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Farm Aid's biotech position beneficial to rural America

(Monday, June 7, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Dan McGuire letter to the editor, High Plains Journal:
The latest attack on Farm Aid and Willie Nelson by Trent Loos in the May 31 edition of the Journal is way off the mark.

Rural America knows that Farm Aid does a great job in raising key issues such as agribusiness-driven, low-price U.S. farm and trade policy, globalization and corporate concentration, including in the biotech (GE) seed industry.

Loos says that GE crops have reduced pesticide use by 46 million pounds. Dr. Charles Benbrook, highly respected former Executive Director of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture, reports that from 2001 to 2003 over 73 million more pounds of pesticides were applied to GE crops. Contradicting Loos, farmers report using not one, but multiple herbicide treatments on Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans. He suggests that GE crop yield more and cost less. Not according to state university research in Nebraska, Iowa and Georgia, and biotech seed is much more expensive for farmers.

USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service reports average U.S. soybean yield dropped from 38 bushels per acre in 2002 to 33.8 bushels per acre in 2003 while RR soybean acres rose from 75 percent in 2002 to 80 percent in 2003. Yield dropped as RR soybean acres increased. University research shows reduced yield with RR soybeans under drought stress, as in 2003. Iowa RR soybean acres rose from 75 percent to 82 percent from 2002 to 2003 but yield dropped from 48 to 34 bushels per acre. Illinois had similar results.

Farm Aid is right in step with the vast majority of corn farmers concerning loss of export sales from biotech varieties. An April 2003 nationwide survey of corn farmers showed 80 percent are willing to plant conventional corn varieties to keep world markets open to U.S. corn. Corn farmers, 82.4 percent of them, want U.S. farmers and the U.S. government to respect the rights of Japanese, Europeans and all consumers to choose whether or not they and their children eat foods with GE ingredients. Ninety-one percent believe USDA should follow the law and require country-of-origin labeling on imported meat.

Farmers are rightfully concerned about the U.S. biotech industry's arrogance in telling world consumers what to eat. That arrogance has caused the U.S. a cumulative loss of up to 700 million bushels in corn exports to the European Union alone since 1996. A new University of Illinois Corn Marketing and Price Tool shows that such extra corn inventory reduces farm-level corn prices by at least $1.50 per bushel, a $15 billion loss to farmers on the 10 billion bushel 2003 U.S. corn crop alone. That's a real economic cost from biotech crops and it can't be ignored.

Farm Aid is again right on target about RR wheat. 85 percent of world buyers say they will quit buying all U.S. wheat completely if RR wheat is introduced. Undesirable RR wheat would then be fed to livestock or used for ethanol, depressing corn prices. GMO, patented wheat would prevent farmers from saving wheat seed and raise seed costs. Those very farmers have already paid millions of wheat check-off dollars over the past fifty years for most of that research.

U.S. farmers can be thankful that there are at least a few farm interest groups, including Farm Aid and Willie Nelson, with enough common sense and backbone not to be bought off by biotech bucks.

--Dan McGuire, Director, Farmer Choice-Customer First Program, American Corn Growers Foundation, Washington, DC