What Do They Know that We Don’t?

In Biotechnology, Food, Politics by Cathryn

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.

Reuters Reports Philly RFS Connection

In Biofuels, Ethanol, Policy by Cindy

philly-energyA story out today from Reuters claims that a major airline and a private equity firm with Philadelphia oil refinery connections are the main forces behind the Obama administration proposal to lower volume requirements for biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) this year.

According to the article, it was The Carlyle Group and Delta Air Lines, owners of two refineries in the Philadelphia area, that put the pressure on the administration to cut back on biofuels requirements by convincing policymakers that “the rising mandates would cripple their businesses and threaten thousands of jobs.”

Just one of many interesting points made in the article is that in July and August of last year, “17 refiners and their allies visited the White House’s rulemaking arm, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to discuss the RFS. Only six biofuel supporters visited the OMB over the same time.” Reuters even produced a graphic to illustrate the comparison between visits by oil and ethanol lobbying interests last year.

Read the story here.

Farmer’s View of Sustainability

In Audio, Environmental, Farming, Sustainability by Cindy

walmartWalmart held a big event last week where the CEOs of major global companies made new commitments toward more sustainable products.

Among the food and agribusiness company CEOs taking part were Monsanto, Cargill, Dairy Farmers Incorporated, General Mills and Kellogg, many whom talked about how they will be working with farmers on sustainability goals.

Monsanto chairman and CEO Hugh Grant announced two commitments to help address challenges in the areas of water and nutrient efficiency. First, the company will work to increase water-use efficiency in irrigation across its own global seed production operations by 25 percent by 2020. Grant also pledged that the company “will continue to innovate and advance smarter seeds and precision management tools that enable farmers to use nutrients more efficiently and curb greenhouse gas emissions on one million acres in the United States by 2020.”

corzine2In making the announcement, Grant asked Illinois farmer and former National Corn Growers Association president Leon Corzine to join him and talk about what these commitments mean for the agriculture community. “As we have these discussions, farmers need to be represented so everyone has a better understanding of what farmers are actually doing on the farm,” said Leon, noting he was able to attend the event because they had just finished corn planting so his son Craig said it was okay for him to go.

“One of the things Craig and I talk about that I learned from my dad and granddad is a personal initiative to leave the farm better than we found it,” Leon said. “That’s really what sustainability is all about.”

Leon talked about the “awesome” technology farmers have today that helps farmers be more efficient and “increase productivity while lowering our environmental footprint.” He just made a great case for farmers as stewards of the land that the non-ag media on the call really need to hear.

Listen to Leon’s comments were: Illinois Farmer Leon Corzine on Sustainability

White House on Climate Change and Farmers

In Administration, Audio, Environmental, Farming, Food, General by Cindy

climate-agAgriculture is a big part of the new White House climate change assessment report out this week.

“Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience,” the report states.

Immediately after the report was released on Tuesday, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency discussed it with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting meeting in Washington DC.

“It’s a really good document in terms of focusing on the United States,” she said. “In particular, it looks at the agriculture sector. It talks about the droughts and floods that we’re seeing that have created challenges for our farmers and ranchers and to take a look at some of the ways the president’s climate action plan can work collaboratively with agriculture to try and address those challenges more effectively.”

McCarthy says when she talks with farmers and ranchers about climate change, it’s not a debate. “We’re talking about what we can do together to recognize the challenges and to provide the farmers the adaptive management techniques that will allow them to be successful… and allow them to address these challenges,” she concludes. McCarthy climate change report comments

Read the report’s section on agriculture here.

Don’t be Motley Foolish in Opposing Ethanol

In General by Guest Blogger

In response to an article about ethanol on the popular Motley Fool website, NCGA’s director of biofuels, Pam Keck, Ph.D., provided this comment. The website has not chosen to publish it, so we are offering it here:


I applaud Mr. Funk’s approach to using a real-world example of calculating and comparing the BTU values of gasoline vs. ethanol. There are several, critical elements (no chemistry pun intended) that should also be noted. If the object were to use a real-world example in the classroom, it would be worth including more of the story as it relates to a comparison of ethanol and gasoline. Otherwise, the students will come away from the exercise with the mistaken belief that a BTU calculation provides sufficient data to make an informed decision.

First, the CO2 calculation is misleading. The calculations described only ‘count’ the CO2 emissions from the tailpipe. This is a very small portion of the entire CO2 lifecycle analysis that is done when comparing ethanol from corn and gasoline from petroleum. The EPA, when determining CO2 emissions, considers various models and calculations: production of fertilizers, application of fertilizer to the field, collection and transportation of the corn, and conversion of cornstarch to ethanol. The same system analysis is also done for gasoline production from petroleum. [By the way, corn to ethanol conversion has to account for indirect greenhouse gas impacts (for example, through land use changes), while petroleum production to gasoline doesn’t have to account for indirect impacts.] Even with this large discrepancy, corn starch ethanol is considered to have a 20% reduction in GHG emissions compared to gasoline from petroleum by the EPA. Many published peer-reviewed papers show that the reduction is closer to 50%.

Second, while the kJ/gallon values are in the ballpark range and the assumption that less mileage is obtained from flex-fuel vehicles (FFV), many FFV owners report that after using a tank or two of E85, that their mileage penalty is much less than what the BTU differences would indicate. Some think it might be due to the higher heat of vaporization for ethanol, leading to a cooling effect in the engine. Plus, as has been published in peer-reviewed articles, automobile manufacturers have shown that at higher blends of ethanol, engines can be optimized to not have a penalty loss due to ethanols’ high-octane value and its higher heat of vaporization.

Third, production of ethanol from corn is a renewable process. Gasoline production from petroleum is not renewable; there is a limited supply of petroleum and one day all of the economically extractable petroleum will be gone.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, chemistry students who are capable of determining BTU content of various fuels will be equally capable of understanding that real-world issues are often very complicated. There are real environmental and societal costs associated with continued use of gasoline, including higher CO2 emissions and pollution, and these costs should be considered when choosing between gasoline and ethanol.

GMOs Could Help Save the Limes

In Biotechnology by Cindy

lime-costCinco de Mayo celebrates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It’s also a good excuse to drink traditional lime-based margaritas.

But we’ve got a lime shortage being caused by adverse weather in Mexico, as well as citrus greening infecting trees. That has forced prices to double, triple or even quadruple in some cases this year.

The weather-related problems are short term, but the long term impacts of citrus greening, scientifically known as huanglongbing (HLB), could be much more devastating. Research is being done that would develop genetically-modified citrus that could resist the disease, since the disease is causing some major concerns for citrus growers in Florida right now who fear it could ultimately mean the end of their crop.

The research involves the use of a spinach gene that kills the bacteria that causes greening. Field trials on oranges and grapefruit have shown encouraging results, and the research has been expanded into lemons and limes as well.

Genetic modification could mean victory over citrus greening and ultimately saving limes for margaritas, not to mention keeping all varieties of healthy citrus fruits on the shelves at reasonable prices for consumers.

Viva GMOs!

Follow the Anti-RFS Money

In Audio, Biofuels, Ethanol, Video by Cindy

saudi-oilIs anyone really surprised to learn that Saudi oil money is helping to fund the effort by the American Petroleum Institute (API) to get rid of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)?

As if we needed proof, Americans United for Change and VoteVets.org revealed IRS documents this week showing that is the case. According to tax documents, Saudi Arabia has been a funder of API dating back to 2008 and an employee of Saudi Aramco – a company with an estimated worth of $7 trillion by Financial Times, actually held a seat on API’s board.

“API’s agenda is very simple and very greedy: they want EPA to cut the amount of renewable fuel in gasoline while raising the amount of crude oil,” said Americans United for Change president Brad Woodhouse. “This is about market share, plain and simple.” Saudi Oil Money Backing Ethanol Smear Campaign

Jon Soltz, Iraq War veteran and Chairman of VoteVets.org added, “There’s nothing “American” about the way the “American” Petroleum Institute is doing business. They’re fighting to block competition from U.S. businesses, and they’re doing it with Saudi Aramco’s trillions in oil dollars.”

To further drive home the point, Americans United for Change is launching a Sunday show TV blitz aimed at both the public, legislators and key decisions makers in the Beltway in an attempt to set the record straight. “The Kingdom” will air May 4, 2014 on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week and Fox News Sunday in the Washington, D.C. market.

Whether this will make anyone take notice and question the motives of the oil industry in its quest to dismantle the RFS remains to be seen. Let’s hope so.

GMO Answers Top Ten List

In Biotechnology by Cindy

gmo-answersThe purpose of GMO Answers is to – well, answer questions about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The group, which consists of all the major crop protection companies and agricultural organizations, recently came out with a top ten list for consumer questions about GMOs that experts have been answering one at a time.

The top questions are:

1. If GMOs cause cancer
2. If GMOs are causing an increase in allergies
3. If big companies are forcing farmers to grow GMOs
4. If GMOs are increasing the price of food
5. If GMOs are contaminating organic food crops
6. Why long-term health studies aren’t conducted on GMO plants
7. If GMOs are causing an increase in the use of pesticides
8. Why GMO companies seem like they are so against labeling GMO foods
9. If GMOs are contributing to the death of bees and butterflies
10. If livestock eat genetically modified grain, will there be GMOs in my meat

GMO Answers conducted a national survey to identify the top questions and reached out to scientists, farmers, doctors and other experts to provide answers. They are on question number 6 right now and you can follow them on Twitter at @GMOAnswers, where they tweet new answers as they are posted.

Here are my simple answers:
1. No GMOs do not cause cancer
2. No evidence that GMOs are increasing allergies
3. No one forces American farmers to grow anything they don’t want to grow
4. More likely GMOs have helped keep food prices from going higher
5. GMO crops are subject to regulations aimed at preventing cross pollination of organic crops
6. Extensive long term studies have been done on GMOs and discovered no adverse health effects
7. GMOs have led to a definite decrease in pesticide use
8. GMO companies are not against food labeling as long as it is fair and non-disruptive
9. No evidence that GMOs are killing pollinators
10. No GMOs in meat from animals fed GMO grain

Did I pass the test?

Economic Impact of Ethanol is Personal

In Audio, Biofuels, Ethanol by Cindy

A new study out from the Fuels America coalition shows that the industry supports more than 850,000 American jobs and drives $184.5 billion of economic output.

fuels-americaIt also is responsible for $46.2 billion in wages and generates $14.5 billion in tax revenue each year.

But numbers are impersonal and fail to show the real personal impact of what ethanol production has meant for rural areas. National Corn Growers Association Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett says farmers tell him ethanol is the reason their children have come back or decided to stay on the farm. “When I get tough farmers come up with misty eyes and say ‘that’s why this is so important because my kid came back,'” said Doggett during a press conference announcing the Fuels America report. “It gives them a way to pass that farm on to the next generation.”

Listen to Doggett’s comments here: Jon Doggett, NCGA

Listen to the full press conference here: Fuels America new economic report

Binging on Earth Day Irony

In Activism, American Ethanol, Biofuels, Conservation, Environmental, Ethanol, General, Politics, Water by Mark

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.