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September 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.

The EU-US Trade Talks Represent an Opportunity to Change Minds on GM

Sep 26, 2013

 By David Hill:   Bradenham, Norfolk, United Kingdom

 
There will be plenty of observers of the forthcoming EU/USA trade talks who will speculate as to the outcome with the GM factor being of major importance.
 
Many will feel that there is such a difference in the level of acceptance of new technology with Europe still finding it difficult to accept.  You have to understand the level of ‘green politics’ in Europe where, it is argued, the ‘environment’ with use of GM would be damaged.
 
I have been a supporter of biotech for a long time, originally a lonely position!  However, we are beginning to see some growing support, especially amongst farmers.  A recent poll, in the farming press, gave a 61% result of people in favor of GM.  Spain is growing 330,000 acres of biotech maize this season.
 
For a number of years, however, we’ve suffered from a de facto moratorium on biotech farming. The situation has been so bleak that seed companies have quit pursuing regulatory approvals for cultivation. Their plants may be the safe products of a proven technology, but they can’t overcome fierce prejudices driven by politics and grounded in scientific illiteracy.
 
In his new book "Something to Chew On," Irish food expert Mike Gibney explains the problem. "So great is the level of confusion" over GM food, he writes, "that a staggering one in three European citizens agrees with the statement that ‘Ordinary tomatoes don’t have genes but genetically modified ones do.’"
 
With ignorance like this, what hope is there?
 
My family farms about 100 miles north of London in the village of Bradenham, on 1,420 acres. My grandfather originally purchased some of this property in 1932, when it was going for £7 per acre. We grow wheat, barley, canola and rye grass for seed with various woodlands and grazing meadows.
 
We’ve also worked with GM crops when there were UK field scale evaluation trials in the late 1990’s; we grew sugar beet trials for five years. Before planting the first seed, I was confident about the technology—I knew these crops would be good for my farm as well as good for the food security of my country. Growing these crop trials gave us a better appreciation of the potential of the technology.  They are an important part of the future for sustainable agriculture, in which we need to produce more food on less land.
 
Thankfully, a growing number of Europeans appear to agree. Last month, the Independent published a survey showing that a plurality of respondents favored growing GM crops in the UK, with 47 percent approving and 42 percent opposed. I’d like to see this slim plurality grow into a strong majority, but at least we’re headed in the right direction. A decade ago, 54 percent of the public opposed GM crops.
 
In another encouraging sign, the anti-biotech camp has witnessed some high-profile defections. Earlier this year, Mark Lynas, the British environmentalist, announced his support for GM food.
 
UK Government officials now actively back the new technologies and are speaking out as well. "While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind," warned UK environment minister Owen Paterson in June. "We cannot afford to let that happen."
 
The free-trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union represent an opportunity to change minds. It would be wonderful if we could emerge from these conversations a year from now with EU bureaucrats granting farmers more freedom to choose what they grow.
 
Yet we must also tread carefully. If the United States is too aggressive in pushing for biotech acceptance, we could see blowback. Just as we’re taking one step forward, we could risk moving two steps back. I wouldn’t blame negotiators who want a broad trade agreement to take biotechnology off the table entirely.
 
I don’t think that will be necessary. We call them trade diplomats for a reason: they participate in the art of diplomacy, which involves the tactful handling of thorny affairs. If those on the American side are really good at what they do, they’ll take note of Europe’s homegrown movement toward GM acceptance and leave us in an improved position, ready to catch up with the rest of the world.
 
David Hill is a third-generation mixed arable and livestock farmer, growing wheat, barley, canola, grass seeds and other crops in Norfolk, UK.  David is a Nuffield Scholar 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.

Imagine a World Without Orange Juice

Sep 19, 2013

 By Carol Keiser: Belleair, Florida

 
Imagine a world without orange juice.
 
Heck, I can’t even imagine a morning without this delicious drink. It’s been a sunrise ritual for as long as I can remember, for me as well as my children.
 
I was one of those mean moms: I wouldn’t let my kids drink soda. Yet they could gulp gallon after gallon of orange juice. Now my grandchildren are receiving the same treatment. They drink orange juice all the time and love it.
 
What if it disappears from our diets? That would be a very unfortunate development.
 
Orange juice not only tastes great, but it’s also an excellent source of nutrition. Its vitamin C boosts our immune systems—especially important now, with school back in session—and also serves as a catalyst for other vitamins and minerals. They do a better job simply because they’re able to work in conjunction with orange juice.
 
I am clearly not the only one who knows this: About 7 in 10 American homes buy orange juice. The New York Times recently described its popular image: "the ultimate natural beverage, fresh-squeezed from a primordial fruit."
 
Yet we could be on the verge of losing this important drink. Orange groves across Florida, which produces the vast majority of our country’s orange juice, have fallen sick. A disease called citrus greening has ravaged them.
 
Citrus greening is a bacterial disease that probably originated in China a century ago. It has spread around the planet because of the psyllid, a louse-like insect that sucks tree sap. (It "looks like a cicada’s ugly little sister," according to USA Today.) As these bugs travel from leaf to leaf, they disperse bacteria that devastate orange groves. The trees lose their color and their fruit becomes salty and bitter. For all practical purposes, they’re inedible.
 
Florida’s orange production varies from year to year, but overall it has dropped sharply—and it could vanish entirely if citrus greening isn’t stopped.
 
Despite a broad, desperate global search, no member of the citrus family shows any resistance to the bacteria, so conventional breeding methods won’t offer help. Although pesticides can slow down the disease, the trees themselves are essentially defenseless.
 
"The industry that made Florida," warns Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, "is totally threatened."
 
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for citrus greening—unless chopping down entire orchards and moving to a new location counts as a cure.
 
There may be no cure, but perhaps there’s a solution: biotechnology.
 
Scientists believe they have discovered a way to save our orange juice. It involves taking a gene from spinach, one of the world’s healthiest plants, and inserting it into orange trees. It won’t make our juice taste like spinach—sorry, Popeye—but it may save this excellent morning beverage from virtual extinction.
 
We won’t know for a few years. Greenhouse tests are promising and field trials are ongoing. Orange growers are optimistic that they’ll finally beat the bacteria.
 
This is the same basic technology that already has revolutionized agriculture from the cornfields of Illinois to the papaya farms of Hawaii. Around the world, millions of farmers have harvested more than 3 billion acres of genetically modified crops that carry a natural resistance to weeds and pests.
 
As a result, we’re growing more food on less land than ever before—an incredible benefit for both productivity and the environment.
 
If biotechnology moves into the orange groves, we’ll save one of our favorite drinks. We’ll save more than that, too, because we do more with oranges than merely extract their juice. Their peels and pulp go into everything from feeding livestock to scenting candles.
 
Pork producers like to boast about their efficiency, bragging that they use every part of the pig except the squeal. Orange growers might say that they use every part of the orange except the squeeze.
 
So the defeat of citrus greening will help us save a favorite drink as well as keep prices in check on other consumer goods. Jobs are at stake as well: 76,000 in Florida’s $9-billion orange industry.
 
I don’t want to think about a world without orange juice. Let’s hope that biotechnology comes to the rescue.
 
Carol Keiser 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.

Stewards of the Soil

Sep 12, 2013

 By Terry Wanzek: Jamestown, North Dakota

 
I was taught as a young man that we don’t inherit the land from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.
 
On my family farm in North Dakota, this could serve as both a statement of principle as well as a description of how we work and live. When it comes to the land, we try to take the best of what we’ve learned from those who came before us, care for it in our own time, and hand it off to the people who have the strongest claim on our conscience.
 
We couldn’t do it without technology. To be good stewards of the soil, we must take full advantage of what science and innovation can offer, always on the lookout for how modern tools can help us grow more food and protect the earth.
 
My farm comes down to me from both sides of my family: My father’s grandparents and my mother’s grandparents planted and harvested these same acres. They’re gone now, but I’m reminded of them every day. I put seeds in the same dirt. I look upon trees that they planted. I use dams and dugouts that they first built.
 
They left a mark here—a permanent and intentional mark, not a random one like a bit of graffiti sprayed onto a wall. Every day, I see evidence of their ability to produce food from the land, using hard-earned knowledge and wisdom.
 
In several spots on our farm, our grandparents established shelterbelts between fields. These look like simple lines of trees, but they’re really examples of carefully designed environmental architecture. Tall trees such as cottonwoods, green ash and box elders rise up in the middle. Surrounding them are shorter trees and bushes. Placed together like this, in different sizes and densities, they form a living wall.
 
We use shelterbelts for the same reasons that my grandparents used them: They provide windbreaks, protecting livestock from blizzards and soil from the steady, erosive attack of air and water.
 
My ancestors also taught us the importance of technology. We have an obligation to use the best tools available to us. My parents and grandparents were among the first in our area to use commercial fertilizer and drive diesel tractors. This ability to accept new ideas made them better farmers who produced more food for our family and community.
 
We’ve tried to follow in their footsteps. When genetically modified (GM) crops became widely available as a new tool of technology about a decade ago, I was skeptical. Would they really work on weeds without hurting the crop? I had strong doubts.
 
Then I witnessed the amazing results: Suddenly, our fields were free of weeds and full of crops. The stalks were strong and the kernels clean and healthy.  We were able to grow more food on our land than ever before, thanks to this new technology that allowed us to make the most of our limited resource.
 
Best of all, GM crops helped us protect the soil.
 
In the past, the best way to control weeds was to till the soil—to turn it over with disks and chisel plows and moldboard plows. This method helped us defeat weeds, but it also exposed the black earth to the elements. Tilling released needed moisture, killed earthworms, exposed more potential erosion and disrupted the natural workings of the soil.
 
Today, we conquer weeds without stressing the soil. We also use fewer pesticides, drive over our fields less often, and grow more crops. My great grandparents would be both astonished and thrilled to see how we’ve protected the land that they first planted and gotten more out of it than they ever could have dreamed possible. Yet they’d instantly recognize our determination to do what’s best for the land and to adopt technologies that help us achieve our goals.
 
I’m the fourth generation in my family to work here, and the fifth generation—my son and nephew—are beginning their own careers on the farm. I expect that their children and their children’s children—the people from whom we’ve borrowed this soil—will be here as well, taking up tools that are beyond the scope of my thinking and growing more food than I can imagine.
 
Terry Wanzek grows wheat, corn, soybean and pinto beans on a family farm in North Dakota.  He serves as a ND State Senator and volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

When Food Security Worries Become National Security Dilemmas

Sep 05, 2013

 By Bill Horan:  Rockwell City, Iowa

 
It all started with a food cart.
 
Members of Congress will want to bear in mind this important detail as they weigh President Obama’s request to approve a U.S. military strike against Syria.
 
Most of their concerns will be more immediate, of course. They’ll examine the evidence purporting to show that the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. They’ll also debate the likely consequences of military action: Will it prevent future attacks? Will it empower a rebel movement of Muslim extremists? Will it start a wider regional conflict?
 
Reasonable people can disagree. Whatever Congress decides, however, we should remember a fact that is beyond dispute: food security is an essential part of national security.
 
Syria’s unrest has many sources, and one of them is food.
 
Nearly three years ago, Tunisian authorities seized the fruits and vegetables of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, apparently because he refused to pay bribes to local officials. Outraged by the injustice, Bouazizi went to his governor’s office and shouted, "How do you expect me to make a living?"
 
Then he lit himself on fire—and sparked a momentous wave of protests throughout the Middle East, sometimes called the "Arab Spring."
 
Within days of Bouazizi’s death, people across Tunisia assembled to complain about food inflation, lousy living conditions, and restrictions on political freedom. Soon they chased Tunisia’s president from office. The turmoil then spread to Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Next it reached Syria, where more than 100,000 people have died since a civil war broke out more than two years ago.
 
When you’re hungry, you’ll do desperate things to feed yourself. When your kids are hungry, however, you’ll do anything to feed them. It’s the difference between stealing a chicken for yourself and shooting someone to get a chicken for your family.
 
The United Nations estimates that nearly 900 million people around the world are food insecure, meaning that they don’t have access to enough safe and nutritious food. That’s about one out of every eight people.
 
To complicate matters, these people are aware of their plight more than ever before. They know that billions of other people are better off. Television programs and the movies share images of abundance from the developed world. Bombarded with pictures of people who struggle with obesity rather than starvation, the poor parents of gaunt children become envious.
 
Who can blame them for dreaming of a different life?
 
As fellow humans, we should sympathize with their predicament. As Americans concerned with global stability, we should think about how to improve their lot. If we don’t, their food-security worries will become our national-security dilemmas.
 
Children not only must be fed enough calories, they must also receive a balance of vitamins and nutrients to allow for proper cognitive development. The United States should want a world filled with intelligent people who can think and reason, as opposed to a planet populated by people with low cognitive skills who live on rumors, succumb to radical ideologies, and choose violence.
 
Food security is one of the keys to success—and "feed the world" isn’t just a charitable slogan, but rather a national-security imperative.
 
Last year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization published "The State of Food Insecurity in the World." Amid the document’s statistics and charts was a common-sense observation: "Agricultural growth is particularly effective in reducing hunger and malnutrition."
 
This statement may sound transparently obvious, but its practical application can be tricky. Agricultural growth requires both scientific innovation and political determination.
 
If we’re serious about food security, we have to figure out how to feed more people on less land. That means supporting the latest technologies, such as genetically modified crops that resist weeds and pests, survive drought, and yield more food. We should push for golden rice in China and GM brinjal in India. We must also strive to lower trade barriers so food can flow from producers to consumers without the interference of protectionism.
 
The alternative to food security is food insecurity—and a dangerous world full of hungry people, perilous situations, and bad options for American policymakers.
 
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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