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July 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.

Suppressing Technology Will Not Feed Hawaii or the World

Jul 25, 2013

 

By Ken Kamiya:  Kaneohe, Hawaii

 

Roseanne Barr would like to burn down my papaya farm in Hawaii.

The wealthy actress said so earlier this month, during a public hearing on Hawaii Bill 79, proposed legislation that would outlaw growing genetically modified crops on the Big Island.

"For the people who make their living growing GMOs, you know everybody here is very giving and they probably would bend over backwards to help you burn those papayas and grow something decent," said Barr, who moved to Hawaii after making her fortune in Hollywood. 

Barr speaks for a movement of political activists who want to wipe out modern farming in Hawaii. They’re trampling on science, violating the rights of farmers, and ignoring an incredible success story. 

Papayas are one of Hawaii’s great crops. I’ve grown them for four decades on Oahu. My family is so connected to the fruit that there’s even a variety named after us: the "Kamiya papaya." 

During the 1990s, however, papaya farmers almost lost everything. The deadly ringspot virus spread through our islands and ravaged papaya trees. It became impossible to grow this delicious fruit.

Then the tool of biotechnology saved us. A scientist named Dennis Gonsalves figured out an ingenious way to make our papayas resist the ringspot virus. He inserted a piece of the virus’s own genes into papayas, effectively inoculating our plants.

Thanks to genetic modification, papaya farmers were able to grow papayas again. Today our small industry has recovered and virtually all of the papayas grown in Hawaii are GM crops. 

Barr and the backers of Bill 79 want to suppress the technology that has allowed us to survive and thrive. 

Advocates of Bill 79 claim that their ban exempts papayas. This is true only in a highly technical sense. The legislation doesn’t outlaw GM papayas the way it outlaws other GM crops, but it imposes so many new restrictions on papayas that farming them will become impractical. 

To make matters worse, Bill 79 casts doubt on a proven technology at a time when we’re trying to build an export market for papayas among Japanese consumers. Enacting the law would declare that Hawaiian leaders don’t have confidence in the food Hawaiian farmers are trying to sell overseas. 

Lawmakers sometimes like to tell farmers that they have our back. If they approve Bill 79, however, they’ll be stabbing us in the back. 

Yet the dispute over Bill 79 is about much more than papayas. It’s about the future of farming in Hawaii—and a ban on biotechnology would have a terrible effect on Hawaii’s ability to grow food. 

One of our most important crops is coffee. In 2010, however, the coffee berry borer, a beetle native to Africa, arrived on our islands and started to infest our coffee farms. These pests drill holes into coffee beans, rendering them useless.  

By some estimates, the 700 farms that make up Hawaii’s coffee industry have suffered losses of 25 percent or more. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $1-million plan to fight the bug, but everyone agrees that the problem is growing worse rather than better.

Can biotechnology help Hawaiian coffee beat the coffee berry borer the way it helped Hawaiian papayas defeat the ringspot virus? Or the way it helps most of the corn grown in the United States resist the corn borer? This is a promising possibility—but Bill 79 would make it illegal to utilize this important new technology. 

How silly. Around the world, farmers have planted and harvested more than 3 billion acres of GM crops. These growers include massive soybean operations in the United States and Brazil to subsistence farmers in Burkina Faso and the Philippines. 

GM crops are a safe, healthy, and well understood technology. They help us grow more food on less land, both preserving the environment and keeping food prices down for consumers. In the future, they’re only going to get better, as we develop drought-resistant crops that conserve water and biofortified rice that boosts nutrition. 

But before anyone can enjoy these benefits, sensible people must play a little defense—and stop Roseanne Barr and her friends from burning down my papaya farm.

 

Ken Kamiya has grown papaya in Hawaii for almost 40 years.  The "Kamiya" papaya is named in recognition of his work in the industry. Mr. Kamiya 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.

The Politics of Food Labeling

Jul 18, 2013

 

By John Rigolizzo, Jr.:  Berlin, New Jersey

"There is no such thing as too much information," said New Jersey lawmaker BettyLou DeCroce a few days ago.

That’s definitely not true. We’ve all experienced "TMI" moments. 

Then there’s TMI’s close cousin: utterly useless information. And that’s what DeCroce unfortunately supports in New Jersey. She backs a bill that would require all food sold in the state to carry special labels when it’s made with ordinary plants that I’ve grown for years on my New Jersey farm.

Labels specifically for food with genetically modified ingredients provide utterly useless information. They won’t deliver any benefits to consumers, but they’ll force the price of food to rise for everyone.

The good news is that New Jersey probably won’t approve the legislation, at least not in the near term. Unlike most of the country, here in the Garden State we elect our lawmakers in odd-numbered years. Most analysts don’t expect major new initiatives until after November.

Yet the bill, recently rubber-stamped by a budget committee, is part of a troubling trend. Across neighboring New England, politicians in several states are voting to label foods that contain GM ingredients. Connecticut and Maine have approved laws that will take effect if several other states join them. Vermont has also passed a bill in one of its legislative chambers. 

This political activity on the state level flies in the face of established scientific evidence. Experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say that food with GM ingredients is safe and perfectly healthy, so there’s no need to label. The American Medical Association and a long list of reputable groups agree. 

They’re right: Food with GM ingredients is the same as food without GM ingredients. It tastes the same and, in many cases, scientists can’t tell the difference between them.

In New England, however, sheer ignorance is starting to shape the debate. After voting for Connecticut’s law, for instance, Senate President Donald E. Williams explained his decision: "There is mounting scientific evidence showing that genetically modified foods are harmful to our health."

I’ll give Williams the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s a well-meaning public servant. Yet his words hardly could be more wrong. GM crops are among the most studied and best understood plants on the planet—and there’s not a sliver of real scientific data that does anything but affirm the safety of food made with GM ingredients. 

Labels won’t help consumers make better decisions, but they’ll increase the cost of food because the labels aren’t free. They represent a significant new regulation on farmers and food companies. The added expense of compliance will be passed along to consumers. We’ll all pay more for what they eat at grocery stores and restaurants.

At a time when the U.S. economy is at best sputtering along in New Jersey and elsewhere, we shouldn’t pass pointless laws that make it harder for families to feed themselves. 

It would be bad enough if the negative impacts of excessive labeling with information of no use to human health or safety were to stop there. Yet they’ll extract an even higher toll as they call into question the very purpose of GM technology. Consumers may begin to wonder why this food needs labels in the first place—and they may start to avoid it.

That would be a tragedy. Biotechnology lets us grow more food on less land. That’s why I grow GM crops on my farm, not far from where Assemblywoman DeCroce cast her wrongheaded vote in favor of an unnecesary labeling law.

As we struggle to feed our families in tough times—and try to find ways to feed a growing global population—we need to appreciate food grown with the benefit of biotechnology as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 

Forward-looking people should embrace GMOs, not slap them with misleading labels that will raise prices and discourage consumers.

The labels we already use on food are just right, giving us information we need to make smart choices about what we eat. 

 

John Rigolizzo, Jr. is a fifth generation farmer, raising fresh vegetables and field corn in southern New Jersey. The family farm produces for retail and wholesale markets.  John is a volunteer board member of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

The Ill-Regulatory USDA

Jul 11, 2013

 

By Tim Burrack:  Arlington, Iowa

Shortly before last week’s long U.S. Independence Day weekend, the Obama administration announced that it would delay the employer-mandate portion of the new health-care law for another year. 

Some pundits suggested a political motive, saying that the White House wants to suspend the unpopular requirement until after next year’s congressional elections. 

Yet almost nobody pointed out that the postponement is part of a troubling pattern: This administration can’t get its regulatory house in order. 

I feel the frustration every day as an American farmer. To grow crops, I’m always on the lookout for safe technologies that will help me make better use of the land, whether it’s with improved water conservation or advanced pest control. The government needs to help out; through an efficient and effective regulatory system that makes science-based decisions in a timely fashion.

Unfortunately, our regulatory system is broken. And farmers increasingly see the Department of Agriculture not as a partner committed to helping us grow food, but as an obstacle that simply gets in the way of responsible production. 

Two cases in point involve new trait technologies that use time-tested herbicides: one with a technical name, 2,4-D and the other, dicamba. The herbicide 2, 4-D was first developed in the 1940s. My father started using it on our farm in the 1950s. Dicamba was introduced in the 1950s and I’ve been using that tool on our farm since 1967.Today, they are two of the best understood and most widely accepted herbicides on the planet.

They’re also key ingredients in two important new crop-protection tools. Having access to 2,4-D and dicamba technologies will help farmers get the yield we need to compete while easily killing weeds that have become difficult to control. 

Sensationalist accounts in the media have dubbed these "superweeds," a silly word that makes ordinary vegetation sound like something out of "Little Shop of Horrors," the humorous musical about plants that eat people. Whatever we label them, we need new tools to fight them—and I’ve been eager to get my hands on these new products, as are many other farmers. 

But USDA won’t let us have this new technology. To make matters worse, it won’t explain why and its failure to do so violates federal law. 

USDA is required by law to respond to regulatory petitions within 180 days. With 2,4-D-tolerant crops, the waiting has now lasted three and a half years—seven times the period required by federal law.  

A USDA announcement in May that it is extending the review of these technologies suggests that the waiting will continue for more than a year. For how long will USDA dawdle? Nine times the requirement under federal law? Ten times? Forever? 

I should be using this product on my fields right now, during the growing season of 2013. It’s too late for that, of course. Right now, I’ll be lucky if this product is available before President Obama leaves office. 

This is ridiculous. The 2, 4-D trait technology is already approved in Canada. Approvals are imminent for it in other countries that are key competitors. Yet, here in the United States, farmers must rely on existing technology to compete with the rest of the world. 

If our regulatory system slips into sclerosis, we’ll surrender our great competitive advantage, in which the United States has led the way on technology and innovation. Very soon, Brazil and China will approve novel technologies before we do. 

This is how we become a second-world country—not because others are beating us fair and square, but because we’re bogging ourselves down in red tape and broken rules. 

I’ve seen what happens to farmers when governments ignore the rule of law. For six years, I invested in a farm in Ukraine, where my partners and I grew corn, soybeans, and several other crops. The venture ultimately ended because it was impossible to do business without paying massive bribes. 

American farmers aren’t asking for no regulations at all, or even a phony "rubber stamp" procedure. We want predictable rules that help us grow safe and nutritious food, which is exactly what we’ve had for many years. 

Now we risk losing it. USDA thinks it can flout federal law, apparently hoping that no one will notice or care.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack must lead and get the USDA regulatory train back on track. 

 

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 & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

COOL’s Collateral Damage

Jul 03, 2013

 

By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa

Among the many tragedies of war is collateral damage: deaths and casualties of non-combatants who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as well as the destruction of civilian property.

Nations at war try to keep collateral damage to an absolute minimum. At least the civilized ones do. 

Trade wars also can deliver collateral damage—and in a new dispute with Canada and Mexico, the Obama administration is preparing to let innocents suffer. American consumers and farmers are about to pay a steep price. 

The problem centers on a regulation abbreviated as COOL, which stands for "country-of-origin labeling." Despite the name, there’s nothing calm or trendy about COOL, because it forces packagers and retailers to obey strict labeling rules that describe where livestock was born, raised, and slaughtered.

That may sound reasonable. Why shouldn’t people know where their meat comes from? In its practical application, however, COOL bans the commingling of meat produced in different countries.

Canada and Mexico have rightly objected, saying that this amounts to illegal protectionism even as it masquerades as a consumer right. They’ve complained about losses totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Those losses won’t affect only foreigners. They’ll filch from American pocketbooks too, as the cost of meat rises in grocery stores and restaurants. 

This is crazy—the sort of job-killing policy that will make our sluggish economy recovery slow down instead of speed up.

We’re also throwing our regulatory regimes out of whack. Harmonized regulations should be a broad goal of trade policy, especially as the United States embarks on ambitious but sensitive trade talks with the European Union. Yet COOL ignores all of this, building artificial regulatory barriers to the flow of goods and services across borders. 

And it gets worse. COOL violates America’s obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization. We’re "protecting" our markets from Canadian and Mexican meat without an adequate reason, such as public health. Now the WTO will let Canada and Mexico retaliate, making it harder for us to export certain American products.

In June, Canada released a long list of products that soon may face punitive tariffs because of COOL. Many involve meat, but lots don’t. In all, the targets come from 37 different product sectors. They include everything from cherries and cheese to chocolate and frozen orange juice. A number of items aren’t even agricultural, such as jewelry, steel tubes, and "swivel seats with variable height adjustment."

One of the targets on the list is close to my heart: corn. That’s what I grow here in Iowa. As with most American corn farmers, about one-third of my corn goes overseas, in a variety of forms.  

If Canada slaps a special tariff on U.S. corn, it will hurt my bottom line. I’ll have a harder time selling what I grow to our northern neighbors. So will other corn farmers, upsetting the laws of supply and demand. What we grow ultimately will fetch lower prices.

This makes no sense. I don’t raise livestock or produce meat. Why should I suffer in a dispute over how meat is labeled? Why should factory workers who produce "swivel seats with variable height adjustment" watch their customer base erode? Why should American consumers pay higher prices to put food on their tables?

Well, that’s the nature of collateral damage. It’s an unintended consequence—though, in this particular case, the result is wholly predictable. The Obama administration, which likes to talk about its commitment to global trade, really ought to know better.

Canada’s list of retaliatory targets is still unofficial. Mexico has not yet published its own list, but will: A statement in May threatened that "the imposition of retaliatory measures" are just a matter of time.

Ottawa released its list in a last-ditch attempt to encourage a better solution. Mexico City will have the same idea in mind. Washington should heed these fair warnings before it’s too late. 

The lesson should be obvious: In a trade war, everybody loses.

 

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.

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