Corn Commentary

To Bee or Not to Beepocalypse

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

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

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

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

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 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

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


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.

Motor Club Finds No Ethanol-Related Claims

acmcAAA has been an outspoken critic of the move to 15% ethanol blended fuel but there are other motor clubs that don’t tow that line.

Gene Hammond with Association Motor Club Marketing and Travelers Motor Club, which represent 50 years in the business and over 20 million members, says they studied their claims over the past several years to see if there were any related to ethanol. “And what we discovered is that we have not had one ethanol-related claim where we’ve had to go out and tow,” said Hammond. “In fact, the opposite is true.”

Hammond explains that claims related to gasoline freeze used to be common in the northern part of the country, “but that’s gone away, we don’t have that anymore with ethanol.”

Hammond was pleased to join ethanol supporters
in Washington last week for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Fly-in to tell members of Congress and their staff his experiences with ethanol from both an automotive and a personal standpoint. “I’m from rural America and we told the story about how ethanol has really made a difference,” he said. Interview with Gene Hammond, AMCM and Travelers Motor Club

Washington Post Elucidates Unintended Consequences of Convoluted Food Labels

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), is gaining steam and supporters in this first week since its introduction. Sunday, the Washington Post wrote an eloquent editorial outlining why Americans should support this important legislation.

Pointing out that “mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution,” the editorial backed Congress saying that it is “right to be moving toward a more sensible policy that allows companies to label products as free of GM ingredients but preempts states from requiring such labels.”

The argument, which was solidly based in science, explained how the mandatory labeling laws promoted by anti-GM activists at the state level would actually mislead consumers.

“Promoters of compulsory GM food labeling claim that consumers nevertheless deserve transparency about what they’re eating. But given the facts, mandatory labeling would be extremely misleading to consumers — who, the Pew polling shows, exaggerate the worries about “Frankenfood” — implying a strong government safety concern where one does not exist.”

Noting that those who distrust scientific assurances of the safety of GM food have the ability to buy products voluntarily labeled as non-GM, the authors explored the often-overlooked consequences stigmatizing this safe, proven technology would have for those without the political power and extraneous energy to argue on their own behalf.

Asserting that “this isn’t just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety,” the piece explains how, “if GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.”

For the full piece, click here.

The Washington Post hit the nail on the head with this editorial. A small, yet motivated, group of anti-science, anti-ag activists is pushing for labels which would not provide clarity for consumers but would stigmatize a safe, beneficial technology. These sorts of pandering policies have real repercussions that should not be overlooked or ignored.

Today, we enjoy an abundance of safe, nutritious foods that we can afford. Many others may get there too but not if we take away the tools that they need to do so.

If Farming Were Easy…

farmingThis little saying was in this week’s newsletter from Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) – “If farming were easy Congressmen would do it.”

Truly, if farming were easy, everyone would do it – and most of us either can’t or don’t want to. The same could be said for many professions, but most of them don’t have everyone from the president on down trying to tell them how to do their jobs.

If farming were easy, the bureaucrats on the federal to the local level would be doing it themselves instead of making up regulations that make it more difficult to produce food, fiber and fuel.

If farming were easy, the people who are against biotechnology innovations that help produce more food would all be self-sufficiently producing their own daily sustenance.

And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

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