E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


ACGA: GMOs Are Hurting US Farmers

(Monday, Oct. 21, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

Keesia Wirt, DTN, 10/18/02: DES MOINES (DTN) -- Farmers must decide for themselves whether to plant genetically modified crops or not, but the American Corn Growers Association says they should hear all the facts about GM crops before making that decision.

Since 1997 the ACGA has been telling farmers and government officials that growing GM crops is costing the U.S. valuable export markets, said Dan McGuire, director of ACGA's Farmer Choice-Customer First program.

Recent government and trade reports showed U.S. corn export inspections as of Oct. 10 are running 33 percent behind last year, the Financial Times reported earlier this week. It estimated the U.S. is losing about $300 million every year due to loss of potential corn exports to the Europe Union alone.

"Even now, some U.S. agricultural officials still do not grasp the seriousness of the issue and suggest that they are isolating the Europeans on this GMO food issue," McGuire said. "When indeed it is the U.S. that is isolating itself."

ACGA made a slightly more conservative estimate and said U.S. corn growers have lost more than $814 million in foreign sales during the past five years as a result of restrictions on GM food imports imposed by Europe, Japan and other world buyers.

In the 1995-96 marketing year, European countries bought 2.7 million metric tons of corn from the U.S., or 106 million bushels. The next year U.S. farmers began growing GM crops, and the EU cut back its U.S. corn imports to 1.7 million metric tons, McGuire said. In the most recent marketing year, which ended Aug. 30, the EU bought just 3,100 metric tons, or 153,000 bushels of U.S. corn.

Exports to Japan have dropped as well. When U.S. farmers raised StarLink corn in 2000-01 marketing year, Japan backed off of about 53 million bushels that it had bought the previous year.

Lost export markets are just the tip of the GMO iceberg, McGuire said. Europe is still buying corn; just not from the U.S. Competing markets in China and South America are reaping the benefits of new markets, while American farmers are left with a 300 million bushel inventory of GM corn nobody wants.

"Right now countries like Brazil are capitalizing on the vulnerability of the U.S. because of the GMO issue," McGuire said. "We're ignoring the wishes of our best customers by not growing products they want and driving them to buy from other markets."

To make matters worse, McGuire said, the U.S. government gave Brazil millions of dollars during the 1980s to help rebuild its agriculture economy, and thereby helping to create a strong competitor for U.S. farmers.

"It's bad enough that we're funding our competitors, but we're doing it at the same time farmers have had to fight and fight to keep our farm programs in place," he said.

Beside economic losses, the GMO issue has made many farmers mistrust the government and agribusiness, McGuire said. Since the early 1980s, farmers have been told to be "market oriented" in order to capture the world market and sustain higher prices. They were told to keep prices low in order to compete, but now the products they are being encouraged to grow have no global market value.

"It's all been a real bogus idea," he said. "These companies didn't do any pre-market testing. They just introduced a bunch of new products and were surprised when our biggest customers didn't roll over and take them. That's not what I call being market oriented."

The American Corn Growers Association recently called on Congress to request a new study by the General Accounting Office to determine the extent of economic damage done to the farm industry from the loss of exports due to GM opposition.

"They've been so busy I don't think they're going to do the study this fall," said Larry Mitchell, CEO of ACGA. "I've been contacted by one senator and one representative who both want the study, but at this point it might be redundant. Maybe they can use it to check the accuracy of other folks who are reporting the losses." Mitchell said the ACGA tries to remain neutral on the GMO issue and instead works to provide its 14,000 members with enough information to make up their own minds. Of the farmers he has spoken with, Mitchell said opinions about GM crops are all over the board.

Some producers grow as many GM crops as possible, while others refuse to grow any because of concerns about the environment, their farms or their customers, Mitchell said.

"The reason I don't think we hear more outcry from producers is because the farm programs have cushioned the losses from lost exports and income," he said.

The 2002 Farm Bill provides about $20 billion in subsidies to U.S. farmers. Mitchell said he wonders how much longer taxpayers will be willing to pay for farmers to raise crops that other countries refuse to buy.

"I think the bigger picture here is: Are GMOS driving the prices of the farm program up? Is this a concern to consumers? And how much longer are they going to foot the bill for this cushion?" he said.