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RR Wheat: NAWG Doesn’t Speak for Me

Editor's note: Links to other CropChoice items follow this commentary. -- RS

By David Dechant

(Tuesday, April 29, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commmentary) -- "Wheat Groups Ask USDA to shun biotech critics" says the headline of an Apr. 25 Reuters article. It tells how the US Wheat Associates and the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee "joined with NAWG (National Association of Wheat Growers) to assert that the biotech opponents did not represent the interests of the wheat industry."

Well, who are the biotech opponents? I know of no one who opposes the science of biotechnology and these wheat groups should not label people opposed to transgenic wheat with such a broad term. On the other hand, I do know many folks who have serious concerns with what’s going on in one field of biotechnology, that being, the creation of transgenic crops and animals, as well as with how the companies doing so are promoting and commercializing them. This includes a good many consumers. Do they not eat wheat, too? Are consumers not a vital part of any industry?

And, what makes NAWG, WETEC, and US Wheat Associates think they and they alone represent the interests of the most basic part of the US wheat industry, the American wheat farmer himself? I find that fellow farmers who are anxious for RR wheat’s introduction are few and far in between. Just because wheat farmers are forced to pay an assessment, a.k.a. checkoff, upon selling their wheat, part of which goes to help fund these groups, doesn’t mean they speak for the vast majority of farmers.

In fact, last spring, farmers overwhelmingly rejected an initiative in Colorado to increase the wheat checkoff from one cent to two cents per bushel by 62 percent against to 38 per cent in favor. Being that only twenty percent of wheat farmers even bothered to return their ballots in the first place, only about one out of every dozen wheat farmers, therefore, took any action to increase the checkoff. Farmers certainly feel they aren’t getting any bang for their money, or else they would have approved the increase, especially being that the increased portion would have been refundable even if it did pass!

NAWG’s state affiliates are voluntary membership organizations and are supposed to be separate from state checkoff boards. In practice, they are not so separate and, in many cases, share staff and offices. So when Colorado Association of Wheat Growers Executive Director Darrell Hanavan testified against GMO labeling at the Colorado statehouse a few years ago, I couldn’t tell whether he was speaking for the growers association or the checkoff board, that being the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, as he is Executive Director of it, too.

Consequently, being that the original portion of the Colorado wheat checkoff is mandatory, I felt like my own money was being used against me and still do. Though I can choose not to be a member of groups heavily dependent upon agribusiness donations and favors for their existence, like CAWG or NAWG, I cannot choose whether I want to be assessed or to which group I’d like to send my money if I want to be assessed. But if I had a choice, no groups that take corporate donations or try to force RR wheat upon an unwilling market would get any of my money. And, that includes the US Wheat Associates and WETEC when they join in with agribusiness friendly NAWG in writing to the USDA "to assert that the biotech opponents did not represent the interests of the wheat industry."

They speak for Monsanto and the few wheat farmers looking forward to RR wheat, but not for me or numerous other like-minded farmers. Nor do they speak for consumers, without whom there would be no wheat market. With this in mind, a more fitting title for the Reuters article would be, "Monsanto Influences Wheat Groups in Asking USDA to Ignore Consumers."

David Dechant grows wheat, corn and alfalfa in Colorado.

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