Posted By Cathryn December 9, 2013
Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post that originally ran on The Farmers Life. This blog, authored by Indiana farmer Brian, provides a window into ag and thoughtful, open conversation about the issues impacting farmers today.
Journal to Retract Seralini Rat Study
Last year French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini made news when a paper by his team was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. Data concerning long-term feeding of genetically modified Monsanto corn and the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) in the Seralini study suggested the rats being studied developed cancerous tumors. Of course this news spread around the internet like wildfire among those who detest biotech crops. Finally they had a really high profile study published proving their point.
Criticism of Seralini Study
The scientific community widely criticized the study’s statistical methods. The number of rats used was questionable, and the data drawn from test and control groups seemed incomplete at best. Test groups of Harlan Sprague-Dawley rats used in the feeding study were given various amounts of NK603 corn over a two-year period. Test subjects were also given varying amounts of glyphosate in drinking water. Control rats received non-GM corn and regular drinking water. Rats fed GMO corn and glyphosate developed tumors during their two-year life span, and pictures of tumor riddled rats plagued the internet.
Seralini rats as described by scientist Kevin Folta. “Sometimes the way data are presented can expose the relative objectivity and hidden intent of a study. Left-rat that ate GMO corn. Center- rat eating GMO corn and roundup. Right- rat fed roundup. Their associated tumors shown on the right. Wait! What about the control rats, the ones that also got tumors? How convenient to leave them out!”
But what about the control rats? They developed tumors as well. Sprague-Dawley rats are known to develop tumors during their lifespan. In fact a majority of them are known to do so within two years. Further analysis of Seralini’s data shows rats fed NK603 corn and Roundup-laced water sometimes had less incidence of tumors than the control group. Shouldn’t that bit of information thrown up some red flags possibly before the study was originally published inFood and Chemical Toxicology? Flags were thrown for and by many scientists, and now the tables are turning as the editor of the journal, A. Wallace Hayes, stated this week he would retract the paper from the journal if Seralini did not withdraw it himself.
When I first heard news of Seralini’s study in 2012 I was skeptical as you might imagine. Livestock have been fed GM corn and soybeans for almost 20 years now. If it was so awful as to cause all the ailments claimed by those who seem to pander to anti-GMO sentiment I think it stands to reason that farmers would have backed off the stuff long ago. But that kind of logic doesn’t fit the narrative of GMO = Bad. The Seralini paper was, and likely still is, validation for those who were predisposed to interpret it as definitive proof that biotechnology should be outlawed.
Seralini Going Forward
Although I am glad to see this fear mongering study being pulled from publication I’m afraid the damage has already been done. And if you’re a GMO hater you can still easily feel like you’ve won. I’ve already seen the internet gearing up to portray the retraction as a result of great pressure applied to the journal by Big Ag and the politicians supposedly paid off by industry money. People who believe such narratives don’t have to change their minds when new information comes to light. Even if the old information was questionable to begin. All they need do is move the goal post. Kevin Folta agrees “we’ll see the wagons circle“ while suggesting steps for Seralini to take since he is standing behind his team’s research.
Science is a process, and I’m happy the process is working.
To view the original post, click here.
Posted By Mark November 26, 2013
If you happen to be an ethanol proponent and you get asked by friends over the holiday what all the hub-bub is about related to the Environmental Protection Agency and their recent ethanol snub, just tell them to follow the money.
You see the stock values of four of the five biggest oil companies surged by a combined $23 billion in a single day after the Obama administration proposed to scale back the biofuel blending requirements, according to Americans United for Change.
“Big Oil hit the jackpot, but we are risking a huge slowdown in the development of next generation biofuels that are our best hope for reducing America’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil,” said Brad Woodhouse, the group’s president.
It almost appears that the administration is succumbing to the pressure and millions of dollars spent by big oil to slander ethanol in order to avoid another self-inflicted political wound, said one Washington insider. “Obamacare is too white hot for them to risk another hot potato and the petroleum industry made a lot of noise in Congress. The only way to overturn this EPA proposed action is to make them equally uncomfortable.”
In the interim one unavoidable fact remains in the favor of ethanol proponents…the Renewable Fuels Standard was designed by Congress to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and give consumers a fuel choice. It has done that nicely and created jobs and saved consumers money in the process.
It has honestly been awhile since the nation’s family farmers who grow corn have been in a political gunfight of this magnitude, but this is a fight worth winning. Corn prices below the cost of production should provide a powerful incentive. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead and be prepared to take action when the time comes.
Posted By Cathryn October 21, 2013
Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer and blogger Kim Bremmer.
What a fun morning in Alma Center, Wisconsin with two buses full of high school students, teachers and the school nutritionist for an informal discussion about food! Pfaffway Farm was our wonderful host and is home to over 200 milking cows and youngstock. Kristin Pfaff wanted to host an event about modern food production, showcase an actual farm, and be able to answer any questions the students might have about modern farming today.
The students were given donated milk, cheese curds and Craisins as they were seated on straw bale benches. A questionaire was handed out earlier in the week at school and our discussion was focused accordingly around their answers.
We answered questions about the overall safety of food today and how technology has changed over time. We spent a lot of time discussing GMO’s and handed out the Common Ground info-graph to everyone. Many of the kids had concerns about the safety of GMO’s today and it was quite apparent the influence that main stream media has. We had examples of different foods and talked at length about food labels and what they mean. “Organic”, “All Natural”, “Hormone Free”, “Antibiotic Free” were all covered as well as r-BST, animal care concerns, and salmonella.
It was a lively group of young consumers with a lot of great questions and great discussion. Even the adults in the group all commented on how much they learned. Our final message was about keeping an open mind and always asking an expert when it comes to where your food comes from…the farmers and ranchers who are producing food for their own families and yours. And more information can always be found at findourcommonground.com!
Posted By Cathryn October 17, 2013
Daily news stories rail against attempts by the foodie elite to dictate the diets of Main Street Americans. From parents protesting school lunch menus to New Yorkers rallying in defense of the Big Gulp, average citizens stand firmly in support of their right to make decisions and ardently defend their personal freedoms.
Yet, with carefully crafted theories and a plethora of plausible-yet-false facts, New York Times writer Mark Bittman gets away with forcing his theories about the redistribution of wealth, land and scrapping the basic ideals of the right to property and freedom of choice. He wants Americans to buy into his supposed “paradigm shift,” a regressive jump back to a pre-specialization of labor economy, and therefore aide in his effort to dictate diets not just to Americans but also to the rest of the world.
Bittman’s bitter tirade represents not only an agenda-driven, slanted view of modern agriculture heavily reliant upon idealized imagery but also an ongoing intellectual trend toward a world of pseudo-imperialism that would allow cultural dictators to rule over Americans and the international community alike. Displeased with how a dispersion of power and innovation has left their theoretical musings impotent, Bittman and his self-aggrandizing elitist posse cunningly plot to play on fear of the unknown, of all things “big,” of change, to gain support which, once firmly garnered, they would use to create their own utopia of the urban and urbane literati.
Know that this utopia does not take into account the realities of life most Americans face. It does not account for a lack of land, a lack of time or even a climate lacking the conditions needed to actually grow a crop. It does not account for land ownership, the ability of either farmers or consumers to make choices or the economic reality that those who grow food and those who purchase it know intimately.
While he hits on many touching topics, invoking the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised and the unjustly treated, he does these groups no substantial good. In forming his fix for a system he knows little about, he ignores the deeper issues surrounding food waste and productivity. He ignores personal choice and takes the idea of food security for granted in a way which early Americans never possibly could.
So, stand up! If each of us rallies against these covert attacks on the freedoms which make our country and our lives great as hard as we stand up in defense of their more obvious counterparts, we can make a difference. Theory and idealism have a place, but they do not put food on the table when they fail to account for reality and value the rights of individuals.
Tell the foodie elites like Bittman to close the doors on their intellectual imperialist dinner party. Tell them Main Street refuses to accept their invitation.
Posted By Cathryn September 24, 2013
Looking at the myriad of activities NCGA and so many other organizations conduct to help share the story of farming with consumers, one might wonder about the impact on public opinion. Today, a blog post by Rajean Blomquist provided clear, concise evidence that open, real conversations between the women who grow food and those who purchase it make a difference.
Blomquist attended a dinner organized by CommonGround Colorado last month. While there, she had a chance to meet the farm women who volunteer their time and share their stories to help consumers understand how their food is grown and raised.
Speaking of that night, Blomquist recounts the impression of America’s farmers she has following her conversations.
“These farm women spoke passionately about their jobs, their families, the history of their farms – most are third and fourth generation farmers. To me, that speaks volumes of their dedication to bring us the freshest, safest food. They spoke of feeding their families what they and their fellow farming friends grow, the best proof I need to know they won’t sell it if they don’t eat it. Their clear skin, bright eyes, nice teeth, and hair told me they appear to be healthy from the inside out. There are an enormous amount of regulations in the farm industry. No doubt, farmers work harder than most people before many of us raise our heads off our pillows in the mornings.”
To read the full post, click here.
This may only seem like one person, but Blomquist shares her story too. Through her blog, the volunteers reach women not only across Colorado but also around the world.
The world grows more connected by the day as bloggers and social media users reach a global community on the web. The conversations about food and farming in this space have a ripple effect. One person’s impression can touch many more people in further flung places than anyone could have imagined only a few decades ago.
Someone is telling your story – the story of farming in America. Working together, we can make sure that more thoughtful, concerned voices, voices like Blomquist, hear it first from a farmer.
Posted By Cathryn September 11, 2013
Farming looks quite different in America than it does in Europe. While many offhandedly write off the modernizations that allow American farmers to produce such an abundant, affordable food supply by characterizing U.S. farmers as passive pawns of agribusiness, The Economist magazine dug deeper in recent article and found American farming to be a product more of a forward-looking, achievement-driven national character. A character carefully cultivated in young farmers very much by design.
To see the full article, click here.
This close examination finds that the history of the New World necessitated farmers find ways to feed a fast growing, wide spread population. The attitudes embraced by immigrants, forward-thinking and innovative individualists, led American farmers to more easily embrace changing technology and science. The New World looked forward. The Old World embraced the past.
Today, as the article notes, organizations aimed at developing a scientifically minded, industrious generation of new farmers, such as 4-H, mold young agriculturalists to embrace science. Through programs such as these, America continues to push forward in farming, as it does in many other areas.
As Americans, we must continue to focus on the core values that fueled the incredible growth of our nation. As a society, we embrace technology rapidly, craving the newest medical and communications advances. By applying the same fervor to agriculture, we can use the tools developed in our research labs and in our nation’s fields. Together, we must embrace the technologies that move agriculture forward to meet tomorrow’s demands.
America’s young farmers see a vibrant vision of what farming can be. Why encumber them with a social and political environment that would prefer looking toward the past?
Posted By Cathryn September 6, 2013
Sometimes, it seems as if the reality of farming in the United States gets lost in the media shuffle. With so much attention turned towards serious situations abroad or sensationalized scandals at home, thoughtful journalism on the issues affecting American agriculture often do not make the front page unless a major weather event, such as a drought, raises concerns over availability or food prices.
Yesterday, National Public Radio’s Here and Now provided an in-depth look at why the farm bill matters to rural America. Focusing on the positive impact of crop insurance, this piece provides a look at why an issue some might dismiss as only important to farmers actually matters for the multitude of businesses that depend upon farmer dollars.
Farmers might not agree with every word uttered by every party interviewed for the story. Certainly, there are as many opinions about the course of this legislation as there are producers touched by it. For everyone involved in agriculture, such well-reasoned, rational radio does provide a benefit in introducing a nuanced narrative to listeners who might not be otherwise familiar with the issue.
As Congress returns from recess, American agriculture must tell its story. It is critical for the men and women who farm to explain the importance of crop insurance to them personally. Likewise, we need to relate the importance to the vast web of equipment dealers, bankers, seed providers and others who benefit from a healthy farming economy. We need to put forth the time and effort and spur Congress to action because we do need a farm bill now.
So take a listen. The story is yours to tell.
Posted By Cathryn July 29, 2013
Everyone may be entitled to an opinion, but the trend toward steadfastly believing completely unsubstantiated claims about food has hit a new high. According to a New York Times poll discussed in an article last Saturday, 93 percent of Americans felt food containing genetically modified or engineered ingredients should be identified with a label, but most went on to affirm their belief in false facts about GMOs disseminated through agenda-driven propaganda.
Applying the thirst for knowledge a bit more liberally might benefit many Americans.
With sizeable portions of those responding to the survey expressing worry over the safety of GMOs, claiming the foods might cause cancer, allergies or were toxic, the desire among these persons for more information about the science behind their food seems lacking. Scientific studies conducted by credible researchers following established protocols continually show that there is no added risk associated with foods containing GMOs. Yet, in spite of a formidable and ever-growing body of evidence, they cling to their irrational fears.
The battle may continue over whether or not labeling should reflect if a product includes foods grown through the use of biotechnology but, as the war of words winds up, let’s not forget that simply knowing if a product contains a GMO food or not does not mean much on its own. The real key is knowing about the scientific study and regulatory procedures that ensure we have a safe, affordable variety of foods from which Americans can choose.
To learn more, click here.
Posted By Mark July 17, 2013
In the maelstrom that is modern society, with a hyperactive media and a beleaguered work force, I think many of us rarely have the time to do research or critical thinking related to the issues of the day. I place myself firmly in that ilk.
Today a very simple question set the wheels turning. The question came from a farmer who asked how we can explain complex farm programs and support programs designed to keep family farmers producing food and raw materials to a well fed public.
Several thoughts immediately came to mind. First, farm programs have changed and today policy is moving toward a new paradigm, one that focuses on a safety net approach. At a fundamental level this insurance kicks in to assist growers only when developments beyond their control – such as a wide spread drought – put farm survival at risk.
This well considered and analyzed approach recognizes the intrinsic value of the small slice of our population that feed us and much of the world today. This small group is the receptacle of generations of irreplaceable farming knowledge that have made American agriculture the envy of the world. They have allowed generations of us to take food for granted, and miss a very simple fact…once a farmer calls it quits they don’t return.
Unlike a factory layoff, when a farmer moves on so does the complex storehouse of diversified skills that make farmers a productive juggernaut. There are no recalls when things get better. Likewise there is little incentive for another generation to return to the farm given the entry level investment and associated risk.
So I suggested rather than try to give someone a crash course in agriculture, we speak to the public with the goal of giving this issue a perspective that is undeniably powerful and defies flippant responses and misinformation.
So here goes. The next time you speak to a group or an individual ask them to name the industries that are the top contributors to the Gross Domestic product. Then add agriculture to the list if it isn’t already there. Now tell them they can only save one. In my experience, nearly without fail, they will universally select agriculture. This simple exercise puts the incredible necessity of a safe and abundant food supply under the bright light of reason.
Now take the next step in your thinking and consider the important role an agricultural safety net, and the stability it brings, plays in allowing us to spend less of our disposable income on food than any other nation. (About 10% in recent years). Suddenly, that agricultural safety net, becomes an investment in consumers number one need…sustenance. Not a “farm subsidy.”
If you are wondering, the hottest industries in terms of contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Department of Commerce:
- Durable Goods/Manufacturing
- Wholesale Trade – raw and intermediate materials used to produce non-durable goods
Top Industries in terms of job creation:
Interestingly, five of the top ten industries in terms of job creation are social media and internet related. But when the rubber meets the road, social networks feed nobody, video games are not nutritious, and wires and processors have little to do with our immediate survival.
Posted By Cathryn June 12, 2013
For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.
Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.
Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.
Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.
The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.
From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.
Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?
Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.
Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.
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