Corn Commentary

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.

CommonGround Volunteers Take Stories from behind the Farm Gate to Consumers Over Breakfast Plates

Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post authored by Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. The narrative, which discusses her recent work taping an episode of “The Balancing Act” on GMOs, originally ran on her blog www.farmeatscitystreets.com.

TV Interviews and Kid-Friendly Sloppy Joes

I have been traveling a little bit lately. Not a ton, but just enough to scratch the itch of getting out of town for a while and being around some amazing, brilliant people (and great friends, too!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity last week to travel to Florida to tape an interview with The Balancing Act on Lifetime Network. The host, Julie Moran, asked me all kinds of questions about food, farming and GMOs.

Kelsey Pope, a rancher from Colorado, also did an interview about her ranch and how they care for their cattle. I hadn’t met Kelsey before, but was so impressed with her and loved hearing about her ranch. I’m thinking a trip to Colorado for a nice, juicy steak on her ranch might be in order.

balancingact-juliekenneykelseypope

Working from home and around the farm these days doesn’t lend itself to getting dolled up much anymore, so having someone do my hair and makeup was an added bonus! After the interview, Julie Moran gave us a tour of her dressing room and wardrobe collection. If she wasn’t an itty bitty size 2, I might have asked to borrow something. Kidding (kind of).

balancingact-juliemoranjuliekenney

My interview is scheduled to air on Lifetime Network in April and Kelsey’s will be on in April and May. I’ll let you know when the exact dates are set.

To read the full post, including how Kenney sets her family up for success at the dinner table while she shares stories from the farm with consumers at their breakfast tables, click here.

Interested in CommonGround and how it brings together the women who grow and raise food with those who buy it? Visit www.findourcommonground.com to learn more about the women at the heart of this program, which is supported through a collaboration of NCGA, USB and their state affiliates.

NPR Highlights Scary Story behind Food Babe’s Public Prominence

National Public Radio considered both the accuracy and impact of the Food Babe in a recent post on its Salt blog, “Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out.” The results, based on conversations with a wide-array of respected experts, found her credibility with consumers far superior to the facts upon which she bases her opinions.

In short, the Food Babe creates confusion and fear because she is herself confused. Her lack of scientific expertise leads to flawed assumptions. Yet, through clever marketing, she has a bullhorn that broadcasts her deluded diatribe and amplifies her alleged authority.

The post notes that “when the Charlotte Observer asked her about such criticisms, Hari answered, ‘I’ve never claimed to be a nutritionist. I’m an investigator.’”

While this response, similar to one given by Dr. Oz during testimony before Congress earlier this year, attempts to clarify her self-professed area of expertise, it does not sit well with the experts interviewed by NPR.

“That lack of training often leads her to misinterpret peer-reviewed research and technical details about food chemistry, nutrition and health,” Kevin Folta, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida and vocal online critic of Hari, explained to NPR. “She really conflates the science. If anything, she’s created more confusion about food, more confusion about the role of chemicals and additives.”

The post clearly lays out a wide array of arguments against the Food Babe’s pseudoscience propaganda given by a variety of experts.

“What she does is exploit the scientific ignorance and fear of her followers,” Kavin Senapathy, an anti-pseudoscience blogger who frequently challenges the assertions in Hari’s posts, explained to Salt. “And most of us are in agreement that we simply can’t accept that.”

Kudos, NPR, for journalism that looked beyond the hype and found credible information consumers can use. The Food Babe may seem attractive on the surface, but her flawless façade conceals an ugly truth about how pretty packaging can trump solid science in our nation’s great food debate.

NCGA President at NAFB Trade Talk

nafb-14-ncgaBiotechnology and GMO labeling, Waters of the U.S., and soil health were just a few of the issues on the mind of National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling at the recent National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention where he did dozens of interviews with farm broadcasters nationwide.

Bowling says corn growers are very concerned about the growing number of initiatives nationwide called for labeling of GMO products, and passage of a temporary ban on biotech crop production in Maui where many agribusiness companies do research on new traits. “The issue in Hawaii is critical,” he said. “We Hawaii is a place we can grow crops all year long and the companies that test their traits out there needs to have the accessibility to those areas.” Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have filed suit over the ban, which was passed by a slim margin, and a judge has blocked its implementation.

One of the most important issues facing farmers right now, in Bowling’s opinion, is the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. “It’s not going to go away,” he said. “We need them to withdraw the interpretive rule and clarify what they mean to regulate and we need to make sure that it’s not overreaching.” Bowling recently had officials from EPA out to his farm in Maryland to take a look at ditches and ponds and get their opinions on how they would interpret the rule.

Bowling is pleased with NCGA’s participation in the Soil Health Partnership (SHP). “We understand that we need to be good stewards of the land,” said Bowling. “It’s all about doing the right thing at the right time and we want to make sure that the farmers that we represent have all the information that they can get.”

Bowling talks about a variety of other issues in this interview: Interview with Chip Bowling, NCGA president


2014 NAFB Convention Photos

Meet the new NCGA CEO

ncga-novakThe new CEO of the National Corn Growers Association had his first chance to visit with members of the agricultural media during the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention last week in Kansas City.

Chris Novak previously served as chief executive officer of the National Pork Board, but prior to that, he was executive director of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance. So he comes to NCGA with plenty of experience.

“I’ve spent 11 years working on behalf of pork farmers, but I’ve spent more than 10 years working with grain farmers, corn and soybeans, across this country,” he said. “Lots of big challenges ahead for us. Looking at a record crop and lower prices than we’d like to see but that’s an opportunity for me as well.”

Novak sees increasing demand as the most important challenge and opportunity for the industry. “How do we ensure that with a second record crop in a row that we’ve got the demand that can keep our farmers profitable?” he said. The primary demand sectors – livestock, ethanol and exports – all offer new growth potential.

“Certainly EPA’s support and implementation of the renewable fuels law as passed by Congress is going to be important to us in the short term,” he added. “Longer term we’re looking to build consumer demand for a renewable fuel that increases our energy independence and helps reduce greenhouse gases.”

Novak also talked about the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, the extended comment period for which just ended on Friday, and what he expects from the lame duck session of Congress and the new Congress in January. Interview with Chris Novak, NCGA CEO


2014 NAFB Convention Photos

Farm News of the Future

farm-radioOnce upon a time, when farming was a primary occupation in our country, listening to farm news on the radio was virtually a ritual, particularly in the morning and during the noon hour.

Today so much of our news is received on our computers and smartphones that agricultural reporting has gone increasingly digital. We have farm publications in the radio and TV business and farm broadcasters online doing podcasts and print versions of their stories. What’s next?

Well, if you use your smartphone to listen to music through such applications as Pandora and I Heart Radio, getting farm news the same way is just around the corner. Farm Journal Broadcast has just announced the upcoming launch of “My Farm Radio,” a 24/7 digital mobile radio channel focused on providing news, weather, markets and entertainment for farmers and ranchers.

The “My Farm Radio” app is scheduled to launch at the beginning of November and will allow listeners to pick and choose what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, featuring both a “live stream” experience and programs “on-demand”.

Farm Journal is betting this will be a winner for farmers and ranchers – what do you think?

Dr. Oz, Again? Can Someone Hand Me the Remote

ozLet’s get one thing straight from the get go. Dr. Oz is a professional celebrity who hawks his opinions for money. Whether fear-mongering or shilling for “magic pills,” he makes exaggerated, even unsubstantiated claims to get attention. Attention turns into ratings. Ratings turn into money.

There is one reliable way to stop his bogus claims. Turn off your television. Tell your friends how bogus he is. Explain that he is not watching out for their best interests. Repeat the above paragraph.

If everyone ignores him, he will go away.

With that said, Dr. Oz still basks in the glow of the Oprah-effect. Her blessing radiates like a golden halo around his head. She has sprinkled fairy dust on his tongue and now his words come out as if proclaimed by an angel sitting on its tip, chiming like golden bells in the ears of many.

What makes his brand of show business particularly heinous is that he capitalizes upon this image and on the M.D. behind his name.

Today, he will air a show bashing what he calls “GMO pesticides.” From the information already online, it appears to focus on Dow’s Enlist product which is still in the regulatory process. The episode’s preview shows children eating fruits and vegetables, flashes words like “president” in red type and contains the great Oz’s melodramatic warnings of an oncoming Armageddon.

The fact Enlist is meant for use on row crops and not fruits and veggies aside, the heavy-handed tactics employed conjuring the imagery used in dramatic interpretations of conspiracy theories.

The blatant fear mongering relates back to a letter sent to the EPA by a group of scientists. The “evidence” to which they point has been discredited time and time again. Yet, they trot it out another time as if facts do not matter; baseless fear trumps fact in their logic.

Some might be blinded by the signatories’ titles. Reading to the very end of the document, find the very last line.

“The signers of this letter have done so in their personal capacities. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes and do not imply any institutional position.”

The signatories have not been given the backing of their respective institutions in this matter. They are acting on their own behalf on this one.

Dr. Oz flashes the names of terrifying illnesses on the screen. He magnifies their claims and ignores the incredibly stringent standards any pesticide must meet to gain EPA approval.

Why would he do this? If you do not wish to simply refer to the first paragraph, consider what Dr. Oz said himself when testifying before Congress on some of the claims made on his show earlier this year.

“I actually do personally believe in the items which I talk about on the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that often times they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact.”

Passionate or not, he clearly understands that what he says does not always pass for fact. He willingly creates panic and stress amongst those who place their trust in him. His credentials may have meant something once. Now, they seem sullied as he breaks his oath to “first do no harm” every time he misrepresents his program as factual advice provided by a caring doctor.

Together, let’s turn him off. Then, tell those we care about to do the same. Dr. Oz relies upon our complicity to promulgate his propaganda. Shutting him off will shut him down.

Food Babe’s Science Is as Fluffy as Her Marabou Slippers

From suburban dog parks to Park Avenue, people are buzzing about the Food Babe. Using crazy videos filmed in low-cut workout clothes, she has garnered quite a bit of attention seemingly overnight. Television being a visual medium, talk shows book the petite brunette with the telegenic face. She is getting more attention than counterparts whose credentials outshine their smiles.

All of that is changing though. Today, Bloomberg news compiled a growing list of media critiques of the Food Babe and her pseudoscientific comrades. The article, based on the premise that public conversations on food should actually include credible data from certified subject matter experts, dissects how she rose to internet empowerment and how the food industry is responding. While the article approaches her from a less biased, more respectful place than she uses in her own work, it shines a spotlight on something that has been missing from her pseudoscience stunts – the truth.

“They are attacking the messengers who are spreading the truth,” she vented to her Facebook fans in August. “They are hoping I, along with other activists, including you, just give up.”

Ms. Food Babe, the truth is not a flexible concept. A computer scientist has no business pretending engineering classes qualify her to speak on food chemistry and public health issues. Every ingredient that you cannot pronounce, which notably you might be able to if you were an actual expert, does not secretly cause death. Your own personal ignorance does not provide a substantive basis for your public indignance.

People spend years upon years studying the vast array of subjects necessary to form a well-qualified, thoughtful opinion on food issues. From doctors to dieticians and nurses to nutrition scientists, credible, scientifically sound data does exist.

Cash hungry charlatans touting trumped up theories provide more flash than facts. Don’t fall for their hip hype.

Serious conversations deserve serious participants. In conversations about food, too much is at stake to substitute pseudoscience for the real thing, even if it comes in a prettier package.

HuffPost Blog Provides Clarity on Cleaner Fuels

In a media landscape that often seizes upon sensationalism, The Huffington Post took a balanced, thoughtful approach to ethanol issues today in publishing a piece written in support of E15 by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory.

The city of Chicago is considering a proposed ordinance that would require most gas stations to offer E15. The measure would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide consumers a domestic, sustainable choice for fuel. In their post, the researchers provide a clear, supported argument as to why this is a step in the right direction for America.

To read the post, click here.

In offering actual information to the public, HuffPost and the scientists alike elevate the conversation. The fact that Big Oil has waged an ongoing war against biofuels for years is no secret. One invented argument after the next, the proponents of petroleum have repeatedly tried to cloud the conversation with misinformation and thus maintain a stranglehold on America’s fuel supply and Americans pocketbooks. Sadly, some of the rouses have garnered airtime and slowed the advance toward a fuel supply that offers consumers real choice.

Chicago may gain actual options. These options could both help clean the air and reduce dependence upon a finite and often foreign fuel supply. The prospects for freedom from oil’s monopoly look a bit brighter. The Drs. Michael Wang and Jennifer Dunn and The Huffington Post Blog deserve a round of applause for bringing the conversation to consumers in the clear manner worthy of such a weighty issue.

If the Corn Fact Doesn’t Fit, Those Still Reading Should Quit

In a world where it can be hard to cut through the media morass, Bloomberg Businessweek made it even more difficult to get to the heart of the GMO-labeling issue with an article on the differing political stances taken by Ben and Jerry’s and their parent company, Unilever. Noting the opinion of food activists who already openly take sides without consulting with market or industry analysts, the diatribe draws heavily on self-interested opinion to conclude Unilever faces financial repercussions for taking this course of action. The logic makes about as much sense as calling Chubby Hubby health food.

Ignoring the more studied statements of an actual analysts, who suggests Unilever would not want to risk potential PR-backlash should it shush the ice cream icons, the journalist pushes the prophecies Marion Nestle. While certainly a well-credentialed professor of nutrition and public health, her expertise in the realm of market realities does not engender the type of trust which the story’s author so willingly provides – and expects reader to also bestow.

In addition to the lose logic, an infographic on the benefits of biotech crops accompanies the stories. While one might also call it confusing at best, the picture tutorial draws some curious conclusions about corn. At first, it seems to imply GMO-varieties improved the yield of the average U.S. acre to 26 bushels of corn between 2001 and 2010. As anyone who follows agricultural statistics would automatically know, this does not hold even an iota of truth as the average yield per acre in 2010 published by USDA was 158.2. Upon further examination, the increase in average yield over that period does not even come out to 26 bushels as the 2001 data details an average acre yielded 138.2 bushels of corn. Thus, the infographic clearly demonstrates only the lack of informed data contained in the article it accompanies.

Everyone is entitled to have their own point of view but, if one seeks credibility, said point of view should be well informed. If Ben and Jerry’s wishes to adhere to a costly and confusing patchwork of state-level labels, so be it. As there is no guarantee of what each actually will mean in terms of standards or how it will appear on the product, it can choose to chase the next hip idea without reasoning how it might impact cost and logistics without offering additional actual information. Unilever, while allowing a wayward child to learn a lesson for itself, has the right to look at the potential impacts of disjointed, confusing regulations and come to another logical stance. That does make sense.

What does not make sense is the portrayal of the GMO-labeling free-for-all as some sort of greater moral battle. Food labels should be based upon factual, scientific information relevant to the health of consumers. Yet, as Bloomberg Businessweek could not get even the basic facts right, it makes sense that logic could not come from misinformation and misplaced credence.



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