Gary Goldberg took an excellent approach by naming this panel and using the question - Will the questions be answered?
I'm beginning my remarks with a question as well. Isn't it great to live in America, a democracy where we all have choices? As farmers we expect to have the right to choose. That's why I'm really proud of the ACGA's industry leadership in representing corn grower interests on the GMO issue. Our industry awareness and education program is appropriately called…Farmer Choice, Customer First. What could be more customer-oriented?
Customer-oriented is an appropriate concept. It truly does fit when it comes to addressing the issue of genetically modified commodities. That's because it has to do with responding to customers…domestic or overseas…importers or commodity processors…food companies or consumers …and indeed governments and public opinion. From a farmers' point of view they are all the customer or they have to respond to the customer. From a U.S. exporters perspective, the customer most often is the importer. From an importers viewpoint, the customer may well be a feed compounder, or grain processor. The grain or oilseed processor must respond to their customer who may be food distributors, bakers and manufacturers. These players in the food marketing chain must respond to food conglomerates such as supermarkets and restaurants, who, in turn are responding to consumers. Indeed, as the European Union representative pointed out earlier this week on the McNeill-Leher News Hour, when discussing the Bio-safey Protocol agreed to in Montreal, Canada one week ago, the E.U. political system is responding to public opinion and that is indeed a response to the issue of choice as driven by consumers. Indeed, that perspective was just confirmed this Monday in the High Plains Journal. They reported a new survey of 1,000 French adults who showed overwhelming opposition to foods made with ingredients derived from genetically modified crops. 75% of those survey participants wouldn't eat GM foods even if an independent and qualified food safety agency were to find they are safe. That same public opinion survey also showed that 77% of the respondents believed multinational biotechnology companies would benefit the most and only 8% believe farmers benefit. So, that EU official has plenty of evidence to support his claim that the EU government is responding to the majority public opinion. That would be consumers. What a concept in a democracy?
You know, for us Americans, who promote the concept of democracy around the world, it's a little hard to argue with the European position on this issue. But, what about Europe, not just on the GMO debate but on the issue of farm policy, the WTO, etc. Some U.S. government officials and indeed some U.S. farm and commodity groups would have us farmers believe that Europe is the enemy in trade and farm policy disputes. Those groups are absolutely off base on those issues. Indeed, U.S. farmers should be so lucky to have European farm organizations representing us on issues such as the price we receive.
But, lets look at Europe as a market for a minute. You might think that Europe is some non-entity as an importer of U.S. ag products or just the big, bad competitor. Well, guess who was the largest regional market for U.S. feeds fodder in 1999? It was the European Union. Of course, feeds includes corn gluten feed and corn gluten meal. On the basis of individual countries, The Netherlands alone ranked as our No. 2 world market for feed, second only to Japan. Last year, the European Union also ranked in the top 10 markets for U.S. coarse grains. And, lets not forget about soybeans. Afterall, most U.S. corn farmers also raise soybeans. In 1999 the European Union was the largest market in the world for U.S. soybeans. And, since soybeans are also front and center in the GMO debate, that has implications for corn and corn gluten. So, lets just take a closer look at Europe as a market for U.S. ag exports.
Here's a few interesting facts to recap:
What's all that mean in terms of dollars over the last few years?
Here's what the EU bought from us since 1995:
1999 represents a drop of $1.5 billion in sales to Europe.
Has the GMO issue had an impact on that big drop in U.S.
export sales value and how much? I expect some and you can draw your conclusions but consider this:
Oh yes, the European Union is a very important market and not one that the U.S. government or other farm groups should be "beating-up" on. And yes, there might be other reasons why the EU is buying less, but we can't ignore these export sales numbers. And, didn't the creators of this current farm policy tell us we had to be "market- oriented?" I'll come back to that issue a little later.
You can see why the ACGA has come at this GMO issue from a marketing perspective. Again, we have to think "customer-oriented." We also have to think about what our competitors are doing. And who are those competitors. In Asia, where our largest markets for corn are located, that would be China and Argentina. In Europe it is Eastern Europe and Argentina. Argentina has always been customer-oriented and a preferred supplier of corn to Europe. But, according to USDA-FAS, "only Argentina can compete in all global markets." A recent FAS report says, " Years of fiscal reform and improvements in infrastructure have laid the groundwork for Argentina's emergence as a serious, year-round and global competitor in the corn market." And think about what Brazil is doing by banning Roundup-Ready soybean planting and exporting. They are responding to Europe and other soybean customers. I predict they will take part of U.S. market share. Hell, they already are. Think about Argentina doing the same thing with corn. Argentina has gone from having less than 10% of global corn trade in 1995 to 20% in 1998. They did that while the U.S. had lowered its price supports and implemented the so-called "marketing loan" program. Of course Argentina pegs its corn price to ours so lowering US prices is just a smoke and mirrors illusion anyway. It's not about increasing U.S. exports nearly as much as it is about stealing corn from farmers at disastrously low prices. More about that later.
Back to the ACGA Farmer Choice-Customer First educational program. It should be obvious to all U.S. corn growers why the ACGA took an approach from the outset that would not alienate our global customers. In order to address both farmer and customer concerns we are and have been raising the marketing issues of:
Those are all important marketing issues and I'm very pleased to tell you that the ACGA leadership has been ahead of the curve on alerting all U.S. farmers to what was coming at them.
We could have acted like other farm and commodity groups and taken the arrogant attitude that foreign and domestic buyers would just have to take GMOs whether they wanted it or not. That would have been the ultimate anti-marketing, anti-farmer strategy. I'm really glad we didn't fall that agribusiness trap and carry water for them. Everything we predicted would happen on this issue has. What happened at the WTO meeting in Seattle was just as predictable as what happened last week in Montreal on the Bio-safety Protocol. The U.S. policy makers, genetic firms, multinational agribusiness giants and those farm and commodity groups who made the mistake of lining up on that side of the issue are not serving the interests of U.S. farmers. The attitude that consumer and environmental groups have no place in this public debate is outrageous. Those groups have a right at the table and the ACGA recognized that long ago.
That brings me back to issue that began with…the issue of democracy. That all important issue of choice. As farmers, imagine if the same giant agribusiness firms that tried to ram their GMO agenda down the world's collective throat tried to dictate the price of grain. Imagine if they went to the U.S. Congress and forced a farm policy on you that you didn't want. Imagine if they used their massive profits and political power to force a law through the U.S. Congress without even so much as one public hearing in the House of Representative Agriculture Committee. Imagine if such a farm policy forced you to produce more grain than the market could absorb and forced you to try to make up in volume what you're losing in price and that surplus kept price low. Imagine if such a policy was really not about benefiting either farmers or consumers but just about corporate profits for greedy agribusiness giants. Just use your imagination for a minute and imagine if they called such an undemocratic program "Freedom to Farm." And then imagine if a bunch of U.S. farm and commodity groups helped them pass that law. It wasn't your imagination, it really did happen.
Now apply that same kind of arrogant, agribusiness agenda to the GMO issue on a worldwide scale. That's what's been going on so it's understandable that consumers around the world would be more than a little suspicious of what the real agenda is here.
Just as the 1996 "Freedom to Farm" law failed to increase U.S. exports or market share for corn or other grains, the agribusiness strategy on GMOs has also failed U.S. farmers. It is threatening our export markets at a time when we can't afford any further downward pressure on price. That's why we can't afford to let that same crowd control the agenda again, either on a new farm policy or on the GMO debate. One would hope they learned some- thing from Seattle, from Montreal and if nothing else from the failure of their farm policy, but don't count on it.
In closing, I commend all the ACGA officers, our President Keith Dittrich, our CEO Gary Goldberg and our David Senter and Associates for sorting through all of these issues as they developed. The ACGA is on the right side all the way. Whose side would that be? That would be the farmers' side and the consumers' side. Isn't it great that we're on the same side as we should be. Bringing farmers and consumers together in a democratic way is the ACGA way. Come to think of it, Isn't that supposed to be the American way, after all? Thank you.
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Last Updated on 2/11/00
By Karen Lutz