Good morning. I'm Gary Goldberg, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Corn Growers Association. We deeply appreciate this opportunity to come before you today to express the position of agricultural producers on the issue of genetically modified foods, their impact on farmers and what should be done to remedy the concerns that genetically modified foods have caused.
American farmers are facing a crisis of immense proportions. Commodity prices have reached historic lows while our current farm program encourages increased production with a promise of growing exports. At the same time as our country is negotiating a new multinational trade agreement in Seattle, many of our foreign customers are rejecting genetically modified organisms or GMOs because of growing consumer resistance. This resistance is limiting our export opportunities as farmers finish up harvesting the third largest corn crop in history.
It is not only foreign customers who are apprehensive about GMO. Domestic consumers are also expressing their reservations. This growing unrest has lead to companies such as Gerber and IAMS pet foods restricting their purchases of food stuffs to non-GMO only. Agri-business is also answering customer concerns by requiring farmers and grain elevators to segregate their non-GMO from their GMO.
This dispute between seed dealers, chemical companies, multi-national grain exporters, U.S. governmental agencies and foreign customers has caught the American farmer in the middle. On one hand we are told to grow more crops for the marketplace while the marketplace is rejecting much of what we grow. Our farmers are also caught in the middle over the many unanswered questions surrounding the whole GMO issue, such as the questions of testing, certification, segregation, cross-pollination, crop integrity and liability. Instead of helping us find answers, many governmental agencies from the USDA to the Trade Representatives office is telling us to keep purchasing, planting and harvesting genetically modified crops, even though the foreign customer continues to question the safety and environmental impact of these products.
American farmers pride themselves on growing the safest, tastiest and least expensive food in the world. Now our integrity is being questioned over the issue of GMOs and we resent being put in this position. Until we can instill confidence in the products we grow, foreign buyers will continue to reject our products and question our motivations. We cannot and must not allow this to happen.
These questions over food safety will not go away simply because our government threatens foreign countries with trade sanctions or increased tariffs. The facts of the matter show that foreign customers do not want to purchase GMOs and they will not be forced to buy something their citizens refuse to consume. David Bullock, Associate Professor, food and agricultural policy at the University of Illinois said it best when he stated that, "This is not about European producers trying to compete or practice protectionism. It's important for U.S. farm groups to understand that this is consumer-driven."
The greatest fear for people is the fear of the unknown. The unknown tends to breed suspicion. By having our governmental agencies refuse to conduct further safety testing and refuse to mandate the labeling of GMO food products, this suspicion will continue to grow. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration is feeding the emotional frenzy surrounding GMOs. There is suspicion that complete and unbiased testing is not being conducted because there is something inherently wrong with genetically modified foods. There is also the suspicion that whatever test results have been acquired by the FDA came from the same industry that is producing these food products, thus bringing about a conflict of interest and a lack of objectivity. The public's concern about the big agri-business firm's political influence is evident in the overall U.S. farm and trade policy as well.
We can discuss for hours the perceived benefits of planting GMOs, such as the recent University of Missouri study that found no comparable yield benefits between Bt versus non-Bt corn or the University of Georgia report that showed severe cracking and yield loss of GMO soybeans when exposed to hot weather. But the fact that about 30 percent of all corn acres and over 55 percent of soybean acres were planted to GMOs in 1999 shows that, for the time being, producers believe they want to continue having them as part of their planting options. However, farmers cannot afford to take the risk of planting a crop in the spring that may not be marketable in the fall because of growing consumer unrest. The uncertainty facing U.S. farmers over the entire issue of GMOs has grown into a firestorm. That is why the ACGA predicts a sizable reduction in GMO planted acres for this coming season. Those predictions were recently substantiated by two different reports out of the University of Illinois. And the uncertainty will only grow larger and louder unless this agency restores consumer confidence in the products American farmers grow and in the safety of those products. Therefore, the American Corn Growers
Association recommends the following measures:
There are many things we have learned since this whole debate has started. The first is that the customer is always right. They don't have to be right for the right reasons, but they are still always right. Second, much of the world can survive without purchasing American agricultural products. While they may prefer to buy them, they won't if they can't get what their consumers desire. Third, we can't force technology on people that are suspicious about it, no matter how hard we try or no matter what threats we use. Fourth, farmers will not grow GMOs if the questions over certification, segregation, cross-pollination and liability remain. And fifth, federal agencies need to protect the citizens of this country and not just the corporate community. There has been a breakdown in the trust that the citizenry has in their federal government to objectively examine and test products without some underlying influence.
In the long run, everyone will benefit from a careful and thorough examination of GMO food products. The government benefits because you are instilling trust. The biotechnology companies benefit because they may be able to sell their products without the fear of harming the health of the population. And the American farmer benefits because we are satisfying the genuine demands of our customers.
We realize that biotechnology companies have made a sizable investment in the research and development of genetically modified crops. That is not our concern. Our concern is the investment that the American farmer makes in purchasing, planting, nurturing, and harvesting a crop that may not have a readily available market. And until the FDA recognizes these concerns and addresses the problems head-on, consumer suspicions will continue and citizen mistrust of federal agencies will grow. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you do the right thing and take on the safety testing and label all GMO food products. After all, a little caution is a small price to pay in lieu of the risk of suspicion, mistrust and loss of faith.
Thank you again for this opportunity to share our thoughts with you and I would be happy to answer any questions at this time.
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed for research and educational purposes only. **
Last Updated on 12/6/99
By Karen Lutz