Needed: Advocates for Seed

John-SciMaxMtgAs vice president of American Seed Trade Association’s (ASTA) North Central region, I was invited to speak yesterday during the Iowa Seed Association’s annual meeting in Des Moines. This was somewhat of a daunting task since I was asked to address my industry colleagues about issues that ultimately affect everyone involved with agriculture.

Fortunately, I was joined on stage by ASTA Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs Jane DeMarchi. Jane gave a federal update on a vast number of topics including food safety, intellectual property rights, seed testing and biotech. She then ended our presentation with this call to action:

  • Legislative Advocacy – Become a Seed Advocate
  • Regulatory Advocacy – Be a good steward
  • Public Opinion Advocacy – Listen and learn how to respond

Advocates are needed for the seed industry, so we can continue to access the seeds that make today’s farmers more productive and efficient than ever before.  As Annie Dee writes in a blog for Common Ground, “Make Food Choices Based on Facts Not Fear.” She goes onto to write:

On our family farm, for instance, we use varieties of biotech-enhanced corn that are resistant to a common Alabama pest called the southwestern corn borer. Similar varieties help farmers manage pests, diseases and environmental stresses in soybeans, corn and many other crops. These varieties help us increase our yields and provide an abundant supply of food, feed, fuel and fiber to the world.

The use of GMO crops has also reduced the number of chemical applications needed to produce the crop.  This is beneficial for the environment because we’re conserving fuel, reducing emissions from our tractors as well as reducing the amount of actual chemicals being applied. Overall, our carbon footprint is being reduced because of GMOs.

There are numerous reasons for using GMOs, but the final one I’ll mention is because I know the seeds went through a rigorous safety-approval process. Not one, not two, but three government entities — the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency — work together to inspect and approve each and every genetically altered seed variety and plant brought to the market. This process is thorough and time-intensive, lasting between 10-15 years. What is really reassuring is that in the 12-plus years modern biotech crops have been commercially grown, there has not been a single ecosystem disrupted or person made ill.

Even though the fear is unfounded, there is opposition to GMOs that is causing a clear and present danger to the seed industry. Fear of the unknown is causing agriculture to come under attack on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, known as the Garden Island. Activists from the mainland are funding a campaign against four seed and technology companies in Kauai.

Other activist groups are pushing to label GMO foods. A compulsory GM label would encourage consumers to think that GM foods should be avoided, writes Cass R. Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley university professor at Harvard Law School and Bloomberg View columnist. He also writes:

The American Medical Association has similarly proclaimed, “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.”

It’s important for farmers and seed company executives alike to be good stewardship of not only the land but of the technologies. It’s also our responsibility to listen to the public and learn how to respond to their concerns.