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GMO’s and The Environment - Maine Farm to Food

Boston Globe: 3 policies for the future

Food is going high-tech — policy needs to catch up with it

Bangor Daily News: 10 myths about farming to remember on your next grocery run

Most of us don’t spend our days plowing fields or wrangling cattle. We’re part of the 99 percent of Americans who eat food but don’t produce it. Because of our intimate relationship with food and because it’s so crucial to our health and the environment, people should be very concerned about how it’s produced. But we don’t always get it right. Next time you’re at the grocery store, consider these 10 modern myths about the most ancient occupation. Read more…

STUDY: Commercial Crop Yields Reveal Strengths and Weaknesses for Organic Agriculture in the United States – GMO Answers

Land area devoted to organic agriculture has increased steadily over the last 20 years in the United States, and elsewhere around the world. A primary criticism of organic agriculture is lower yield compared to non-organic systems. Previous analyses documenting the yield deficiency in organic production have relied mostly on data generated under experimental conditions, but these studies do not necessarily reflect the full range of innovation or practical limitations that are part of commercial agriculture.

The analysis we present here offers a new perspective, based on organic yield data collected from over 10,000 organic farmers representing nearly 800,000 hectares of organic farmland. We used publicly available data from the United States Department of Agriculture to estimate yield differences between organic and conventional production methods for the 2014 production year. Similar to previous work, organic crop yields in our analysis were lower than conventional crop yields for most crops.

Averaged across all crops, organic yield averaged 80% of conventional yield. However, several crops had no significant difference in yields between organic and conventional production, and organic yields surpassed conventional yields for some hay crops. The organic to conventional yield ratio varied widely among crops, and in some cases, among locations within a crop. For soybean (Glycine max) and potato (Solanum tuberosum), organic yield was more similar to conventional yield in states where conventional yield was greatest. The opposite trend was observed for barley (Hordeum vulgare), wheat (Triticum aestevum), and hay crops, however, suggesting the geographical yield potential has an inconsistent effect on the organic yield gap.

Read the full study here.

Let’s embrace GMO technology’s potential, not mislead consumers with label

Maine legislators once again are debating the hot topic of labeling foods made using genetically modified seeds. It’s an unnecessary discussion and is not in the best interest of Maine’s farmers, consumers, retailers and businesses, all of whom will feel a negative impact.

Two years ago Maine’s lawmakers passed a law that would force manufacturers to label GMO foods if four other contiguous New England states did the same. Now some lawmakers, through LD 991, want to remove that four-state trigger — a move that serves no purpose and disadvantages Mainers.

As an agronomist, vegetable grower and crop consultant, I’m intimately familiar with food safety issues and growing techniques and provide direct services to dozens of farms — organic and traditional.

Genetically modifying seed is not an issue of food safety. The technology has undergone stringent testing, none of which has shown any negative health impact, leading every leading scientific organization — from the Food and Drug Administration to the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization and many others — to endorse the technology.

The FDA and and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are the ones that create standards as to what needs to be on food labels in our country. They base those decisions on whether the ingredients can impact our health — for good or bad. They have deemed foods derived using genetic modification to be as safe and nutritious as foods made using traditional seed and, thus, there is no need to label GMO foods.

Importantly, whether you believe labeling is necessary or not, everyone in Maine should be able to farm with the same freedoms and marketability as anyone else in the U.S. This is an issue that should be dealt with at the federal level, not the state level. A patchwork of individual states passing variations of labeling laws isn’t feasible. What may require labeling for production or distribution in one state might not in another and vice versa. To require our farmers to label their products when others across the country don’t have to is unfair and economically harmful.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and key federal lawmakers have made a federal solution a top priority. Their efforts could end up superseding any state law, so it only makes sense to let that work play out.

According to the USDA, Maine farmers grow 80 different types of crops, the primary ones being dairy products, chicken eggs and potatoes. In 2011, the Maine Policy Review published an article titled “Maine Food System: An Overview and Assessment,” which stated that while we rank eighth in the nation for potato production we have only 4 percent of the market share.

Last year, the FDA approved six varieties of genetically modified potatoes and two varieties of apples. On apples, the trait reduces browning when they are cut making them more suitable for places like a school lunch program. On potatoes, one of the traits reduces the level of acrylamides released, which is a concern for fried potato products. Another reduces black spots caused by bruising, and like the apples these potatoes stay white longer when cut or peeled. This leads to less waste.

Do we really want — or need — to increase costs for our potato and apple farmers by forcing them to label their foods “GMO” when, not only are they perfectly safe, but they also have some some positive health impacts? We want to increase our market share, not decrease it.

The four contiguous state compromise achieved in the current law is about as palatable as we can take. If Maine lawmakers take that away, we will be left on our own, asking manufacturers and food producers to label just for us. Keep in mind, we import 80 percent of our food in Maine. The costs associated with labeling that will be passed onto our families are akin to a food tax, and that’s if manufacturers decide to distribute to our small state.

This technology could help be an economic driver for our farmers. It cuts down on pesticide use and reduces water use while, simultaneously, allowing farmers to produce higher yields. We should be embracing it.

Forcing our food producers to label their produce infers the product is unsafe, when it is not. That’s misleading and unfair to everyone in Maine.

Lauchlin Titus is a Certified Professional Agronomist and owner of AG Matters, LLC. He lives in Vassalboro.