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.

The “Final 4” Reasons Iowa is “Farm Strong”

March 28, 2016

FarmStrongBracket700400Your odds of picking a perfect NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket were 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

Your chance to win “Farm Strong Merch Madness” (merchandise autographed by Iowa State Cyclone basketball coaches Steve Prohm and Bill Fennelly) is much, much better.

And if you work, eat, or drive a car in Iowa, there’s really no conceivable way you can lose (unless you’re looking for a reason to quit – right, LeBron?)

Just vote on the number one reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” – the farm fact that best symbolizes how agriculture strengthens you and your family (whether you farm or not).

The field of contenders includes 9 facts that demonstrate Iowa’s farm strength – ranging from farming’s economic contribution to its environmental impact – and a write-in option for “dark horse” facts that didn’t make the cut.

Based on the votes we’ve tallied thus far, here are the Final 4 reasons Iowa is “Farm Strong” (in no particular order):

  • Iowa agriculture and ag-related industries support 1 in 5 Iowa jobs.
  • 97.5% of Iowa farms are family farms.
  • Iowa leads the nation in producing ethanol and biodiesel, renewable fuels grown on Iowa farms that burn cleaner and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
  • Farmers are constantly adopting new methods and technology for growing safe, wholesome food and protecting the environment, including the use of GMOs – which allow farmers to use less pesticide and grow food with better nutrition.

And here’s the case for each fact, heading into the final days of voting:

Iowa agriculture and ag-related industries support 1 in 5 Iowa jobs.

Agriculture and ag-related industries account for 418,777 Iowa jobs (21 percent of the state’s total), according to the 2014 Iowa Ag Economic Contribution Study, which uses data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture. They also contribute $112.2 billion in economic output (accounting for 1/3 of Iowa’s economy). Most Iowans don’t live on a farm (fewer than 5 percent of Iowans farm), but we’re all strengthened by the economic activity that occurs on Iowa’s farms.

97.5% of Iowa farms are family farms.

This one surprises some people. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 97.5 percent of Iowa’s roughly 88,500 farms are family owned. Critics of today’s farmers like to portray farming as dominated by “corporations” with little regard for their animals, the environment and consumers. Yes, some families choose to structure their farms as LLCs (limited liability corporations) to help manage the sizable risk associated with farming today, and the equipment and barns they use don’t look like those used by farmers in past decades. But the motivation to pursue these improvements (including barns that keep animals protected from extreme weather conditions year-round and technology that allows farmers to spray and fertilizer their crops more precisely) stems from farmers’ desire to do things right (for their neighbors, their animals, and the environment) and pass a thriving farm on to future generations.

Iowa leads the nation in producing ethanol and biodiesel, renewable fuels grown on Iowa farms that burn cleaner and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The renewable energy grown right in our own backyards is also misunderstood. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), biodiesel reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) by up to 86% compared to petroleum diesel, while Yale University found that ethanol reduces GHG by up to 59% compared to gasoline.

Not only that – alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel help make our country more energy secure. According to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, as ethanol use has grown, dependence on imported petroleum has declined from 60 percent to 28 percent.

Farmers are constantly adopting new methods and technology for growing safe, wholesome food and protecting the environment, including the use of GMOs – which allow farmers to use less pesticide and grow food with better nutrition.

Did you know that farmers use GPS and other precision technology to apply fertilizer more exactly? Or that GMOs allow them to use less pesticide and grow food with better nutrition? The technology on today’s farms is creating change that we can all appreciate.

Check out all of the facts and vote for your favorite (or write in your own) by March 31 for a chance to win “Farm Strong” merchandise autographed by coaches Prohm and Fennelly.

We’ll announce the merchandise winners and the number one reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” next Monday!

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

GMO – Should we really “just label it”?

February 15, 2016

food labels“Just label it.” It’s the mantra of GMO opponents seeking mandatory labels on food products containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Strangely, the message is also gaining favor with some weary GMO supporters, like Mark Lynas – a former activist who used to destroy GMO crops.

“The reason I changed my mind [to support GMOs] is because the science is so clear on the GMO issue, in terms of the safety and the number of studies that have been conducted,” said Lynas at the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention earlier this year.

Clear, indeed.

The World Health Organization; the American Medical Association; the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – all of these scientific entities (and many more) vouch for the safety of GMOs. In fact, FDA has stated “the agency is not aware of any valid scientific information showing the foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class of food, differ from other foods in any meaningful way.”

So why label GMOs, when there’s no credible opposition to their safety or valid scientific proof that they differ from other food in any meaningful way?

“Mandatory labeling is a political compromise because there’s no scientific justification for it, but when enough people consider this to be an issue, I think you have to move,” said Lynas. He also reasoned that a mandatory label will diffuse activists and allow everyday Americans to feel less anxiety about GMOs once they see how ubiquitous they are.

While I admire Lynas’ courage to publicly admit he was wrong on GMOs and understand his pragmatic/psychological reasoning, I disagree with his conclusion for three key reasons:

1. A GMO label (which FDA asserts won’t tell us anything “meaningful” about our food), won’t help clear up rampant confusion.
2. Mandatory GMO labeling will cost us.
3. The fate of GMO technology matters.

Let’s take them one by one:

1. A GMO label won’t clear up confusion.

According to the Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index® (a Harris Poll survey of the factors driving Iowa grocery shoppers’ food purchases), 43 percent of Iowa grocery shoppers believe a “non-GMO” label on food indicates that it is safer.

In the same survey, when asked to name the source they trust most for information about GMOs, the highest percentage of shoppers ranked FDA number one. Remember them? They said that a “non-GMO” label is (essentially) meaningless.

Who do Iowa grocery shoppers ranked second, in terms of sources they trust for GMO information? Farmers! Farmers believe so firmly in the safety and benefits of GMOs (I’ll get into those in a minute), that 93 percent of Iowa’s corn acres and 95 percent of its soybean acres are GMO.

If Iowans are struggling to connect the facts on GMOs – when their trusted sources unanimously support GMOs – it is unlikely that a simple, “meaningless” GMO label will clear things up. If anything, I suspect the label will trigger a snap reaction, encouraging shoppers to avoid something they’re unfamiliar with.

Which wouldn’t necessarily matter (farmers are happy to grow the food that meets consumers’ preferences), if it didn’t have real consequences…

2. Mandatory GMO labeling will cost us.

Discouraging farmers from growing GMOs would mean forgoing (costing ourselves) the benefits of those crops (see #3), but the cost of mandatory GMO labeling is something we’d likely see on price tags as well. According to a study by a Cornell University professor, mandatory GMO labeling in New York would cost a family of four an additional $500 per year.

3. The fate of GMO technology matters.

Before we stigmatize technology that helps farmers use less pesticide; allows food to be produced with better nutritional value, texture and flavor; helps feed more people around the world; produces better crop yields (to make more efficient use of land); produces food with a longer shelf life; and more – don’t you think we should try explaining the benefits of GMO technology to America at least one more time – with feeling?!

I think most people would look at GMOs (and the “need” for a label) differently. In fact, the Food and Farm Index found that most Iowa grocery shoppers are influenced to purchase GMO food when they learn how GMOs can help farmers use less pesticide and help produce food with better nutritional value. But good luck getting all of that important information on a simple, mandatory label.

Yes, life will go on without GMOs (at least for most people in this country).

So if you’re apathetic (farmers will continue growing food even without GMOs), pragmatic (GMO opponents won’t stop stirring up the public until we give them some kind of mandatory label), or find yourself wanting a mandatory label (just because you’d like to know), there’s one important question to ask yourself before we waive the white flag.

Would you trade something meaningful for something experts deem meaningless?

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

We’re turning 5! My 5 favorite blogs about farming and the environment

April 15, 2014

Kids and blogs – they grow up so fast!

Our Farm Fresh blog just turned five years old (which isn’t that old when you consider Iowa Farm Bureau turns 96 this year). Thank you to everyone who has read, shared and commented on our posts over the years. Stay tuned. We’ve only begun introducing you to the faces behind your food and answering questions you have about how it is grown and raised.

To commemorate our five years (and Earth Month), here are my five favorite Farm Fresh posts about farming and the environment.

don't farm naked plant cover crops1. Covering up for conservation: cover crops take off in Iowa

Who doesn’t love a blog about “farming naked”? Plus, this piece really captures the amazing groundswell of Iowa farmers planting cover crops in their fields to reduce erosion and improve soil health.

2. Look a little deeper to see environmental progress

Ten out of ten Iowa fish recommend this blog post to a friend, which is all you really need to know. See how private landowners and farmers are working to keep them happy.

3. The environmental choice might not always be what it seems

This blog post reminds us to ask “why?” or “how?” before accepting conventional wisdom. As in “why do some livestock farmers choose to raise their animals in large modern barns, and how does that choice affect their ability to care for the environment?” Or “how do you support the conclusion that local food systems are better for the environment?”

When we ask those questions (start by asking a farmer!), we may find that there’s more than one good way to grow food and care for the land.

4. Standing up for sense on GMOs

Mark Lynas used to destroy fields of GMO crops. Now the former anti-GMO activist supports GMOs. What changed his mind?

5. Baseball and farming require precision

There are lots of good analogies that explain how precision farm equipment helps protect the environment. I like this one. (Then again, I wrote it).

If you enjoyed those blogs, here are a few others you’ll want to check out!

High-tech farming protecting the environment
Getting schooled by students at the Iowa Envirothon
Farmers are stepping up for conservation
The ‘Giants’ of I-80
Producing more food & cleaner water
‘Green’ businesses adopting long-time farm philosophy
Greener than your beer
Iowa farmers talk GMO
Taking positive steps for the environment
Conservation is gaining in Iowa fields, on and below the surface
Where Earth Day is everyday

By Zach Bader. Zach is the Online Community Manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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