Posted By Cathryn January 23, 2014
The following blog post was authored by Minnesota family farmer and CommonGround volunteer Kristie Swenson. Swenson participates in CommonGround, which is a joint project of the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates, to help moms off the farm know how the moms on America’s farms grow and raise their food. By sharing her stories, she hopes to help consumers enjoy their food without fear.
The topic of GMOs is complex, challenging, and emotional, regardless of your stance. I have yet to have a straightforward conversation where we simply talk about one aspect of the GMOs because it’s so hard to talk about just one aspect when there are so many sides to the issue. If one starts talking about the science itself, or the methodology used to genetically modify an organism, the conversation often goes on tangents like research, ethics, side effects, chemical use, labeling, corporations and so on. It is so hard to separate each individual issue because they are connected and they are all valid issues that should be addressed.
Straight away, you should know that I am pro-GMO. I do not believe that GMOs are the silver bullet or the solution for everything, but I do believe that GMOs have merits that should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Do I think every single organism needs to be genetically modified? No, I don’t. But I do believe that genetically modifying some organisms can provide us with benefits, and I think those modifications should be researched.
Take papayas, for example. In the 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya crop was devastated by the ringspot virus. A Hawaiian scientist, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, developed a virus-resistant variety of papaya through genetic modification and found a way to help the papaya industry. In Hawaii today, both GMO and non-GMO papayas are produced. (Read this article for an interview with Dr. Gonsalves.)
Am I saying that since I see GM papayas as a good thing, that all GMOs are a good thing? I’m not going to use one positive situation to blanket the entire topic of GMOs. I am just saying that there are other industries that could benefit from genetic modification. The citrus industry comes to mind as it has been hit by citrus greening (the scientific name is Huanglongbing, or HLB). In this particular case, biotechnology could save our citrus. Here are two articles that further explore the citrus greening issue: Article 1 and Article 2.
To me, genetic modification and biotechnology are tools. Having multiple tools to pick from enables us to determine which tool fits the best for the situation at hand. People will choose tools based not only on the situation, but also on their personal preference. You and I may be faced with the same situation, yet we may choose different tools to achieve similar outcomes. And that’s ok – it is ok to have different opinions, different beliefs, different comfort levels.
I understand people have questions and concerns. It’s so easy for us to look to sources of information with which we are familiar, or which share our perspective. In today’s society, with the constant barrage of information and the vast amount of information available, it is so hard to sort out what’s fact from opinion; what’s twisted from what’s true. What one person finds credible may not be a credible source for someone else. I encourage you to seek out sources of information that provide facts rather than perpetuating myths, to have respectful conversations with people who work with biotechnology, and to think critically about what you find. I encourage you to continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers, and to know not just what you believe but why you believe it.
Posted By Cindy January 22, 2014
During the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) annual meeting this week in San Antonio, delegates voted to reaffirm support for the renewable fuels standard and approved a policy “supporting renewable fuels tax incentives for the production of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol and installation of blender pumps.”
New Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert says maintaining a strong RFS for ethanol and biodiesel production remains the top priority for farmers in his state and the region.
“Midwest farmers have worked so hard and so long to get those standards where they are today,” he said. “It’s just difficult for us to understand why we’re being forced to rollback those standards.” He says he can’t understand how the EPA could propose a policy that most experts agree will hurt biofuel producers and markets, especially in the rural economy, considering how the president has repeated his dedication to green energy, including biofuels, time and time again.
Listen to an interview with Richard here: Interview with Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert
Just a reminder, if you have not yet submitted comments to the EPA regarding the proposal to scale back volume requirements under the RFS, you have until January 28 to do so. Shout it out and make your voices heard!!!
Posted By Mark January 17, 2014
A true David and Goliath battle is under way between the nation’s family farmers and Big Oil in the form of the American Petroleum Institute (API). And farmers in recent weeks bounced a big rock off the head of the petroleum behemoth. At issue is American ethanol.
For months the oil industry has been involved in a well-funded campaign of both public and covert efforts to undermine the growing role of sustainable biofuel like ethanol. They capped this massive misinformation campaign by leaning on the White House and EPA to propose a change to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that would reduce ethanol use by 1.4 billion gallons this year.
The bad news is the most recent slap in the face, if successful, has the potential to hammer farmers and the rural economy to the tune of more than 10 billion dollars.
Before this recommendation can be accepted EPA’s proposal must go through a formal public comment period. Thousands of corn farmers across the country have responded with a vengeance submitting comments urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retract its proposed 10 percent cut in the amount of corn ethanol in the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard.
The volume of supportive comments coming from farmers as well as equipment dealers, bankers, school administrators and consumers who favor a fuel choice has been incredible so thanks to everyone who has taken the time to register your opinion.
The response has been so terrific that it tweaked API and in response they have launched yet another effort to remove any competition from the fuel marketplace. It takes the form of an annoying and deceptive “robo-call.”
On the pre-recorded action request API refers to those supporting ethanol as both a “special interest group” and as “extremists.” Since most those making the calls are farmers, I guess that means you. They also use the same old hackneyed and debunked arguments saying ethanol leads to higher food prices and damages car engines.
If being called an extremist makes you a little angry fight back. If having one of the world’s most prosperous industries try to increase their profits at your expense….fight back.
Corn growers: Click here to send a public comment to the EPA.
Non-farmers: Click here to customize and send a public comment to the EPA.
I wish it was a real person calling rather than some digital dweeb called Tom, because I would tell him to quit bugging hard working Americans and get back to cleaning up the their latest oil spill.
Posted By Cindy January 14, 2014
Even if you have never seen the show (like me) you probably know about Duck Dynasty by now, thanks to the controversy over comments made before Christmas by the program’s patriarch that sent the media into a tizzy.
The oldest brother and newest member of the show’s cast – Alan Robertson, aka the “Beardless Brother” – appeared this week at the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in San Antonio, with a beard.
The Duck Dynasty motto is “Faith, Family, Ducks” but Robertson told the thousands of farmers and ranchers at the meeting they could borrow that for their own use. “Faith, family, farming – that’s a good one for you guys,” he said.
Robertson believes the reason Duck Dynasty is so popular is that American viewers have a real desire for shows that demonstrate the old-fashioned values they still hold dear. “Something ordinary to us and probably to you [farmers] like working hard all day and coming home to have dinner around a table at night has become extraordinary to people in the 21st century,” said Robertson, who just joined the cast for the fourth season on A&E.
Political correctness aside, Alan really connected with the farmers and ranchers who share so much of the “Duck Dynasty” values about faith and family. Listen to an excerpt from Alan’s comments here: Duck Dynasty brother at AFBF
Posted By Cindy January 14, 2014
Most people are unaware that much of our nation’s seed corn supply hails from the Aloha State. In fact, seed corn is now the biggest segment of Hawaii’s agriculture sector, valued at $243 million, according to the most recent statistics.
The seed crop industry started about 50 years ago in Hawaii, but since 2000 the industry has grown by an astronomical 548%, with all of the major seed players having a stake in about ten farms totaling some 25,000 acres on four of the Hawaiian islands. These farms use both conventional as well as biotech plant breeding methods to grow seed crops, mostly corn, and all of it is exported to both North and South America for further development and distribution.
Needless to say, the industry is very valuable to Hawaii in terms of employment and economic benefit – as well as to farmers working to feed a growing world population – but in the past year movements have cropped up to place restrictions on seed companies in terms of pesticide use and genetically modified crops. After a heated and prolonged battle last year that included a veto by the mayor who then received death threats, Kauai County passed such an ordinance in November. Now three major seed companies impacted by the law have filed suit against the county.
Under the ordinance, scheduled to take effect in August, open-air testing of experimental pesticides would be prohibited and a moratorium would be placed on the development of new genetically modified crops. In the lawsuit, the companies note that their activities are already regulated by state and federal governmental agencies and that the local law would place “burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations.”
While cloaked with the purpose of protecting the “health and natural environment” of Kauai and its people, this is clearly the work of anti-GMO activists, such as The Center for Food Safety which has been heavily involved in the local action. Just another weapon being used in the war against progress to feed a growing world population.
Posted By Cathryn January 7, 2014
With temperatures well below normal across much of the country, stories focused on how to best handle the problems that accompany an arctic blast dominate newspapers, radio and television alike. One from South Dakota, where they contend with this type of winter wonderland on a regular basis, points out how ethanol blends in automotive fuel actually helps keep drivers up and going.
While Keloland Television notes that it is still important to start cars regularly, it points out that ethanol actually keeps non-diesel vehicles in commission during cold snaps.
“Most everything has an ethanol blend to it, which acts as a heat, if you will, to keep the moisture dispersed. So, not a super-huge issue.”
Whether you must brave the windy roads or can stay hunkered down by a warm fire, know that ethanol in your tank makes it more likely your car will start when the snow finally stops. Proper maintenance makes all the difference, but ethanol gives motorists an added bonus beyond its benefit to their environment and their pocketbooks.
Posted By Cindy January 7, 2014
You can have your cake with more fiber and less fat and eat it too – with corn bran.
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service reports that white layer cakes can be made healthier by replacing some of the flour with finely ground corn bran without significantly undermining many of the qualities of this favorite treat.
Experiments done by USDA food technologist Mukti Singh determined that purified, finely ground corn bran can be used as a substitute for up to 20 percent of the flour called for in the American Association of Cereal Chemists’ “gold standard” test recipe for white cake.
The experiments found that using 20 percent corn bran fiber had no significant impact on qualities such as color or springiness and volunteer taste-tasters who sampled cake made with that amount of the fiber rated it as “acceptable” – which is good.
One slice of an 8-inch, 6-slice, two-layer white cake made with 20 percent corn bran fiber would provide about 5 grams of fiber, compared to about 1 gram from a conventional white layer cake. The USDA researcher say the corn bran recipe can be added to cakes that are prepared at commercial bakeries or to the boxed mixes sold for home bakers.
Posted By Cindy January 7, 2014
General Mills made headlines last week with the announcement that that they will begin marketing original Cheerios “not made with genetically modified ingredients.”
In a post about the change, General Mills VP of global communications Tom Forsythe noted that it really is not a big change. “Original Cheerios has always been made with whole grain oats, and there are no GMO oats. We do use a small amount of corn starch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste. And now that corn starch comes only from non-GM corn, and our sugar is only non-GM pure cane sugar.”
But it’s even less of a change than that, according to Margaret Smith, Cornell University professor of plant breeding and genetics, who says Cheerios are just the same as ever.
“Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA, which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism, and no protein – which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism,” she explains. “Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.”
Forsythe notes that General Mills’ support of GMOs remains the same, which is well-articulated in an on-line company position statement that links to a separate website on Facts about GMOS.
The reason General Mills made the “change” and announced it as they did is really simple – money. “We did it because we think consumers may embrace it,” said Forsythe. Chances are the “new” Cheerios will actually be more expensive, as another company spokesman quoted in the Wall Street Journal said it “required significant investment” to make the changes to the original cereal and that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to make other varieties without GMOs.
Time will tell if the cereal will be more expensive and if GMO-fearful consumers will pay the price. The bigger question is what message this will send to the general public if all they hear is that one of the nation’s largest food companies is going GMO-free.
Posted By Cindy January 2, 2014
As you are making your list of 2014 New Year’s Resolutions, one of them should be to do your part to help protect the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
Unless your voice is heard, the Environmental Protection Agency will approve its proposal made on November 15 to cap corn-based ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply this year at 13 billion gallons, cutting 1.4 billion gallons from what it was supposed to be under the law.
The comment period on the proposal is open until January 28. If you believe the RFS is working as intended, if it has helped you personally and/or your rural community, if you think it is good for America that we have more renewable fuels, not less – let the EPA know.
The National Corn Growers Association has information on how to submit comments and drafts of possible comments that you can personalize – your story is what matters. You can also write your own letter, if you prefer, and send it to:
Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 2822T
Air and Radiation Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0479
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Watch this great video by the Missouri Corn Growers that tells “the greatest story never told” – Quiet Revolution: The Ethanol Story.
Posted By Cindy December 30, 2013
A new exhibit is being developed for the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History that presents the history of agriculture in our nation from a business perspective. Part of the development process is a website that is collecting and archiving stories and photos about the progress of American agriculture through the years.
Curator Peter Liebhold says they created the Agriculture Innovation Heritage Archive to preserve, document and make available the story of American agriculture. “It’s a real easy-to-use site where you can browse what other people have said or you can contribute your own stories,” he said. “What we want people to do is tell us their experiences – maybe a story about walking the beans or a story about the rise of GPS – anything they think is important.” He also encourages farmers and ranchers to submit photos to accompany their stories.
One of the stories I found on the site was “Obery Farms: A family farm in Central Illinois, 1874-Present” which relates the family farm history of Paul and Catherine Obery who immigrated to the United States from France in 1874 and purchased 127 acres of land for $45 an acre. Two sixth generation Obery sons still maintain the centennial farm.
It will be interesting to see the finished physical exhibition, which is scheduled to open in 2015, but this “virtual” version is a great resource for everyone to learn about the great American Enterprise of agriculture.