Corn Commentary

Who Said Conventional Production Is Sustainable?

When you look at the facts, conventional agriculture scores higher than organic on sustainability. What system generates these results? The new Responsibly Grown labeling system developed by Whole Foods.

According to a multitude of media reports, the system will rank produce on a variety of criteria including water use, pesticide use and sustainability. Then, the data will be used to award produce selections with a label of “good,” “better” or “best.”

For one example, from Fox News, click here.

From early reports, conventional farmers have placed much higher than the growers using organic methods.

The system reflects a shift in the industry as a whole. While organics may have grown in popularity, many advocate a more scientific approach to assessing the impact of food production. Whole Foods spent three full years developing the Responsibly Grown program. Instead of simply applying a label to market the produce, they provide information on the true impact of growing practices.

Farmers, whether conventional or organic, strive to care for their land. It has provided a livelihood for their family for many generations in most cases. In about as many, they hope it will continue to do so for many generations to come. Keeping it healthy only makes sense.

Conventional production can be more sustainable than organic. Soon, the proof will be clearly labeled at a Whole Foods near you.

Mutant Monday: Lazy1

This photo comes courtesy of Steve Dellaporta.

This photo comes courtesy of Steve Dellaporta.

Gravitropism is a plant’s response to gravity. It is what makes the roots grow down into the soil, and the shoot grows in the opposite direction. There are several pathways in this response including amyloplasts, whole cell response and hormones. Lazy1 interferes with the plant’s hormone response to gravity. The result is a plant that slouches like a teenager, it bends back toward the ground as it grows but does not break.

To learn more, click here.

IFF Takes Chicago Moms to the Lab to Investigate GMOs

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining a group of Chicago-area moms for a tour of a major biotechnology provider’s research center. These women, who came as a part of the Illinois Farm Families program, had voiced concerns about GMOs and wanted the chance to see first-hand what biotech really means for their families. After an incredible afternoon of learning and discussions with women who work in biotech, women with families and lives much like their own, these influential thought leaders found that there is less to fear about food than they previously suspected.

Starting early on a Saturday morning, the group of about two dozen boarded a flight to St. Louis. These moms, busy women with hectic schedules themselves, showed not only the importance they placed upon learning about GMOs but also the value they place upon the Illinois Farm Families program as a whole. They embraced the idea of exploring agriculture and actively seeking knowledge upon which to base their judgments on a topic we all value- feeding our families the best that we can.

Sponsored by Illinois Farm Families with additional support provided by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, IFF invited all the women who participated in traditional IFF farm tours since the program began in 2012.  Nearly half of them signed up for the GMO tour that was designed specifically for IFF alums.

After leaving, the participants filled out surveys to help IFF evaluate how the tour impacted their views. The results were clear; the day was a success for farmers and consumers alike.

Delving into the data, the numbers backed IFF’s approach. The moms reported a 26 percent reduction in their overall concerns about GMOs. What did they gain? According to the women themselves, they left with a much better understanding of the human safety of GMO seeds and crops after the tour.

The knowledge they gained furthers IFFs goal of dispelling the many myths, perpetuated by the media, which lead to food fears. With so many removed from the farm, the concerns of these women are understandable. They only want to feel good about the decisions they make for their families.

More so than knowledge, the women began building trust. Sitting face-to-face with scientists who share their values and having open, honest conversations establishes a relationship. These experiences and connections bring us together and establish a mutual understanding both stronger and more satisfying than pop culture propaganda could ever be.

Don’t take my word for it. Be like these moms and find out for yourself. Over the next few months, the women will blogging and share their experiences on their personal social media channels. Check back with the IFF website, www.watchusgrow.org, and explore their worlds like they explore ours. 

NCGA with NAFB on Capitol Hill

ww15-ncga-doggettMembers of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) were on Capitol Hill last week talking with lawmakers, administration officials, and industry organizations about topics important to agriculture, and the National Corn Growers Association was happy to once again be part of that event.

NCGA Executive Vice President Jon Doggett, Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs Manager Clint Raine, and Director of Public Policy Zach Kinne addressed several different topics with farm broadcasters from around the country.

Doggett talked about the current situation with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the timeline recently announced by EPA to release long overdue volume requirements for biofuels. “We won’t have the numbers until we have the numbers,” said Doggett. “We need to get this done right away and I don’t know that people are necessarily believing what EPA says, I think we’re going to have to wait and see what they do.”

Listen to the interview with Doggett conducting by Agri-Pulse reporter Spencer Chase: Interview with Jon Doggett, NCGA

ww15-ncga-raineRaine discussed NCGA’s comments to the Federal Aviation Administration on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for agriculture. “I think there were about 40,000 comments that were actually submitted,” said Raine. “But I think we’re looking at another 16 months until that final rule comes out.”

Raine says NCGA says unmanned aerial systems offer great potential for farmers, and will ultimately reduce costs, improve efficiency, and make farming operations more sustainable, but there are privacy issues. Interview with Clint Raine, NCGA

ww15-ncga-zachKinne’s area was biotechnology and specifically the recent announcement from the European Union that they would allow member nations the option to ban imports of biotech food and feed. “It would really just be a nightmare when you look at the supply chain and importing of the crops that we produce,” he said. At the same time, NCGA is encouraged by the EU’s approval last week of 17 biotech traits for import. “It’s a little hard to applaud them for not making a decision since 2013 but some of those approvals are corn events,” said Kinne.

In this interview, Kinne also discusses the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Interview with Zach Kinne, NCGA

Spring Shows Media Warming to GMOs

What do The Daily Show, Gawker and Jezebel have in common? Well, probably quite a few things but one that probably didn’t pop out in most people’s minds. Over the past month, all three media outlets have run pieces actively confronting anti-GMO activists. Whether they see the incredible potential for GMOs to alleviate human suffering or they just prefer to base their opinions on sound science, pro-GMO media attention is popping up faster than GMO corn this spring.

On April 22, The Daily Show, which normally skews a bit to the left, aired a truly hilarious, insightfully satirical piece on newly-approved GMO potatoes. Obliterating the self-admitted anti-GMO non-scientist, the show smashed preconceived notions on who is behind issues in our food industry and came to the “phew” mind-blowing conclusion it is actually anti-GMO activists. To watch the clip, which contains a steady stream of blue language, click here.

Jezebel, a site known for its racy commentary, closed out March with a story asking would “Everyone Just Shut Up About GMOs.” (Please, note warning above again here and in the next paragraph too.) Noting the potential for alleviating hunger and malnutrition in developing nations, the author emphasizes the safety of these crops and offers why state labeling laws actually do more harm than good.

On Gawker, the anti-anti-GMO articles have trickled out as steady as a stream swollen with rain this spring. From annihilating the Food Babe to obliterating Dr. Oz, Gawker is calling out anti-GMO pseudo-celebs left and right. Then, the same day that The Daily Show aired the aforementioned clip, Gawker broadened their scope, publishing “Is GMO Labeling Just a Long Con to Get You to Buy Organic?” Exposing the real winds blowing hot air into the labeling argument, Gawker shows how organics have become a big business and act accordingly.

Now, these pieces may not cast big businesses, organic or GMO-producing, in a gentle sunbeam, but they do cut through some of the manure. The seasons are a changing, and the forecast for GMOs looks sunnier than ever.

To Bee or Not to Beepocalypse

A research paper released last week beats back the buzz over honeybee health and says bans and restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides “will do more harm than good for honeybees as more toxic chemicals” will likely replace them.

bee-worldAngela Logomasini, who specializes in environmental risk issues, offers some interesting facts about honeybees that are being overlooked in the frenzy over pollinator health in her paper cleverly titled “Beepocalypse” Not.

For example, Logomasini notes that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is being attributed by some to use of neonics, is only responsible for about seven percent of hive losses, according to the United Nations. “In fact, the more significant problem is not really CCD, but instead compromised hive health, which is affected by a combination of factors, including: diseases and parasites, poor queen bee health, hive transport for pollination services, and nutritional issues,” she says. Further, she says similar types of honeybee disappearances were recorded in the 1880s, 1920s, and 1960s – long before the use of modern pesticides.

Logomasini also disputes the “Beepocalypse” alarmist claims that honeybees are on the verge of extinction. “Honeybees are nowhere near going extinct. In fact, the number of hives has increased globally,” she said. “According to the United Nations Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) statistics the number of beehives kept globally has grown from nearly 50 million in 1961 to more than 80 million in 2013.”

While commercial hives in Europe and the United States have declined, Logomasini notes that hives kept for pollination services in these countries have shown better survival rates in recent years, despite continued use of neonicotinoids.

Logomasini is concerned about the potential for bans and restrictions on an entire class of safe and effective pesticides and urges the federal government to carefully study the issue. “Regulations are slow to develop, governed by political rather than practical and scientific goals, and hard to modify, even when they become counterproductive. In the case of honeybees, the best solutions will emerge with collaboration among the parties with an interest in protecting bees, including beekeepers, farmers and home gardeners.”

Both pollinators and effective crop protection are important to agriculture and the industry is taking steps to achieve that balance so both can survive and continue to help us produce an increasing supply of food for a growing population without getting stung.

Washington Pro-GMO Buzz Grows

Today, The Hill ran a piece authored by Former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas) which asked “If GMOs Are Not the Answer, What Is?” This article adds to the growing chorus of voices on Capitol Hill speaking out in support of GM technology.

Like the editorial which ran in the Washington Post recently, Stenholm’s piece addresses the importance of GM technology to feed a growing world in a sustainable manner. The former representative, who now teaches a class at Tarleton State University in Texas on “agriculture, energy policy and political science,” formulated his observations on the GMO-debate through in-depth discussions balanced with scientific knowledge.

His letter asks:

“Why are so many in the anti-hunger community continually associated with the so-called environmental community that is against the use of technology? Given the scientific consensus regarding the safety of foods derived from GMOs, why put a cost on those least able to afford it in order to satisfy a political agenda? Product labeling, for example, should only focus on GMO-free products, not the other way around. Much in the same way that some of us desire the label ‘organic’: Those foods might cost more, but those that want it can afford it. Not to mention that a profitable niche market has developed around organics that, at last count, was approaching five percent of the market.”

Concluding, Stenholm offers the conclusions to which his class came following their discussions.

“Regulations that impose costs on our food and energy producers have a disproportionate effect on the poor. We will either balance our federal budget over the next 10 years or the marketplace will do it for us. A new political coalition of the anti-hunger community, the biotechnology community, the food and energy community, and the environmental community should be formed, one that will explore how technology must play a role in the future of our survival. The emphasis of this coalition should be on helping the less fortunate of the world. That final thought was summed up by one young lady’s question in my class: ‘Isn’t that what we are taught every Sunday morning?’”

Without doubt, Stenholm offers a great lesson in this article – a lesson many others seem to be embracing also. GMO technology plays an important role in growing enough safe, nutritious food for everyone while improving the sustainability of agriculture. If we as a country choose to ignore these benefits, we choose to ignore both our planet and the people with whom we share it.

MIT Calls Out Left on Scientific Illiteracy on GMOs

In an article delving into the scientific fallacies, or even anti-science sentiment, espoused by politicians today, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s The Tech online newspaper criticized pro-environment, pro-science forces on the political left who fail to champion GMOs. Directly addressing the issues with proposed state-level labeling initiatives, the piece comes down solidly on the side of science supporting the safety and importance of biotechnology.

“It is tremendously ironic that the political left, which frequently attacks the right’s denial of evolution, is much more likely to oppose one of the most promising scientific advances that we have achieved through the study of genetics: GMOs,” the article states. “Initiatives to mandate the labeling of GMO products have found varying degrees of success in blue states like Vermont, Oregon, Maine, Hawaii, and Washington. GMO labeling might make sense if modern genetic modification techniques produced foods that were substantially different from those produced by conventional methods, but the fact is that scientific studies have consistently and overwhelmingly shown GMOs to be safe for both humans and the environment. In fact, those concerned about the environment should praise GMOs, which allow us to produce the same amount of food while using less water and land, emitting less carbon dioxide, and applying fewer pesticides.”

To read the full article, click here.

Some in the public note distrust for government agencies and other bodies which endorse the safety of GMOs, but MIT remains a well-respected institution of higher learning considered credible by the vast majority of Americans. MIT knows science; MIT supports GMOs. Politicians should take a lesson.

Washington Post Elucidates Unintended Consequences of Convoluted Food Labels

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), is gaining steam and supporters in this first week since its introduction. Sunday, the Washington Post wrote an eloquent editorial outlining why Americans should support this important legislation.

Pointing out that “mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution,” the editorial backed Congress saying that it is “right to be moving toward a more sensible policy that allows companies to label products as free of GM ingredients but preempts states from requiring such labels.”

The argument, which was solidly based in science, explained how the mandatory labeling laws promoted by anti-GM activists at the state level would actually mislead consumers.

“Promoters of compulsory GM food labeling claim that consumers nevertheless deserve transparency about what they’re eating. But given the facts, mandatory labeling would be extremely misleading to consumers — who, the Pew polling shows, exaggerate the worries about “Frankenfood” — implying a strong government safety concern where one does not exist.”

Noting that those who distrust scientific assurances of the safety of GM food have the ability to buy products voluntarily labeled as non-GM, the authors explored the often-overlooked consequences stigmatizing this safe, proven technology would have for those without the political power and extraneous energy to argue on their own behalf.

Asserting that “this isn’t just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety,” the piece explains how, “if GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.”

For the full piece, click here.

The Washington Post hit the nail on the head with this editorial. A small, yet motivated, group of anti-science, anti-ag activists is pushing for labels which would not provide clarity for consumers but would stigmatize a safe, beneficial technology. These sorts of pandering policies have real repercussions that should not be overlooked or ignored.

Today, we enjoy an abundance of safe, nutritious foods that we can afford. Many others may get there too but not if we take away the tools that they need to do so.

Pure Science: Lynas Advocates for GMOs

Many have heard that Mark Lynas, who once opposed GMOs, became an advocate after further exploring the science behind this technology. What motivated him? In short, climate change.

While pro-GMO climate change activists may not have gained as much press as some of their counterparts, for many like Lynas, climate change serves as an important motivation to advocate for GMOs. In an interview published in The Huffington Post, Lynas explained how his support for GMOs and biotechnology actually springs from his passion for reducing climate change.

“I strongly feel that we need biotech and GMOS are only a component — but an essential part of the bigger picture on how we can make agriculture more sustainable while we feed a growing population,” Lynas said in the interview.

“The longer-term agenda here is to make agriculture as intensive as possible on the smallest land area as possible while making that intensive agriculture environmentally friendly. So at the same time we’re sparing large acres of natural landscape from being plowed up. The ultimate goal is to allow a re-wilding across as much of the planetary surface as possible.

“I’m quite deep green about this, and that’s my real motivation for pushing the GMO case and you couldn’t abandon the climate change narrative.”

For the full article, click here.

Lynas acknowledges in the article that many farmers urge science-based consideration of GMOs and reject climate change science. He urges a greater acceptance but, in doing so, he shows how so many agricultural practices already in place actually benefit the environment.

“Precision agriculture by and large is a step forward from throwing granular fertilizers all over the place. And your productivity of labor is the most important thing. Back in the day farm laborers were doing everything by hand. Having 80 percent of the population working the land like in some African countries is much worse from a food security standpoint.

“While it is true that only 1-2 percent of Americans are directly engaged in farming, it is probably too small of a number. Because you have all sorts of issues with people are so disconnected from farming and how their food is produced and then we have this silly fight over GMOs.”

Politics can make strange bedfellows. Lynas came to support GMO through climate change. Maybe, if farming looks closely, opportunities lie in finding mutual interest with others supportive of science off the farm.



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