Breaking News: IARC Creates Carcinogen Confusion

In Biotechnology, Food, government, International, Media, Regulations by Cathryn

Cancer terrifies all of us. Given the painful memories almost every person has in America, this is completely reasonable. Yet, the precise global agency tasked with assessing cancer risks most probably generates a great deal of unnecessary fear according to a Reuters report released today.

Delving into how experts in public health, academia and industry view the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a narrow sub-agency of the World Health Organization, Reuters found considerable cause for confusion and concern. Noting that IARC is held in respect in relevant circles, the article looks at how IARC’s pronouncements can cause confusion even amongst scientists and, thus understandably, among consumers as well.

How does this impact agriculture?

Last spring, IARC announced the reclassification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen. In the fall, the agency listed processed meats in the same category as plutonium. The classifications made by IARC impact public perception of farming practices and, in these instances, provide scary support for anti-ag activists.

Whether one questions IARC’s scientific rigor or its approach to research supplied by third parties, it is abundantly clear questions about the relevance of IARC’s findings in public discourse are, increasingly, becoming more prominent.

Next time a report issues a proclamation citing the cancer risk of a new product, ask questions. Did IARC call something deem something else available for decades secretly as carcinogenic as nuclear material? Stand with science. Sometimes, common sense actually makes scientific sense too.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Easter Basket: The Sugar Is the Same

In Activism, Biotechnology, Current News, Food, Guest Blogger, HFCS by Cathryn

Sugarbeet_GMO_Photo1Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from Michigan CommonGround blogger Barbara Siemen. A passionate agvocate who blogs at, Barbara shares the insight a once city girl turned farmer has on why moms across the country can feel excited filling Easter baskets.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Easter Basket: The Sugar Is the Same

By Barbara Siemen
Barbara is a city girl turned country chick. She and her husband, a fourth-generation farmer, raise dairy, beef, corn, wheat, hay and sugar beets in Michigan.

Right around the corner is one of my favorite holidays: Easter! Our clever Easter Bunny hides baskets filled with toys, books, bubbles, sidewalk chalk and candy. Chocolate candy to be exact.

Since I’m a farmer, moms come to me with questions about food and how it’s raised, and that includes chocolate. On our farm, we don’t grow chocolate, but we do grow sugar beets, which provide a main source of sugar in chocolate. Sugar beets are also one of the eight commercially available genetically modified crops (GMOs) in the U.S.

Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about GMOs, so I wanted to give you some facts and resources to help ease any concerns you might have, because nobody should be afraid of the chocolate in their Easter basket.

GMOs have been extensively tested.

GMOs are repeatedly and extensively tested for consumer and environmental safety and have been for about 20 years. In the U.S., those tests are reviewed by the Department of AgricultureEnvironmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration.

World-renowned health and safety organizations have deemed GMOs safe.

On average, it takes 13 years to bring a GMO seed to market because of the extensive research, testing and regulatory processes required. People have eaten countless meals containing GMOs over the last few decades, and no ill side effects on human health have been reported. Additionally, every regulatory agency and major scientific body in the world has deemed GMO foods to be safe. Foods from genetically engineered plants must meet the same food-safety requirements as foods derived from traditionally bred plants.

Now let’s talk about sugar beets in particular.

Sugar is sugar.

Last year, an independent testing organization tested every sugar beet processing plant in the U.S. and Canada and found the sugar derived from GMO sugar beets is indistinguishable from non-GMO sugar beets. The sugar is the same. Sucrose is identical, whether it comes from sugar cane, conventional sugar beets or GMO sugar beets.

Growing GMO sugar beets on our farm helps the environment.

On our farm, we grow GMO sugar beets. Planting these sugar beets has been great for our farm and helped us become more sustainable in many ways. For example, we have reduced the amount of products we apply to protect against weeds, bugs and disease by around 55 percent, and our fuel consumption has dropped by 50 percent. The fewer products we need to apply, means less tractor trips across all of our fields. That’s a savings in not only fuel but also environmental impact.

As a farmer, a mom and a chocolate lover, I hope that Bunny will deliver a bounty of chocolate goodies to you on Easter morning. And I hope you can trust that I will deliver the best and safest sugar possible to make those chocolates. If you have any questions about sugar beets or GMOs, please leave a comment or connect with us on Facebook to keep the conversation going.

It’s Not All Bad News For Ethanol

In Biofuels, Ethanol, Exports by Mark

ethanol-prideNews in agriculture can seem a little bleak these days; $3.50 corn will do that. But given that it’s Friday I thought it might be a good idea to send out a positive vibe to give your nerves a break. And I didn’t have to look to far to find the goods.

First, ethanol is not dead or even dying despite reports to the contrary. Domestic expansion has slowed and that stinks considering we have the corn and the market demand but not the market access. Thank you big oil for hooking that up. But while this political melodrama plays out on ethanol in the U.S. foreign customers are having no problem seeing the clean air and performance benefits of ethanol.

In fact, the U.S. exported $2.1 billion in ethanol in 2014, replacing Brazil as the world’s largest ethanol exporter. 2015 data is expected to show 850 million gallons of exported ethanol, second only to a record year in 2011 and up from the 835 million gallons exported last year.

It was also nice to see the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) make a very public statement in support of ethanol and maintaining the Renewable Fuels Standard this week during an Ag Executive Outlook Panel during the opening day of the 2016 National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville. AEM named RFS one of their top issues for 2016.

So, chin-up and let’s keep chipping away on our nation’s leaders to show them the light regarding the benefits of ethanol. Oil has money but it never hurts to be right on an issue.

What Facts Are Really Facts?

In Activism, American Ethanol, Biofuels, Current News, Environmental, Ethanol, Guest Blogger by Mark

whats in gas

(This guest blog is provided by Matt Reese who writes for Ohio’s Country Journal).

It can be really hard to know which way to feel about some issues because these days it seems everyone has their own set of “facts” that conclusively proves their point. The problem, of course, is that as soon as you conclusively prove a point, you run into someone else who has an entirely different set of facts that definitively proves their point, which happens to be the opposite view of the first point that was proven. Confused yet? I know I am.

One only has to sit and listen to a political debate on any issue between any candidates of any party to get all caught up in a muddled mess of my-facts-versus-your-facts. Then there is often a behind-the-scenes reporter who does a fact check on the aforementioned facts to clarify the situation. Unfortunately, more often than not, these fact checks often just compound the problem by providing another opportunity to spin the issue with a set of suspect facts about the facts.

Of course, in my line of work I see this all the time in great detail with the wide variety of complicated issues facing food and agriculture. This is certainly true in the current debate over the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending decision about the levels set in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The recent story by Joel Penhorwood on this issue highlights the divergent facts in the RFS debate. Here is an excerpt:

ACCF (an anti-ethanol group) Executive Vice President Dave Banks responded strongly to the outcry by Ohio ag and pro-ethanol groups.

“I think these guys sometimes get lost in this weird, parallel universe in which they actually convince themselves that this mountain of damning, definitive science and data about corn ethanol’s environmental impact doesn’t exist, or that folks don’t actually know about it,” Banks said in a statement.

That environmental impact Banks spoke of is one of negative consequence. The ACCF points to research that they say shows the production of ethanol doubles greenhouse emissions when compared to gasoline over 30 years, making it a dirtier fuel in the end — a highly disputed claim. 

“It’s just misinformation,” said Ohio grain farmer Chad Kemp about the anti-RFS ads. “The things they’re saying there is no scientific backing for. They’re trying to get the people to jump on board with it and basically, their idea is to kill renewable fuels in this country.”

The heated debate over the RFS really ramped up in recent weeks with dueling ad campaigns in Ohio and Washington, D.C. highlighting very different sets of facts pertaining to ethanol’s impact on the environment, the economy and so forth. So whose facts are right?

In the end, the complexities of these various issues generally boil down to some basic truths. The key for me is getting down to those basic truths and sorting out how I feel about those. So, here are some facts about the RFS (that are really facts) that helped me to form my opinion.

  1. Congress created and approved the RFS.
  2. Businesses planned their investment strategies based upon the RFS.
  3. The RFS was implemented and businesses responded as they saw fit.

While there are many more nuances to the RFS debate, for me this set of undisputable facts is reason enough to support it. The government made a deal. Regardless of whether you like the deal or not, it was made and I believe it should be upheld and seen through to fruition. Maybe this set of facts doesn’t address your primary concerns about he RFS. Here are more real facts.

  1. Ethanol offsets the purchase of foreign oil.
  2. Ethanol is made from corn produced by American farmers.

I would rather support farmers in the U.S. with my energy dollar than who knows who I am supporting when I use petroleum.

In the end, there is usually at least some kernel of truth in either side of these debates. Which facts matter to you? The way I sort through them is by identifying the key (and real) facts of the matter that really matter to me.

Either way, the RFS is a no-brainer in my book.

Love the Earth? Organic May Not Be Your Best Bet

In Biotechnology, Conservation, Environmental, Land Use by Cathryn

Switching to an all-organic agricultural system in the United States would have serious, negative consequences according to analysis of government reports published in Forbes. With clear documentation of a yield gap between conventional and organic production indicating increased land use would be required to make such a switch, the authors detail why, amongst many other reasons, organic is not the more environmentally-friendly choice.


Noting that all-organic crop production would require the use of an area the size of “all parkland and wildland areas in the lower 48 states,” the piece examines the findings of the USDA’s recently released survey of organic farmers. The implications of such a land shift to America’s environment would be catastrophic.


Today, Americans have an incredible array of healthy, nutritious foods from which they can choose. With less than half a percent of U.S. farmland in organic production, it is still increasingly easy for consumers to choose organic options if they so desire. It does not make sense for them to do so, however, under the assumption that switching to all-organic farming would benefit the environment.


To read the full article, click here.

Who Will Farm the Land When Farmers Are Gone?

In agribusiness, Blogroll, Current News, Education, Farming, Sustainability by Mark

Picture1“They keep farming even when their eyesight is failing and their hearts are going bad.” So starts a great story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today regarding escalating farm accidents among older farmers. “They get back on their tractors after farm accidents have put them in the hospital, sometimes with permanently disabling injuries.”

And it is very true that unlike most of us farmers might slow down but they rarely stop working at 65. As the article points out many die on the job, “because they gamble with their aging bodies once too often.” This is an accurate and tragic story, and likely not one that is going to go away.

Nationally, the typical farmer is past 58 years old and isn’t slowing down, up from 50.5 in 1982. Buried beneath this headline is an even broader social issue of who is on deck as these warriors of the soil drive their tractors into the sunset?

Farmers via their sheer efficiency and productivity have pulled a bushel basket over their incredible job performance. Society often takes them for granted, but this article begs the question who’s next. The recent rural renaissance brought on by large crops, steady exports and growing ethanol production, combined with higher prices had launched a migration of youth coming back to the farm.

However, this process appears to have stalled now, due to a return to break even prices, before the movement has even taken full flight. The vast majority of Americans say they want these family farmers, these storehouses of generations of specialized knowledge, to continue to provide their food, fuel and fiber. I am guessing most people have no clue how tenuous the future of family farmers really is, and unless we get creative it will be too late.


Sweet Reassurance for Consumers

In Food, HFCS by Cathryn

Worried about what sweetens every item in your cart each time you step in your local market? Frazzled trying to determine if honey, cane sugar or HFCS is the “right” choice for your family? Guilty when you don’t have hours to stop and check every label?

There is no need to worry, according to a new article in the Journal of Nutrition highlighted on the Washington Post’s blog. All three sweeteners are essentially equal in terms of their affect on your health.

No matter if you choose cane, corn or beat, only 10 percent of one’s daily caloric intake should be made up of any sugar, according the the World Health Organization.  While this might mean you should watch how much sugar is in your food, it means that there is no need to worry of which type it may be.

Fast food chains marketing themselves as “healthy options” may want you to believe that their products are somehow superior because they eschew HFCS, but the science doesn’t support their claims. Their marketing departments probably have much more interest in your wallet than your health.

So, take a deep breath knowing you can put at least one dietary dilemma to rest. Honey, corn, cane or even beet, what is important is the amount of sweetener not which one is in what you eat.

Dear Consumer, They Tell Me Not to Get Angry But, Sometimes, I Do

In Activism, Food, Guest Blogger by Cathryn

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from Missouri CommonGround blogger Kate Lambert. A passionate agvocate who blogs at, Lambert describes the frustration many of her fellow farmers feel when trying to convey their passion and love of farming. Why struggle in this way? Because, as you will see, Lambert and many like her deeply understand the importance of communicating with consumers.

Dear Concerned Consumer,

The marketing research tells me that I should focus on the positive when I address you.   I shouldn’t talk about the environment, or the health of my soil – they say you do not care about those things.

They tell me not to discuss the challenge of feeding the world.  I should not detail the challenges of feeding my own family on a farmer’s income, with ever rising input costs, unpredictable weather patterns and buyer preferences that change with the direction of the wind.  They tell me this doesn’t register with you.

They tell me to only speak about things that directly impact you.  They tell me not to talk about the science, because the emotional registers more.  They tell me not to talk too long or write too much, you don’t have time.

They tell me not to get angry.  But if I am honest, sometimes I do.

I get angry that you have time to read  about the latest detox diets and “natural” foods, yet don’t have time to read how seed technology is increasing yields in developing nations, and helping us here at home to be better stewards of our land.

I get angry that you are willing to pay a premium, up to 60%, on a product with a label that doesn’t even mean what you think it does.

I get angry that you think “Big Agriculture” is waging some kind of war, but refuse to acknowledge the huge profits being made off those labels you are now demanding.

I get angry that you demand “chemical free” farming, or even think that “chemical free” is possible.  I get angry so many of you do not seem to know what a chemical is.

I get angry that marketing hides that all types of farming – from organic to conventional – use chemicals.  They do it SAFELY and minimally, but they use them.

I get angry that you do not understand that farmers only  provide  raw product and that once it leaves our farm we are not responsible for what the food processors do to it.

I get angry that you don’t celebrate the fact that youspend less than 10% of your disposable income on food, when people in other nations spend 40%.

I get angry that you try to compare the decisions you make about your garden, to the management decisions my family has to make for our farm. If your garden has a bad crop, you go to the store. If we have a bad crop, we stand to lose our farm, our house, our source of income.  If entire areas have bad crops, thousands are affected by supply and price.

I get angry when you talk to a guy at the farmer’s market, who grows 40 organic tomato plants in his backyard where his 8 free range chickens live, and decide his opinion on agriculture policy is more trustworthy than mine.

I get angry that you expect us to change our farming practices as frequently as you change your diet fads, and to make such changes without using any technology.

I get angry that you demand “humane treatment” of livestock without having actually ever spent time with livestock.  I get angry that you think my cattle herd needs the same treatment as your toy poodle.

I get angry that you think I  need to be told how to treat my animals, like PETA is going to offer some insight that years of working with and caring for these animals hasn’t already taught me.

I get angry that you want the latest and greatest gadgets in every aspect of your life, and then expect me to put on overalls and grab a pitchfork, and farm the way someone told you that your great Grandfather did in the 1940’s.

I get angry that you think it’s fair to demand farming practices match some romanticized version of an early era and are perfectly accepting of the fact these changes will take my land and water, which I now use to feed hundreds, and use it to feed only dozens.

I get angry that you give more weight to Facebook memes than actual scientific studies.  I get angry that you take Food Babe’s word, who has yet to actually set foot on a modern farm and literally has no qualifications to talk about the things she does, over nearly the entire scientific community.

I get angry that you cannot tell the difference between  credible science and bad science.   Like the “GMO Pig Feed” study from Australia.  Or the “Glyphosate toxicity” study in rats.  I get angry that the real scientists even have to address claims from these studies.

I get angry that you think there is some kind of war going on in rural America.  That Monsanto has enslaved us all to fight their battle, and we are too “simple” to know any better.  That conventional farmers are fighting with organic farmers.  That big farmers are fighting with small farmers.

I get angry you don’t actually come out to rural America and see that we are all here, like we always have been, farming side by side and eating lunch together at noon.

The marketing research tells me you won’t have read this far down.  If you have, I am actually trying to apologize for my anger.

I KNOW it’s not your fault.  I KNOW that modern agriculture has failed to tell our story and companies took advantage of that.

I KNOW there is a ridiculous amount of information available that is often confusing and contradictory.

I KNOW we are a generation that didn’t get the core education we need to understand science.

I KNOW that nothing sells in the media better than fear.

I KNOW that most of you don’t know a farmer and that most of you have never set foot on a farm.

I am apologizing for my anger.  And I am going to continue to try and reach out, in a positive way.  But  I just want you to know, if my anger shows through and it feels like it’s at you, it’s not.

It’s more at myself, and my industry, for not doing a better job of explaining the truth to you sooner.   And yes, you do have the  RIGHT to know.  I just wish you had time for the whole story.


An American Farm Wife

Multiple Marketing Personalities Confounding

In Corny News, feed, Food, New Products by Mark

Does anyone else besides me get the impression that pet food companies are sporting multiple marketing personalities these days? They run about willy-nilly on television and online espousing the benefits of grain free dog food. These commercials and marketing materials are constructed in such a way as to make you believe dog food that contains corn is bad for your pet.

However, leave your set on a little longer and you are likely to see a spot from the same company pushing their traditional pet foods containing the good old golden grain….cohuskyrn. Likewise if you land on one web site you quickly get the impression corn is making spot throw up or Scooby Doo go, well, Scooby doo. Nearby on another piece of digital real estate the same company tells you corn provides protein, energy, and linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid for dogs. Ounce for ounce, corn has twice the level of antioxidants as an apple.

Thankfully, one of the oldest and most respected pet food companies, Purina, has publically stated that corn contributes to a balanced canine diet. “You want to give your dog a food that supports health and enrichment. A balanced diet will keep your dog healthy and improve his life. That’s why we include corn in many of our dog foods.”

But Purina doesn’t get a pass on this issue as they exhibit some of the same dissociative disorder seen in many companies marketing human and pet foods today. They are marketing an entire line of dry and wet, grain free dog food products despite the acknowledgement that a miniscule number of dogs have any physical abnormalities that would require such a product.

Which begs the question….Hey, Sybil, why are you spending so much money marketing a product that is more expensive and that Fido doesn’t really need? You don’t need a psychiatrist to figure this one out. In an increasingly competitive market, producers of human and dog food are willing to market to an uninformed minority in the name of market share. At least when their paws are held to the fire, Purina confirms, “Our careful research has indicated to us that corn is not only acceptable in a dog’s diet, but benefits their health. 99-percent of dogs are not allergic to grains and thrive on a diet that includes them.

Good Dog!

Refinery Shutdown Like a E15 Advertisement

In General by Mark

If you live in the heart of the Midwest soaring fuel prices are a reality, not a nightmare, figment of your imagination or Wile E. Coyote cartoon. An equipment failure at one the region’s largest oil refineries caused an immediate and painful spike at the gas pump for consumers across the Midwest this week. The BP Whiting Refinery located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, had a breakdown of its crude distillation unit. The device, not made by ACME apparently,  is critical to the output of 120,000 barrels of gasoline a day. Whiting is the sixth-largest refinery in the United States and is a pivotal supplier of gasolineacme for drivers in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri.

“Gasoline prices are already on their way up and are expected to go up more than $1 a gallon in these markets,” according to NCGA President Chip Bowling. “Everyone is talking about these crazy gas prices right now so I am encouraging folks to use this as a teaching opportunity. This is a great way to drive home to family, friends and others how tenuous our relationship is with petroleum. We rely too much on imported oil and on a small number of aging oil refineries.”

A 250,000 barrel-per-day crude distillation unit went down with a mechanical problem at the facility, knocking out half the plants productive capacity for an undisclosed time.

“All of the lost gasoline output resulting from this outage could be offset if all gasoline in the Midwest region immediately transitioned from E10 to E15,” said Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “Moreover, ethanol in the Chicago wholesale market is roughly $1 per gallon lower than gasoline today. That means if refiners and blenders serving the Midwest market immediately switched to producing E15 to blunt the impacts of this refinery outage, gas prices would instantly fall by at least 5 cents per gallon and drivers in the Midwest would save about $6 million per day,” he said.

RFA is calling on EPA to immediately waive RVP requirements for E15 and also allow E12 blending-based on the fact that it is substantially similar to E10-in the Midwest region to facilitate expanded ethanol blending and blunt the consumer impacts of this refinery outage.

“I hope the Environmental Protection Agency is paying attention. If cleaner air alone is not enough to get them to leave the current Renewable Fuels Standard alone, then maybe this incident at Whiting will convince them,” Bowling said. “Incidents like these are not unusual and are getting more common as refineries continue to age and oil companies show no stomach for building new facilities. Agriculture has the corn and the desire to boost production.”