Fact Checking AP Ethanol Story

In Audio, Ethanol by Cindy

leroy1Leroy Perkins is “a white-haired, 66-year-old farmer in denim overalls” who is “agonizing” over whether he should put the “91 acres that he set aside for conservation years ago” into corn production. That is according to an Associated Press “investigative report” on the environmental impact of ethanol being released this week that features Leroy and Wayne County Iowa where he lives.

That’s not the story Leroy thought they were doing when he was contacted by AP reporters in July to talk about “the county fair, along with absentee, out-of-state state landlords and of course, water quality.” During the course of the interview, one of the reporters asked him what he thought about ethanol. “I told them I was for ethanol, I believe in it and we use it in our vehicles and equipment all the time … because it’s a product of the land,” he said. He never expected his interview would be for a “story to put down ethanol.”

apThe AP print and broadcast story is scheduled for publication after midnight November 12, but a draft copy for promotional purposes was circulated on the internet last week and seen by industry stakeholders and people like Leroy who were quoted in the piece.

Much of the pre-released article is focused on making the case for how ethanol policy is “raping the land” by encouraging more corn acreage. “The AP article tried to paint Wayne County as a poster child for cropland expansion under the RFS but they … omitted some key facts,” said Geoff Cooper, Vice President of Research and Analysis for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). “Farmers in Wayne County Iowa planted far more corn in the past than they do today,” he added, noting that 88,000 acres were planted in 1985 compares to 58,000 last year.

Cooper and the RFA have put together a Counterpoint Fact Sheet on AP story which refutes at least 16 direct quotes from the draft article and he says industry representatives have been in touch with the news agency. “There has been some effort to get these factual inaccuracies corrected,” said Cooper. “If the story we saw that was posted last week is the same story that gets rolled out tomorrow morning, that tells us the AP just isn’t concerned about running a factual story.”

The Associated Press supplies content to thousands of print, internet, radio and television outlets around the world.

Listen to the call with Leroy and Geoff here:AP ethanol story fact check call

Harvest is on a Roll

In Audio, Ethanol, Farming, State Groups, USDA by Cindy

After a slow start, the 2013 harvest is pretty much back on schedule in most of the country, but it seems late compared to last year’s record pace.

As of Sunday, USDA reports 73 percent of the corn crop was harvested, two points ahead of average, but more than 20% less than last year at this time. Only a few states are running behind at this point.

mcgaMissouri is exactly on pace with the five year average at 82% complete by Sunday. Last week, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon joined the Missouri Corn Growers Association at a grain elevator in the northeast part of the state to celebrate the success of the season’s crop.

“Right now, state corn yields statewide are up and we’re seeing averages pushing well above 125 bushels per acre with some farmers reporting high yields of about 200 bushels per acre in this region,” said Nixon.

MCGA CEO Gary Marshall says the Missouri crop is “one of the largest we’ve ever had” and believes the nation’s crop this year will be “the largest in history.” USDA will be coming out with the latest crop estimate on Friday.

The governor had lots of praise for corn farmers and the added value they provide to the state’s economy in the form of ethanol production and exports. Listen to his remarks here: Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

Pictured here in this photo from MCGA: Acting Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture Harry Bozoian, Gary Marshall, Gov. Jay Nixon and ADM Director of State Government Relations Chris Riley.

The Big Oil Hits Keep Coming

In Ethanol by Cindy

Big Oil continues to attack the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in every way possible, while denying that it receives any type of federal help to maintain its marketplace advantage. Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) created a couple of “fact check” videos of comments made by American Petroleum Institute’s (API) Bob Greco. There were so many hits they had to make two volumes!

World Food Prize Overload

In Audio, Food by Cindy

wfp-flagI’m still suffering from World Food Prize sensory and information overload. If you have never been to this event, you really should go. It is amazing to see and hear farmers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and researchers from so many nations gathered together for the central cause of feeding people.

World Food Prize Foundation president Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn says the event has grown so much from the first one-day symposium held in 1987. “We had more people registered this year for the symposium,” he said. “After we got beyond 1200 I almost stopped counting because I wasn’t sure where we were going to put folks!” In addition, there were 350 students and teachers at the event and over 700 attended the Iowa Hunger Summit earlier in the week, a new record.

Quinn marvels at what the World Food Prize has become. “We’ve been able to get to where people now say it’s the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, and some people say it’s the premier conference in the world on global agriculture and one of the most unique programs to inspire young people,” he said, adding that the Prize was sponsored by General Foods in the very beginning and taken over by Iowa businessman and philanthropist, John Ruan. Interview with WFP President Kenneth Quinn

The 2013 event brought speakers such as Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and philanthropist/farmer Howard G. Buffett who joined in announcing new initiatives to address conservation, hunger and poverty issues in Africa.

wfp-13-buffett-blairFor one, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation has formed a partnership with John Deere and DuPont Pioneer to promote conservation agriculture adoption and support smallholders and sustainable farming in Africa. The effort will be piloted in Ghana and include a conservation-based, mechanized product suite developed by John Deere; a system of cover crops and improved inputs from DuPont Pioneer; and support for adoption and training on conservation-based practices by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Additionally, Blair announced a collaboration between his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the World Food Prize Foundation to launch the 40 Chances Fellows program – inspired by Buffett’s book, “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World” – to encourage innovation in developing market‐based approaches that address food insecurity.

40 Chances Panel discussion Blair and Buffett Press Conference

They tell me there were a handful of activists outside protesting the World Food Prize honoring of biotechnology, but I never saw them. What I did see inside was lots of positive energy focused on new ways and ideas to feed people. Not “the world” or a “growing planet” – it’s about feeding PEOPLE in the best, most efficient, most productive and most sustainable ways possible.

2013 World Food Prize photos

Sugar Spins a Scary Story, but Science Sheds Its Less-than-Sweet Trick

In Food, HFCS by Cathryn

costumed pug dogA new study released just yesterday  confirms what many have already known for a while now – There’s no need to look for candy labeled “No HFCS” in your little trick-or-treaters sack of loot this year. It’s fine to let them enjoy their bounty of colorful candies not matter which sugar makes them sweet: corn, cane or beet.

The timely tome, released in Nutritional Journal, found that consumption of fat and glucose increased in the United States between 1970 and 2009, but the consumption of fructose accounted for only 1.3 percent of the rise in calorie intake in that period.  Thus, the study again pulls the mask off of the myth that fructose is in some way uniquely tied to the rising trend toward obesity in this county.

HFCS isn’t the dietary boogeyman. Instead, creepy corn-haters have whipped up an illusion that tricks people into believing that avoiding HFCS would drive a stake through the heart of obesity. Much like vampires though, the entire story is nothing but a whimsical fairytale concocted to keep those who would believe it right in the palm of the storyteller’s hand.

No one demon can be exorcised to cure the problem of obesity because, like most things in real life, it is complex and action requires real work and knowledge. Moderation and exercise may not conjure the same fascination as a titillating tale of dietary demons, but they do get results that last long after the last candy corn finally makes its way out of the dish.

This Halloween, don’t fear your food. Enjoy the fruits of hard-earned trick-or-treating labors as much as the corny jokes with which they were earned. HFCS doesn’t cast some magic spell on your metabolism. That story is as false as the little vampire at your doors fangs.

More to Gasoline Than Meets the Eye

In American Ethanol, Biofuels, Blogroll, Environmental, Ethanol, General, Water by Mark

Ethanol isn’t poison and gasoline is. There….I have said it. It boggles my mind how much of the public buys into the oil industry propaganda related to ethanol, most notably some of the environmental community. Why someone who considers themselves an environmentalist would listen to big oil on energy topics and what is best for consumers leaves me perplexed. Even on a good day when gasoline isn’t $3 to $4 a gallon, it remains a really bad idea when it comes to our health and the environment.

Ethanol is ethanol. There are no additives and it is the same product chemically that some drink in the form of martinis and other cocktails. Drink ethanol and  you just think you are better looking and funnier. Drink gasoline and you get dead. Gasoline has terrible environmental risk and repercussions and they are getting worse as we find new ways to dig, steam, and frack to get it out of the ground and the ocean bottom.

However, that is just the beginning of making commercial gasoline. Gasoline starts out as poison and it only gets better as dozens of chemicals can get mixed into the product. They get mixed in to make gas burn better during different seasons, to add octane, and even as a way for the oil industry to charge you for some byproducts of gasoline manufacturing that they otherwise would have to dispose of as toxic waste.

To this day one of my favorite news cartoons of all time showed thewhats in gas Exxon Valdez oil spill with petroleum covered wildlife effected by the disaster. The next panel showed an ethanol spill and featured google-eyed sea otters, dolphin and fish who apparently had been to happy hour.

I am a typical blogger. I have lots of opinions and I like words. But in this case I think I will show good judgement and just shut up and let the accompanying image tell the rest of the story. Take my word for it that many of these chemicals are even worse for your personal health and our future than they sound.

Controlling Aflatoxin in Africa

In Audio, Farming, Food by Cindy

DSC_1615Behind this pretty, innocent face is the mind of a brilliant researcher who was honored last week at the World Food Prize for her work in helping to make the maize crop in Africa safer for animals and humans.

Dr. Charity Kawira Mutegi, a 38-year-old researcher from Kenya, received the 2013 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application in recognition of her efforts to find the cause and a solution to a 2004-05 outbreak of aflatoxicosis in her country which killed 125 people who consumed contaminated grain.

Dr. Mutegi is leading efforts for the development of a biocontrol product in Kenya that can be used to significantly reduce aflatoxin levels in maize by introducing naturally occurring non-toxic strains of the fungus, which have a competitive advantage over the strains that produce the deadly aflatoxin. The technology was developed by USDA’s Agriculture Research Service and locally adapted for use in several African countries. The microbial bio pesticide she and her team are developing – “aflasafe KE01” – is affordable for farmers, is natural and environmentally safe, and once applied to a field, the effects last multiple growing seasons, making it extremely effective.

Listen Dr. Mutegi talk about her research during a World Food Prize press conference: Dr. Charity Mutegi remarks
2013 World Food Prize photos

Biotech Scientists Deserve Our Respect

In Audio, Biotechnology by Cindy

The 2013 World Food Prize symposium was probably the most controversial ever with the spotlight on biotechnology but while there may have been a handful of protestors outside the more than 1200 attendees from countries all over the globe seemed to largely be in agreement about the importance of genetically modified crops for the future of our world.

wfp13-2Scientists from two agricultural biotech companies – Monsanto and Syngenta – were honored for their work in the field, but it was Monsanto’s Dr. Robert Fraley who was the focus of the GMO critics. During a press conference with the three laureates, Fraley was asked why he thought Monsanto was the target for critics. “Sometimes that’s frustrating,” said Fraley. “I always assume that means we’ve been really successful and people see us as a leader and that’s part of the responsibility that goes with it.”

Syngenta’s Mary Dell Chilton said she didn’t really understand why Monsanto is the main target of critics but she believes the industry as a whole needs to “have good communications with the public about the safety” of the technology.

The third laureate, Marc Van Montagu of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium, said he believes that the critics have singled out Monsanto as the “villain” because it works better than talking about the industry as a whole. “If you start gossiping about a person, people always start believing gossip – humanity is like that,” he said.

One comment from Dr. Fraley really sticks with me. He said that, considering the thousands of studies and decades of research that have gone into the development of the GMO crops on the market, one of the “rumors” that “hurts him the most” is about their safety. It was as if he was talking about someone calling his baby ugly!

No matter how much people may love to hate Monsanto as a company, it is very important to realize that the motivations of the majority of scientists who have pioneered the work of genetically-modified crops are sincere. It’s not for money, fame or fortune or to help a company sell more product. They truly see their work as a way to help humanity and and for that they deserve our respect and recognition.

Listen to how the laureates answered some tough questions from the media here: World Food Prize Laureates press conference

CommonGround Wisconsin Dishes on Dairy

In Activism, Farming, Food, Guest Blogger by Cathryn

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer and blogger Kim Bremmer.

students with calf_8130 (2)What a fun morning in Alma Center, Wisconsin with two buses full of high school students, teachers and the school nutritionist for an informal discussion about food!  Pfaffway Farm was our wonderful host and is home to over 200 milking cows and youngstock.  Kristin Pfaff wanted to host an event about modern food production, showcase an actual farm, and be able to answer any questions the students might have about modern farming today.

The students were given donated milk, cheese curds and Craisins as they were seated on straw bale benches.  A questionaire was handed out earlier in the week at school and our discussion was focused accordingly around their answers.

We answered questions about the overall safety of food today and how technology has changed over time.  We spent a lot of time discussing GMO’s and handed out the Common Ground info-graph to everyone.  Many of the kids had concerns about the safety of GMO’s today and it was quite apparent  the influence that main stream media has. We had examples of different foods and talked at length about food labels and what they mean.  “Organic”, “All Natural”, “Hormone Free”, “Antibiotic Free” were all covered as well as r-BST, animal care concerns, and salmonella.

It was a lively group of young consumers with a lot of great questions and great discussion.  Even the adults in the group all commented on how much they learned.  Our final message was about keeping an open mind and always asking an expert when it comes to where your food comes from…the farmers and ranchers who are producing food for their own families and yours.  And more information can always be found at findourcommonground.com!

Pfaff Family _8122 (2)

Corn Farmers at Global Farmer Roundtable

In Audio, Biotechnology, Farming, International by Cindy

tatt-groupSince 2006, Truth About Trade and Technology (TATT) has been bringing farmers from different countries together during World Food Prize week in Des Moines to attend the event and share their knowledge and experiences with each other at the Global Farmer Roundtable. This year there were 16 farmers from 14 countries at the Roundtable, including Wisconsin farmer Jim Zimmerman who is chairman of the National Corn Growers Association Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action Team. Jim is pictured here (back row, second from right) with some of his fellow roundtablers.

Jim told us it was really interesting to spend the week with his fellow farmers around the globe. “There’s a lot of differences, but there’s also a lot of similarities,” Jim said, noting that he was very honored to be nominated and chosen to take part in the event. “Any time that you can participate in an international event like this, it’s a very good learning process.” Interview with Jim Zimmerman

wfp-pamNCGA Chairwoman Pam Johnson of Iowa had a seat at the global roundtable in 2010 and she was happy to reconnect with some of her fellow alumni during this year’s World Food Prize symposium. “There were 20 of us from all over the world,” she said. “We’re all still working and engaged in agriculture in some way to be a leader and to explain why it is biotechnology is so important as a tool for food security.”

Pam was very pleased to see the focus on agricultural biotechnology at World Food Prize this year with the winners all being scientists who have pioneered its development. “Biotechnology is size neutral, it’s good for everyone,” she said, adding that World Food Prize is a great place “for the personal stories and the truth to get out.” Interview with Pam Johnson

2013 TATT Global Farmer Roundtable photos