonder if we’ll still be able to raise oranges in the United States in just a few years.
 
Think about that tomorrow morning, when you’re enjoying a cold glass of orange juice.
 
The good news is that biotechnology promises a solution, just as it did for Hawaii’s papayas.
 
Research suggests that scientists may be able to thwart citrus greening by inserting a gene from spinach plants into orange trees, providing the trees with a natural way to resist the bacteria. In its fundamentals, this is the same technique that worked for papayas.
 
This approach may represent the last, best hope for America’s oranges. Testing is underway.
 
Not unlike some of the papaya growers, some orange growers are worried. They wonder if consumers will accept genetically modified oranges. Although we eat food with genetically modified ingredients every day, an ideological movement seeks to defame modern science.
 
Will the oranges survive? The experience of Hawaii’s papayas suggests that there is nothing inevitable about citrus greening. With the tools of modern science, we have the ability to overcome the worst assaults on our favorite foods. Yet we must affirmatively choose this option, and then let farmers have access to what it provides.
 
We saved the papayas. We can save the oranges. The choice is ours.
 
Joni Kamiya-Rose is a farmer’s daughter, health professional, wife and mother who grew up on a papaya farm in Hawaii.  Joni is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.
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