Friday, February 25, 2011

A Surprising Champion For Livestock Farmers

The livestock industry received some timely support from a surprising source at USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum Thursday. A month after the Environmental Protection Agency okayed using more ethanol in gasoline, former President Bill Clinton warned that using too much corn for ethanol could raise global food prices and lead to food riots in poor countries.

Clinton, whose foundation works in African countries such as Malawi and Rwanda, said the United States needs to find a way to become energy independent without hurting the world’s poor or fueling instability around the globe. That was a clear reference to the dramatic increases in world food prices that led to social unrest in poor countries and even toppled some governments in 2007 and 2008. One of the causes of that crisis was increasing use of corn for fuel in developed countries.

“There is a way for us to do this and to do it right,” Clinton said. He added that the growth in the U.S. ethanol industry needs to be watched carefully.

Clinton’s comments contrasted with the more pro-ethanol attitude of the man who introduced him, former Iowa Governor and current U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Speaking at the same conference, Vilsack said there is “no reason to take the foot off the gas” on biofuels.

One knowledgeable observer suggested this wasn’t an accident. “Both Vilsack and President Obama campaigned on ethanol,” the observer said, “and you can’t win a primary or statewide office in Iowa if you don’t support it. So what do you do when you know the country needs to back off on ethanol? You get a successful, popular former Democratic president to deliver the message.”

A video of Clinton’s speech is available at , a video of which is available here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Opposition To Job-Creating Trade Deals?

With unemployment still hovering above 9 percent and President Obama desperate to fix our struggling economy, why haven’t the job-creating free trade agreements (FTA) with Colombia, Panama and especially South Korea been approved yet?

The political wrangling over these trade deals has been going on for several years but still there are members of Congress who oppose free trade. In a global economy that becomes more interconnected daily, that's hard to fathom -- and apparently politically suicidal.

Of the 21 congressional lawmakers who just weeks before the crucial mid-term elections sent to the President this letter in opposition to the FTAs , almost a third lost their races.

What, we wonder, do -- or, in some cases, did -- they oppose? The more than 20,000 U.S. agricultural jobs the FTAs would create? The $2.5 billion in new U.S. farm exports?

Regardless, while the U.S. has dithered on passing its FTAs, other countries have been moving forward with their own agreements, including ones with South Korea. That's bad news for the U.S. pork industry as well as many other sectors, which stand to lose market share in that emerging Asian nation.

There is reason for optimism, though. The White House is promising to send the Korea FTA for congressional ratification in a few weeks, and there appears to be bipartisan support for the deal in the House and Senate. There's even talk that the three agreements will be considered as one package.

Here's hoping the protectionist proclivities of petulant politicians are past.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Recipe For Starvation

Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh is at it again. In a lengthy essay in the Feb. 15 issue, Walsh suggests that “foodies”—apparently an alliance of vegans and small farm advocates—can re-energize the environmental movement.

Almost comically, Walsh argues that community-supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, green chefs and Michelle Obama’s White House garden are changing the way food is produced in this country. And this, he says, can solve the greenhouse gas problem and lead somehow to an environmental reawakening. (Of course, it also could lead to starvation for third-world populations.)

We guess no one has told Walsh that—because of their comparatively low emissions—modern, concentrated livestock feeding operations are actually part of the solution to greenhouse gases, not the problem. (According to the U.S. EPA, all of American agriculture contributes just 7.2 percent of the greenhouse gases, with livestock-related emissions making up 40 percent of that amount. And by the way, breathing produces a greenhouse gas.)

Walsh’s vision of small-scale, sustainable farming might feed the wealthy residents of New York City, where he lives and works, but not a growing world population. Modern farming techniques are the only way to produce the food we need in a safe, affordable and sustainable manner.