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October 2013 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.

Philippine Farmer to Washington Voters: Your vote on I-522 will impact me

Oct 31, 2013

 By Rosalie Ellasus: San Jacinto, Philippines

 
I live almost 7,000 miles away from Seattle, but here in the Philippines I’m keeping close tabs on I-522, the ballot initiative in the state of Washington to require special labels for food with genetically modified ingredients.
 
And many of my fellow Filipino farmers are watching closely with me. We are hopeful that voters in Washington will reject this badly flawed initiative on November 5.
 
If they don’t, we worry that their decision will threaten our livelihoods here.
 
How could a statewide referendum on one side of the Pacific Ocean influence farmers on the other side?
 
The question may sound strange, but the answer is simple: The world looks to the United States for leadership, especially in matters of science and regulation. This is doubly true in the Philippines, with its historic ties to the United States and the large number of Filipino immigrants now living within U.S. borders. More than 130,000 Filipinos call Washington home, making them the state’s largest group of Asian Americans.
 
So if Washington approves I-522, its voters will send a powerful message—and it will say that Washington voters have rejected science and believe – wrongly – that foods with GM ingredients are suspicious and deserve warning labels.
 
This would be terrible for farmers in the Philippines.
 
Here at home, we’re locked in a battle over food security, trying to grow enough food to feed our nation of more than 90 million people. As farmers, we face all of the traditional threats: weeds, pests, and droughts. New concerns about conservation and climate change make the job even more challenging.
 
To make ends meet, we need every available tool, including biotechnology. Passage of I-522, however, will encourage our government to believe that Americans are newly skeptical about GM crops.
 
These plants already have been an incredible blessing: This proven technology allows us to grow more food on less land than ever before. The seeds cost more to buy, but they’re worth it—a clear case of "you get what you pay for."
 
The rumor that GM crops are dangerous is just plain silly: Groups ranging from the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization have deemed them completely safe. If I had harbored even the slightest doubt about them, I would not have fed them to my family.
 
Not only are these crops safe—they’re actually safer than non-GM crops. That’s because they’ve allowed maize (corn) farmers like me to decrease our reliance on herbicides and pesticides. Although these sprays are safe for consumers, they can pose hazards for farmers in the field. We’re much less exposed to them now, thanks to biotechnology.
 
These plants are so good at fighting weeds we’re even tilling our fields less. So we’re both growing more food and preventing soil erosion.
 
GM crops are not just environmentally sustainable—they’re also economically viable. If I had not started planting GM corn when it first became available, I probably would not have been able to afford to send my three sons to college.
 
These plants also hold tremendous potential to fight the scourge of malnutrition, such as vitamin A deficiency, which can cause blindness and even death. Golden rice, an experimental GM plant developed with the assistance of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, boosts vitamin A and could become a key to the health of children in the developing world.
 
Yet even this has become controversial, thanks to a toxic mix of ideology and ignorance.
 
In August, a group of anti-GM activists destroyed a paddy field of golden rice—an attack on the very idea of scientific research. We’ve recently learned that the group behind this destruction was funded in part by Swedish foreign aid. The government and people of Sweden probably have no idea that the misuse of their funds is making it harder for Filipinos to farm.
 
Approval of I-522 won’t stop me from growing GM crops next season, but it would send a signal that Americans have new doubts about biotechnology. It could cause another delay, for instance, in my country’s approval of GM talong (also known as eggplant), which is a staple food here.
 
For the sake of my country’s food security—the ability of farmers to grow more food in sustainable ways—I hope the voters of Washington state will reject I-522.
 

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 and 2007 recipient of the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Just Say No to Washington State Labeling Initiative

Oct 30, 2013

 By Ted Sheely:  Lemoore, California

 
As voters in Washington state go to the ballot box on November 5 to consider special labels for foods with genetically-modified ingredients, I have a single thought: I’ve seen this movie before.
 
A year ago, I was caught in the middle of my own state’s battle over labels, in an election that saw a majority of Californians reject Proposition 37, which sought to do many of the same things as Washington’s I-522. Even earlier, Oregon voters also said no to special labels.
 
Washington state’s Pacific coast neighbors made the right decision: Passage of these initiatives in California and Oregon would have increased the cost of food and encouraged frivolous lawsuits.
 
Citizens in Washington would be wise to rebuff I-522 as well.
 
The fundamental problem with I-522 is that it’s not about food labels at all. The real agenda of the special-interest groups that favor it is something more radical: They want to ban all GM foods, even though they’re a perfectly safe and healthy choice, as organizations ranging from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the American Medical Association continue to point out.
 
Their agenda is one-part ideological (hostility to modern methods of food production) and one-part commercial (many of them have a stake in the organic food industry, which they assume would benefit from I-522’s passage).
 
This small-minded, self-interested thinking ignores an important reality: The world needs GM crops and foods. With a population rocketing toward 9 billion by 2050, our planet must figure out how to produce more food on less land. This is one of the most urgent tasks of our century, involving questions of human life and environmental wellbeing. What you do in Washington State will impact others who want access to this safe technology.
 
Agriculture biotechnology is not the only solution, but it’s a necessary element. Farmers want access to these tools so they can defeat pests and weeds, withstand droughts, make more efficient use of water—and grow the food we need in a sustainable way.
 
If you believe in thinking globally and acting locally, then think about all the people around the globe who depend on modern methods of food production—and then act locally by rejecting a ballot initiative that will make GM foods harder to produce and costlier to consume.
 
Here’s another troubling fact to consider: If I-522 passes, grocery-store bills in the state of Washington will rise by about $450 per year for a family of four, according to the Washington Research Council.
 
Wealthy people may be able to absorb this financial blow without much discomfort. For struggling families, however, I-522 would function like a regressive tax. Worst of all, it’s a regressive tax on something they cannot live without.
 
So opposing I-522 doesn’t even require the vision to think globally. Just think locally: Think of neighbors who are unemployed or forced into part-time work because of a stagnant economy, seniors on fixed incomes, and young people with low-wage jobs.
 
Should they be forced to spend more money on food?
 
We all want safe food, and if I-522 were about food safety, then it might deserve backing. Yet every serious scientist and researcher who has examined GM food agrees that it’s perfectly safe. We’ve been eating GM products for years, without any negative consequences for public health. For more than a decade, most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States have been genetically modified. If they were bad for us, we’d know by now.
 
As I listen to the debate over I-522, I’m reminded of what happened here in California just 12 months ago. On first glance, the idea of stronger labeling standards sounded appealing. After voters learned more about the proposed law, however, they began to see its flaws and understand all of its bad side effects and unintended consequences.
 
The Seattle Times took a close look at I-522 and urged its readers to vote it down. It’s "a clumsy, emotion-laden campaign" based on "alarmist concerns" rather than sound science.
 
I-522 may feel like a bad movie. In this case, however, you can’t just leave the theater. Instead, you must head to the voting booth and just say no.
 
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 of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Challenges and Opportunities of Farming in India

Oct 17, 2013

 By V. Ravichandran: Tamil Nadu, India

Cyclone Phailin smashed into the eastern coast of India on Sunday, leaving a path of death and destruction whose toll is still being calculated. The devastation from winds that averaged more than 120 miles per hour probably would have been worse if the government hadn’t ordered the evacuation of roughly 800,000 people, one of the biggest in history.

I missed the brunt of the storm. My farm lies to the south of the cyclone’s path, and I’ve also been traveling to the United States to participate in Global Farmer Roundtable at the World Food Prize conference. I’m grateful and honored to accept this year’s Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award—a high honor in its own right, and perhaps an even higher one as we approach the centennial year of Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution and a man whose pioneering work in agriculture saved over a billion lives.
 
As much as I appreciate the opportunity to visit Des Moines, many of my thoughts are with the people back home.  While deadlier tempests have thrashed their way across India throughout my country’s history, Cyclone Phailin has caused significant damage.
 
The Indian Meteorological Department has warned of extensive agricultural damage. The decimation will make life even harder for the small-scale farmers who toil on more than 90 percent of India’s farmland. They have an important job to do: They must grow the food that feeds the world’s second most populous nation.
 
Yet cyclones are not our most troubling problem. Indian agriculture faces challenges on too many fronts to count.
 
Rapid urbanization is taking farmland out of food production, pushing farmhands to move from villages to towns and cities in search of alternative employment. Young Indians increasingly resist careers in agriculture because they believe other jobs lead to more personal prosperity.
 
To make matters worse, the cost of cultivation keeps going up. Pests, weeds, and disease pose constant threats. Poor infrastructure, including a lack of storage facilities, puts our crops at risk even after successful harvests.
 
Climate change is having a bad influence as well: Cyclone Phailin has dumped an enormous amount of rain on India, but last year we had almost drought like conditions in many parts of India.  The success or failure of our farming is monsoon dependent.  The monsoons that traditionally provide normal levels of precipitation have become less dependable and we don’t have precise weather prediction which would enable us to plan our farming strategy. 
 
All of this puts our food security at risk. In a nation of more than 1 billion citizens, the stakes are high indeed.
 
If we’re going to be serious about producing more food on less land, then India must embrace agricultural biotechnology as part of the solution.
 
We’ve already learned through experience about the benefits of genetically modified cotton. The success story of Bt cotton stands as a testimony for the robustness of the technology.  More than 90 percent of India’s cotton farmers now use biotechnology because they’ve seen how it works. We need to adopt the same type of technology to other crops, just as the United States and so many of the other countries in the western hemisphere and elsewhere have done.
 
A logical first step is approval of GM brinjal—something that may happen soon, in the wake of Bangladesh’s decision to permit the commercialization of this staple food (known to many others as eggplant). Yet we can’t stop with a single plant. Just as Norman Borlaug sparked the Green Revolution, we must launch a Gene Revolution that harnesses the power of technology to grow more food.
 
We must direct our research effort to breed and develop climate resilient crops.  Researchers are already developing flood-resistant crops, which can survive submersion longer than conventional crops—an important and useful trait in a land vulnerable to cyclones. Paradoxically, we also need to look into drought resistance, so that we’re ready for any eventuality.   And in India’s vast coastal belts the soil is turning saline due to sea water ingression making salinity tolerant crops a needed tool. The list is endless.
 
There is no magic formula.  It is possible only through adoption of scientifically proven, well-established technologies.  Even then, technology won’t solve all of our problems. Many of Indian agriculture’s biggest obstacles are political rather than scientific.   Decisions on farm technologies must be based only on their scientific merits and not on the basis of political science.
 
We, the farmers, besides earning for our families, have the social responsibility of feeding our populations with enough food and driving away hunger.  We must abandon the ignorance and fear that has caused India to resist biotechnology. The time has come to embrace its promise wholeheartedly, and let India’s farmers achieve food security by growing more food than ever before.  Whatever challenges we face, I am confident we can drive away hunger and malnutrition from our planet if India’s farmers are empowered to use the scientifically-proven technologies they choose.
 
The confidence placed in me by Truth About Trade & Technology encourages me to dedicate myself with renewed vigor in the encouragement and support of my fellow farmers.  We must – we will - stand together.
 
 
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 and is the 2013 recipient of the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

V. Ravichandran: We have a social obligation to uplift the lives of the less privileged

Oct 10, 2013

 By Mary Boote:  Des Moines, Iowa

 
Shortly after returning home from the World Food Prize in 2010, Indian farmer Ravichandran Vanchinathan sent me an email: "TATT has made me realize my social obligation to uplift the lives of the less privileged."
 
He had just travelled to Des Moines to participate in the Global Farmer Roundtable, a special project of the Truth about Trade and Technology Foundation (TATT).
 
In the three years since then, Ravi—as his friends call him—has become a recognized leading advocate of using technology to improve the lives of farmers in his country and elsewhere.
 
For this achievement, he is this year’s recipient of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award. Named for TATT’s longtime chairman Dean Kleckner, the award recognizes "strong leadership, vision, and resolve in advancing the rights of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity, and availability of agricultural products around the world."
 
Ravi grows rice, sugarcane, cotton, and pulses (small grains) on a 60-acre farm at Poongalum village in the state of Tamil Nadu, near the southern tip of India. By American standards, this would make him a small-scale producer. By the standards of his own country, he’s a larger-scale farmer.
 
I describe Ravi as a cutting-edge farmer, always on the lookout for new ways to improve his farm and the farms of his countrymen. What’s more, he has become one of India’s most consistent and compelling voices for genetically-modified crops as a needed tool-option at a time when India is trying to choose between empowering its farmers through the Gene Revolution and surrendering to a misguided ideology of fear that would prefer to deny farmers the means to participate fully in 21st-century agriculture.
 
Ravi has used technology to promote technology—he is a constant presence on Twitter (@FarmerRaviVKV) and Facebook and as a commenter on media websites. He post updates from his own field, often with pictures. There’s nothing quite as persuasive as the image of a developing-world farmer standing on his land and telling us that he wouldn’t use biotechnology if it wasn’t safe.
 
Last weekend, he shared a time-lapse video of adjacent rice paddies—one that was transplanted with Submergence Tolerant Rice, and one without. The comparison showed how technology can help crops survive complete submersion. Ravi pointed out what this means for ordinary people: "During floods, farmers in Bangladesh and India lose up to 4 million tons of rice per year—enough to feed 30 million people." He went on to offer flood-tolerant seeds to anybody who wants to try them.
 
Ravi also writes guest columns for TATT, delivering his message to an entirely different, global audience.
 
"India is a poor country, and sometimes I’m forced to wonder if anti-GM activists want to keep us that way," wrote Ravi in a column last year. He hailed his government’s decision not to impose a moratorium on GM crops, and called for New Delhi to approve the use of biotechnology in brinjal, a staple crop known in the United States as eggplant. Some signs suggest that with respect to brinjal, India’s leaders may come around to Ravi’s way of thinking.
 
His message doesn’t end with GM crops. In an April column, he explained why all farmers need access to fertilizer as well as education on its proper use. "Agricultural soil needs a balanced diet," he wrote. "That’s why fertilizer is so important. It’s the food that feeds the soil."
 
Yet powerful forces stand opposed. "It is really unfortunate that the policy makers of our governments seem to rely and be influenced by the vociferous, emotional, illogical outcry by the anti-science activists," he has said. "Though these activists are anti-science, they are extremely systematic and scientific in their approach in influencing the government politics through their bogus claims and allegations against GM crops."
 
This is our opportunity to stand with Ravi, doing what we can to tell our stories in support of a shared vision to help farmers feed the world and eradicate hunger by making the most of technology.
 
Dean Kleckner, in a personal letter of congratulations to Ravi, offered, "As we recognize the Centennial year of Dr. Borlaug, it is very appropriate to honor an Indian farmer who exemplifies Dr. Borlaug’s humility and tenacity in doing what it needed to get the appropriate technology and tools into the hands of farmers who will make the best use of them."
 
We agree.
 
Mary Boote serves as CEO for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).   V. Ravichandran will be officially recognized as the 2013 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient in Des Moines, Iowa on Tuesday, October 16, 2013.

Kenya Must Focus on the Heroes of Food Security

Oct 03, 2013

 By Gilbert arap Bor:  Kapseret, Kenya

 
Islamic terrorists murdered more than 60 people and injured more than 200 at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 21—a day that the United Nations has marked as "International Day of Peace" for more than three decades. Al-Shabab, a radical group based in Somalia, immediately claimed credit for the atrocity.
 
Now my countrymen want to know: How could this have happened? Why does Kenya deserve this violence?
 
It’s something we’ve asked before, in the bloodshed that followed our presidential election in 2007, when as many as 1,500 people died, and fifteen years earlier in the bombing of the U.S. embassy, a deadly incident that first brought the name Osama bin Laden to the attention of the American public.
 
At times like these, we tend to focus on those who commit these crimes—and ask how to prevent the next atrocity. In a well-received column for the Daily Nation, my country’s leading newspaper, Kenya’s Vision 2030 CEO, Mugo Kibati suggested that we improve the pay and working conditions of Kenya’s police force. "Our security infrastructure is glaringly wanting," he wrote.
 
We must think bigger, too.
 
There’s no such thing as national security without food security. Africa has countless problems, but many of them would be diminished if only we produced more food. I’m convinced that if our continent did a better job of feeding itself, we wouldn’t suffer so much violence.
 
So in addition to concentrating on the villains of the Westgate Mall massacre, we should focus on the heroes of food security. Let me tell you about three.
 
In two weeks, at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, Dr. Charity Kawira Mutegi, a 38-year-old Kenyan scientist, will receive the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. It honors researchers under the age of 40 who demonstrate "the scientific innovation and dedication to food security" that animated the life of Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for pioneering the "Green Revolution".
 
Dr. Mutegi has led efforts to solve the problem of aflatoxicosis, a mold that can contaminate grain. In 2004 and 2005, it was responsible for 125 deaths in eastern Kenya. Mutegi discovered the source of the outbreak and developed a method to prevent future calamities: By introducing non-toxic strains of the fungus that out-compete the toxic strains, farmers can fight aflatoxicosis at an affordable price and in an environmentally safe way.
 
I’ve attended the World Food Prize before. The annual gathering offers an excellent opportunity for farmers from around the world to get together and compare notes. I’m going again this year, and look forward to recognizing Mutegi and her accomplishments.
 
Another hero of food security is Miriam Kinyua, a Kenyan University of Eldoret professor who has overseen a project to defeat wheat rust, a disease that can destroy entire fields of crops. Using a technique called "mutation breeding," which exposes seeds to radiation and hastens the natural process of mutation, she developed several lines of wheat that resist wheat rust. Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture has approved two for commercial use, and six tons of the specialized wheat seeds are now becoming available for our next planting season.
 
Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian diplomat who once led the United Nations is another hero of food security. Unlike Mutegi and Kinyua, he is a household name. He currently chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a group based in Kenya. A month ago, it issued a report that applauded the potential of agricultural biotechnology—and described opposition to genetically modified crops as a "farce."
 
Only four African countries have commercialized GM crops, though five more, including Kenya, are currently engaged in field trials.
 
African countries should rethink their skepticism of GM crops, says AGRA: "It is important to point out that GM crops have been subject to more testing worldwide than any other new crops, and have been declared as safe as conventionally bred crops by scientific and food safety authorities worldwide."
 
Annan is one of the world’s most influential Africans. His group’s support of biotechnology will be indispensible as our continent tries to improve its food security.
 
Let’s hope the world is listening.
 
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 (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.
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