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2-Plants: U.S. wheat farmer: "NAWG Doesn't Speak for Me"

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TITLE:  RR Wheat: NAWG Doesn't Speak for Me
SOURCE: Cropchoice, USA, by David Dechant
DATE:   Apr 29, 2003

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RR Wheat: NAWG Doesn't Speak for Me

(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 whatís 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 wheatís 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!

NAWGís 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 Iíd 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.