Corn Commentary

Paltrow’s Pretentious Propaganda Heads to the Hill

 

Gwyneth Paltrow has faced her fair share of criticism for her food theories. From failing the Food Stamp Challenge 2015 to promoting incredibly pricey diets on Goop, she has clearly shown, time and again, that her point of view does not take into account the financial realities faced by average American families. Her status as Hollywood royalty creates an insular bubble which not only allows her to ignore the plight of the people who shell out hard earned money to see her movies but it also allows her to continue promoting her Patrician food politics on a national stage.

Today, she will join her equally aristocratic ancestor Blythe Danner to petition our legislators in Washington to stand on her side, one consciously uncoupled from reality, in opposing the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. This legislation, which would create a national, science-based standard for the labeling of foods created with the use of biotechnology, plays an important role in keeping food affordable for American families.

Unlike Paltrow, look at the reality facing all of us today. Should the 50-state patchwork of labeling legislation which would most probably come to fruition without Congressional action go into effect, starting with Vermont next July, the average American family would see their grocery bill go up by $500 per year. They would gain a sticker, one based on marketing misinformation in many cases, without improving the quality of food or information they receive for their grocery dollars one iota.

Paltrow poses as a lifestyle guru, laboring under the delusion every one of us should aspire to her holier-than-thou views of food. It is hypocrisy. She eschews science, promotes profit-driven propaganda and advocates for a position which harms the very people who pay for her ludicrous lifestyle.

Don’t fall for it.

Our representatives in Washington should represent us. While most of us do not have the time to fly to DC or a staff to splash our views across the headlines, we do have a voice. There are more of us than her. In a democracy where every one of us is entitled to an equal vote, we can stand up for ourselves, creating a system where science and economics actually matter.

Contact your elected officials today. Let them know the real impact failing to support this key legislation would have on the people who actually matter, their constituents. It is easy to do. Start by clicking here.

Putting Agriculture in the Political Spotlight

iowa-summitNine potential Republican presidential candidates were asked their opinions on various agricultural issues at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on Saturday.

Comments made by at the event by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are still generating stories from major national news sources.

Over 270 journalists who attended the event, representing most if not all of the major news outlets nationwide, heard about some of the top issues for agriculture including trade, regulations, conservation, food safety, biotechnology, renewable fuels, and immigration as each taking candidate sat down on a stage with agribusiness entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter for about 20 minutes.

The main focus of the event was to get the potential candidates to take a stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Six of the nine expressed at least conditional support, including Wisconsin Governor Walker who recently had been criticized by biofuel producers in his state for not taking a stand on the law. Three of the candidates – Cruz, Pataki, and Perry – came out firmly against the RFS, while at the same time saying they supported ethanol and other renewable fuels.

couser-cruzThe summit was organized with the support of America’s Renewable Future, a quasi-political campaign for the RFS introduced earlier this year. Co-chair Bill Couser, pictured here with Sen. Cruz, says their goal is to educate potential presidential candidates.

“Show them why we do this, how we do this, and say what do you think?” said Couser, an Iowa cattle producer and ethanol advocate. “I can say, let’s go look at a corn field, let’s go look at a feedlot, let’s go look at some windmills, let’s go look at Lincolnway Energy, and then let’s go to the DuPont plant right next door and I’ll show you what we’re doing with the whole plant and being sustainable.”

Couser says they plan to approach all potential presidential candidates individually and invite them to visit and learn more about agriculture and renewable energy, including Hillary Clinton. “Wouldn’t that be something if she showed up?” he said.

Listen to my interview with Bill at the recent National Ethanol Conference here: Interview with Bill Couser, America's Renewable Future Co-Chair

RFS for President!

The 2016 presidential campaign is starting to percolate and in Iowa the biofuels industry is making the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) their candidate.

americas-futureIowa Governor Terry Branstad last week announced a major new bi-partisan campaign called America’s Renewable Future that will promote the RFS to both candidates and caucus-goes for the 2016 Iowa Presidential caucuses.

“I’m very passionate about the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Governor Branstad during a conference call to announce the effort. “It’s made a real difference for farm income and good jobs, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, improving the environment – so I’m really excited to see this strong, bi-partisan effort being made to educate people that come to Iowa and presidential candidates.”

Coordinating the effort will be Governor Branstad’s son Eric, a public affairs specialist and campaign operative. “We have partners coming in from all over the country and those partners have committed millions to fund this effort,” said Eric Branstad. “We are designing it to look like a presidential campaign and the RFS is our candidate.”

America’s Renewable Future is co-chaired by former Iowa State Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican, and former state Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, a Democrat, as well as Iowa renewable fuels industry leader Bill Couser. The effort “will wage a mulitimillion dollar, multi-platform effort” to educate presidential candidates about the benefits of the RFS and ask them to take a stand.

That effort kicked off last Friday with an ad in the Des Moines Register as potential Republican presidential candidates began to gather for the Iowa Freedom Summit.

Still, the RFS went largely unmentioned during the Saturday summit. Asked about the RFS in an interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he would continue his opposition to the law as “a matter of principle.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was the only one who showed up at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit on Tuesday, even though all potential candidates were invited, and he did show his support for the RFS, calling it “pro-environment, pro-competition and pro-American jobs.”

Gov. Branstad says Iowa is still an important state for a presidential candidate and the RFS is important to Iowa. “This is one of the battleground states that’s going to, I think, determine who’s going to be the next president of the United States,” said Branstad. “I think it would be a disadvantage in Iowa to not support the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Branstad said.

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.

Let’s Move! Science Backs GMOs

Whether one is a fan of the White House’s Let’s Move! initiative or not, it almost inarguably plays a large role in our nation’s discussions on food. Today, Let’s Move! Executive Director and White House Senior Advisor on Nutrition Policy Sam Kass made a major statement about the future of food during the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives conference backing the science behind GMOs and advocating for a cultural shift toward their acceptance.

Kass’s remarks, covered in Politico Pro, indicated his thoughts on how the impact of climate change and adaptive technologies will shift the currently fierce debate over GMO foods.

“I think this debate is naturally going to start to shift,” said Kass. “I think the science is pretty clear. Ultimately I think the science will win out.”

His comments echoed those often made by groups such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and CommonGround in espousing the importance of consumer choice and access to factual information about the quality and safety of the abundant food options produced by U.S. farmers and ranchers.

“I think part of the problem with the debate as it stands is that it’s either one or the other,” said Kass. “Every side says my way is the best way. Diversity [in agriculture] is strength.”

What Do They Know that We Don’t?

Working in agriculture, you see a lot of research detailing consumers’ biggest questions about the foods that they eat and how farmers grow them. The same concerns come up over and over. If you are a communicator, you look for ways to break through the noise with real, honest answers. I worry about what I eat like anyone else. I understand why confusion over what is or isn’t healthy is a real cause for concern.

Today, a story came to my attention that directly addressed one of the concerns which I hear echoed most frequently.

“Why don’t Europeans eat GMOs if they are safe? What do they know that we don’t?”

While I have heard many scientists address this issue in lectures by offering detailed examinations of the difference between a science-based and politically-based regulatory system, The Independent, a British paper, published an article that cut to the heart of what Europeans really know about GMOs.

Interviewing United Kingdom Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, journalist Tom Bowden found the EU scientists know GMOs are actually safe.

“These products go through the most rigorous system. It’s extraordinarily closely regulated, at a national level and at a European level,” said Paterson. “We have not come up with any evidence of human health being threatened by these products.”

Questioned after his speech on whether the safety case for GM crops over conventional one was clear cut, Paterson said: “This isn’t speculation. We have had a categoric statement from the [European Commission’s] chief scientific officer and you have the biggest field trial in human history when you think of the colossal volume of GM material that has been eaten in all those countries growing GM food.”

Paterson demonstrates how scientific understanding of the processes used to develop and regulate GMO crops does inspire trust. So much so that he hopes to “make Britain a centre for GM research and development.”

In short, the scientific experts who carefully examine GMOs day in and day out overwhelmingly embrace GMO technology. European policy shows the stains of politicians pandering to fear-based fanatics. Moving American public policy to more closely align to European on this issue would be move our country further away from the forward-facing, innovative system we know today.

In honestly answering this question despite propaganda-propelled public sentiment, Paterson’s words address not only the situation in Europe but that in America as well. EU policies are not anti-GMO because they have scientific evidence that we do not. They are anti-GMO because their public refuses to listen.

Binging on Earth Day Irony

dead dolphinOk, I admit I love irony. So I had to chuckle a little bit as everyone was getting fired up about the arrival of another Earth Day. The irony lies in the fact that this momentous occasion occurs two days after the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

To refresh your memory this was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, estimated to be up to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on 15 July 2010. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels.

That’s 210 million gallons of oil and we don’t even want to talk about the 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals they call dispersants which were either to:

  • Hide BP’s Faux Pas and remove it from public display
  • or allow nature to recover faster

The irony gets tastier if you are my age because I am old enough, ok more than old enough, to have celebrated the first Earth Day and remember how this whole affirmation of Mother Terra Firma began. It started 44 years ago after a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Well the Earth Day recognition has lasted but the public consciousness and the leadership of our elected officials lacks a little staying power. Today, the oil industry continues to be one of the largest polluters in the world. And because of their deep pockets and political influence they have been allowed to blithely go about their business with little or no consequences.

The BP spill offers a great case in point. Big oil responded initially and spent money for clean-up efforts and they put on a contrite face while the cameras were on. But take a closer look today at their efforts in court to dodge any more clean-up costs and the fines that were imposed. They say their job is done even as the number of dead dolphin washing up on beaches topped 900 last week. Kemp sea turtle have been nearly ravaged into extinction in Gulf waters.

And to add insult to injury petroleum interests are now spending millions to mislead the public. Big oil is poisoning the system as well as the environment. They are doing everything they can to keep a death grip on the liquid transportation fuel market.

That’s why today—Earth Day — you should take few minutes to educate yourself regarding the sheer audacity of oil. It’s as simple as going to OilRigged.com to shine a spotlight on the oil companies’ dirty tricks and dishonest attacks. Americans deserve to know how oil companies have rigged the system to make us pay more at the pump—sending their profits up while our air and water quality goes down.

The Costs of GMO Labeling

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from blogger, CommonGround volunteer, farmer and dietitian Jennie Schmidt. Schmidt testified last month at the Maryland House and Senate in opposition to a state bill which would require labeling of certain products containing GMOs. As similar battles rev up across the country, she offers not only her perspective as a farmer but also as a registered dietitian who earned an advanced degree in science.

There has been much discussion over whether or not the labeling of “GMO” foods would add to the cost of food production or not. This was one of the supporting arguments for GMO labeling at the legislative hearing at the Maryland House of Delegates Committee on Health and Government Operations during which Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Michael Hansen of the Center for Food Safety, both insisted that labeling costs would be minor at best.

So does Mother Jones

So does The Grist

Wow, do these scientists and journalists have any understanding of the food supply chain from farm gate to grocery shelf?

Apparently not, nor does anyone else who thinks that “GMO” labeling won’t increase the cost of food.

Here is my pictorial analysis of the food supply chain from my farm gate:

JS 1

Seed corn is ordered and delivered to farm, then planted in the spring around May.

JS 2

By summer, it looks like this.

JS 3

By fall, it looks like this.

JS 4

It gets harvested between September and November.

JS 5

Corn is transferred from the combine to a tractor trailer truck.

JS 6

The grain is hauled here to our on-farm grain bins for storage. We have storage for about 50,000 bushels, less than 25 percent of our total yields in a normal year for corn, soybeans, wheat and barley, all of which need to be stored until they’re needed by our customers. This includes the specialty seeds we grow that require segregation from commodity grains.

JS 7

When it’s time to sell, we reload the trucks and haul it to the local grain elevators.

JS 8

The tractor trailer delivers the corn here,

JS 9

or here,

JS 10

or here.

And that’s just three of the local grain elevators. We have several other options depending on who is buying our grain. We and all our farming neighbors deliver to the same elevator and unload grain. This is called “commingling” where our crop is combined with everyone else who delivers to the same elevator and stored together in these large bins, regardless of what variety or trait of corn was grown.

So where’s the cost you ask? Well, every farmer in the region is hauling grain usually around the same time… to the same group of elevators. Hopefully you read my blog on seed choice last year and realize that all farmers determine their own purchases for seed and we don’t all grow the same thing. In fact, we grow 3-4 different varieties of corn ourselves. Why? Because we match the varieties of corn to our soil types. That’s called good stewardship and good business practice.

The food supply chain in the United States relies on a system of commingling, grain delivered to the elevator by farmers throughout the region. Maryland has 2 million acres of farmland, nearly a half million of which grew corn in 2012. In a not very good growing year, Maryland farmers produce 53 million bushels of corn.

If GMO labeling were to pass, that would require a HUGE addition to both on and off farm storage. Nationally, we’re talking billions of dollars in infrastructure needed to segregate grain. What none of these labeling laws is clear about either is how to achieve this segregation? Should it be segregated by trait? By variety? Both? The more layers of segregation, the more infrastructure is required and the more the costs escalate.

Segregation is costly. We know because we do it every year, year in and year out, and have for years. We do it because we get paid a premium for ensuring that the specialty grains and seeds we grow are “identity preserved”, very much like the certified organic process, involving higher management, higher tracking, and systems in place to ensure that the grains and seeds are genetically consistent and true to their traits, of highest quality meaning they are uniform in size, shape, color, free of weed seed and contamination. We will have 900 acres of grains and seeds this year that will require some protocol for identity preservation. They will be tested for the presence of GMO and tested to ensure that they are genetically consistent to parent seeds. This requires us to use some of our grain tanks for segregation. It requires us to do more “housekeeping”, cleaning equipment, trucks, trailers, planters, harvesters, grain bins, etc… all along the food supply chain to ensure that we have preserved the identity of that crop. It is an inherently more costly system.

So what are the costs? Here is my rudimentary analysis from the USDA Crop Production 2013 Summary.

There is 13 billion bushels of on farm storage in the United States.

There is 10.4 Billion bushels of off farm storage in the United States.

Last year, U.S. Farmers grew the following crops ALL of which require storage:

  • 13.9 billion bushels of corn
  • 389 million bushels of sorghum
  • 421 million bushels of rice
  • 3.3 billion bushels of soybeans
  • 2.1 billion bushels of wheat
  • 215 million bushels of barley
  • 1 million bushels of oats
  • 7.6 million bushels of rye
  • 18 million bushels of millet
  • 3 million bushels of flax seed
  • 7.8 million bushels of safflower
  • 1 million bushels of canola
  • 65 million bushels of sunflower
  • 38 million bushels of rapeseed and mustard seed
  • 301 million bushels of lentils
  • 937 million bushels of dry peas
  • 250 million bushels of peanuts
  • 1.5 Billion bushels of other dry edible beans including:
    • light red kidney
    • dark red kidney
    • Great Northern
    • baby limas
    • large limas
    • pinto beans
    • small white
    • navy beans

So 2013 produced roughly 23.5 billion bushels of 26 different grains and seeds, including those already in some form of identity preservation protocol, and have storage capacity of 23.6 billion bushels… without the extra infrastructure to segregate “GMO” from “non-GMO”. To segregate, additional infrastructure would be required along the entire food supply chain from farm gate to grain elevator to processor to manufacturer, in order to separate corn, soybeans, and canola.

A new grain bin cost approximately $2/bushel to buy and install, so a 50,000 bushel bin will cost $100,000. If we currently have sufficient storage for commingled grains and seeds, what will be the astronomical figure to segregate them by trait? That answer is dependent on how we are going to segregate.  In order to have true traceability, GMO seeds and grains would have to be segregated by trait, so RoundUp ready traited grains would have to be segregated from Bt traited grains, and the stacked or combined traited grains would have to be segregated from those that are just Bt or just RoundUp Ready, and the combinations of traited grains would have to be segregated by the combination or stack of traits in the seeds too, because otherwise, you don’t have “truth in labeling” to say which GMO is in the product.

I mean surely, we need to label it by GMO trait right? Because otherwise “we don’t know”. This is the premise by which the activists say is the problem right? The uncertainty of GMO? We can’t commingle traited seeds and grains because then we no longer have true traceability. Absolute and utter segregation by trait or combination thereof is required to meet the demands of what is being called for in the GMO labeling legislation across the United States.

True GMO labeling will require vast capitalization of infrastructure to segregate grains and seeds by trait. (Read $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$).

And I’ve only been talking about the costs of grain storage.  I can’t even begin the fathom the costs that it would take to segregate all along the entire food supply chain, keeping GMO corn, soybean or canola ingredients segregated by trait from conventional counterparts from the farm to the processor to manufacturer. We’re talking billions of dollars in order to maintain the absolute traceability of a certain genetic trait in a seed from farm to final product.

Those who say GMO labeling won’t add to the consumer’s grocery bill need to go back to Economics 101 and some basic high school math.

True traceability in our food supply system will be hugely expensive.

It’s likely that as a nation, we’d never capitalize all that infrastructure to achieve true traceability.

Which goes to the crux of the matter – this isn’t about labeling, as I cited in my last GMO blog, labeling is a means to an end. As noted by many activist groups, the ulterior motive behind labeling is not about a consumer’s right to know, it is about banning the technology.

Say NO to mandatory GMO labeling. Stand for science.

Interested? Read more posts authored by Schmidt on her blog, The Foodie Farmer, or follow her on Twitter @FarmGirlJen

Protect the RFS — Times Three

nec14-insidersNow that the farm bill is a done deal, National Corn Growers Association Public Policy Vice President Jon Doggett says his organization has three main priorities for this year in Washington – protect the RFS, and protect the RFS, and protect the RFS.

That may seem redundant, but that’s just how important the Renewable Fuel Standard is for corn growers.

Doggett sat on a panel with one of his best lobbyist friends at the National Ethanol Conference this week – Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute.

nec14-doggettWell, maybe not BEST friends, but Jon says they are friends, although they do disagree on important issues, like the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “I like Bob Greco, I have friends at API, but if any person in this room doesn’t think that they will leap at the chance to get rid of the RFS between now and the election or during the lame duck session – you’re crazy!” said Jon during the panel session, warning the ethanol industry sternly, “Don’t be complacent.”

Besides Greco, Jon shared the annual Washington Insiders panel at NEC with Aaron Whitesel of DuPont, Kris Kiser with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and Shane Karr from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Listen to the whole conversation between them, moderated by Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen: NEC Washington Insiders Panel

Listen to my interview with Jon from the NEC where he talks about the importance of the RFS, next week’s Commodity Classic, and what NCGA likes best about the new farm bill: Interview with Jon Doggett, NCGA

2014 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Oil Survey Shows Ethanol Is Clearly A Target

What was the second biggest policy story of the year in eyes of the petroleum industry? According to a recent membership survey by the American Petroleum Institute reconsidering biofuel (ethanol) blending. What was the second biggest transportation, storage and refining story of the year? The battle over biofuels blending. And what was listed 2nd on oil’s list of things they most want to see happen in 2014? Yep, reduction in EPA blending requirements.

Most of the public are too focused on their jobs, raising families and just paying the bills to have a deep understanding of the growing role of biofuels and renewable ethanol in our nation. However, years of education by supporters of the domestic fuel have generated a basic awareness of ethanol’s benefits such as job creation, reducing greenhouse gas, and providing a fuel choice that makes us less reliant on imported petroleum.

Because of this hard fought and well deserved perception that ethanol is good, many of my friends have been asking me lately what the heck is going on with the rash of negative information related to ethanol. How did proven ethanol suddenly become a bad idea over night? Most recently, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce the amount of ethanol to be blended in our fuel supply has been getting a lot of media attention.

Put simply, the oil industry has always been ok with ethanol as long as the market share didn’t get too large. In fact they need a certain amount of ethanol because it allows them to provide a high octane product at less cost…meaning more margin for them. Without ethanol they would be forced to do more extensive and costly refining in order to produce a product that won’t leave your car sputtering curbside.

But in today’s market things have changed. Increasing domestic oil production, more fuel efficient vehicles and a soft economy have shrunk the volume of fuel needed. Thus big oil finds themselves looking at the bigger market slice on ethanol’s plate and thinks “hey we want some of that back.”

The unspoken part of the previous statement is “and yes we will pay nicely to get it.” And they have done so in recent years. Their most recent onslaught has been sustained by millions of dollars of lobbying, advertising and poor pseudo-journalism.

You might be inclined to think the family farmers and independent businessmen that make up the ethanol industry are just paranoid but given the aforementioned high priority petroleum has placed on this issue, “it ain’t paranoia if they’re really out to get ya.”

 



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