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Why Does Europe Hate GMOs?

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Paris, France (Agence France-Presse, July 7, 2014):  While the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and China and many other countries have warmly embraced genetically modified crops, Europe remains the world's big holdout.

Could this be about to change? New European Union rules now seek to clear up years of internal deadlock that could, in theory, lead to widespread cultivation of GM foods. But the fight is far from over.

The EU's great GM debate pits two powerful forces against each other: green campaigners concerned about the effect of the crops on health and the environment, and the agri-business lobby, which argues that Europe, by resisting a technology that boosts yields and rural incomes, is losing its place at the forefront of agricultural innovation.

Only five EU countries grow GM crops at all -- Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia -- and in such tiny quantities that they accounted for less than 0.1 percent of global GM cultivation last year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, which monitors the industry.

Europe's fragmented politics, diverse landscapes and smaller scale farming traditions have made it less compatible with the mass-farming techniques in the Americas and China. Only one type of modified crop - a pest-resistant maize - is approved for cultivation in the EU, compared to 96 commercial licences granted in the United States since 1990, although Europe does import more than 30 million tonnes of GM grain for animal feed each year.

Collateral Damage: Farm Families

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Willards, MD (Save Farm Families.com. June 13, 2014):  SaveFarmFamilies.org has launched a promotional campaign for its upcoming documentary on the environmental activist lawsuit against the Hudson Family Farm and the continuing threat that misguided efforts by environmental extremists pose to family farmers, not just in Maryland but across the nation.

The documentary – Collateral Damage: Farm Families – reviews the questionable political and academic actions that enabled the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance to push forward with its lawsuit against the Hudson family, even after the Maryland Department of the Environment reviewed and rejected the Waterkeepers' allegations of chicken manure pollution at the farm. The film contains interviews with a wide variety of members of Maryland's agricultural community and outside observers, who speak to the emotional toll on Alan Hudson and his family as well as the broader damage done to the relationship between farmers and responsible environmental groups.

The documentary reveals the motives and relationships behind the failed Waterkeeper Alliance lawsuit against a fourth-generation Maryland family farm. The strategy was unveiled at the 2007 Waterkeeper Alliance Poultry Summit by speakers Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and Dr. Jane Barrett of the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic. Over the next five years, a Maryland farm family was pushed close to bankruptcy with tremendous family disruptions.

Biting the Hands that Feed Us

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Lancaster (Lancaster Intelligencer/New Eara, June 16, 2014):  If you spend time on social media, you've seen posts, tweets or pins attacking farmers.

They say things like:

  • Factory farmers imprison livestock and wreck the environment.
  • The evil soil-turners genetically modify crops to pad their wallets at the expense of children's health.
  • Farm pesticides are wiping out bees.

As a former farmer, I must defend my fellow coverall-clad caretakers of the countryside because they aren't puttering around on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

They're working hard, every day, to feed a world population growing like gangbusters.

Those posting on the Internet tend to ignore that issue.

There were about 2½ billion people in 1950. Now, there's over 7 billion.  Projections say there likely will be over 8 billion mouths to feed in 2025, 9½ billion in 2025 and nearly 11 billion at the end of the century.

Developing countries becoming more prosperous means more meat, eggs and dairy products will be consumed, too, further stressing food supplies.

A National Geographic report earlier this year said the world's production of corn, soybeans and other crops will have to double by 2050 to feed all those extra cattle, pigs and chickens.

That's the challenge, and how to tackle it is contentious. Animal rights advocates, environmentalists, farm groups and really all of us have stakes.

Trashing farmers in general on social media doesn't help. It hurts.

Farmers Planting More Soy, Less Corn

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Des Moines, IA  (Associated Press, July 1, 2014):  The nation's farmers planted the largest soybean crop on record this year by devoting millions of acres of land to the crop that had been used for growing corn, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.

Farmers planted 84.8 million acres of soybeans, which was nearly 11 percent more than last year's 76.5 million acres. Among the states that planted record amounts of the crop were Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Corn was planted on 91.6 million acres, which was nearly 4 percent less than last year's 95.4 million acres.

"Corn might be king in the U.S., but soybeans are knocking on the palace door," said Grant Kimberley, a corn and soybean farmer near Maxwell in central Iowa and director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association. "The increase of soybeans has been dramatic the last couple of years here and I think the increased protein demand worldwide has a lot to do with that."

Congressmen Optimistic Ag Immigration Reform Is Close

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Chester County, PA (Lisa Graybeal, June 21, 2014):  Three Congressmen traveled from Washington to a rural Chester County, Pennsylvania dairy farm on Saturday to hear from area farmers who are concerned about a reliable agriculture workforce and whether immigration reform is coming anytime soon.

Standing on a wagon that served as a makeshift podium, U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte, the primary author of the House Immigration Reform proposal, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, who serves on the U.S. House Ag Committee, and U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, brought the crowd up to date on ag immigration reform and the difficulties lawmakers are having trying to pass legislation that meets the different needs of ag producers.

All three Congressmen agreed there needs to be a meeting in the middle on the issue. They said so-called extreme reforms like amnesty on one side and deportation on the other are not only unrealistic but don't address the need for a steady workforce in agriculture.

Walt Moore, fourth-generation owner of Walmoore Holsteins, Inc., who hosted the event, reminded the legislators that milking cows is not a seasonal job. Moore, who milks 850 cows, said his concern is having available employees who can work year-round. He emphasized that he would be out of business if he didn't have a steady stream of workers.

Americans Support Biotechnology

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St. Louis, MO (US Soybean Board, PRNewswire, July 1, 2014):  While consumer awareness about biotechnology and GMOs skyrocketed in 2014, only 2 percent of consumers cite GMOs as a barrier to eating foods or beverages, according to the 21st Annual Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition study. At the same time, 57 percent characterize the role of biotechnology as positive or neutral/no opinion based on the survey conducted annually by the United Soybean Board (USB).

Among consumers with a positive opinion about biotechnology, the following reasons emerged:

  • Improve nutrition
  • Allow for lower use of pesticides
  • Improve crop yields

Many experts agree that biotechnology has a positive role to play in food production. "Biotechnology is a critical tool for improving nutrition, positively impacting the environment and increasing food production to meet the world's needs," stated Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the International Biotechnology program at the University of California-Davis.

A closer look at the data:

  • 58 percent are familiar with the term GMO, up 14 percent over 2013
  • 53 percent are familiar with the term biotechnology, up 13 percent over 2013
  • 78 percent of those familiar with the term biotechnology say it is important that food production supports the long-term health of the environment
  • 71 percent believe GMO products should be labeled, up 10 percent since 2013

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