Now Is the Time to Deal with Unapproved GM Crops
“We’ve got to figure a solution out to make sure we’re not handcuffing the U.S. corn farmer or the seed companies,” says Greg Konsor, general manager of grain operations for Gavilon Group, LLC. “At some point in time, the industry has to deal with it. Now is the time to deal with it.” Konsor was responding to the company’s recent decision to accept a new type of GMO corn — Syngenta’s Agrisure Duracade variety, which is not approved by China or the European Union.
Healthy Choices Mean More Purchasing Power
Through its Health Bucks and Stellar Farmers’ Market programs, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene helps customers learn about and buy fruits and vegetables. The Health Bucks program distributes $2 Health Bucks coupons to consumers for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants who use their benefits at participating markets receive a $2 coupon for every $5 spent in SNAP benefits, which is a 40 percent increase in purchasing power. Since the program began in 2005, the number of participating markets has grown from about five in 2005 to 138 in 2012.
“Deflectors can significantly reduce dust by redirecting it to the soil.”
“In North America, for example, one major project is helping to reduce dust emissions during seed treatment at large industrial farms,” says Peter Ohs, senior global stewardship manager for Bayer CropScience. “Major operators in the United States and Canada use big machinery, often with a central tank for seeds. It’s crucial to keep things flowing to reduce emissions and environmental contamination.” Bayer has developed a new fluency agent based on polyethylene wax to replace the commonly used talc. It keeps the seeds flowing through the planter, but reduces dust emissions. Ohs adds that modification kits for planters can also successfully reduce environmental exposure. “Deflectors can significantly reduce dust by redirecting it to the soil and releasing it into or close to the soil at a reduced speed,” Ohs says. “As a result, environmental contamination is reduced by 90 percent, as confirmed by German authorities.”
Protecting Farm Data
After meeting in Kansas City with a dozen leading U.S. agricultural industry players, the American Farm Bureau Federation says it has more work to do to find consensus on a set of standards aimed at protecting farm data privacy, according to a recent Reuters article. “We need clarity so everyone knows what the rules are,” says Ron LeMay, chairman of Kansas City-based FarmLink, a farm data analytics provider. “There is a lot at stake. There is a huge benefit by being able to muster all the information. We need to get it right.” LeMay says that one of the issues deals with permissions when farmers sign up for an app and agree to certain terms and conditions. “This ultimately will be made part of the contracts between farmers and contractors,” he says. According to the AFBF, the issue lies with determining who will spearhead the drive toward a common standard for data produced on farms as the industry aims to turn information into profit and productivity, projected to be a multi-billion dollar industry in the coming years. During the past year, there has been a surge in the collection and analysis of farm data across the United States.
The Great Label Debate
The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology has joined the debate surrounding the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food, releasing an issue paper that looks at the arguments for and against labels, the costs involved with labeling and experiences in countries that use mandatory labeling. “Bottom line, we need better communication regarding the scientific issues and the possible legal and economic consequences of mandatory GMO food labels,” says Alison Van Eenennaam, task force chair of the CAST report.
Excerpts from the report’s summary include:
“All domesticated crops and animals have been genetically modified in some way; there is no science-based reason to single out GE foods and feeds for mandatory process-based labeling. Wide-ranging evidence shows that GE technology is equally safe to conventional breeding.”
“Mandatory GE labeling would increase U.S. food costs. The size of this increase will depend on choices made in the marketplace by suppliers and marketers, and what products are included in labeling requirements. If, as in other countries, sellers move to non-GE offerings in response to mandatory labeling, food costs could rise significantly and these increased costs would exact a greater burden on low-income families. If, on the other hand, food suppliers choose to label virtually all products as containing GE without testing or segregation, increases in costs might be minimal.”
“Independent objective information on the scientific issues and the possible legal ramifications and economic consequences of mandatory GE food labels needs to be provided to legislators and consumers, especially in states with labeling initiatives on the ballot, to help move the national discussion from contentious claims and counterclaims to a more fact-based and informed dialogue.”
Top-Ranking Research Expenditures
Texas A&M AgriLife Research was ranked No. 1 in U.S. agricultural sciences expenditures for fiscal year 2012, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the National Science Foundation. The university accounted for more than $176.4 million of the nearly $3.3 billion spent on agricultural research by more than 30 universities. “This ranking is not about being No. 1 just to be No. 1,” says Craig Nessler, AgriLife Research director. “It’s about positively impacting the lives of Texans, our fellow citizens across the nation and people worldwide with important scientific discoveries in agriculture.” Nessler says the gains are also important because research budgets had a 17.5 percent cut and lost millions of dollars in earmark funding in recent years. Not only did AgriLife Research achieve the No. 1 spot on the expenditures list, its total was $25 million higher than any of the other top five universities in the past four years. “The increase in research expenditures is important because it means faculty researchers have additional opportunities to do top-level scientific studies,” Nessler says. “A scientist’s passion for research shouldn’t have to be interrupted to search for funds in a shrinking economy.”
China’s Corn Conundrum
Various economic analyses by groups in the United States estimate that anywhere from $2 billion to $3 billion in economic losses have been sustained by the corn, distillers grains and soy sectors since the enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy on Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera MIR 162 corn technology in U.S. export shipments to China, where the trait has not yet been approved for import as food or feed.
“It’s a watershed-type of moment,” says Gary Martin, president of the North American Export Grain Association. “It’s pretty dramatic if the United States can’t supply the Chinese market.”
According to Karl Setzer, a market ana
lyst for MaxYield Cooperative in West Bend, Iowa, the decision is 100 percent economics. “If China was facing a corn shortage or really needed the corn, it wouldn’t be a problem, because they’ve probably been importing that [Syngenta variety] for the past three years,” he says.