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Aug 22, 2014
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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.

Oregon’s Measure 92 Would Mandate Labels That Tell Us Nothing New

Aug 21, 2014

 By Mark Wagoner:  Touchet, Washington

 
It feels like déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might say.
 
That’s my initial thought upon hearing that Oregon voters will consider Measure 92 this fall. It’s a ballot initiative to require special labels for foods with genetically modified ingredients.
 
It’s also a bad idea that will cost too much and won’t work—and voters in the Pacific Northwest, upon realizing these facts, have rejected versions of it before.
 
I’m a farmer in Washington’s Walla Walla County, but my land also crosses the border into Oregon. I grow alfalfa seed on about a hundred acres in the Beaver State. So although I’m a resident of Washington, I also pay income and property taxes in Oregon.
 
I’m connected to Oregon in lots of other ways as well. My daughter lives in Portland. I cheer for the Blazers. One of my favorite bars is the Waterhole Tavern in Umapine.
 
I wish I could vote with you in November; as an Oregon tax payer I’d love to cast a ballot against Measure 92.
 
Then again, I voted against it last November, when it went by a different name: In Washington, a majority of citizens voted down Initiative 522, another attempt to slap expensive and misleading labels on our food.
 
On first glance, a lot of people support special labels for GM foods. Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, after all.
 
Once you think about it, though, this idea isn’t so good. There is good evidence to show it will raise prices in grocery stores and fail to provide useful information.
 
That’s why the people of Washington said no to labels last year. California voters rebuffed a similar effort the year before that. So did Oregon voters way back in 2002, when more than 70 percent opposed Measure 27.
 
Let’s look a little closer at Measure 92, this latest misguided effort.
 
If you like paying high prices at grocery stores, you’re going to love Measure 92, because its labeling requirement will force food companies to repackage just about everything they sell. Last year, the Washington Research Council, a think tank, estimated that special labels would raise the food bill of ordinary families by about $450 per year.
 
That’s a lot of money—and it might even be worth it, if the added expense delivered essential information. Yet the labels that Measure 92 hopes to mandate would tell us virtually nothing.
 
We eat GM food everyday, either directly or as the ingredients of ordinary products. On my farm, I grow GM alfalfa seeds—and these seeds become the plants that other farmers feed their livestock.
 
Farmers like me prefer GM crops because they allow us to grow more food on less land. On my farm, I work hard to grow excellent crops – healthy plants in weed-free fields - that will turn into nutritious, tasty and affordable food, usually by way of dairy cows that produce milk and ice cream. If you’re a believer in sustainable agriculture, this is an important goal—and exactly the sort of practice we should encourage.
 
Unfortunately, labels would have the reverse effect. They’d drive consumers to fear what’s in their food.
 
And there’s no reason they should. Groups ranging from the American Medical Association to the National Academy of Sciences have endorsed the health and safety of GM foods.
 
Some consumers may want to avoid GM foods anyway. The good news is that they can, right now, without the labels that Measure 92 would require: They can buy food that carries the organic label. Under federal regulations, organic foods cannot contain GM ingredients. Moreover, a number of popular non-organic products, such as Cheerios, already label themselves voluntarily as GM-free.
 
So think about what Measure 92 would accomplish: It would raise the prices of ordinary grocery-store products, provide information that won’t help you make better decisions about what you eat, and duplicate efforts already underway.
 
When Washington voters faced their own version of Measure 92 last year, they initially supported the idea. That’s what the polls showed. As they became better informed, however, they came to see the proposal as the bad solution to a non-problem. And so they voted against it, along with previous majorities in California and Oregon.
 
Let’s hope Oregon’s electorate learns the lesson about labels once more. Here’s another piece of wisdom commonly attributed to Yogi Berra: "If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up someplace else."
 
Mark Wagoner is a third generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed.   Mark volunteers as a Board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

We Do Not Need a Precautionary Approach for U.S. Wildlife Refuges

Aug 14, 2014

 By Tim Burrack:  Arlington, Iowa

 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service did a huge disservice to science, wildlife and modern agriculture last month, when it banned the planting of genetically modified crops in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
 
"We make this decision based on a precautionary approach to our wildlife management practices," wrote James Kurth, head of the refuge system, on July 17, according to the Associated Press.
 
Did you catch the key word? It’s one of the most loaded terms in the vocabulary of regulation: "precautionary."
 
On the face of it, "precautionary" sounds reasonable. While crossing the street, it makes sense to take a "precautionary approach." Better safe than sorry.
 
In the jargon of government, however, "precautionary" carries a special meaning. When bureaucrats speak of a "precautionary approach"—or the "precautionary principle," which is a more common way to put it—they’re usually trying to justify the suppression of a new idea or technology as too hazardous.
 
We all want sensible regulations, of course. Yet we also know that regulations are often insensible, thwarting the interests of the public they’re supposed to serve. Have you ever filled out a pointless form? Or wondered if it’s a crime to remove a mattress tag? And don’t get me started on the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to control the amount of dust that farmers kick up as they drive their tractors.
 
For all of these inconveniences, however, the United States has avoided the predicament of Europe, where the "precautionary principle" has become a powerful force to strangle innovation. This is why Europe remains so far behind the United States, Canada, Brazil and many other countries in the area of agricultural biotechnology. Over there, obsolete regulations continue to oppose new technologies, even though the safety of GM foods is settled science.
 
Mr. Kurth’s "precautionary approach" raises an alarm: He’s not speaking the language of science or common sense, but rather adopting a bad phrase that has bedeviled Europe.
 
We don’t need it here. Our trade negotiators don’t need it either. Banning GM crops in certain areas is no way to persuade China, Japan, and other countries to accept our food exports.
 
It may seem odd that the chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System should feel the need to say anything at all about farming. Crops aren’t "wildlife" and a cultivated field is no "refuge."
 
Farmers plant GM crops in some wildlife refuges with a specific purpose: They are better for the animals and the environment. The stronger stalks and larger corn ears provide more food for the wildlife during the deep snows of winter.
 
Yet Kurth has introduced a new prejudice into America’s web of farming regulations. He has granted the presumption that GM crops are too novel, too mysterious, and too risky to allow their use in some of the country’s most pristine spaces. He can cite no actual science to back up his bias—but then, the "precautionary approach" never has been about science. It’s about emotion defeating reason and fear trumping evidence.
 
If Kurth believes that GM crops pose a threat, he should have the gumption to say so plainly and present his evidence—and not hide behind words like "precautionary."
 
The evidence in support of the health and safety of GM crops is in fact overwhelming. That’s why the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences—among many other groups—have supported the spread of biotechnology in agriculture.
 
Let me introduce another piece of evidence, from the very system that Kurth oversees: the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, near Des Moines in my home state of Iowa. It’s the country’s largest recreation of a tallgrass prairie ecosystem—thousands of acres that look as they did when settlers arrived in the 19th century, complete with a thriving herd of buffalo.
 
This wildlife refuge thrives alongside biotechnology. In some areas, farmers grow GM corn and soybeans on one side of the road while badgers, elk, and pheasants wander around the other. The crops and animals coexist, in a model we should admire and emulate rather than doubt and dread.
 
The solution is simple: Let’s throw precaution to the wind.
 
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.

Chuck Norris’ Weak-handed Grip on the Facts of 21st Century Agriculture

Aug 07, 2014

 By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa

 
Chuck Norris doesn’t write columns. He stares at words until they arrange themselves into sentences.
 
That’s a "Chuck Norris Fact"—one you haven’t heard before because I just made it up. But perhaps you’re familiar with the style of joke: a satirical, exaggerated claim about the supposedly superhuman powers of actor and martial artist Chuck Norris. Entire books and websites are dedicated to this sub-genre of humor.
 
Unfortunately, there was nothing funny about Norris’s recent online column. It was a fact-free rant about modern agriculture. Norris warned his readers that the genetically modified food they eat everyday—the kind that I grow on my farm here in Iowa—is "killing you softly."
 
This is sheer nonsense. It’s like somebody roundhouse-kicked the sense out of Norris.
 
I’m disappointed in the column mostly because it’s wrong, but also because I admire Norris. He grew up under difficult circumstances and went on to achieve great success in his chosen professions. He’s a military veteran and a man of faith, just like me.
 
And I’ve met him: When Norris traveled to Iowa with presidential candidate Mike Huckabee a few years ago, I attended one of their events and shook Norris’s hand. You won’t be surprised to learn that he has a strong grip.
 
His grip on the facts of 21st-century agriculture, however, is weak.
 
In his column, Norris suggests that GM crops may cause cancer and Parkinson’s disease. This is pure hogwash—a pair of completely unfounded claims. Norris turns even more provocative when he writes of the possibility of "novel epidemics."
 
That’s a novel distortion of reality. This idea of ordinary crops causing a plague might work as the half-baked premise of a B-list fantasy film, but it’s simply not sound science. The American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences are just two of the many mainstream groups that support the health and safety of GM foods.
 
It makes sense to trust the expert views of the men and women who belong to the AMA and the NAS, but you probably wouldn’t want to watch them star in a Chuck Norris movie. Or maybe you would, but only to laugh at their antics, the way so many people laughed their way through "Sharknado 2" on the SyFy channel last week.
 
I might have laughed my way through Norris’s column, too—except that I’m concerned that a few of his readers will take his allegations seriously.
 
Norris is especially feeble on a subject that I happen to know well: weed and pest control. I’m familiar with weeds and pests the way characters Norris plays are familiar with villains in black hats.
 
As a farmer, I battle weeds and pests all summer. Weeds rob moisture and soil nutrition from my crops. Pests attack what I’m trying to grow. Defeating both is a central task of successful farming, whether you grow corn and soybeans in Iowa or cotton in Burkina Faso.
 
Norris claims that GM crops require more chemical sprays than non-GM crops, but this is false. One of the reasons why farmers prefer GM crops is because they demand fewer applications of herbicide and pesticides than non-GM varieties.
 
Norris actually accuses farmers of dumping "a component of Agent Orange" on our fields. The specific product he mentions—the one that he hopes will conjure up horrific images of a controversial Vietnam-era defoliant—is the most widely accepted herbicide on the planet. As a Vietnam veteran, I am offended as he demonizes the basic ingredient in the weed-and-feed that homeowners spread on their lawns and gardeners sprinkle around their vegetable beds safely in the U.S. and around the world.
 
Rather than trying to become one of Hollywood’s self-appointed experts on toxicology and human health, Norris should stick to his day job as an entertainer. We look to him for daredevil stunts and clever one-liners, not wrongheaded opinions about things he fails to understand.
 
GM crops help farmers grow more food on less land. For consumers, they contribute to safe, healthy, and affordable diets.
 
Let’s call these "Bill Horan Facts." They may not be funny, but they’re the truth.
 
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.

A Farm Mom Looks Forward to Innovative Potatoes That Will Cut Waste!

Jul 31, 2014

 By Lisa Patterson; Heyburn, Idaho, USA

 
Every mother knows the feeling.
 
You go to the grocery store, buy a sack of potatoes, and come home to get that meal on the table fast – only to discover after peeling and slicing, you don’t have that clear, consistent color you were expecting.  Instead you find internal bruising or black spots that you have to cut away.  The wasted potatoes go in the garbage and you think, what a waste.
 
Wouldn’t it be nice if technology could prevent all of this hassle and waste?
 
Soon it will.  A new potato that is the result of some exciting innovative technology is almost ready for market – and it’s developed to reduce black spot bruising and browning when cut.
 
The science is simple.  Take the DNA from wild and cultivated potatoes and insert it into the tubers of other potatoes that produce seed.  The result is a hardier potato that resists browning and has less bruising which can come from harvesting, shipping or storing.  It also equals a long shelf life without additives, which is important.
 
I live in the region of South-Central Idaho, often referred to as the "Magic Valley".  It may sound like the name of a Disney Princess movie, but it is our home and it’s ideal for growing potatoes.
 
My husband, Russell and I own a family farm which grows a variety of crops, including potatoes.  So, not only do I want feed my own kids and grandkids a delicious and nutritious potato – we want to produce a potato that is capable of less waste and improved use by the consumer.
 
Yet, no matter how hard we try, we can’t keep them from bruising.
 
Harvesting potatoes, after all, involves digging them up out of the ground.  Even with the special care we farmers take digging and delivering with the most modern specialized potato equipment available, the potatoes take unpreventable drops throughout the process.  It’s these drops that cause the potato bruising and damage that results in the waste in processing and also the wasted fresh potatoes that end up in our homes.  This InnateTM technology is not only beneficial to the producer, but also beneficial to the consumer.  Less waste means more produce to feed a hungry world, how amazing is that?
 
That’s why these new potatoes are so promising.  Farmers who have worked with them in test plots say they have seen bruising reduced by half or more.  The potatoes don’t taste any different.  They are regular potatoes in every way, except they don’t bruise or brown as much. 
 
Because of this very innovative development, one estimate says we will save 400 million pounds of potatoes each year.  If you realize the significance of growing more food on less ground and utilizing the need for increased production of food for a growing population, you will agree with me – this is exactly what we need.  Doing more with less and these potatoes are a giant step in the right direction.
 
These potatoes are now at the end of a rigorous federal review.  Food regulators have determined they are safe, grow just like other potatoes and do not pose any environmental risks on human health.  In June 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrapped up a second round of public comments.  Approval for commercial use could come at any time. 
 
InnateTM technology offers farmers yet another way to innovatively increase the quality and use of the potatoes that we produce.  It will be beneficial to every person who loves eating potatoes and to every person who wants to do their part in sustainable food production.
 
One of the benefits of living on a potato farm:  We eat what we grow.  Like you, I want safe and nutritious food for my family.  We are so lucky to have advanced science which enables us, as not only consumers, to enjoy an abundant food supply but also as a farm family it allows us to be sustainable guardians of the land we love and depend on. 
 
Lisa Patterson and her husband live in Heyburn, Idaho.  They grow potatoes, sugar beets, barley and corn on a family farm in the Idaho "Magic Valley".  She is happily involved in the business side of the farm, but loves spending time with her family, friends and especially, her grandchildren. Lisa joins the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Biotech Regulatory Delays are Smothering Innovation

Jul 24, 2014

 By Mark Wagoner: Touchet, Washington

 
Brazil didn’t win the World Cup on its home turf earlier this month, but the country’s investment in the needed infrastructure to host the world proved to be a real winner. Today Brazil is beating the rest of the planet in an area that’s less visible but more important long-term: an effective biotechnology regulatory system.
 
No country approves safe crops with the newest ag biotech innovations with more speed than Brazil.
 
Unfortunately, Washington seems to approach the matter like a soccer goalie: It wants to block everything. At least that’s what the current numbers suggest.
 
Just seven years ago, Brazil and the United States needed about the same amount of time to review new products in agricultural biotechnology: Brazil took a little less than 600 days and the United States took a little more. Brazil was more efficient, but at least the two countries were in the same ballpark—or on the same soccer pitch.
 
Brazil, however, has worked hard to improve its methods. Since 2010, it has needed an average of just 372 days between first application and final approval. That’s a year and a week.
 
Meanwhile, U.S. regulators have raced in the opposite direction. They’ve behaved like Tim Howard, the American goalie who set the record for most stops in a World Cup game. Since 2010, they’ve needed an average of more than 1,200 days to approve new products.
 
That’s almost three years.
 
This poor performance gives a whole new meaning to a term many of us casual fans of soccer have come to know: extra time.
 
These delays are killing American competitiveness. And it’s not just Brazil. Two of our other major competitors in food production, Argentina and Canada, are also much quicker to approve biotech traits.
 
This means that farmers in those countries soon will enjoy access to better crop technologies than we possess in the United States.
 
I’ve seen the trouble firsthand on my farm. I grow alfalfa seed—and for years, we’ve been waiting for the federal government to approve an excellent product developed by a consortium of companies, the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, which is a federal agency.
 
It’s called reduced-lignin alfalfa, and it promises an improved product with more yield and less farm work. In other words, fewer harvests will generate additional tons of a plant that’s more digestible for dairy cows. This variety of alfalfa is better in every way. And yes, consumers will benefit too: When we save money in our fields, consumers will save it when they buy milk in their grocery stores.
 
The only thing not to like about reduced-lignin alfalfa is the regulatory bureaucracy surrounding its approval—or, more precisely, its non-approval. This safe and excellent product continues to remain just beyond the reach of farmers, for no reason any of us can understand.
 
Regulatory systems must be science-based and timely. They also must be predictable. Right now, the only thing we can predict about GM crop approvals is that they’ll take far too long. On our farm, we can’t plan what to grow or when to rotate our crops.
 
What’s more, investors are becoming reluctant to devote research-and-development dollars to agriculture. The world desperately needs new ways to produce more food, but biotech-approval delays smother the innovations that might help us meet this essential goal of the 21st century.
 
Earlier this year, Mike Firko, a biotech regulator at the Department of Agriculture, promised to clear up a big backlog of crop petitions by the end of this year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he was referring to petitions filed before November 2011, which is closer in time to the World Cup hosted by South Africa than the one that just finished in Brazil.
 
The Department of Agriculture has said it should be able to go through an application in 450 days or less. That’s a long time—longer than what Brazil needs right now—but also a tremendous improvement over current practices.
 
When it comes to biotech regulations is it too much to hope that we might keep pace with a country like Brazil? Do we dare hope that we’ll have access to reduced-lignin alfalfa in two years, when the Summer Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro?
 
Mark Wagoner is a third generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed.   Mark volunteers as a Board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.
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