Spring Shows Media Warming to GMOs

In Biotechnology by Cathryn

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.

Go Grist! Journalist Looks Beyond Media Hype to Find True Story of U.S. Farming

In Biofuels, Conservation, Farming, Media, USFRA by Cathryn

Kudos to Grist for taking a real look at agriculture in Iowa. As the primary season starts, candidates will visit the state and many outlets may off-handedly deride the stances they express on the issues important to farmers. But Liz Core, a Grist journalist, took the time to visit the state and talk to farmers about the issues that they face. What she found is a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of Iowa’s farm families.

“Iowa commodity growers are often demonized for what and how they grow, and monocultures and ethanol aren’t exactly healthy for the planet. But all of the farming families I talked to expressed a deep respect for the land and the desire to take good care of it for the next generation. If we want to understand how and why our agriculture system is the way it is, we’d be wise to approach all farmers with an open mind.”

To read the full article, click here.

Core goes on to introduce three of the farm families she met during her time in Iowa, including CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. Showing the real people and exploring their honest concerns, she provides a balanced picture of both agriculture and the impact public policies have upon farmers.

When you take the time to look beyond the sound bites and have an open conversation, a much more interesting story emerges. Through programs such as CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the men and women who grow our food start a dialogue with those who buy it to foster this sort of honest, two-way dialogue. Reach out and you might find the same thing that Core did – on or off the farm, most of us want the same things for our families and our country.

2015 Corn Crop on Facebook

In Farming, USDA by Cindy

2015-corn-plantThe 2015 corn crop has barely begun to be planted but it already has its own Facebook page.

The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) launched the new Facebook page – Growing the 2015 U.S. Corn Crop – as a direct channel for communication between farmers and overseas customers about the condition and quality of the 2015 U.S. corn crop, according to USGC Chairman Ron Gray.

“This page helps illustrate this year’s theme of Global Awareness, Global Connections,” said Gray. “We are more globally connected than ever, and we are constantly looking for ways to use modern communications tools to build the connections between our farmers and their customers around the world.”

All U.S. corn farmers and international customers are invited to like and post on the page, and include regular updates on the progress of their corn crop with photos or videos and commentary.

Some farmers were busy last week in the fields, but most were not according to the latest USDA crop progress report. As of April 12, just two percent of the corn crop was planted, compared to three percent this time last year and five percent on average. The only states making progress right now are Kansas, North Carolina and Texas, with Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee gaining a little ground.

To Bee or Not to Beepocalypse

In Biotechnology by Cindy

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.

Monday’s Maize Mutant

In General by Cathryn

Brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association and the Maize Genetics and Genomics Database

One thing we have learned from the National Corn Yield Contest is that plant populations are increasing. But as plant populations increase, how do we keep plants from crowding or shading each other? The answer is to change the plant’s architecture, specifically the angle of the leaves.

The liguleless1 gene in corn controls leaf angle by allowing the development of a small collar near the base of the leaf which allows the leaf to bend without breaking.  When the liguleless1 gene is mutated, the collar is absent and leaves assume a more upright angle that allows plants to grow closer together without crowding or shading each other.  Many modern hybrids carry the mutated liguleless1 gene.

The liguleless1 mutant is on the left.

Photo courtesy of Dr. M. G. Neuffer, University of Missouri.

Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information

In Activism, Food, Guest Blogger by Cathryn

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post written by CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Kristie Swenson. It originally appeared on the Minnesota Cornerstone blog and can be viewed there by clicking here.

Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information

Kristie Swenson is a family farmer in Trimont and CommonGround volunteer.

Kristie Swenson is a family farmer in Trimont and CommonGround volunteer.

Recently, I had one of the most intimidating experiences of my entire life: I did multiple live media interviews about agriculture.

Along with three other CommonGround volunteer farm women, I traveled to New York City to give TV and radio interviews about agriculture. During one of the interviews, we rattled off the eight GMO crops, and the interviewer was clearly surprised. “Wow,” he said.  “I had no idea there were only eight. It seems like there are many more than that because you hear about it all the time.”

THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to be sharing our stories. THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to raise our voices and answer questions. And THAT is exactly why it is so important that we, as farmers, become more willing to connect with consumers.

Farmers have an awesome and unique story to tell. How many times have you seen the sun rise in the East, set in the West, and stars fill the night sky – all in the same day? How many times have you planted seeds, waited, and watched for them to break through the ground? How many times have you been one of the VIPs watching (or helping) a mama animal give birth, and then cheering when the newborn gets to its feet for the first time? How many times have your children or grandchildren ridden with you in the tractor and fallen asleep on the buddy seat?

Farmers are blessed with these opportunities. They may seem “normal” or “everyday” to us, but to the average consumer who has never seen an animal being born or ridden in a tractor, these experiences are nothing short of exotic and rare. Farmers are some of the select few who get to see nature’s beauty at her finest hours. We have a deep appreciation for the earth and for the cycle of life. We understand that we need to care for and respect our environment, our soil, and our livestock, because we rely on them for our livelihood.

These are things that can be difficult to understand for the average consumer. The average consumer is bombarded with information and is ill-equipped to sort through it all for a simple, clear, and straightforward answer.

Kristie Swenson, left, recently talked food and farming during a media tour in New York City.

Kristie Swenson, left, recently talked food and farming during a media tour in New York City.

This is where we, as farmers, can answer questions and help clear up the misinformation. Farmers can be – no, farmers should be — the people consumers turn to when they have questions about how food is grown and raised.

What’s stopping us? Too busy? Not interested in that facemail twittergram stuff? Fear?

I can relate to those things. I have two small children, my husband and I farm with my parents, plus I have a full-time job. I’m only on Facebook and LinkedIn, and it is scary for me or my family to be attacked online. But even though speaking up for agriculture can be nerve-wracking, it’s necessary.

I am fiercely proud and honored to have grown up on a farm. I am privileged that my husband and I get to farm the same land that my parents and grandparents farmed. We want our children to have the opportunity to farm. My passion for agriculture and my desire for my children to have the opportunity to farm outweigh the excuses that “I’m too busy”, “I’m not interested in social media”, and “I’m afraid of receiving hateful comments”.

Fellow farmers: Becoming a voice of truth, encouragement, and clarity is critical. Farmers have often responded to consumer demands, and one of those demands now is to simply know more about how food is grown and raised. Most consumers don’t work with it every day; they don’t know what lengths farmers go to raise safe, healthy animals and crops. So let’s meet this demand, answer questions, talk about concerns, and help build understanding in what we do and why we do it.

Will you help me? Will you be a voice for agriculture?

Kristie Swenson is a CommonGround volunteer who farms in Trimont, Minn., and also works as an ag lender. You can follow Kristie on Facebook here.

Washington Pro-GMO Buzz Grows

In Biotechnology by Cathryn

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.

Science Babe vs. Food Babe

In Food by Cindy

If you put the Food Babe and the Science Babe in a ring together, I’d definitely put my money on Sci-Babe.

sci-babeScience Babe Yvette d’Entremont is an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology – and a big attitude that does not tolerate any BS when it comes to science. And that is where she has a big issue with the self-proclaimed food critic Vani Hari, aka Food Babe. Sci-Babe just wrote a scathing piece on Gawker (caution: Sci-Babe uses profanity liberally) that rightly takes the Food Babe to task for being “the worst assault on science on the Internet.”

“Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact,” writes Sci-Babe. “Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.”

food-babeHari’s rule? “If a third grader can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”

My rule? Don’t base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.

Sci-Babe notes that Food Babe is famous for calling anyone who questions or criticizes her “haters and shills, racist or sexist” – including anyone in the scientific community like Dr. Kevin Folta with the University of Florida. “If her arguments had merit, she could engage in a battle of wits with her detractors instead of making insidious accusations,” says Sci-Babe.

At the same time she labels most real scientists like Folta “shills” for the biotech industry, Food Babe is making her own fortune shilling for herself and her pet products like Suja organic juices.

The good news is that Food Babe is getting some serious negative press lately, like this article in the NY Times last month. One can only hope that some of this can get through to any of her loyal followers that have more scientific knowledge than the average third grader.

Better yet, how about a Boxing Babe Beatdown where the last babe standing wins? I’d still bet on Sci-Babe even against a whole #FoodBabeArmy.

MIT Calls Out Left on Scientific Illiteracy on GMOs

In Biotechnology by Cathryn

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.

Nutrients Are Pesticides: The Dose Makes the Poison

In Guest Blogger by Cathryn

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Maryland volunteer and Foodie Farmer blogger Jennie Schmidt. To check out more posts from Jennie, click here.

Nutrients Are Pesticides: The Dose Makes the Poison

Most people find it odd that I am a Registered Dietitian who is licensed as a commercial pesticide applicator. I actually find it quite advantageous because what I studied in my nutrition degrees both undergrad and grad school, applies across multiple biological systems, not just human systems, but soil and plant systems too. Because I have a solid understanding of the science of nutrition, I therefore have a solid understanding of the science of pesticides. Many of the nutrients I studied as an RD, have applications as pesticides.

Paracelsus was correct when he coined the term “The dose makes the poison”.

First, let’s start with some definitions:

Nutrient: “Chemical substances obtained from food and used in the body to provide energy, structural materials, and regulating agents to support growth, maintenance and repair of teh body’s tissues. Nutrients may also reduce the risk of some diseases” Whitney & Rolfe, Understanding Nutrition, 9th edition (yes I know, my copy is dated. This is the one I used to tutor undergrads during grad school, not my copy as an undergrad!)

Pesticide: A pesticide is a chemical used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests. (EPA)

Any chemical can be toxic, whether its natural or synthetic, depending on how much you eat, drink or absorb. Nutrients are the chemicals make up of food.

Nutrients in high doses work as pesticides to control bacteria, fungi, molds and mildews, mainly in fruit and vegetable crops. Nutrients are typically used as protectant fungicides, meaning they are used proactively before disease appears to protect the foliage of the plant. Remember from high school biology how important photosynthesis is in the growth and development of a plant? Without foliage, or if foliage is damaged from mildews, a plant cannot photosynthesize efficiently. Photosynthesis is the process that converts sunlight into energy (carbohydrates). Photosynthesis is required for fruits and vegetables to ripen. Without sufficient foliage on the plant, grapes wouldn’t ripen and turn sweet, tomatoes wouldn’t turn red, watermelon wouldn’t get sweet and pink, strawberries wouldn’t turn red and sweet. Fungicides, in the form of nutrients like sulfur, copper, zinc, and manganese protect the plant in advance of any disease. They are not “treatments” and do not work after a plant has developed a disease, they only work to protect the plant from developing the disease.

First, let’s look at the recommended dietary intake of nutrients for humans:

Nutrient RDA UL Major functions:
Zinc 8-11 mg/d 40 mg/d Cellular metabolism

Protein synthesis

Wound healing

Cell division

DNA synthesis

Manganese 1.8-2.3 mg/d 11 mg/d Activates many enzymes that are critical to metabolism, bone development, and wound healing.
Copper 700-900 µg/d 5000-10000 µg/d Critical in the function of enzymes that control energy production, connective tissue formation, and iron metabolism.
Sulfur No RDA-Metabolic

breakdown of the

recommended intake for

protein and sulfur amino

acids should provide

adequate inorganic sulfate

for synthesis of required sulfur-containing

compounds.

No UL The body does not use sulfur as a nutrient by itself. Contributes to protein structure. Acts as a bridge between amino acids in hormones like insulin.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.

Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

Next, let’s look at the recommended application rates of these nutrients as pesticides as approved by EPA:

Pesticide Rate/Acre Oral LD50 Controls For:(grapes/tomatoes)
Zinc 3-4 lb/acre 1400 mg/kg Phomopsis, Black Rot, Botrytis, Downy Mildew
Manganese 1-4 lb/acre 5000 mg/kg Anthracnose, Early Blight, Late blight, Bunch rot, Downy mildew
Copper 0.75 – 1.75 lb/acre 1847 mg/kg Downy Mildew, bacterial spot, anthracnose,
Sulfur 3-20 lb/acre 2000 mg/kg Powdery Mildew, spotted mite, red spider mite.

For comparison purposes – Vitamin D is highly toxic with an LD50 of 10 mg/kg, whereas table salt (sodium chloride) has an LD50 of 3000 mg/kg.

What is LD50?

Oral LD50: An LD50 is a standard measurement of acute toxicity that is stated in milligrams (mg) of pesticide per kilogram (kg) of body weight. An LD50 represents the individual dose required to kill 50 percent of a population of test animals (e.g., rats, fish, mice, cockroaches). Because LD50 values are standard measurements, it is possible to compare relative toxicities among pesticides. The lower the LD50 dose, the more toxic the pesticide.

A pesticide with an LD50 value of 10 mg/kg is 10 times more toxic than a pesticide with an LD50 of 100 mg/kg.

We went from milligrams per day as a recommended dietary allowance to pounds per acre to control for disease. The vastly escalated dose converted these nutrients from dietary healthfulness into effective pesticides.

You can see, although these pesticides are “natural”, as in nutrients, they are still toxic. By definition, a pesticide must kill or control something.

There is no such thing as a nontoxic pesticide.

Click here to see a good graphic
that depicts the toxicity of natural versus synthetic pesticides:graphic

If this topic is of interest to you, I recommend these excellent additional readings:

The Dose Makes The Poison

Dietary Pesticides (99.9% all natural)

Are Synthetic Pesticides More Dangerous Than Natural Ones?

As an RD, I know these nutrients are essential for health and wellness in our diets.

As a pesticide applicator, I know these pesticides are essential for the health and wellness of my fruit and vegetable crops.

The nutrients in your multi-vitamin are not toxic but these nutrients are not edible at the pesticide dose.

The dose makes the poison.