The Truth Behind Fear Based Marketing and Modern Agricultural Practices

The other day I decided to treat myself to a large bowl of ice cream. I was feeling like it needed a little extra something, so I decided to add some chocolate syrup and whipped cream. When I looked at the can of whipped cream, I had somewhat of an epiphany when I saw a bold label that said, “No Artificial Growth Hormones.”  I stared at the label as an agriculturalist and an advocate for the industry and began to understand why there is such a distrust between consumers and producers.

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Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Maintain Optimism in the Face of Tougher Economic Times

YF&R_DCtrip

Left to right: Matt & Elizabeth Albrecht, Brian & Amy Gould, James & Katie Olson, Todd & Julie Reed

The future of agriculture relies upon the ability of young people to maintain and grow their farms and ranches. While the recent downturn in the agricultural economy could lead one to be pessimistic about the future, after a recent National Affairs visit to Washington D.C., the Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, continue to remain optimistic about the years ahead.

“Given the importance of agriculture to the overall health of Nebraska’s economy, it isn’t hard to see why Nebraska has successfully weathered and even prospered through the economic uncertainty of the past. Yet, recent USDA projections of an over 30 percent reduction in net farm income, as compared to 2013, along with continued tax and regulatory challenges, could signal trouble on the horizon. These continued challenges make it more important than ever for our state’s young farmers and ranchers to speak out about the challenges they face on their operations,” Steve Nelson, president of Nebraska Farm Bureau said.

“Of particular concern is a 33 percent rise in operating debt since 2012. As farmers and ranchers are adding debt, they have also been drawing down financial assets, such as cash or equity. Young and new farmers and ranchers are of particular concern as their ability to handle such a downturn is significantly less than a well-established farmer or rancher,” Nelson said.

However, with great challenges comes even greater opportunities. Throughout the trip, increased agricultural trade, Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), was highlighted as a way to provide a necessary boost to the agricultural economy. Passage of TPP continues to be a Farm Bureau priority. According to analysis conducted by the American Farm Bureau (AFBF), the TPP will increase annual net farm income by $4.4 billion and increase U.S. agricultural exports by $5.3 billion per year.

“Nebraska also stands to make significant annual gains from the TPP with a $378.5 million increase in ag cash receipts and a $229.2 million boost to ag exports. According to the Nebraska Farm Bureau analysis, Cuming, Custer, Platte, Dawson, and Lincoln counties would be among the biggest winners under TPP, as those counties would each experience more than $10 million in additional cash sales of agriculture commodities per year once TPP trade protocols are fully enacted. Congress needs to pass the TPP quickly as we continue to lose market share in many of the TPP member nations each day this agreement is not in place,” Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee Chairman Todd Reed said.

Another issue front and center during the trip was the GMO Labeling bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives while the group was in town. This important piece of legislation will help provide certainty to food companies who would have been unable to work through a patchwork of state GMO labeling laws.

“As with all compromises, there are pieces we like and pieces we don’t. The bill’s mandatory nature continues to be a problem for us, however we simply could not allow a system of state-based GMO labeling to occur. While not perfect, the Roberts-Stabenow compromise bill will set a national standard on GMO labeling utilizing digital disclosure technologies,” Reed said.

Besides visiting with Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation, the Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers met with the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss recently released rules regarding the commercial use of “unmanned aircraft systems”, or “drones”, and met with CropLife America and Syngenta to discuss the latest efforts to remove the well-known product Atrazine from their toolbox of crop protection products.

“The list of challenges young farmers and ranchers face is no doubt long. However, the need for young producers to answer the call of growing food for our nation and world remains as strong as ever. Continuing to communicate our message to key decision makers is vital to the future success of our nation as well as for farm and ranch families,” Reed said.

Those attending the National Affairs visit are:

Steve Nelson, president Nebraska Farm Bureau – Kearney/Franklin County

Todd and Julie Reed, chairman YF&R Committee – Lancaster County

Brian and Amy Gould, District 3 representative YF&R Committee – Cedar County

Matt and Elizabeth Albrecht, District 7 representative YF&R Committee – Dawson County

James and Katie Olson, District 6 representative YF&R Committee – Holt County

Selling Ice to Eskimos: Chipotle Goes GMO-Free

Can you sell ice to an Eskimo? Chipotle, one of the nation’s fastest growing 1,000 calorie burrito sellers, thinks it can. In fact, Chipotle is banking on it. In its self-proclaimed “never ending journey” to source the “highest quality ingredients it can find,” Chipotle announced this week it was dropping GMO ingredients from its menu.

Cashing in on a consuming public that’s widely disconnected from where its food comes from has become Chipotle’s specialty in a time and place where Americans can spell GMO, but most Chipotle blog1couldn’t tell you what it stands for (other than to likely insinuate that it’s somehow bad for you – hence the need for Chipotle to explain both on their website).

Chipotle might know how to make a burrito, but it is even better at marketing itself as standing on some type of higher moral ground that everyone else seems to fall short of (remember the whole idea that Chipotle only uses meat that come from animals raised in certain ways).

The irony of Chipotle is that the company is basically built on the concept of shunning technology while marketing to a population that’s so in-tune to it that you’d be hard pressed to find a Kindergartner who couldn’t run your iphone (chances are you’re reading this on a tech device your great-grandpa, in his time, would think came from another planet).

While chasing tech savy consumers’ dollars, Chipotle, oddly enough, has demonized farmers and farming practices over the years that are very much a product of technological improvement over time, whether it involves how farm animals are housed or the seeds farmers put in the ground.

Even more ironic on Chipotle’s GMO stance, is the reality that, from a big picture perspective, there really is no such thing as GMO-free food products. Nature has been making GMOs since, well…the beginning of time. While science has developed the practice of introducing new traits into organisms in a scientific setting, similar cross hybridization has been happening in nature forever. The study of such genetic manipulation has been occurring as early as the 19th Century at the hands of an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel who was the first to study how genetic traits were passed between different species of peas.

Henry Miller at Forbes hit the proverbial nail on the head in his piece “Chipotle, the Strangest Restaurant Menu Ever” questioning Chipotle’s “no genetic modification” promise. Miller correctly pointed out that virtually every food comes from an organism that has been genetically modified in some way at some time, scientific setting or otherwise.

In a capitalistic society, there’s nothing wrong with Chipotle catering to its perceived customer base. However, by eliminating GMO ingredients from their menu under the guise of “food with integrity”, Chipotle sends a message that using GMOs somehow demonstrates a lack of integrity, even though USDA has said GMOs are safe to grow, EPA has said they are safe for the environment, and the Food and Drug Administration has said they are safe to eat.

At the end of the day, Chipotle isn’t obligated to talk about Mother Nature’s role in tinkering with the genetics of our food, nor tell the whole story of GMOs. Having an understanding of that falls squarely on us as consumers. Whether or not you choose to buy into the idea that Chipotle can actually sell something that’s truly GMO-free, is up to you.

But you should probably ask yourself…do I want some ice with that?

Falling Off the Anti-GMO-Food Bandwagon

mark-lynas-GMOThe year 2008 was pivotal for Mark Lynas, a well-known science writer and environmentalist. It was the year he redefined his position on GMOs, a topic he often wrote about and advocated against.

Since the 1990s, Lynas had provided a strong voice for the anti-GMO movement. In addition to writing for popular British news outlets such as The Guardian, Lynas led workshops for environmental organizations with anti-GMO agendas. He says his switch from GMO opponent to supporter is a result of his need to provide scientific evidence to his readers.

Recently, CommonGround sat down with Lynas to learn more about his new perspective.

Q: What caused you to shift from condemning GMOs to supporting them?

A: It was a longtime process – years. I wrote my last anti-GMO piece in 2008, in The Guardian (an influential British news outlet). By the time I was writing my book, God Species, I was beginning to change my mind. I was writing an anti-GMO chapter at the time, and, because I was doing the book as a scientific-literature review, I turned to pro because there wasn’t any scientific evidence to support what I thought I knew about biotechnology.

Q: What science or evidence made you say, ‘I don’t believe this anymore’?

A: What I was doing, really, was trying to hold myself to consistent standards as to how I was using science, as a science writer myself. So on climate change I was insisting that scientific evidence should be preeminent, that we should use scientific consensus as a baseline, and we should always use peer-reviewed studies. On biotech, it was sort of the opposite, where I was using factsheets from environmental organizations, campaigning materials and political ideology. The facts I used were not supported scientifically … they weren’t evidence based in fact. And so, as a science communicator, I had to resolve the issue.

Q: That has to be quite a culture shock for you to come from the anti-GMO movement and then turn around and say ‘here’s where I was wrong and this is what the evidence says.’ What has been the reaction to your change?

A: I’ve had probably more positive messages and support than negative from the scientific community and from farmers around the world. Less from industry, in fact, because I do not have a lot to do with industry.

Q: What if you were talking to a mom who is concerned about feeding GMO foods to her family? What would you tell her?

A: It’s difficult to know where to start because by the time people are already at that point, they’re already scared. To me, I want to speak to everyone on equal terms because I’m not an expert myself. I’m not Dr. Lynas, who’s got a Ph.D. in molecular biology. I’m just someone who’s written books and who still considers himself to be an environmentalist. And I think I share the values and the agenda of many of these people. So hopefully I can talk in a way that’s understood.

Q: Do you have anything else you want to add about biotechnology and food choices?

A: I’m supportive of organic in the interest of diversity. I want a diverse farming sector and for people to try out lots of different things. There has to be an open-minded approach to how we confront the challenges of the future. That means that no one has a monopoly on virtue when you take an evidence-based approach to what’s good and what’s bad.

— The above featured blog originally was published by CommonGround, a group of volunteer farm women who’s goal is to start conversations between women who grow food, and the women who buy it.

Combating Label Confusion

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Consumers have more choices than ever before on where and how to source their food, yet when asked the majority of consumers purchasing organic, local, antibiotic free and grass-fed do not fully understand the labels or the production processes behind them. Below is a breakdown –

  • USDA Certified Organic
    • Those who raise organically-grown food must follow a strict set of guidelines outlined by the USDA which indicates that the food has been produced through approved methods. These practices are often more expensive to implement, causing organic food to be two or three times more expensive.A common misconception is that organically raised foods do not use pesticides or fertilizers. Organic farmers can choose from certified pesticides and fungicides on their crops. They can also use organic matter (livestock manure) for fertilizer.Additionally, consumers often believe that organic food is healthier and provides their family greater nutritional value – this is unproven. Organic is no safer or better for you than conventional according to a recent systematic review by Stanford University which examined hundreds of studies.
  • Non-GMO
    • Farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all the crops they have grown since domestic agriculture began 10,000 years ago. Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available today has been altered by human hands, including organic and heirloom seeds. In the late 20th century, advances in technology enabled the expansion of the genetic diversity of crops. A major result has been GMO seeds that maintain or increase the yield of crops while requiring less land and fewer inputs, both of which lessens the impact of agriculture on the environment and reduce costs for farmers.Before crops from GMO seeds reach the market, they are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals and the environment. Today’s GMO crops are the most researched and tested agriculture products in history.Biotech crops currently available on the markets are the same compositionally and nutritionally as non-GMO crops. Testing has shown and FDA review has confirmed that GMOs are nutritionally the same as non-GMO crops. Food from GMOs is digested in the body the same as non-GMO food. Hundreds of studies have and continue to demonstrate that GMOs do not present any health risk, allergies, cancers, infertility, ADHD or any other diseases. In the years that farmers have grown GMO seeds, approximately 1994, there has not been a single documented instance of harm to human health from GMOs.
  • Grass-fed
    • There are multiple standards for grass-fed labels or certifications, but all of cattle and sheep spend the majority of their life eating grass in pastures. The determinate of grass-fed are those cattle or sheep that have been raised on a pasture their entire lives. This takes the animals longer to reach maturity and is difficult to do in the majority of North America due to seasons and changing weather conditions causing an increase in price. Grass-fed meat has not been proven to be more nutritious or healthy, but all types of meat provide essential nutrients to your body (link to Is Meat a Four Letter Word blog).
  •  Antibiotic Free
    • Some consumers are concerned that antibiotics used in animals have contributed to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans; however, there has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotic use in animals.Healthy animals are the basis of a healthy, humane and safe food system. That is why it is important to prevent and control diseases in farm animals and to treat animals when they are sick. Farmers and ranchers use antibiotics judiciously to keep the risk extremely low of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria that is harmful to people.Additionally, a common misconception is that antibiotics used on animals will be present in the meat purchased at the store. All animals treated with antibiotics must go through a withdrawal period and meet federal standards for antibiotic residue before the meat enters the food supply.
  • Local
    • The definition for locally produced food products in the U.S. applies to food products transported less than 400 miles or within the state in which they were produced, according to the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. Using this label presents challenges for stores with multiple locations and for stores near state boarders as if a farmer’s produce was raised in Glenwood, Iowa, it would not meet the official definition of local at the Omaha Farmers Market.

– Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter raised up on a cow/calf and grain farm.

Egg and Milk Allergies: GMO Connection?

With food allergies on the rise, there’s no shortage of concern about what is causing them. Best Food Facts reader, John, had a very specific question about allergies related to genetically modified food, after reading our post on GMOs and Food Allergies. The expert from that post stated “…the food allergies that have increased the most, including peanut, tree nut, egg and milk allergies, are foods that are not GMO. The primary GMO foods in the U.S. are soybeans and corn.”.

John asked: “Chickens and cows are often fed GM corn and soy – how will they show up in eggs and milk?”

To answer that question, Best Food Facts reached out to two experts –

SallyMackenzieSally Mackenzie, PhD

“First, it’s important to note that genetically modified crops have been in the American food supply for over 15 years and there has never been a single food allergy associated with the particular proteins that are introduced by GM. Not one. This is not surprising, because genetic engineering regulations in the U.S. require that such tests be conducted before the product is ever on the market. Food allergy tests are not difficult; they are a standardized technology applied regularly in development of GM products.

“To explain genetic modification, it simply introduces a new protein to the plant. Proteins are digested and the amino acids (from the proteins) are absorbed into the digestive system. So, there is virtually no way that the GM protein would ever be recognizable by the human system after it has passed through the chicken or cow that ate the GM corn or soybeans. If the protein is not a human allergen in its intact state, there is no reasonable way that it would become an allergen after ingestion by a cow.

“Lastly, science has shown us that GM products are not dangerous; there is no evidence of their being dangerous for human or animal health in the many, many years of testing that have been involved. I know of no reasonable and respected scientist in the U.S. or Europe with expertise in GMO technology who believes GM products to be unsafe for human health.”

DennealJamison-McClungmimi Denneal Jamison-McClung, PhD

“It’s a good question. The nutritional composition of GM crops approved for food and feed have been well-characterized. Through many animal feeding studies, GM feed has not been found to cause physiological or other changes in animals. The allergen content and nutritional profile of milk, meat and eggs obtained from animals consuming GM feed will not be different from animals consuming comparable non-GM feed.

“Why not? Well, the digestive tracts of animals break down nucleic acids (genes) and proteins into biological building blocks (nucleotides and amino acids), whether these molecules are derived from GM or non-GM feed. Movement of whole GM nucleic acids and proteins from GM feed into the milk, meat and eggs of animals that eat GM feed is not physiologically possible.”

— This article originally was found on Best Food Facts’ website

Are GMO Foods Safe?

Photography courtesy of Nobelprize.org

Photography courtesy of Nobelprize.org

Norman Borlaug was an American agronomist who won the peace prize for his research which was credited for saving more than a billion lives. He was recognized for these efforts by winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal among many other awards.

What did Borlaug do?

He created a type of wheat that could sustain drought better than those of the past as well as sustain disease without the need for insecticides or parasiticides all while producing a higher yield.

During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan and India.

As a result, he provided income for those countries and their people, and saved billions from starvation. While Borlaug is no longer with us, he remains a hero and his creation continues to save lives across the world.

Norman Borlaug created a healthy and nutritious variety of genetically modified wheat.

Please take some time and learn the facts about genetically modified organisms below, originally posted by Common Ground

  • What are GMO foods?
    • The World Health Organization (WHO) defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, including between nonrelated species. Such methods are used to create GMO plants – which result in GMO food crops. This technology is called biotechnology.
    • Farmers and gardeners have been creating plant hybrids for as long as they’ve been growing plants. Biotechnology simply serves as a more technologically advanced method.
    • The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) says that while particular biotech traits may be new to certain crops, the same basic types of traits are often found naturally in plants and allow them to survive and evolve.
  • What do we know about GMO food safety?
    • Every plant improved through the use of food biotechnology is examined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for potential health risks. Tests are done on plants before entering the food and animal feed supply. The WHO reports that current foods containing biotech ingredients have passed human health risk assessments. In addition, the WHO says no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of biotech foods.
  • What are the benefits of food biotechnology to agriculture?
    • Growing food with GMOs can result in better-tasting fruits and vegetables that stay fresh longer and are naturally resistant to insects. Plant breeding also results in crops better able to withstand the environmental challenges of drought, disease and insect infestations.
    • By developing special traits in plants, biotechnology allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources.
    • This increased availability of crops provides significant economic gains to farmers in developing countries.
    • An Iowa State University study shows that without biotechnology, global prices would be nearly 10 percent higher for soybeans and 6 percent higher for corn.
    • Biotechnology also benefits the environment. A Council for Agricultural Science and Technology report says biotech soy, corn and cotton have decreased soil erosion by 90 percent, preserving 37 million tons of topsoil. Biotech crops also provide a 70 percent reduction in herbicide runoff and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
    • According to USDA, biotech crops may provide enhanced quality traits such as increased levels of beta-carotene in rice to aid in reducing vitamin A deficiencies and improved oil compositions in canola, soybeans and corn. Crops with the ability to grow in salty soils or to better withstand drought conditions are also in the works.
    • USDA also says research on potatoes, squash, tomatoes and other crops continues in a similar manner to provide resistance to diseases that otherwise are very difficult to control.

– Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter growing up on a cow/calf and grain farm in Iowa. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University, majoring in both animal science and public relations. She has been involved with agriculture from birth, working in multiple facets of the industry including the USDA and Extension. Kassi relocated to Nebraska in 2010 to work for a marketing communications agency for a multitude of agriculture clients.