Posted By Cindy March 4, 2014
The granddaughter of the father of the Green Revolution is carrying on with his mission to help feed the world, and Julie Borlaug believes that must include communicating the benefits of biotechnology on a more personal level.
“For years, we in the ag sector have been on the losing end of the argument, partly because we thought we could win the day on science alone and with scientists doing the talking,” said Borlaug, who is Associate Director of External Relations at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, during the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum prior to Commodity Classic last week. “Scientists like my grandfather were unfortunately a lot better at doing science than communicating about it.”
Borlaug says her famous grandfather Dr. Norman Borlaug, who will be honored this month with bronze statue in the U.S. Capitol, had a “lifelong passion for feeding the hungry and miserable” and was a supporter of biotechnology just as she is. But she says that agriculture needs take a more personal approach to talking about biotechnology. “We must remember we are talking to those outside of agriculture who have never been on a farm,” she said. “We are talking to moms who believe everything on Facebook.”
You can listen to Julie’s remarks here: Julie Borlaug Remarks
Posted By Cathryn February 13, 2014
A Reuters news story released today confirmed that the advanced tools and practices used by modern American farmers can have a massive positive impact in reducing global hunger if more widely adopted. Assuming the idea of reducing human suffering holds near universal appeal, this finding demonstrates how arguments for a return to the farming ways of yesterdays and against the use of tested, proven technologies would actually have a negative impact on anyone financially unable to pay the high price of adherence to these pseudointellectual ideals.
The study, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, concluded that widespread adoption of an array of technologies, including biotech seeds, could cut commodity prices in half and reduce global food insecurity by as much as 36 percent by 2050. Noting that no single technology alone can produce this impact, the researchers found that used together practices such as no till farming, irrigation and biotech seed technologies can substantively change the future of global hunger.
For an infographic summarizing the findings, click here.
An over-fed, under-questioned segment of the population is pushing to take away the very tools farmers need to feed a growing world. With full stomachs, they use misinformation and empty rhetoric to launch a full sail assault on scientific advancement in agriculture. Whether for personal profit or out of sincere short-sightedness, anti-GMO activists and their anti-ag allies fight for misguided movements that would directly result in a future where more poor children go hungry.
The fight for modern farming is a fight to feed the world. Eschewing science in favor of foolish fanaticism has repercussions that reach far beyond U.S. borders and far into the future. Don’t let those born tomorrow suffer for the ignorance ignited today.
Posted By Cindy February 10, 2014
There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.
- Winston Churchill -
Some of the nation’s largest media outlets were on-line for the conference call Thursday announcing the new “Coalition for Safe Affordable Food” (CFSAF), a group of nearly 30 companies and organizations united to seed a federal solution on the labeling of food products derived from genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). Many of the resulting reports were predictably cynical of the effort.
Several of the headlines read some modification of Bloomberg’s “Food Industry Forms Group to Stop Gene-Modified Labeling Laws”, referring to CFSAF as an “anti-labeling coalition.”
The goal of the group makes perfect sense in seeking national standards for labeling of food that may or may not contain genetically modified crops, instead of the looming potential of a patchwork quilt of laws in different states and municipalities. “A federal solution on GMO labeling will bolster consumer confidence in the safety of American food by reaffirming the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) role as the nation’s foremost authority on the use and labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients,” said National Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre.
American Soybean Association President Ray Gaesser of Iowa used Missouri, bordered by eight states, as an example of what kind of nightmare various labeling laws could create. “If every one of those states passed their own labeling requirements with different thresholds for GM ingredients, your average soybean farmer would have to establish eight different supply chains, sanitize his equipment between each one, and then trace them religiously,” he said, noting that it could increase prices by 15-30%.
“When you look at the real world impact of these state-by-state regulations, it simply becomes too much for farmers to bear,” Gaesser said.
With a growing number of states and municipalities from Hawaii to Vermont considering some kind of GMO labeling, the coalition is asking Congress to take action, but as of yet no bills have been offered. With the farm bill off the plate now, farmers are optimistic it will happen soon.
Listen to the conference call here: GMO Coalition Announcement
Posted By Cathryn January 23, 2014
The following blog post was authored by Minnesota family farmer and CommonGround volunteer Kristie Swenson. Swenson participates in CommonGround, which is a joint project of the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates, to help moms off the farm know how the moms on America’s farms grow and raise their food. By sharing her stories, she hopes to help consumers enjoy their food without fear.
The topic of GMOs is complex, challenging, and emotional, regardless of your stance. I have yet to have a straightforward conversation where we simply talk about one aspect of the GMOs because it’s so hard to talk about just one aspect when there are so many sides to the issue. If one starts talking about the science itself, or the methodology used to genetically modify an organism, the conversation often goes on tangents like research, ethics, side effects, chemical use, labeling, corporations and so on. It is so hard to separate each individual issue because they are connected and they are all valid issues that should be addressed.
Straight away, you should know that I am pro-GMO. I do not believe that GMOs are the silver bullet or the solution for everything, but I do believe that GMOs have merits that should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Do I think every single organism needs to be genetically modified? No, I don’t. But I do believe that genetically modifying some organisms can provide us with benefits, and I think those modifications should be researched.
Take papayas, for example. In the 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya crop was devastated by the ringspot virus. A Hawaiian scientist, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, developed a virus-resistant variety of papaya through genetic modification and found a way to help the papaya industry. In Hawaii today, both GMO and non-GMO papayas are produced. (Read this article for an interview with Dr. Gonsalves.)
Am I saying that since I see GM papayas as a good thing, that all GMOs are a good thing? I’m not going to use one positive situation to blanket the entire topic of GMOs. I am just saying that there are other industries that could benefit from genetic modification. The citrus industry comes to mind as it has been hit by citrus greening (the scientific name is Huanglongbing, or HLB). In this particular case, biotechnology could save our citrus. Here are two articles that further explore the citrus greening issue: Article 1 and Article 2.
To me, genetic modification and biotechnology are tools. Having multiple tools to pick from enables us to determine which tool fits the best for the situation at hand. People will choose tools based not only on the situation, but also on their personal preference. You and I may be faced with the same situation, yet we may choose different tools to achieve similar outcomes. And that’s ok – it is ok to have different opinions, different beliefs, different comfort levels.
I understand people have questions and concerns. It’s so easy for us to look to sources of information with which we are familiar, or which share our perspective. In today’s society, with the constant barrage of information and the vast amount of information available, it is so hard to sort out what’s fact from opinion; what’s twisted from what’s true. What one person finds credible may not be a credible source for someone else. I encourage you to seek out sources of information that provide facts rather than perpetuating myths, to have respectful conversations with people who work with biotechnology, and to think critically about what you find. I encourage you to continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers, and to know not just what you believe but why you believe it.
Posted By Cindy January 14, 2014
Most people are unaware that much of our nation’s seed corn supply hails from the Aloha State. In fact, seed corn is now the biggest segment of Hawaii’s agriculture sector, valued at $243 million, according to the most recent statistics.
The seed crop industry started about 50 years ago in Hawaii, but since 2000 the industry has grown by an astronomical 548%, with all of the major seed players having a stake in about ten farms totaling some 25,000 acres on four of the Hawaiian islands. These farms use both conventional as well as biotech plant breeding methods to grow seed crops, mostly corn, and all of it is exported to both North and South America for further development and distribution.
Needless to say, the industry is very valuable to Hawaii in terms of employment and economic benefit – as well as to farmers working to feed a growing world population – but in the past year movements have cropped up to place restrictions on seed companies in terms of pesticide use and genetically modified crops. After a heated and prolonged battle last year that included a veto by the mayor who then received death threats, Kauai County passed such an ordinance in November. Now three major seed companies impacted by the law have filed suit against the county.
Under the ordinance, scheduled to take effect in August, open-air testing of experimental pesticides would be prohibited and a moratorium would be placed on the development of new genetically modified crops. In the lawsuit, the companies note that their activities are already regulated by state and federal governmental agencies and that the local law would place “burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations.”
While cloaked with the purpose of protecting the “health and natural environment” of Kauai and its people, this is clearly the work of anti-GMO activists, such as The Center for Food Safety which has been heavily involved in the local action. Just another weapon being used in the war against progress to feed a growing world population.
Posted By Cindy January 7, 2014
General Mills made headlines last week with the announcement that that they will begin marketing original Cheerios “not made with genetically modified ingredients.”
In a post about the change, General Mills VP of global communications Tom Forsythe noted that it really is not a big change. “Original Cheerios has always been made with whole grain oats, and there are no GMO oats. We do use a small amount of corn starch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste. And now that corn starch comes only from non-GM corn, and our sugar is only non-GM pure cane sugar.”
But it’s even less of a change than that, according to Margaret Smith, Cornell University professor of plant breeding and genetics, who says Cheerios are just the same as ever.
“Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA, which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism, and no protein – which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism,” she explains. “Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.”
Forsythe notes that General Mills’ support of GMOs remains the same, which is well-articulated in an on-line company position statement that links to a separate website on Facts about GMOS.
The reason General Mills made the “change” and announced it as they did is really simple – money. “We did it because we think consumers may embrace it,” said Forsythe. Chances are the “new” Cheerios will actually be more expensive, as another company spokesman quoted in the Wall Street Journal said it “required significant investment” to make the changes to the original cereal and that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to make other varieties without GMOs.
Time will tell if the cereal will be more expensive and if GMO-fearful consumers will pay the price. The bigger question is what message this will send to the general public if all they hear is that one of the nation’s largest food companies is going GMO-free.
Posted By Cathryn December 27, 2013
The Washington Examiner needs to examine their facts before publishing pure poppycock. In an article which ran on December 20, the paper claimed that National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest record holder David Hula grew his record-breaking bounty using organic production practices. Contest records clearly show this is completely untrue.
Hula, a perennial winner, deserves both recognition and admiration for his abilities. NCGA enthusiastically congratulates him on his accomplishment. The contest aims to encourage innovation and improvement, a goal Hula undoubtedly achieved. The fact that he did not grow his corn organically in no way, shape or form diminishes his success.
The false story published in the Examiner does detract from the overall success of modern famers though. Within days, anti-GMO activists have latched on to this pseudo-story to aid in their agenda-driven arguments. A record yield such as Hula’s would support arguments for the production possibilities using organic methods. But the record was not set using organic methods. So, the support they so desire does not exist.
NCGA keeps detailed records from each entry submitted to the NCYC. The information these forward-facing farmers provide sheds light on possible advancements and supplies the documentation needed to ensure the integrity of the contest. . The Biovante™ soil treatment Hula used may qualify as an organic treatment, but none of his other practices would qualify as organic. Like the vast majority of corn growers, he planted corn hybrids that contain biotechnology, used synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Organic production practices would not allow the use of any one of these tools.
The Examiner should take a closer look at how it fact checks its stories prior to publication. By not getting the story right, they turned a success story from America’s farms into a tool for activists who advocate against them.
Posted By Cindy December 17, 2013
Dr. Jude Capper is a livestock sustainability consultant, professor of animal sciences, and a “bovidiva” according to her blog of the same name.
Last week she did a great post entitled “Activism 101 – How to Write Like An Angry Internet “Expert” on GMOs.” An asterisk after the word “expert” points to a footnote:
*Note that being an “expert” does not involve education, higher degrees or being employed within the industry in question. Nowadays you can only be an expert if you are entirely impartial, third-party, and preferably know nothing whatsoever about the system in question. On that basis, I’m off to write a book about Zen Dentistry.
She offers nine points on how to write like an angry GMO expert, the final one being – “If all else fails, invoke the name of the evil that must be named….ahem, Monsanto. If you say it three times into a mirror, an ancient agricultural god will appear and wreak vengeance upon the earth. Honestly, I saw it on Oprah.”
Jude is hilarious, satirical, and often outrageous and if so much of this blog post were not sadly true it would be a lot funnier.
Read it and weep or LOL – or both.
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 Cindy October 24, 2013
The 2013 World Food Prize symposium was probably the most controversial ever with the spotlight on biotechnology but while there may have been a handful of protestors outside the more than 1200 attendees from countries all over the globe seemed to largely be in agreement about the importance of genetically modified crops for the future of our world.
Scientists from two agricultural biotech companies – Monsanto and Syngenta – were honored for their work in the field, but it was Monsanto’s Dr. Robert Fraley who was the focus of the GMO critics. During a press conference with the three laureates, Fraley was asked why he thought Monsanto was the target for critics. “Sometimes that’s frustrating,” said Fraley. “I always assume that means we’ve been really successful and people see us as a leader and that’s part of the responsibility that goes with it.”
Syngenta’s Mary Dell Chilton said she didn’t really understand why Monsanto is the main target of critics but she believes the industry as a whole needs to “have good communications with the public about the safety” of the technology.
The third laureate, Marc Van Montagu of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium, said he believes that the critics have singled out Monsanto as the “villain” because it works better than talking about the industry as a whole. “If you start gossiping about a person, people always start believing gossip – humanity is like that,” he said.
One comment from Dr. Fraley really sticks with me. He said that, considering the thousands of studies and decades of research that have gone into the development of the GMO crops on the market, one of the “rumors” that “hurts him the most” is about their safety. It was as if he was talking about someone calling his baby ugly!
No matter how much people may love to hate Monsanto as a company, it is very important to realize that the motivations of the majority of scientists who have pioneered the work of genetically-modified crops are sincere. It’s not for money, fame or fortune or to help a company sell more product. They truly see their work as a way to help humanity and and for that they deserve our respect and recognition.
Listen to how the laureates answered some tough questions from the media here: World Food Prize Laureates press conference
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