Delayed Farm Bill: Impact on Ag Research
“Universities across the country had responded to a mandate to directly address the needs of growers and consumers for nutritious, sustainable agriculture, and to access existing investments in technology that support these solutions. If the funding for those initiatives is cut off—even briefly—the teams of experts and students in training are dismantled and the programs are mothballed,” says Michael Mazourek, an assistant professor in Cornell University’s Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, who works with students and global partners to improve vegetable quality and nutrition for consumers. He comments on the impact of any possible loss of support—even a temporary interruption—of funding for agricultural research and outreach. “Our efforts to improve disease resistance, nutrition and availability of seeds for regional food systems depends on USDA funding that is provided through grants, and especially ones provided for in the last farm bill. A gap in these funds leaves us scrambling to find ways to funding to ‘keep the lights on,’ which is a grim prospect these days.”
Supporting Seamless Patent Expiration
The American Seed Trade Association has become the ninth signatory of an industry-led agreement ensuring critical regulatory authorizations are maintained for biotech events once patents expire. “We believe the agreement will promote continued innovation and competition in the seed industry while respecting the intellectual property rights that are critical for meeting the global demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel,” says president and CEO of ASTA, Andy LaVigne. “In becoming a signatory, we are demonstrating our support for the seamless transition of genetic events when they come off patent and providing our members with continued access to information about this process.”
Agriculture Needs a Voice
The growing disconnect between agriculture and the public was a major theme at the 2013 Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum, held recently in February in Kissimmee, Fla. The forum is an annual platform for media and industry to discuss those issues that will affect agriculture not just in the United States, but also around the globe. Speaker Michelle Payn-Knoper, author of the book No More Food Fights, emphasized this point by actually breaking a small plate before beginning her presentation. “I did that to make you realize that the plate is indeed broken between the farm and food sides of the public,” said Payn-Knoper. “It’s a very real challenge for us in agriculture to talk about ourselves because we think that we are too busy taking care of our crops and livestock to do so.” But folks in agriculture need to speak up for themselves, she said. “The reality is for agriculture that if your voice is not in the conversation somehow, someone else is probably speaking on your behalf,” said Payn-Knoper.
Trends in Biotech Production
“Biotech crop hectares increased by an unprecedented 100–fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, to over 170 million hectares in 2012. This makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. In 2012, for the first time, developing countries grew more, 52 percent, of global biotech crops than industrial countries at 48 percent. In 2012, growth rate for biotech crops was at least three times as fast, and five times as large in developing countries, at 11 percent or 8.7 million hectares, versus three percent or 1.6 million hectares in industrial countries. Of the 28 countries which planted biotech crops in 2012, 20 were developing and eight were industrial countries; two new countries, Sudan (Bt cotton) and Cuba (Bt maize) planted biotech crops for the first time in 2012. Germany and Sweden could not plant the biotech potato Amflora because it ceased to be marketed. Stacked traits are an important feature—13 countries planted biotech crops with two or more traits in 2012, and notably, 10 of the 13 were developing countries—43.7 million hectares, or more than a quarter, of the 170 million hectares were stacked in 2012.”
— The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications
“More extreme and frequent droughts resulting from climate change are having devastating food security impacts, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world,” said José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, in a press release leading up to a high-level meeting on national drought policy in mid-March in Geneva. “To buck this trend, we must build resilient, drought-resistant communities. This means not simply reacting after the rains fail, but investing over the long term, so that when drought does hit, people and food systems can weather the blow.”
COOL Debate Heats Up in Australia
Australia’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee’s recent decision not to endorse amendments to the Australian Food Labeling Bill has seed growers in the country upset. “Obviously, we are disappointed that this draft of the bill has not been endorsed, as country of origin labeling in its current form is incredibly difficult to understand and in vital need of an overhaul,” says William Churchill, public affairs manager for AUSVEG, the national peak industry body for Australian vegetable and potato growers. “Industry will obviously continue to provide feedback on the proposal as it is incredibly important in ensuring the long-term viability of not only the Australian vegetable and potato industries but also broader agriculture.” According to AUSVEG, recent research has revealed that 80 percent of consumers surveyed agreed with the statement: I purchase Australian produce because I want to support our farmers and for Australia to have a viable industry. “There is a high level of support for an overhaul of country of origin labeling laws within the Australian community, so it is frustrating to see these improvements delayed, especially when the Senate report indicates this support for improvement in COOL laws was reflected in a number of submissions made to the committee,” adds Churchill.
China Slow to Roll Out GM Crops
According to top government scientists, China has delayed the introduction of genetically modified rice and corn as it tries to head off public fears. “There are some debates. … We have not given the public enough knowledge about GMO crops,” said Peng Yufa, a member of the GM crop biosafety committee under the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. “The crops have to be accepted by consumers who are willing to buy and by farmers who are willing to grow,” Peng said, adding that the process may take five years. Another top agricultura
l official, Chen Xiwen, said while the Chinese public remains “very concerned” about the safety of GM crops, it was inevitable that China would import GM crops in the future to meet the supply gap.
Advocating the Importance of Seed Treatment
“Seed treatment is the technology of choice for the seed industry and for farmers and vegetable growers across Europe. It allows targeted crop protection with minimal quantities of pesticides, saves labor, time and energy, and avoids CO2 emissions and external land use. This new report shows just how crucial neonicotinoid seed treatments are for the competitiveness of the agri-food chain and what is at stake for our economy and the environment,” Garlich von Essen, secretary general of the European Seed Association, said referring to a report from Berlin-based think tank Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture on the socio-economic and environmental value of neonicotinoid seed treatment within the European Union. The report finds that neonicotinoid seed treatment contributes more than 2 billion euros annually to commodity crop revenues and reduces production costs by €1 billion across the EU. ESA has been urging the European Commission and member states to reflect on the findings of the report in further discussions of seed treatments. “The report is based on an economic impact assessment approach that should serve as reference for such discussions in the future. It allows decision-makers a truly informed judgement of all relevant economic aspects in a policy debate.”