New study reaffirms GMO safety, Dr. Oz and GMO opponents pivot

May 19, 2016

grocery storeThe National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine just published an extensive report reviewing more than 900 GMO studies and data covering 20 years. Among the conclusive findings: food from GMO crops is just as safe as food from conventionally bred crops and it poses no added risk to the environment.

Naturally, GMO opponents like celebrity talk show host Dr. Oz sighed in relief and immediately reversed their efforts to stigmatize GMOs.

Not really.

A day after the report was released Dr. Oz appeared on the Today show to address the study. With egg on his face, Oz brazenly claimed the report “validated” many of the things he’s been saying for years, picking around the report’s definitive language, raising doubts, and saying that we need to keep studying the issue.

Talk to a scientist who works in this field. They’ll tell you GMOs are more thoroughly tested than any product produced in the history of agriculture. Yes, we should continue to study GMOs. Why would we stop?

Oz did offer one compliment of the study, saying that it helps us understand “what the real [GMO] facts are.”

It does, but it’s certainly not new information. The report pulls from 900-plus existing studies and echoes what the Academies, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, FDA, and host of other scientific bodies have been saying about GMO food safety for years, as any “doctor” who speaks out on this topic would surely know.

A doctor who professes to know about GMOs should also know that GMO technology allows farmers to grow food with better nutritional characteristics, such as high oleic soybean oil that has zero grams of trans fat and lower saturated fat than traditional soybean oil and “golden rice,” a genetically modified crop that allows the plant to produce vitamin A, a nutrient that affects (among other things) vision and is severely lacking for millions of people in Asia and Africa. He may also know that GMOs have helped farmers reduce pesticide applications and have created other environmental benefits.

Oz’s willingness to dismiss these facts (again, they’re not “new”) and instead, try to cast a shadow over them does a disservice to consumers by intentionally spreading fear. It also clearly shows his lack of respect for scientific proof.

Without science, we’re left with ideology, which today’s consumers are certainly entitled to. But we should expect more scientific objectivity from individuals who’ve elevated their voices in the public discussion based on their scientific or medical credentials.

By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.


Des Moines Water Works’ great idea to reduce nitrates in water

May 13, 2016

I recently read that Des Moines Water Works is creating a one-acre wetland test site to help remove nitrates from the Raccoon River (which provides drinking water for central Iowans).

You don’t need to look any further than Iowa’s own three-year old Nutrient Reduction Strategy (a collaborative, research-based solution for improving water quality) to see that it’s a good idea. The state’s water quality initiative cites wetlands (“nature’s sponges”) as a proven practice to help filter nitrates out of water.

Farmers agree and have been restoring wetlands on their own land for years. In 2016 Iowa’s restored wetland acres have grown to 413,945 – a 14 percent increase since 2014!

Iowa farmers have restored 413,945 acres of wetlands (to prevent nitrates from reaching water), up 14% from 2014.

Nitrates are naturally-occurring and abundant, especially in Iowa. They’re the reason Iowa is known for its fertile soil, and a number of factors, including excess rainfall like we’ve seen recently, can impact the level of nitrates in the water.

That doesn’t mean we’re toast. It’s no different than going up against a formidable opponent on the basketball court – you’d better have a plan, pull together, and dig deep.

That’s why the state’s comprehensive, research-based Water Quality Initiative is so important. It includes a suite of proven practices to help improve water quality, with progress measured and reported by Iowa State University researchers. Teams of individuals, organizations, and communities are collaborating to implement it. We’re seeing it around the state, in places like Cedar Rapids, Rathbun Lake, Hewitt Creek watershed, Griswold, and Sioux Center, and the list is growing.

It’s also working. Cover crops, for example, are another practice outlined in the strategy. Iowa has seen more than a 4,600 percent increase in acres planted with cover crops since 2007. Just look at the number of stakeholders and watershed projects around the state collaborating to improve water quality.

Challenges remain, and farmers are taking them on, but to be truly effective, it will take everyone working together. We all have a role. The team must grow; the momentum must build, even if it’s one person, one community, and one acre at a time.

By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.


Getting beyond the ‘mom guilt’ over what my child eats

May 5, 2016

teresa1This Sunday, I will be celebrating Mother’s Day with a whole new perspective – as a first-time mom to an amazingly perfect little girl.

Back when I was a kid, my dad used to warn me not to get between a mama cow and her calf out in the pasture, because the cow will trample you. Now I know how the cow feels – overprotective to the extreme.

I’ve learned that “mom guilt” isn’t just a clever Instagram hashtag; it’s all too real. I can’t count how many times a day I google information on whether my baby is sleeping too much or not enough, whether it’s OK to give her a pacifier, if I’m putting her in the car seat correctly or whatever little worry that pops into my head.

And like every mom, one of those worries is whether she’s eating well and growing like she should.

When you’re a soon-to-be mom, a lot of formula companies send you samples and coupons in the mail. I was sent a free sample of a non-GMO (genetically modified) formula. And after our daughter was born, the hospital gave us more free samples of the same non-GMO formula, which I assume they got as a promotional gift from the company.

I know from talking to experts like Dr. Ruth MacDonald, professor chair of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, that there is no difference nutritionally between foods made with genetically modified corn and soy ingredients and those that are non-GMO. But there is a difference in price. The non-GMO formula is more expensive, and those formula costs add up quickly during the baby’s first year.

I’ve compared the labels on both the non-GMO and conventional baby formula, and they are nearly identical in nutritional content. So as long as it has the vitamins, protein, etc., that my baby needs, I’m comfortable feeding her the conventional formula as recommended by our pediatrician.

Yet I wonder if other moms pay the extra money for formula labeled “non-GMO” because of the mistaken belief that it’s healthier for their babies.

A few months back, I read in disbelief a New York Times article (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/what-does-organic-mean-for-baby-formula/) about one mom’s worries that organic formula wasn’t “organic” enough for her baby. She ended buying an expensive formula shipped in from Europe.

I understand all too well the endless worries and lost sleep when it comes to caring for our precious babies. But whether the formula is made with GMO ingredients is not one of them.

As long as the formula is proven safe, it is approved by our doctor and our baby girl is eating and growing like she should, I’m OK with my choice.

Instead, I’ll worry about what I can control, like keeping food safety in mind by refrigerating the formula properly and washing my hands before touching the baby’s food.

When we first brought baby home, I asked my own mom if I’ll ever stop worrying about my daughter. She told me that even when your daughters grow up, you never stop worrying. It melted my heart to hear her admit that.

So happy Mother’s Day and thanks to the moms and grandmas for all you do to care for your babies, throughout life and beyond. Like those calves out in the pasture, we will always be protected by our mamas.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.


Teaching ag today goes way beyond corn and cows

April 26, 2016

SE-Polk-jan-16,-20131   Do you know a high schooler who’s looking for a bit of career advice as high school graduation nears? Maybe a bright young man or woman who just isn’t quite sure what direction to pursue as they prepare to head off to college?

Well, I’ve got an interesting suggestion: How about studying to become a high school agriculture teacher?

Teaching ag these days, as I’ve discovered talking with a lot of folks in the profession, is a very interesting and rewarding occupation.

Ag teachers today shepherd students through subjects that go way, way beyond learning about crops and livestock. In ag-related classes students learn about the latest in genetics and biotechnology. They immerse themselves in knowledge about water quality and other environmental subjects sure to be big in the coming years. They explore local food systems, as well as learn about food production all over the world. And they experiment with cutting edge technology, like drones and remote controlled vehicles and other high-tech machines.

Sibley-Ocheyedan-FFA-Class1And there’s something else that’s great about studying to be an ag teacher: there are jobs in this field after graduation, plenty of them.

The demand for agriculture teachers in Iowa, and around the Midwest, is very strong and getting stronger. That’s because school districts have seen a surge in high schoolers interested in ag-related fields that dovetail nicely with the emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and schools are adding classes to meet that demand.

As Joshua Remington executive director of the Iowa FFA foundation put it, “We have school districts in the state now that would like to start agriculture education programs, but they just can’t because they can’t find a teacher.”

And it’s not just rural school districts that are beefing up their ag education programs. Iowa’s urban centers are also seeing the value in offering ag classes. In the Des Moines metro area, for example, suburban districts, such as Waukee and Dowling Catholic, have already added agricultural studies programs, while the urban Des Moines district now employs two agriculture teachers at its Central Campus magnet program.  Other metro area schools have expressed interest in adding an ag teacher, Remington said, if they could find a teacher.

Boone-FFA-1APR-10,-20131Add it all up, it’s a cool career choice with a very good chance for a job at the end. I’m way too old to know the latest lingo among high schoolers in 2016, but back in my day we called that a “slam dunk.”

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is the News Services manager and Spokesman editor for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.


Iowa Envirothon showcases tomorrow’s innovators today

April 18, 2016

Marshalltown1Back when I was a student, I relished the opportunity for a class field trip to leave the school campus to see something new and different. Each trip was an adventure and provided a learning experience that couldn’t be replicated in the classroom.  It also meant a day without quizzes, tests and homework.

Last week, students from a dozen high schools across the state gathered at Springbrook State Park in Guthrie Center for the 20th Annual Iowa Envirothon.  The Iowa Envirothon, sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau since its start in 1996, isn’t your average field trip.  The Iowa Envirothon, put on by the Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI), is a team competition for high school students which extensively tests their knowledge of natural resources and critical environmental issues.

For the 15 high school teams that competed this year, the Envirothon wasn’t the kind of field trip I remember taking in school; this one included vigorous written tests of environmental knowledge, critical thinking, hands-on investigations, teamwork, and the always intimidating, public speaking portion, including an oral presentation in front of numerous judges. The students’ hands-on investigation and team exercises were designed to answer questions from five categories: Aquatics, Forestry, Soils, Wildlife, and Current Environmental Issues.  Volunteers with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Land Stewardship (IDALS), and several other organizations provided guidance to students during the competition.

In Iowa, we are blessed with naturally fertile soils which provide some of the best farmland in the world, yet challenges remain as farmers and other landowners continuously work to improve soil health and water quality while being stewards of the land. How to address and tackle environmental challenges in the state has been a focus of many committed stakeholders and is an important issue for many Iowans.  Having a program that provides an opportunity for high school students to gain awareness and get involved at a young age is encouraging for our future!

St. AnsgarIt was refreshing to meet dozens of solution-seeking youth, who have a shared interest in conservation and continuous improvement of the land, and gives me a great deal of optimism for the future. The dialogue at the Envirothon was civil, forwarding thinking, and focused on collaboration, unlike the finger pointing and contentious legal battles, brought by those from previous generations, who could stand to learn a thing or two from these kids!

While chatting with students passing from one station to the next, I wanted to learn more about what drives them and find the source of their passion for the environment. Several students live on a farm or in rural Iowa and have an inherent passion for the land.  Others excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum and were encouraged by a teacher to participate in the competition.

Many students have plans to study environmental science in college and envision a future working with the land in some capacity, either as a farmer, researcher, or another hands-on ag-related profession. Regardless of what career path these students choose, the future is bright with this next generation of problem solvers.

After seeing the students embrace and excel in STEM-based curriculum and point to collaboration as the driver of continued environmental improvement, I left the State Park with a firm belief in the optimism and conviction for the future generation; these kids will play an integral role finding solutions for challenges we face. The future is bright.

By Andrew Wheeler. Andrew is public relations coordinator for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.


Spring is time for new life on the farm

April 12, 2016

 

lambs1  It’s fun to walk the dog around my Des Moines neighborhood these days because there are signs of new life everywhere you look. Daffodils and tulips are blooming. Parents are taking their bundled-up newborn babies out for the first stroll of the season. And the older neighborhood kids are breaking in their new bikes, skateboards and softball mitts.

There’s also plenty of new life on Iowa farms this season. Soon, as the weather warms a bit, farmers will plant their corn, soybeans and other crops. (Watch out for the slow-moving red and green equipment when you are driving on rural roads.) But even more exciting are the spring-born animals on the farms.

Baby lambs and goats usually come first. Then there’s the new calves. It’s always fun to see the wobbly-legged newborns following their mothers through the pasture.in-dry-bedding1

Spring is also the season for baby chicks, which means it’s a very busy time for Hoover’s Hatchery in the north central Iowa town of Rudd. For more than 70 years Hoover’s has sold baby chicks to farmers and backyard chicken raisers all over Iowa, and actually all over the United States. The hatchery still delivers most of its chicks the old-fashioned way—direct to the customer through the mail. (Which is why you might be hearing a little peeping at your post office.) You can read more about Hoover’s here.

Hoover's1

Through the rest of the spring, and into summer and fall, farm families will be feeding and caring for this spring’s newborn animals. Often that privilege goes to the youngest members of the family. Parents know that caring for lambs, calves or chicks is great way to teach kids strong lessons in responsibility, discipline and compassion.

Those lessons have been repeated from generation to generation each spring on Iowa farms, and they are still going strong today.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is News Services manager and Spokesman editor for the Iowa Farm Bureau.


The #1 reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” (in a blowout)

April 4, 2016

FamilyHogBarnIt’s settled – decisively.

Nearly 1,000 people entered our Farm Strong “Merch Madness” contest (for merchandise autographed by Iowa State Cyclone coaches Steve Prohm and Bill Fennelly) and voted for the number one reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” – the farm fact that best symbolizes how agriculture strengthens Iowans (whether they farm or not).

Nine facts were provided, along with a write-in option, but one fact soared above the rest, winning 41% of all votes and more than tripling the output of the runner-up.

The champ: 97.5% of Iowa farms are family farms.

The impact agriculture has on Iowa’s economy (with 1 in 5 Iowa jobs stemming from agriculture), the renewable energy farming supplies, and the innovative work farmers are doing to protect our land and water all received lots of votes – hundreds, in fact – but the statistic that still hits closest to home for Iowans is the 97.5% of Iowa’s roughly 88,500 farms that are family-owned .

By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager

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