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August 2012 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.

What Women Really Care About: An Economy That Roars

Aug 30, 2012

 By Carol Keiser:  Belleair, Florida

 

Many women don’t have much time to study the policy details of the two presidential candidates. We’re either running around with the kids or running around at work--and often we’re trying to do both at the same time.

 

So when we want to learn what President Obama and Mitt Romney think about an issue like international trade, it’s best when they provide one-stop shopping on their campaign websites.

 

Yet only one candidate devotes a page of his website to trade.

 

Reading it is a welcome breath of fresh air--a taste of substance in a race that occasionally seems to have lacked it. So after the near-non-stop news about the misbegotten words of Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin, it’s time to focus on issues that most women really care about: jobs and the economy.

 

When we talk of job creation and economic growth, we have to discuss big drivers of both: imports and exports.

 

So whose website has more to say?

 

President Obama has a record to run on--and there’s plenty to boast about. He signed free-trade agreements last year with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. His administration is in the process of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would create a huge trade zone that includes the United States and at least eight other countries. The next round of TPP talks start in a week, in Virginia.

 

And yet his campaign website is virtually silent on free trade. There’s a single mention of the three trade agreements, but it’s buried at the bottom of a page and easy to miss. Beyond that and a reference to increased exports by 2015, there’s nothing: No high-flying rhetoric, no policy objectives, and no specific promises about what he’d deliver in a second term.

 

In sharp contrast, Mitt Romney’s website has a whole page devoted to free trade, with slogans, sub-sections, bullet points, and more.

 

"Open markets have helped make America powerful and prosperous," says Romney’s trade page. "Indeed, they have been one of the keys to our economic success since the country was founded."

 

It goes on to list goals, such as reinstating Trade Promotion Authority for the president, finishing the TPP negotiations, pursuing new trade agreements with other countries, and building what Romney calls the "Reagan Economic Zone, in which nations committed to open markets will reduce trade barriers for mutual benefit.

 

And there’s even more. One item that’s not on his website but which his advisors have talked up in recent days is the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a trade zone in the Western hemisphere. This ambitious goal went unrealized during the Bush years due to opposition from Argentina, Brazil, and several other countries. It may yet be difficult to negotiate, but it’s good to see that Romney considers it worth the effort.

 

As a rancher who produces beef, I have firsthand knowledge of the advantages of free trade. We sell to American customers, but much of our market lies overseas. "Approximately 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond our borders, and selling our world-class products and services to them is the next great frontier for economic growth," says Romney’s website. "The fewer the barriers to cross-border commerce, the more economic growth we enjoy and the greater the number of American jobs brought into being."

 

I’m fed up with politicians and pundits who want to lecture me about so-called women’s issues. Right now, no issues are more important to women than jobs and the economy--and only one candidate has much of anything to say about reviving them through global trade.

 

Romney’s trade policies are not without their problems. In an interview with the Detroit News last month, a press aide said that Romney does not currently support Japan’s participation in TPP--even though this should be a top goal of the United States.

 

What’s more, Romney sometimes sounds a bit too ready to launch a trade war with China. His website speaks of imposing new tariffs in retaliation for currency manipulation. I understand the need to talk tough with the Chinese, but everyone must understand that a trade war would be the result of diplomatic failure, not success.

 

Helen Reddy sings "I am woman, hear me roar." I love that song. But when it comes to roaring, I’d rather let the U.S. economy make all the noise--and I’m glad to see that Mitt Romney understands that free trade turns up the volume.

 

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

It’s Back to School for Potatoes

Aug 23, 2012

 By Duane Grant:  Rupert, Idaho

 

 

As our kids return to school this fall, we hope that their schools will bring out the best in them. We want their teachers to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative.

 

That’s exactly what biotechnology will do for genetically modified potatoes: It amplifies the desirable genes and minimizes the undesirable ones that inhibit the plant’s ability to feed people.

 

Consumers are going to love what biotechnology can do for potatoes. Not only will GM potatoes look and taste better than the conventional varieties we already love--they’re going to be healthier as well.

 

GM potatoes are still a couple of years away from full commercialization, but as a potato producer, I’m looking forward to seeing and experiencing the results in my own fields.

 

I’ve seen promising results from field trials of GM potatoes that don’t bruise as easily as today’s potatoes, nor do they turn brown as quickly after cutting. They generate significantly less acrylamide, a chemical compound that can form when many starchy foods are heated at high temperatures. It’s already harmless in small doses, but GM potatoes render it even more irrelevant.

 

They’re likely even going to be less expensive, because less bruising and browning means fewer potatoes will go to waste as they move from farm to fork.

 

Those are first-generation benefits--the advantages we’ll enjoy immediately. Second-generation benefits include potatoes packed with more vitamins and nutrients.

 

Everything about potatoes will be better. Forgive me for sounding like Bubba from "Forrest Gump" when he talks about shrimp, but GM potatoes will improve all kinds of food we already love: baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato salad, French-fried potatoes, and so on.

 

Best of all, these upgrades will be the result of biotechnology’s ability to make the most of the potato’s own genetic diversity. Potatoes are one of the hardiest crops on the planet. Native to the mountains of Peru, potato plants have adapted to frigid cold, blistering heat, and deadly plant disease--just about every sort of stress nature can hurl at them.

 

In other words, biotechnology works with great material that’s already a part of the potato’s genetic makeup.

 

Through a process called "intragenics", researchers can isolate genetic elements from a plant, rearrange or link them in beneficial ways, and stick them back into the plant without using anything besides its own DNA. It’s like traditional plant breeding that has been around for hundreds of years - just more precise.

 

This is a cutting-edge technique, but a relatively minor change compared to what we already do with other fully-accepted GM crops such as corn and soybeans, in which genes from different species may be transferred into the plants to help them fight insect pests.

 

GM potatoes are amazing in another way as well. One criticism of some crops improved with biotechnology is that if their pollen floats into neighboring fields, they can impact the harvests of non-GM farmers. While the safety of the food is not an issue at all, nevertheless this is the source of anxiety for some.

 

Yet organic potato producers have nothing to fear from pollen drift because commercial potatoes reproduce from cuttings of tuber, not seeds. Although potato plants will bloom with flowers, they reproduce on farms in a completely different way. So pollen drift between organic, conventional or biotech potatoes is of no concern.

 

The biotech revolution has improved our stewardship of the environment. Now that we’ve had more than 15 years of experience with GM crops, we see the advantages plainly. Productivity has gone through the roof, allowing us to grow more food on less land. We’ve cut back on tillage, conserving soil. We’ve also reduced our reliance on herbicides. Because of all this, GM crops are an essential component of sustainable agriculture--and the advent of biotech potatoes marks another step in the right direction.

 

This extraordinary crop, with its benefits for the environment, consumers, and farmers is now in the midst of regulatory approval. So, here’s my two cents: Welcome to the biotech revolution, potatoes. It’s about time.

 

 

Duane Grant grows potatoes, malt barley, sugar beets, corn, dry beans, alfalfa, wheat and onion seed on a family farm in Idaho.  Mr. Grant is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network.  www.truthabouttrade.org

Here’s to Healthy Delicious Sweet Corn

Aug 16, 2012

 By Tim Burrack – Arlington, Iowa

 

I’ve been growing sweet corn for more than 40 years--and this summer’s sweet corn is the very best I’ve ever eaten.

 

Perhaps you weren’t expecting this bit of good news amid all the bad news about corn. The nationwide drought has ravaged this year’s crop. I can certainly share plenty of horror stories: Most of my corn is in poor shape.

 

Want to hear me complain about the drought? I didn’t think so. Let’s accentuate the positive: My sweet corn was excellent this year.

 

For the last few summers, I’ve set aside a small field for sweet corn, giving it a little extra attention because I donate the harvest to my church. The church ladies use it for a big social event, deliver it to shut-ins, and give it the community.

 

So I put a little water on my sweet corn--just enough to help it beat the dry heat.

 

Yet there’s another important reason why the sweet corn was so good: Biotechnology was the essential ingredient.

 

For the first time in my area, I had the opportunity to grow genetically modified (GM) sweet corn. Before long, however, it’s going to be everywhere: Wal-Mart recently announced that it was willing to carry this new product.

 

And that’s really good news.

 

Today, more than 85 percent of the corn grown in the United States already benefits from biotechnology. These crops possess a remarkable ability to fight weeds and pests. Over the last 15 years or so, they’ve revolutionized agriculture around the world. We’re growing more food on less land than ever before.

 

GM sweet corn isn’t new.   It has actually been on the market since 1998. The sweet corn you buy in grocery stores and at roadside stands is less than 1 percent of the overall corn market but uses 40% of all insecticides used in corn production. GM sweet corn helps reduce insecticide use because it has some of the traits found in the field corn I grow that becomes animal feed, corn sugar, and biofuel.

 

But now biotechnology is coming to sweet corn--and you’re going to taste the difference.

 

For me, growing GM sweet corn on my farm was an experiment – I didn’t know how it would perform. I’ve grown biotech field corn for years, so I was confident that GM sweet corn would be a high-quality product. But you never know until you try.

 

Long before biting into GM corn on the cob, I could see a difference. As soon as the plants started to sprout in the field, it was obvious: The stalks were strong and the kernels clean. There were no weeds in the rows, robbing moisture. I didn’t even have to worry about insect pests like rootworm or the corn borer. The plants resist them naturally, thanks to biotechnology.

 

When I’ve grown sweet corn in the past, I’ve struggled with both weeds and pests. The only way to begin to control them was through chemical sprays. Non-GM sweet corn usually requires two or three applications of herbicide and one or two of pesticide. My GM sweet corn, however, needed just one pass of herbicide--and the result was far better.

 

It’s an example of less equaling more--the very definition of sustainable agriculture. What a tremendous benefit for everyone.

 

Best of all was the taste. Corn farmers say that healthy plants produce healthy ears and healthy ears produce healthy kernels. GM sweet corn is a healthy product down to its roots--and the final proof rests in the fact that it’s so delicious.

 

The enemies of biotechnology oppose every innovation in agriculture, and now they are of course turning their attention to the advent of the next GM sweet corn product. People who want to keep GM food out of their diets, however, have a simple solution: They can choose to buy organic. Any food that is labeled organic by definition is not a biotech product.  These people have a choice in the products they choose to purchase. Why can’t I?

 

My experience growing GM sweet corn was a good one. It’s an outstanding food. I loved it and so did the folks at my church. I am confident you will too.  We can thank biotechnology for making it possible and Wal-Mart for making it available.

 

Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm.  He volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology.  www.truthabouttrade.org

How Dry Is It? It’s so dry farmers need drought-resistant crops!

Aug 09, 2012

 By Terry Wanzek:  Jamestown, North Dakota

 

How dry is it?

 

It’s so dry, the fish have ticks.

 

It’s so dry, the swimming pool has closed two lanes.

 

It’s so dry, the fire hydrants are chasing the dogs around.

 

Those are some of the jokes zipping around the Internet, in response to the dreadful drought of 2012. More than half of the United States is now suffering through drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Only the droughts of 1934, 1939, and 1954 spread across larger areas.

 

So here’s another line to remember: It’s so dry, farmers need drought-resistant crops.

 

Every plant requires water to grow, but some plants survive with less. The cactus flourishes in hot and dry climates because it has adapted to them, conserving water like a precious resource.

 

Genetic modification won’t ever allow us to turn desert into farmland, and the worst droughts will continue to inflict a terrible price on agriculture. Yet biotechnology gives us a tool for pushing back. Just as it has helped farmers fight weeds and pests, it can help them battle dry spells too.

 

The goal is to grow more food with less water. Here’s the rhyming slogan: We need more crop per drop!  Biotechnology has helped us move in this direction.  Drought resistant crops will help us move even further towards that goal.

 

For four decades, researchers have tried to breed plants that resist drought. Traditional methods are slow and difficult. At best, they’ve shown mixed results. The bar is very high.

 

Biotechnology has changed all that. Just as Olympic pole vaulters soar over heights that high jumpers won’t ever reach, biotechnology lets 21st-century researchers leap over daunting challenges in ways that their predecessors barely could have imagined.

 

Now we’re on the verge of another breakthrough. Next year, farmers will have widespread access to a type of GM corn that’s built for dry weather. It should generate plenty of interest. According to one estimate, 40 percent of crop losses are a direct result of drought. Moreover, the Department of Agriculture says that this year’s drought affects 88 percent of America’s corn crop.

 

A new report from North Dakota State University points to the promise: "Early results indicated that drought-tolerant corn could potentially improve yields by 8 to 22 percent (15 percent average) under drought stress," write Sumadhur Shakya, William W. Wilson, and Bruce Dahl.

 

That wouldn’t be enough to save this year’s most devastated farmers in places like Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois--states where the drought has dealt a brutal blow--but it’s enough to make a difference on the margins. A lot of farmers would have been better off this year if they had enjoyed access to drought-resistant corn.

 

The same goes for consumers: The drought will push up their food prices, which means that biotechnology is a tool for keeping bills in check.

 

To a certain extent, it’s already helping. Because biotechnology beats back weeds, farmers are tilling their soil less. Tilled soil loses moisture; limited tillage conserves it. As a result, biotechnology probably has mitigated the effects of this year’s drought, even if we don’t fully appreciate it.

 

After corn, the next big step for drought resistance is wheat. In Australia, research indicates that GM wheat could boost yields by 20 percent during drought conditions as compared to non-GM wheat. Commercial access is still years away, but it’s on the horizon.

 

Unfortunately, the enemies of biotechnology never sleep. A decade ago, their scare tactics persuaded several seed companies to halt their research into GM wheat. Except for this work stoppage, we’d possibly have GM wheat right now, helping us withstand the drought of 2012.

 

Now these professional protestors have turned to new strategies. In California, they’re trying to pass a ballot initiative that would require a special label for any food product that carries a biotech ingredient, as if it poses a health hazard--which it absolutely does not. Their scheme is to create consumer pressure in opposition to a technique that will provide relief to farmers in severe conditions and also keep down food costs for consumers.

 

How dry is it?

 

It’s so dry, this is no laughing matter.

 

Terry Wanzek is a wheat, corn and soybean farmer in North Dakota.  He serves as a ND State Senator and volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

Mexico’s New President Can Usher Us Into the 21st Century with Agricultural Reform

Aug 02, 2012

 By Francisco Gurría Treviño:  Asesores y Consultores en Desarrollo Agricola S.C. Mexico, Distrito Federal

 
Mexico, the native home of corn, soon will enjoy a new beginning--and has a remarkable opportunity to join the revolution in farming that is sweeping the rest of the world.
 
Last month, Mexican voters elected Enrique Peña Nieto as our next president. The former governor of Mexico’s biggest state will take office in December.
 
Most of the political commentary has focused on the partisan basics: Peña Nieto’s triumph marks a return to power for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico for more than 70 years before the National Action Party (PAN) won a historic presidential victory in 2000.
 
Peña Nieto now must confront a series of daunting challenges involving the economy, corruption, and drug-war violence.
 
He should also tackle agricultural reform--and in particular, he should push for greater acceptance of genetically-modified crops. Mexico previously benefitted from the 20th century’s Green Revolution. Now it’s time for my country to enter the 21st century and embrace the Gene Revolution.
 
Peña Nieto must guide us there.
 
To a limited extent, Mexico already has accepted the Gene Revolution. In 2011, its farmers planted more than 430,000 acres of biotech crops, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). This was a staggering upsurge of 146 percent over the previous year, a rate of increase that led the world.
 
But it’s easy to lead the world when you start out small. This is Mexico’s main biotech problem: Its GM acreage is still puny. A tiny country like Africa’s Burkina Faso grows more GM crops than we do. So does Myanmar, in Southeast Asia.
 
Although Mexico has grown GM crops for years, our government has limited the types of GM plants that our farmers can grow. As a result, GM cotton is widely used but other crops--including corn, with its incredible biotech potential--remain out of reach for most farmers.
 
Even among Latin American countries, we trail in biotech acceptance.  Argentina and Brazil are global leaders in GM crop production. They’re farming powerhouses, so perhaps it’s not entirely fair to compare Mexico to them. Yet Mexico doesn’t even finish third. Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay also grow more GM crops. That puts us in sixth place. If we remain complacent, we’ll fall further behind as Chile, Colombia, and Honduras overtake us.
 
A few Mexican farmers have grown biotech corn, but usually in temporary field trials and trivial amounts. Permits to grow GM corn have come slowly, often with useless and ridiculous restrictions. We’ve fallen behind on research as well.  This is not a problem of agriculture or science. It’s a problem of politics and government--and one that Peña Nieto, with his upcoming fresh start, has an opportunity to fix.
 
The spread of biotechnology through Mexico won’t require new spending, but it will demand tough decisions on regulatory approvals. Thankfully, Peña Nieto’s PRI has a tradition of biotech acceptance, dating back to Mexico’s earliest approvals of GM cotton in the 1990s.
 
Many of us would like to have full access to the yield-boosting varieties of GM corn that are now conventional crops in Canada and the United States, our NAFTA partners. When I travel north, in fact, I’m in awe of what our fellow farmers are able to accomplish with these amazing plants. I’m also jealous that we don’t share in this bounty--and wonder if domestic production can replace the roughly 10 million tons of corn we import for livestock consumption each year. Most of these imports, by the way, are the very types of GM corn we don’t grow ourselves.
 
I understand Mexico’s reluctance to welcome corn biotechnology with the fervor of other nations. Our ancestors domesticated the plant 10,000 years ago. Corn is one of Mexico’s great gifts to the world.
 
Biotechnology doesn’t change that, but it does mark an important turning point in the cultivation of this staple food. Either we accept a safe technology that boosts yield, reduces reliance on chemical sprays, and fights soil erosion--or we choose to watch farmers in other countries continue to pass us by.
 
Mexico deserves better. Peña Nieto must seize this unique moment and do what’s right for Mexico, its farmers, and its people.
 
Francisco Gurría Treviño is a veterinarian, a former Undersecretary of Agriculture and Livestock and Permanent Advisor to the Mexican Corn Producer Association in Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico. He is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.   www.truthabouttrade.org
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