Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Genetically Inferior Thinking

With the first genetically engineered (GE) crops planted 15 years ago, and with from 65 to 94 percent of the corn, cotton and soybeans being GE, you’d think safety concerns would have been put to rest.

Not so, of course. Starting Oct. 1 and continuing for 16 days, something called the GMO Right2Know March will snake its way from New York City to Washington, D.C. According to the organizers, GMOs -- genetically modified organisms -- “endanger our health, the environment, and our farmers’ livelihoods.” Their goal? “GMO Labeling Now!”

The march will feature daily events along the route, with a finale at the White House. The anti-GMO Website claims that “80 percent of the packaged foods in America contain Genetically Engineered Ingredients that have not been proven safe …” If these foods are so dangerous, wouldn’t someone somewhere have gotten sick by now? Just asking.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Conventional Farming: The Green Alternative!

A thoughtful blog post on the Scientific American Website destroys the argument that organic farming is better for the environment than conventional farming. Ecologist and grad student Christie Wilcox first calls organic advocates hypocrites for refusing to endorse GMOs that could reduce the use of synthetic chemicals. Then she turns to what she calls the “real reason” organic farming is less green than conventional: drastically reduced crop yields.

“Right now, roughly 800 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition …,” writes Wilcox. “If we were to switch to entirely organic farming, the number of people suffering would jump by 1.3 billion, assuming we use the same amount of land that we’re using now. Unfortunately, what’s far more likely is that switches to organic farming will result in the creation of new farms via the destruction of currently untouched habitats, thus plowing over the little wild habitat left for many threatened and endangered species.”

Wilcox adds: “The unfortunate truth is that until organic farming can rival the production output of conventional farming, its ecological cost due to the need for space is devastating. As bad as any of the pesticides and fertilizers polluting the world’s waterways from conventional agriculture are, it’s a far better ecological situation than destroying those key habitats altogether.”

In her 3,200-word, footnoted post, Wilcox also debunks “myths” that organic farms don’t use pesticides and that organic food is healthier than conventionally produced food.

[Editor's Note: Biochemist and molecular biologist Bruce N. Ames, of the University of California, Berkeley, says, "99.9 percent of the toxic chemicals we're exposed to are completely natural -- you consume about 50 toxic chemicals whenever you eat a plant."]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Modern Ag Needs Love, Too!

Veteran farm policy observer William Lesher has spent most of a long Washington career dealing with agricultural surpluses and the need to idle farm land. So it was hard, he admits, to convince him the era of oversupply has ended and the future is more likely to be defined by the need to ramp up production.

But now, says the former USDA official under President Ronald Reagan, “The undeniable fact is that we are going to have to double output. You are going to be constrained in bringing in land and water.”

Lesher added that modern farming techniques will produce most of what’s needed to feed a global population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050 -- it's nearly 7 billion now. While some in developing countries favor less scientific methods, Lesher said, “You’ve got to give modern agriculture some love and attention, too.”

An economist, Lesher now addresses the challenge of feeding an expanding world as head of the Global Harvest Initiative. He made his comments in a mid-July speech to the American Soybean Association.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dubious Distinction

Last week’s grain supply and demand forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture included a dubious distinction: This year, for the first time, more corn will be used for fuel than for livestock feed. That can only mean one thing for pork producers and consumers: even higher feed costs contributing to even greater increases in food costs.

The July 12 World Agricultural Supply Demand Estimates report estimated that 5 billion bushels of corn will used for animal feed in 2010-2011, while 5.05 billion bushels will be devoted to ethanol. In projections for 2011-2012, the gap widens to a full 100 million bushels.

Animal agriculture groups have long argued that, by diverting corn to fuel, government support for ethanol is largely to blame for today’s rising prices for feed and food. And, while Congress finally is talking about repealing ethanol subsidies, there's also talk that the "savings" will be diverted to ethanol infrastructure such as pumps and pipelines. And so far Congress hasn’t even discussed the idea of repealing the all-important Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates the annual amount of ethanol -- and other biofuels -- that must be produced.

Testifying before Congress earlier this year, NPPC President Doug Wolf said support for renewable fuels is laudable but should not “come at the expense of the U.S. livestock industry.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is ‘Help’?

Outgoing antitrust chief Christine Varney says the Justice Department is helping chart a course forward for the Agriculture Department’s controversial rule for buying and selling livestock and poultry.

Speaking to the liberal Center for American Progress, Varney said Justice will help USDA “think through the next steps of where they want to be” on the regulation, according to media reports.

Known as the GIPSA rule, the embattled draft regulation has been a lightning rod for criticism since it was unveiled last year. Most recently, it took a beating at a late-June hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Rather than listening to Justice Department lawyers, USDA might serve the interests of producers better by focusing on the 60,000 public comments it received on the rule. NPPC has said repeatedly the draft regulation is bad for producers, consumers and rural America and will lead to, among other things, thousands of job losses.