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October 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.

Pulling Back the Dr. Oz Green Curtain Cover-Up

Oct 25, 2012
By Tim Burrack:  Arlington, Iowa
 
 
To find the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends followed the yellow brick road, defeated a wicked witch, and pulled back a green curtain.
 
To see "The Dr. Oz Show," all you have to do is watch television on a weekday afternoon.
 
But somebody still needs to pull back the curtain and reveal the truth behind the nonsense.
 
At least that was my conclusion after catching an episode last week on genetically modified food. Although Dr. Oz made half-hearted gestures toward fair-minded balance, he let his program become a soapbox for wild accusations, unsubstantiated claims, and hysterical advice.
 
By the end, Dr. Oz was warning viewers not to eat any canola, corn, papayas, soy, or sugar beets grown in the United States because they may be products of biotechnology. His show turned into an infomercial for Proposition 37, a badly flawed anti-biotech ballot initiative that soon goes before California voters.
 
Dr. Oz is Mehmet Oz, a medical doctor who became a television celebrity for his guest appearances with Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and others. Three years ago, he launched his own show and now millions of viewers tune in.
 
Sometimes they receive sound medical and nutritional advice. Other times, however, they hear about quack therapies such as "energy healing" or obtain instructions on using psychics to communicate with dead people. Oz is a two-time recipient of the Pigasus Award, a tongue-in-cheek prize whose purpose is to expose media frauds and junk-science peddlers.
 
I’m not a physician, but my advice is only to watch Dr. Oz with a heavy dose of skepticism.
 
I had taken a personal interest in the October 17 show because I had been invited to appear on it, and was looking forward to describing the benefits of 21st-century agriculture to a general audience.
 
Alas, the producers called back and said they didn’t need me. One of the iron laws of talk-show television is that you can’t be sure you’re on until you’re actually on.
 
Yet I still want to say my piece. People need to know the truth about biotech crops--and much of what they heard from Dr. Oz was false.
 
I’ve been farming in Iowa for four decades, and I’ve seen agriculture evolve in countless ways. About 15 years ago, I started to grow GM plants. I witnessed the benefits immediately as my yields went up. I grew more food on the same land and did it with fewer chemical sprays. This is sustainable agriculture at work.
 
The benefits became even clearer this summer, during the drought. If it wasn’t the worst dry spell I’ve endured, it was the second-worst, following the one we suffered in 1988.
 
That year, I eked out just 93 bushels of corn per acre. This summer, I grew about 200, even though rainfall levels were the same.
 
The difference between then and now is the minimum tillage methods we use and the GM crop technology we have access to. As plants, they’re stronger, healthier, and just plain more robust. Even in terrible conditions, they produce.
 
If we’re going to feed a hungry world, we need crops like these--not merely for farmers like me, but for growers in the developing world.
 
Best of all, GM foods are completely safe. They’ve been tested and retested, winning endorsements from groups as diverse as the American Medical Association and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
 
Only cranks refuse to recognize this overwhelming consensus. Yet one of Dr. Oz’s guests talked like a conspiracy theorist, insulting the conclusions of the AMA and UNFAO as "tobacco science" and warning of "the cover-up."
 
Dr. Oz and other anti-biotech crusaders recently have tried to tout a European study that says GM foods cause cancer in rats. Yet they always fail to mention that mainstream scientists have debunked this study thoroughly.  Just this week, the High Court of Biotechnology which advises the French Government said the study is flawed.
 
Now that’s a cover-up worthy of the Wizard of Oz.
 
The real agenda of Dr. Oz’s show on biotech food was political. It aimed to promote California’s Prop. 37, a poorly written initiative that threatens to raise grocery-store prices, depress innovation, and pad the pockets of trial lawyers.
 
Upon pulling back the curtain, we discover that Dr. Oz is no wizard. He’s a charlatan.
 
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm.  He volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology.  www.truthabouttrade.org

 

Kenyan Farmer to California Voters: Your vote on Prop 37 will impact me

Oct 18, 2012

 By Gilbert arap Bor: Kapseret, Kenya

 

When the United States votes on November 6, many Kenyans will want to see if Americans will re-elect President Obama, with whom we share a kinship through his Kenyan father.

 

Yet there’s another election that matters even more to us--not just as Kenyans, but as Africans who live on a hungry continent, where food insecurity poses a daily threat.

 

Nobody outside California can vote on Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would require labels for many types of food that contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. If it passes, however, Proposition 37 will hurt global efforts to improve food production through modern technology.

 

Advocates of the proposal say that consumers have a right to know what they’re eating. That’s true enough, and the U.S. federal government already requires clear and comprehensive nutritional information to appear on food packages. The American Medical Association says that there is no scientific justification for adding additional details about biotech ingredients. It would simply confuse grocery-store shoppers, who might worry that such food presents a health risk.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the last 15 years, farmers around the world have grown more than 3 billion acres of GM crops. No credible scientific evidence has shown food with GM ingredients to have caused as much as a sneeze, let alone actual harm. GM crops are perfectly safe.

 

Farmers plant GM crops because they’re better than traditional varieties: They grow more food on less land, need fewer herbicides and pesticides, and fight soil erosion because they reduce tillage. They are models of economic and environmental sustainability.

 

They’re also essential to feeding the planet. Demographers say that by 2050, global food production must double. The only way to meet this goal is through innovation. Just as farmers throughout history have crossbred plants to create new crops, we must now deploy the modern tools of biotechnology to coax higher yields from existing agricultural land.

 

The good news is that many nations already have embraced GM farming. In the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, the vast majority of corn and soybeans are the products of biotechnology. They’re no longer cutting-edge crops, but utterly conventional. People eat food with GM ingredients every day.

 

Yet in many poor countries--and especially in sub-Saharan Africa--biotechnology has spread slowly. Anti-globalization activists have crusaded against them, wrongly insisting that old-fashioned farming practices are adequate in the 21st century. Tellingly, few of these protestors have backgrounds in either farming or the science of crop biotechnology.

 

When it comes to food production, farmers know best. Here in Kenya, our access to biotech crops is limited--but we’re about to make significant progress, with the government’s imminent release of GM corn (maize) seed. It will help us feed a growing population.

 

The passage of Proposition 37, however, would undermine food security--right away in California, and very soon everywhere.

 

One study says that if Proposition 37 wins approval, the annual food costs of the average California family will rise by $350. That’s because the law’s complicated requirements would force food companies to alter their methods of packaging and production.

 

Yet Proposition 37 would carry an even higher price tag outside the borders of California. It would cast suspicion on a vital technology. Labels will stigmatize GM food, and companies that perform research and development into biotech agriculture will start to have second thoughts. If poor political choices can trump sound science, they may begin to invest their resources in other areas.

 

Africa has a rooting interest in these developments. Not only do we want basic varieties of GM corn, but we hope to have access to other kinds of GM crops plus different types of GM traits, such as drought resistance. This is the key to my continent’s ability to feed itself.

 

Thomas Friedman reminds us that the world is flat: We live in a global village, where legal and scientific events that occur in one place quickly reverberate in the four corners of the earth. Political decisions in California will soon catch up with farmers everywhere, from Honduras to India to my little 25-acre farming plot in western Kenya.

 

Let’s hope that on Election Day, Californians vote locally and think globally.

 

Gilbert Arap Bor grows corn (maize), vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya.  He also teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus.  Mr. Bor is the 2011 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient and a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.By Gilbert arap Bor: Kapseret, Kenya

 

When the United States votes on November 6, many Kenyans will want to see if Americans will re-elect President Obama, with whom we share a kinship through his Kenyan father.

 

Yet there’s another election that matters even more to us--not just as Kenyans, but as Africans who live on a hungry continent, where food insecurity poses a daily threat.

 

Nobody outside California can vote on Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would require labels for many types of food that contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. If it passes, however, Proposition 37 will hurt global efforts to improve food production through modern technology.

 

Advocates of the proposal say that consumers have a right to know what they’re eating. That’s true enough, and the U.S. federal government already requires clear and comprehensive nutritional information to appear on food packages. The American Medical Association says that there is no scientific justification for adding additional details about biotech ingredients. It would simply confuse grocery-store shoppers, who might worry that such food presents a health risk.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the last 15 years, farmers around the world have grown more than 3 billion acres of GM crops. No credible scientific evidence has shown food with GM ingredients to have caused as much as a sneeze, let alone actual harm. GM crops are perfectly safe.

 

Farmers plant GM crops because they’re better than traditional varieties: They grow more food on less land, need fewer herbicides and pesticides, and fight soil erosion because they reduce tillage. They are models of economic and environmental sustainability.

 

They’re also essential to feeding the planet. Demographers say that by 2050, global food production must double. The only way to meet this goal is through innovation. Just as farmers throughout history have crossbred plants to create new crops, we must now deploy the modern tools of biotechnology to coax higher yields from existing agricultural land.

 

The good news is that many nations already have embraced GM farming. In the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, the vast majority of corn and soybeans are the products of biotechnology. They’re no longer cutting-edge crops, but utterly conventional. People eat food with GM ingredients every day.

 

Yet in many poor countries--and especially in sub-Saharan Africa--biotechnology has spread slowly. Anti-globalization activists have crusaded against them, wrongly insisting that old-fashioned farming practices are adequate in the 21st century. Tellingly, few of these protestors have backgrounds in either farming or the science of crop biotechnology.

 

When it comes to food production, farmers know best. Here in Kenya, our access to biotech crops is limited--but we’re about to make significant progress, with the government’s imminent release of GM corn (maize) seed. It will help us feed a growing population.

 

The passage of Proposition 37, however, would undermine food security--right away in California, and very soon everywhere.

 

One study says that if Proposition 37 wins approval, the annual food costs of the average California family will rise by $350. That’s because the law’s complicated requirements would force food companies to alter their methods of packaging and production.

 

Yet Proposition 37 would carry an even higher price tag outside the borders of California. It would cast suspicion on a vital technology. Labels will stigmatize GM food, and companies that perform research and development into biotech agriculture will start to have second thoughts. If poor political choices can trump sound science, they may begin to invest their resources in other areas.

 

Africa has a rooting interest in these developments. Not only do we want basic varieties of GM corn, but we hope to have access to other kinds of GM crops plus different types of GM traits, such as drought resistance. This is the key to my continent’s ability to feed itself.

 

Thomas Friedman reminds us that the world is flat: We live in a global village, where legal and scientific events that occur in one place quickly reverberate in the four corners of the earth. Political decisions in California will soon catch up with farmers everywhere, from Honduras to India to my little 25-acre farming plot in western Kenya.

 

Let’s hope that on Election Day, Californians vote locally and think globally.

 

Gilbert Arap Bor grows corn (maize), vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya.  He also teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus.  Mr. Bor is the 2011 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient and a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.

An Indian Smallholder Farmer Speaks Out: Allow Us to Embrace Biotechnology

Oct 11, 2012

 By Rajesh Kumar: Salem, India

My last visit to the United States changed the way I farm on the other side of the world.

In 2009, I traveled from India to Des Moines to attend the Global Farmers Roundtable, a project of Truth about Trade and Technology, held in conjunction with the World Food Prize. I met farmers from Iowa as well as Australia, Honduras, South Africa, and elsewhere. We learned about each other’s work, discussed common challenges and opportunities, and enjoyed some of the best sweet corn I’ve ever tasted.

When I returned to India, I worked with a group of local farmers to open a new sweet corn processing factory. The knowledge I gained in the United States made it possible. I’ll always be grateful to Iowa and the people I met at the Global Farmer Roundtable and World Food Prize for pointing us in the right direction. 

I hope Indian farmers can imitate Iowa farmers in other ways as well. Most importantly, we must embrace biotechnology--or at least we must be allowed to embrace biotechnology. Right now, large forces and special interests are blocking the way. They must be stopped.

More than 1.2 billion people call India home. By 2025, demographers say that we’ll pass China as the most populous nation on the planet.

Many of our people are already poor and malnourished--and the problem could grow worse. If we’re to thrive in the years ahead, India must adopt the very latest technologies in agriculture.

This happened once before, during the Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, when new seeds, methods, and equipment transformed farming in developing nations. The success of this movement is said to have saved billions of lives.

Now we have to do it again, this time with biotechnology as one of the tools. If last century’s improvement was the Green Revolution, then this century’s innovation is the Gene Revolution. The United States and many other countries--Argentina, Brazil, and Canada--already are taking full advantage of it. By growing genetically modified crops, their farmers enjoy large yields that are the envy of growers everywhere. 

Now much of the rest of the world must adopt this solution. India is not the only country with swelling numbers of people. To keep up with global growth, the world’s farmers have to double food production by 2050--and we have to do it largely on land that’s already in cultivation. In other words, we must grow more with less.

India faces particular problems. Our crop yields are stagnant or dropping. Many young people avoid farming, believing it’s a profession for the poor and illiterate. To top it off, our government does little to promote agriculture.

The problem isn’t that we have no biotechnology in India: Many farmers plant GM cotton. They know the amazing benefits. I’ve grown GM cotton several times myself, appreciating the boost in yield and the reduced reliance on herbicides. It requires just one spray, whereas non-GM cotton needs six applications or more. That makes GM cotton healthier for farmers, in addition to being economically sensible.

Yet we don’t have access to other kinds of biotechnology--most notably brinjal, which Americans call eggplant. For Indians, it’s a staple crop. In 2010, GM brinjal was on the verge of commercial approval. Researchers had perfected it and farmers wanted it, but our government in New Delhi said no. It bowed to political pressure from special interests that took advantage of widespread illiteracy and scientific ignorance.

I’m returning to the United States next week, once again for the World Food Prize. This time, I’m the recipient of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award. It’s a humbling honor--and one that I hope will allow me to go back to my home with additional credibility, as I continue to advocate for biotechnology in India as well as the rest of the developing world.

I want to keep on changing the way we farm--and I hope Americans will continue to help me and my fellow farmers make the most of the Gene Revolution, for the sake of India and the world.

Rajesh Kumar farms 120 acres in two regions of India, using irrigation to grow brinjal, sweet corn, baby corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. He sells fresh produce directly to consumers through kiosks at several locations and runs a food processing unit for canning of vegetables.  Mr.Kumar will be recognized as the 2012 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient in Des Moines, Iowa on October 16 during the TATT Global Farmer Roundtable / World Food Prize events.  He is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network.

You Have the Right to Know What California Prop 37 Really Does!

Oct 04, 2012

 By Ted Sheely: Lemoore, California

 
The pistachios I grow on my farm aren’t genetically modified, so I was astonished to learn that if Proposition 37 passes next month, the new labeling law will affect my crop.
 
There won’t even be a good reason for it. Prop 37 would deliver another hard blow in a bad economy--and it will hurt not just me, but every Californian.
 
Advocates of Prop 37 say they support the "right to know." They repeat this phrase like a mantra.
 
So let’s exercise our right to know. Prop 37 is widely described as a referendum to require special labels for foods with genetically modified ingredients, but it’s much more than this. Its wording is full of political agendas, bizarre contradictions, and hidden costs that will drive up your grocery-store bill.
 
The first thing to know is that Prop 37 wasn’t drafted by concerned consumers. Instead, it was written by a trial lawyer, James Wheaton. He and his fellow litigators have a financial stake in the passage of Prop 37. Their scheme is to search for opportunities to sue anybody who fails to comply with Prop 37’s complicated requirements.
 
A number of years ago, Wheaton wrote Prop 65, an ineffective law that requires business to post signs about chemicals. Wheaton’s law firm has collected more than $3 million by suing California businesses for alleged violations of Prop 65, many of them minor.
 
Mom-and-pop grocers may find themselves especially vulnerable to Prop 37 lawsuits because unlike chain stores, they don’t retain lawyers to help them navigate the fine print of new regulations. They’ll be easy marks for aggressive attorneys.
 
While Wheaton and his lawyer buddies get rich, you’re going to become a bit poorer. According to one estimate, Prop 37 will make the average California family spend an extra $350 per year on food. That’s because the law will demand new methods of production, distribution, and packaging. Companies will pass these additional costs on to consumers.
 
People who are least able to pay will suffer the most: seniors on fixed incomes, the unemployed, and the poor.
 
Perhaps these high costs would be worth it if Prop 37 were to deliver a benefit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. "There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods," said the American Medical Association this summer, in an official policy statement.
 
Who do you trust more about the safety and nutritional value of your food: lawyers or doctors?
 
Prop 37 is also full of loopholes. It carves out exceptions for food served in restaurants, which would not have to carry labels. Alcohol, cheese, meat, and milk also would receive special treatment.
 
Oddly enough, pet food probably will have to carry labels. That’s nice: Apparently your dog will enjoy a complete "right to know," even if you don’t.
 
No wonder the Sacramento Bee editorialized against Prop 37: "We don’t oppose labeling of genetically modified food," it wrote, but this particular referendum "is a classic example of an initiative that shouldn’t be on the ballot."
 
The weird treatment of my pistachio farm provides an excellent example of why Prop 37 is so misconceived.
 
My pistachio trees are not genetically modified, and they behave just as pistachio trees are supposed to behave: They grow nuts, whose shells crack open naturally. We harvest the pistachios, then roast and salt them.
 
Before shipping them off, we put them in packages, which describe our product as "naturally opened pistachios." That’s what they are, so that’s what we call them.
 
Prop 37 will make us stop. The problem is the word "naturally." Our pistachio shells may split open on their own, without any human help. Yet we can’t say they open "naturally" because Prop 37 redefines the word. When we roast and salt our pistachios, we somehow make them unnatural--at least according to Prop 37’s crazy definition.
 
If Prop 37 passes, I’ll suffer from a competitive disadvantage. I’ll have to rethink my entire business model because of a flawed law. Meantime, trial lawyers will line their pockets as you bear the cost of higher food prices for pistachios and many other ordinary products.
 
Fellow Californians: You not only have a right to know this--you need to know this.
 
 
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
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