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Aug 30, 2014
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May 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.

India’s PM Modi Can Help Farmers By Putting Science And Technology To Use

May 29, 2014

 India’s PM Modi Can Help Farmers By Putting Science And Technology To Use

 
By Rajesh Kumar: Salem, India
 
The largest voter-turnout election in the history of the world offers the farmers of my country a remarkable opportunity to move into the 21st century.
 
More than half a billion of my fellow Indians finished voting last week. Narendra Modi will now be our Prime Minister, leading the Bharatiya Janata Party and its absolute majority in Parliament.
 
Modi and BJP prevailed for many reasons, from their pro-business outlook to public dissatisfaction with high inflation, slow growth, and widespread corruption under the previous government.
 
Farmers have a long list of complicated concerns:  low crop productivity, many are still using primitive production practices and climate change will continue to challenge us. As a progressive Prime Minister, the single most important thing Modi can do to help India’s farmers is to spread scientific farming throughout the country so we can increase the yield of crops in a sustainable way.
 
"I am all for technology," these are the words that Modi said in March, according to the Telegraph newspaper of Calcutta. "We should not discard a technology that helps farmers. We must have faith in science. … We must put technology and science to use, with regulations, and add value to produce."
 
As an Indian farmer, I am hopeful these words represent the principles of Modi’s farm policy. If they do, it means that Indian farmers soon will enjoy more access to better crops—including the GM crops that a frustrating mix of scientific illiteracy and ideological agendas have kept just beyond our reach.
 
Modi knows the potential of GM crops. For 13 years, he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, a state in northwest India. Under his leadership, the state recorded the highest growth rate in agriculture. This was no small accomplishment: More than half of all the land in Gujarat is farmed. Cotton leads the way—and cotton is the one GM crop that India has permitted farmers to plant.
 
When Modi stepped into office in Gujarat, GM cotton was not available to anyone. Early in his tenure, however, New Delhi allowed its commercialization. As soon as farmers saw that it improved their yields and cut down their reliance on insecticides, they wanted to take advantage of it. Today, more than eight out of every ten cotton farmers in India use biotechnology. Nobody forced them to do it: They chose to adopt GM cotton because it makes sense.
 
GM crops have transformed farming everywhere they’ve been adopted, as the Green Revolution evolves into a Gene Revolution. Last month, a farmer somewhere in the northern hemisphere planted the world’s 4-billionth acre of GM crops, according to Truth about Trade & Technology, an American non-profit group that monitors agriculture statistics. This is a safe and sustainable technology, endorsed by scientific bodies and regulatory agencies around the globe.
 
India, however, has failed to participate fully in the Gene Revolution. Although our farmers may plant GM cotton, our political leaders up to now have refused to allow the commercialization of GM food crops like brinjal (known to Americans as eggplant).
 
As a result, India’s farmers don’t meet their full potential. I’m one of them: I grow brinjal on my 55-acre farm in southern India, along with other vegetables. If farmers like me could plant GM brinjal, with the scientific truth behind its benefits, we’d grow more food. This would improve the economies of rural areas and also fight the hunger and malnutrition that plagues our nation.
 
During his campaign, Modi sidestepped questions about GM brinjal. Even so, I’m confident that as Prime Minister, he will open India to more types of biotechnology. He won’t do it all at once—he has many other problems to tackle. Moreover, the forces of opposition, though profoundly misinformed, are strong.
 
Following his historic victory, Modi not only has the truth on his side—he also has the people on his side. He must encourage the research and development in university and bring them to the fields in short time by making changes in law, granting access to knowledge from around the world and collaborating with agri-related organizations.
 
I am raising my voice as a farmer for the use of science and technology for farmers benefit. I believe India enjoys its best chance yet to become a nation of modern farming.   Modi, as our new leader, can guide us into the future and help get us there.
 
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 is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network and recipient of the 2012 TATT Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement award (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
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Mothers Want A Single, Sensible Food Labeling Standard

May 22, 2014

 By Carol Keiser:  Belleair, Florida

 
I have a big family—and between me, my kids, and my grandkids, we’re spread out across America. We live in Florida, California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas. We’re constantly traveling back and forth.
 
As we visit each other, we’re also preparing and sharing meals. Sometimes it feels like I spend as much time making trips to grocery stores as I do relaxing in homes!
 
Should food labels look different everywhere we go? Of course not. Americans need easy to read and understand standards that reveal pertinent information, no matter where we buy our food.
 
I’m a label reader.  When my grandchildren are grocery shopping with me – whether it is 21 year old Kellee or 4 year old Faith – I’m often asked "why are you reading the label" or "what does this label mean"? I depend on accurate and reliable labels for nutritional information and assume that labeled food products are safe and in compliance with FDA standards.  I don’t want labels to push me or my family away from safe and healthy food.
 
Unfortunately, a step in the wrong direction was taken this month when Vermont became the first state in the country to demand special labeling on food packages that contain genetically modified ingredients. Signed by Vermont’s Governor into law, the rules are due to take effect in two years.
 
If other states decide to go down that path, now we’re on the verge of a confusing and dysfunctional food-labeling system, with 50 sets of rules in our 50 states.
 
That’s 49 too many.
 
The food labels already approved by the Food and Drug Administration are pretty good. Soon they may become even better. In February, the FDA announced plans to fine-tune them.
 
The last thing we need are a bunch of legislators striking out on their own, thinking they can fix a system that isn’t broken.
 
Patchwork looks good on a quilt, but it doesn’t make sense for a regulatory regime. When it comes to food labels, we should expect consistency across state lines. My grandchildren in Houston should be able to understand food labels when they go to my local grocery store near Tampa Bay. Their shopping experience should not demand an act of decipherment.
 
At a recent White House event, First Lady Michelle Obama described the problem of poorly conceived food labels: "So you marched into the supermarket, you picked up a can or a box of something, you squinted at that little tiny label, and you were totally and utterly lost." She wasn’t talking about the threat of labels for GM food, but she might as well have been.
 
Vermont’s latest action undermines the clear, national standards we need. Other states may add to the chaos. The National Conference of State Legislatures counts 84 bills in 29 states involving GM food labels. Although voters in California, Oregon, and Washington State have rejected ballot initiatives to require special labels, more referenda may be on the way. At some point, one may succeed.
 
This is a recipe for bewilderment among consumers.
 
Moreover, these laws are bad on the merits. GM foods are safe and healthy. They don’t need warning labels, as organizations ranging from the American Medical Association (AMA) to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have said.
 
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather entrust my food labels to the experts who work at the FDA and listen to the advice of the AMA and the NAS—and not to a few politicians in Vermont.
 
Perhaps the legislators who passed Vermont’s new law have good intentions. Just as likely, they’re responding to special interests. Vermont has more organic farmers per capita than any other state, according to The Economist. If consumers come to fear GM food because of special warning labels, organic farmers are hoping to sell more of what they grow for a premium.
 
Labels should educate, conveying reliable information rather than propaganda. We must honor their basic purpose, not let them become marketing devices for favored groups.
 
Vermont’s law will face a lawsuit, and plaintiffs will make several strong arguments against it, including the claim that it meddles with interstate commerce. Yet there’s no telling how judges will rule.
 
A bill in Congress offers a solution. Introduced last month, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would make the FDA the final authority on labels for GMO food, preventing states from complicating matters. Its author is Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and the bill already enjoys bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans.
 
Food labels should serve consumers, not ideological agendas and special interests. Let’s keep labels simple, clear and understandable to all age groups and generations, regardless of where they shop for their food.  We need a single standard that makes sense for everyone.
 
Carol Keiser is a wife, mother and grandmother who owns and operates cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois.  She volunteers as a Truth About Trade & Technology board member (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

The “Future of Food” Should Be About Solutions We All Need

May 15, 2014

 By R. Madhavan: Ulundhai Village, Tamil Nadu, India

 
Maybe they should call it International Geographic.
 
Although it’s headquartered in the United States, National Geographic is a global publication. For more than 25 years, I’ve read it here in India, where it has a good reputation. I still keep a few old issues because of their interesting articles and excellent photography.
 
I’m pleased to see that the magazine has launched a special series on "The Future of Food." As a farmer in a nation that struggles with food security, I spend a lot of my time thinking—and worrying—about this topic.
 
In the May issue, the editors of National Geographic describe their mission: "By 2050 we’ll need to feed two billion more people. This special eight-month series explores how we can do that—without overwhelming the planet."
 
Feeding the world may be the greatest challenge of our young century. For me, this is not a theoretical problem. Every day, I see the enormous problems where I live, in the village of Ulundhai in south India. It’s a crisis I witness with my own eyes.
 
I also recognize hidden opportunities. With the hope of contributing to the conversation that National Geographic has started, I would like to offer a few humble observations about soil health and technology.
 
First and foremost, we must sustain the fertility of the soil. Everything we grow depends upon its well-being. This is a big task, and it has plenty of components—including the defeat of illiteracy, which prevents too many developing country farmers from fertilizing their fields properly.
 
With healthy soil, we can begin to address the basic problems of the food supply. The Green Revolution transformed agriculture in India, but in recent years we’ve hit a plateau. Growth in food production has fallen behind growth in population. Hundreds of millions of my fellow Indians are hungry or malnourished; the state of India’s food-security is worsening by the year.
 
Thankfully, we have lots of room for improvement. Our yields are only a fraction of what farmers in developed countries routinely achieve. Simply catching up to much of the rest of the world will go a long way toward meeting India’s food-security demands.
 
In fact, we should be even more productive than leading agriculture nations. In the American Midwest, home to some of the richest soil in the world, most farmers grow only one crop per year. Not even the blackest earth will produce food when a white blanket of snow sits on top of it.
 
India doesn’t have this problem. Where I live, we never see snow—and we can grow multiple crops in a single year. I follow a three-crop rotation every year: rice or maize, followed by vegetables, followed by oil seeds and pulses.
 
 
Imagine what we could accomplish if we knew how to sustain the fertility of the soil and make the most of our potential.
 
The other vital tool is technology - the best seeds for the healthiest soil.  It is clear that we need crop protection technologies and tools to narrow the vast gap in crop productivity between developed and developing countries.  This includes access to genetically modified crops. Farmers in the United States and elsewhere can depend upon the unique ability of these plants to overcome the weeds and pests that thwart farmers everywhere.
 
National Geography seemed reluctant to discuss this essential option in its May issue. The lead article—"A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World"—said virtually nothing about GM crops. Yet they are the need of the hour, and National Geographic should use its prestige and expertise to combat the phony controversies and outright falsehoods that surround biotechnology.
 
I don’t grow GM crops on my 65-acre farm; however, I am aware that the aspect of GM crops for food and fibre production with emphasis on disease resistance and quality improvement need to be taken on a case by case basis to meet the needs of the Indian farmers. I would love to benefit from the disease resistance and yield increases that have transformed and improved agriculture wherever they’ve been adopted. Yet my country’s agriculture remains stuck in the 20th century, beset by political activists who fail to understand the science behind this safe technology.
 
Unfortunately, farming in India is widely considered a lowly occupation, which is the main reason for the low productivity of even the existing crops.  I strongly feel we need to have more demonstration and training farms to create awareness about soil fertility and GM technology.  It’s not the farmer who makes the food: Food is made by plants.  I believe we need to learn that instead of subsidizing food supply for the people, the plants need subsidized food such as fertilizers and other inputs in order for them to produce the food needed for food security for the family and India.
 
As National Geographic continues its exploration of "The Future of Food," I hope that it will discover the solutions we all need.
 
R. Madhavan grows three different crops a year on his farm near Ulundhai Village, Tamil Nadu, India.  Madhavan has several patents for farmer-friendly farm tools, conducts workshops that encourage entrepreneurs to take up agriculture as a profession and is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
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Kenya Must Lift Ban on GM Imports: Allow Commercialization of GM Crops

May 08, 2014

 By Gilbert Arap Bor: Kapseret, Kenya

 
United States President Barack Obama’s ringing endorsement of biotechnology in agriculture has the potential to inspire hearts and minds in Africa—and perhaps most especially here in Kenya, the birthplace of his father.
 
He has spoken favorably of biotech in the past, but his latest statement came on a most appropriate occasion: the dedication in April of a new statue in the U.S. Capitol honoring Norman Borlaug, the scientist who sparked the Green Revolution, a series of technological advances credited with saving a billion lives around the world through better food production.
 
"I am pleased to join in celebrating the life of your grandfather," wrote President Obama in a letter to Julie Borlaug. "I share his belief that investment in enhanced biotechnology is an essential component of the solution to some of our planet’s most pressing agricultural problems."
 
In Kenya—the birthplace and burial site of Barack Obama, Sr.—we see the problem of food insecurity. More than 1 million Kenyans go hungry each day, according to recent estimates. The problem is worse in other African nations, where more than 230 million people go hungry. That’s one out of every five people on our continent. The pressure to feed them only will increase. Demographers expect our population to double by 2050.
 
So we aren’t growing enough food right now, and we’re going to have to grow a lot more soon.
 
Like most Kenyans, I admire President Obama and believe he is a good leader who supports decency and democracy. My countrymen take pride in his presidency, if for no other reason than his Kenyan roots. Although he came to Kenya when he was a senator, he has not yet come here as president—and we all look forward to a visit before he leaves office.
 
President Obama recognizes that the Green Revolution must evolve into the Gene Revolution. Yet many African governments, including mine in Nairobi, do not yet share this view.
 
Perhaps this is about to change. A few days ago, a task force convened by Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia heard scientists and researchers present compelling evidence for the adoption of GM crops. (Readers can follow some of the conversation at #GMTaskforceHearing on Twitter.)
 
I’m on the front lines of Kenyan food production. Like so many farmers in the North Rift, I’ve just planted maize and, due lack of rain, it’s withering because we used conventional seed as none of us have access to GM seeds. We’re going to spend another year failing to meet our potential, with our fields suffering from afflictions such as climate change and maize lethal necrosis disease, which is as deadly as it sounds.
 
Kenya’s and Africa’s food-security problems have many sources. Yet one of the most basic solutions is simple: Farmers should be able to use the best crop technology. A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute says that if smallholder farmers in Africa were to gain access to genetically modified crops, they could improve their yields by as much as 29 percent.
 
In other words, if the ordinary farmers of Kenya and its neighbors were allowed to enjoy the same technologies as the farmers who are President Obama’s constituents, we’d be well on our way to meeting the challenge of feeding our people.
 
This is not a scientific challenge, but a political one. The science surrounding GM crops is well established. Not only are these plants safe to grow and consume, they’re even better than conventional crops because they allow farmers to produce more food on less land by defeating weeds, pests, climate, and diseases.
 
As I write these words, a farmer somewhere in the northern hemisphere is planting the world’s 4-billionth acre of GM crops, according to data compiled by Truth About Trade & Technology, an American non-profit group.
 
This is a remarkable milestone. Most of the progress has come from breadbasket countries where GM crops are widely used, such as the United States, Argentina, Brazil, India, and Canada.
 
Burkina Faso, Egypt, South Africa, and Sudan are the only African countries to have adopted GM crops. Most others, including Kenya, have resisted this technology. Their governments have succumbed to the irrational fears that have caused much of Europe to oppose GM food.
 
The time has come to move forward. Kenya must begin by lifting its political ban on imports of GM food and permit the commercialization of GM crops as supported by science. Our Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei recently told journalists, "As a ministry, we have no problems with GMOs."
 
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have always alluded to their vision and support for expanded agricultural production for food security. They should lead Kenya into adoption of the policies that President Obama supports in his own country. Let’s listen to this wise son of Kenya.
 
Gilbert Arap Bor is a small-scale farmer and founder-chairman of Chepkatet Farmers Co-op Society 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.

No Herbicides & Pesticides – No problem: 70 Million “New” Jobs Created to Grow Our Food

May 01, 2014

 By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa

 
I’ve heard so many misguided, crazy comments about farming over the years that I’ve almost become immune to them. Does it make sense to try to correct every opinion of every ill-informed person?
 
Yet a recent online column by Deirdre Imus—wife of the radio shock-jock Don Imus—got it totally wrong and I couldn’t let it go unanswered. She declared war on crop-protection products: the fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides that guard our food from fungus, weeds, and bugs.
 
"Pesticides are used to protect crops from potentially destructive infestations," she wrote. "It would be great if there were something equally as powerful to protect humans from the potentially destructive effects of pesticides."
 
What we really need is something to defend us from the misinformed ideas of Deirdre Imus.
 
Crop protection products are one of agriculture’s greatest innovations, allowing us to grow more food than ever before. When applied properly, they are safe for both farmers and consumers. And if they were suddenly to disappear from the farmer’s tool box, we’d face a global famine.
 
That grim fact became clear during a recent presentation by Leonard P. Gianessi of CropLife Foundation. A world without pesticides, he said, immediately would suffer a 25-percent reduction in the planet’s three most fundamental crops: corn, rice, and wheat.
 
The good news for the United States is that we’d probably survive this blow. We’d make up for the losses by halting our exports.
 
Others wouldn’t fare so well. Consider Norway, a country with a short growing season in northern Europe. Right now, it imports about half its food. Even if these imports were cut off, its farmers probably could supply their fellow Norwegians with a basic diet—but only if they’re allowed to use pesticides, as they are now.
 
Without crop protection, however, the Norwegians would suffer mightily: About 20 percent of the population could not be fed.
 
In China, with its population of more than 1 billion people today, the problem would be much worse. Without pesticides, its rice harvests would drop by two-thirds and its wheat harvests by half. China would "undergo famine if pesticides were not used," warned a recent report from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
 
In other words, crop protection products protect us not just from weeds and pests, but also from human catastrophe.
 
When I began to farm with my father and brother more than 50 years ago, we hoped to grow about 80 or 90 bushels of corn per acre—and that’s only if we fought the weeds with everything we had. I drove a row-crop cultivator across our fields, turning over the soil and hoping to cover about 20 acres on a good day.
 
On a lousy day, I’d cover much less ground, getting stuck in thistle patches and stopping constantly to dig out clumps of grass. It was miserable work—especially when the weather was hot and the bugs were bad—but it also represented our best hope to defeat the weeds that wanted to choke the life from our crops.  We were organic farmers.
 
Today, we expect to grow 200 bushels of corn per acre, largely due to advances in crop protection. I still have a cultivator, but it’s been sitting in my shed, untouched for more than two decades.
 
Farmers need more crop protection, not less. I’m looking forward to a new generation of products that are even more effective than the ones we use now. I also hope that Africa takes up the technology, so it can meet its potential as a farming continent.
 
So what would be gained if pesticides and herbicides were to vanish from the United States, says Gianessi? Jobs.  Only one thing could prevent massive yield losses: 70 million of us would have to take to the fields, squatting down on our hands and knees to uproot weeds. We’d have to turn our farms into the equivalent of gigantic community gardens.
 
The hours would be long, the work hard, and the pay poor. Something tells me that Deirdre Imus would not like this kind of labor. Nor would I.  I’ll keep the good stuff and we’ll all enjoy the benefits.
 
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm.  He serves as Vice-Chairman and 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.
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