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GE - ACRES, USA: A Journal Of Regenerative Agriculture

ACRES, USA: A Journal Of Regenerative Agriculture
T R A N S I T I O N S 
by Steven Sprinkel 
Austin, Texas
April 1999

GMO Showdown
These may be the days long awaited and worked for: the genetically modified 
juggernaut has three wheels spinning in the mud and now, hopefully a bit too 
late, high-level salesmanship seeks to calm the trade and regulatory turmoil 
engendered overseas.
Unless you are tuning into Hightower Radio, or subscribe to the Sanders 
County Ledger in Thompson Falls, Montana, those of us in the United States 
remain incredibly uninformed about the severe marketing and public policy 
problems biotech agriculture has provoked. In mid-March, National Public 
Radio aired what was nothing less than an infomercial for biotech 
agriculture, with so little program objectivity that most listeners might 
have mistaken the piece for a long Archer Daniels Midland promotional.
However, a little light is streaming through chinks in the gleaming 
corporate armor: at the National Grain and Feed Association annual conference 
in San Francisco, Reuters reported that brokers were openly warned that US 
grain production will experience market unavailability because of consumer 
disaffection for GMO products, chiefly in Europe. On 18 March, the National 
Corn Growers Association (NCGA) warned farmers to "get the facts" before they 
plant genetically modified seeds not approved for export to the European 
Union. "If the biotech hybrid you plant is not approved for export, take the 
necessary steps to keep harvested grain in the domestic distribution chain 
and out of export channels," the NCGA advised on its web site. That will work 
until US consumers share the same concerns as those in Europe now do.
In the EU and UK, market outlets are bowing to the consumer mandate to label 
GMO products at retail, and a Rothschilds Management equity trading 
subsidiary announced that it would close the biotechnology investment unit 
that was founded 18 years ago. The smartest money in Europe won’t stash cash 
in the burn bin. 
In Scotland, Monsanto executive, Stephen Wildridge, was called to task over 
the often-repeated industry claim that "the benefits of GM food outweigh the 
risks" during a public presentation there. Alastair McIntosh, Fellow of the 
Centre for Human Ecology, asked Mr. Wildridge if his statement implied that 
Monsanto had " responsibly quantified those risks… (because) society's 
definition of acceptable risk is that it is insurable risk."
But when asked how and by whom such potential liability had been provided, 
(Monsanto’s) "Mr. Wildridge replied that this was a question for which he did 
not have an answer! In other words, he effectively admitted that the risks 
are externalized on to society and the earth's ecology. Shareholders reap the 
benefits on patented materials; the rest of us underwrite any costs."
"What other industry (apart from the nuclear industry) would proceed without 
adequate product liability insurance? What better proof is there that 
Monsanto's "limited liability" corporate status ultimately means limited 
Such publicly reported confrontations are becoming more common. Some recent, 
choice international headlines: "Super-viruses’ Threat to Farms", "Monsanto 
Dairy Hormone May Be Carcinogenic Says EU Vet Committee", "Brazilian State 
Seeks Prohibition on GE Crops", "Corporate Power Silences rBGH Critics, 
Panel Says", " Mitsubishi to Source 350,000 tons of GE-free Soya", and from 
Washington, DC: "Judge Halts Monsanto’s Yellowstone "Bio-prospecting".
Perhaps most significantly, on March 30th, Daniel Rosenberg authored a 
summary article titled, "U.S. Awareness Slowly Growing Of EU Biotech Crop 
Concerns" for the Wall Street Journal.
Two High Level US Studies Planned
Don’t break out the champagne just yet. Half the deck is yet to be dealt. On 
25 March, the United States information Agency reported that USDA Secretary 
Dan Glickman is forming an Advisory Committee on Biotechnology to " study the 
role advanced genetic research can play in expanding food production and 
enhancing food security worldwide." While that carefully worded phrase looks 
like a cover-up in the making, why does it sound future-tense when 60 million 
acres are being planted to GMO crops in 1999? I sense a slight back-pedal, 
meant to cool out the inflamed Euros more than anything else.
At the same time, the National Academy of Sciences formed another panel 
operating under the auspices of its National Research Council, to study the " 
benefits and potential risks of genetically engineered crops with an eye 
toward recommending changes in government regulations", as reported by Bill 
Lambrecht of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
The National Research Council study will be conducted over a six-month 
period, and will seek public input prior to releasing its report. Many 
observers feel that the results of the USDA and National Academy of 
Sciences/NRC investigations are foreordained to put an official stamp of 
approval on biotech, but I am not entirely certain.
Certainly, the folks chosen to sit on these panels appear to have a pro-GMO 
industrial bias, however, their resulting declarations are going to have to 
square up against a lot of new scientific evidence and be defensible against 
antagonists’ claims that the original review methodology was inappropriate 
and that those who had the most to gain economically exerted unacceptable 
influence on regulators who then acted unethically. The work of these panels 
will not be kept secret; moreover, the intention seems to create a semblance 
of openness and objectivity. Social and economic concerns will for the first 
time be allowed a full hearing.
The PR flacks at the EPA and the USDA are going to be sorely tested if they 
try to spin this. There is nothing to be gained by these institutions, from 
top to bottom, including the NAS, by propping up flawed science and salvaging 
the political relationships of a damaged US administration in the last year 
or so of its power. Therefore, we could expect some objectivity to win out. 
Working towards that end is essential. The two panels are partially comprised 
of tenured science dons who may conclude that their best endowment to history 
is to advise precaution in light of the field results which will be presented 
to them. It would also be appropriate for the Department of Justice to report 
on the anti-trust implications of seed monopolization and the emerging market 
verticality of food production. My perspective may seem too idealistic, but 
there will be an opportunity to slam the results later if they seem to be 
A broad effort was underway in early April to change or add to the membership 
of the National Academy of Science’s committee, which should have been tested 
for conflict-of-interest before being chosen.
As Illinois organic farmers Kevin and Juli Brussell recently said, "Who ever 
gets on the NAS panel better have the diplomacy of a devil and the sweet 
tongue of an angel to get these people to understand the impacts on 
everything from marketing to varietal purity."
A Potential Legacy
In a recent open letter to USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, Dr. Jim Home, 
president of the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Poteau, Oklahoma, 
asked him to consider USDA’s future " as the people’s department" in light of 
the current farm crisis, and the momentum to further industrialize 
agriculture. Dr. Home asks Mr. Glickman to end USDA’s policies which promote 
industrial agriculture and to re-orient the USDA towards truly sustainable 
agriculture particularly by funding it better, through research and 
"Something is wrong," Dr. Home wrote, " when the Kerr Center, a rather modest 
institution from a small state, itself devotes to sustainable agriculture the 
equivalent of what the gigantic USDA spends!" 
For more information: <http//>
If Dan Glickman wants to be remembered for having done something great as 
Secretary of Agriculture, he may choose to fight for farmers rather than 
agribusiness and the monopolistic ag-input cabal. The current USDA chief is 
certainly better equipped to do this than predecessors like John Block and 
Edward Madigan. Glickman is actually in a position to be considered 
second-to-none, and that includes Henry A. Wallace, if bravery under fire 
counts for anything. But the course Secretary Glickman must choose is almost 
one hundred and eighty degrees away from where USDA is headed right now. 
Continually cast as a representative of industrial agriculture, like most Ag 
Secretaries, Glickman has been sending signals for over two years that he is 
concerned about concentration in food production and how that relates to 
depressed rural economies in the Heartland. He and his family also eat 
organic food, and he doesn’t mind saying so.
The USDA National Organic Program is on course to publish another proposed 
rule implementing the Organic Foods Production Act ( OFPA) "sometime by the 
end of the summer", according to Keith Jones, the NOP director.
Meanwhile, the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Certifiers Council has 
drafted a work plan for its own private-sector version of a national organic 
standard. The authors of the OTA/OCC document will be Jim Riddle, former 
Executive Director of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association, Lynn 
Coody, the agricultural policy director of Oregon Tilth, and Emily Brown 
Rosen of the North East Organic Farming Association. One interesting addition 
to this private sector initiative is the inclusion of Miles McEvoy, 
administrator of the organic certification program for the Washington State 
Department of Agriculture, who is on the OTA advisory committee. 
Nonetheless, the Organic Trade Association remains committed towards working 
with USDA so that a quality National Organic Program is implemented that 
organic farmers and consumers can support.
Just as the OTA project got underway, all hands were needed to work on export 
requirements required of certifiers, occasioned by the lack of uniform 
accreditation, an issue that would have been solved long ago if the USDA 
program had been handled more efficiently-and before Mr. Jones was hired a 
year ago to clean this mess up.
Organic Food and Fiber Expansion
Quality Assurance International ( QAI), the Organic Growers and Buyers 
Association (OGBA), and other private certification agencies all report 
spectacular additions to their rosters of certified producers, manufacturers 
and handlers. Texas Department of Agriculture officials note that expanded 
acreage, especially in cotton, is more measurable than an increased number of 
organic producers. Griff McLellan of QAI noted that the San Diego, 
California-based certifier measured an average growth of 87% over the past 
four years. The total number of QAI-certified entities is now over 500, with 
certification offices in Japan and Canada.
OCIA International continues to provide service overseas as well, with plans 
for an official Central American office in Nicaragua, and new certification 
programs for thousands of producers in Timor.
Lead by advocates like Cecil Preston, growers in Oklahoma are looking at 
growing organic cotton. And they are identifying parcels far from neighboring 
corn production where they can plant a corn crop not liable to be 
contaminated by airborne pollen.
In the wake of continued concern about GMO food products in the United 
Kingdom, many mainstream retailers have opened or expanded their offerings of 
certified organic products, resulting in severe price run-ups because winter 
demand seems to be outpacing local supply. The Soil Association, the leading 
organic certifier in the UK continues to be swamped with inquiries for 
certification and organic education.
Boomerang or Boom?
The situation in the UK now is reminiscent of the fall-out that occurred 
after the CBS 60 Minutes " expose" on the use of the chemical Alar on apples 
in the late 1980s. While some good came from renewed concern on chemicals, 
there were many needless problems, chief among them the immense losses by 
conventional apple growers. Rather than winning over the agricultural 
establishment, it helped sow the seeds of contention we now see detailed in 
books like Todd Wilkinson's "Science Under Siege. The Politician's War on 
Nature and Truth."
The antagonism aggravated organic-versus-conventional farmer relationships 
over the fence-line and at the feed store, and the real enemy was left out of 
the discussion: the input manufacturers. Surely, education compels 
improvement, and if the GMO technology had been handled more openly and with 
objectivity the questions would now be handled without as much contention.
I don’t know too many organic farmers who want to see a repeat of the Alar 
madness. While baring Alar’s potential to do harm lead to some education, 
the expose frustrated committed organic consumers due to resulting lack of 
supply and retail price increases, and probably lead to a lot of short-term 
organic fraud. Without a doubt, organic won new proponents who remained 
committed after the panic. However, I remember getting calls from New Orleans 
and Atlanta from feverish buyers that season who wanted nine pallets of 
celery, or a whole semi-load of Romaine. Immediately.
" How about 9 boxes?" I replied. Never is there wisdom in riding a scandal’s 
rollercoaster, hurried along by external forces.
My recent reading in American History lends a (hopefully) interesting 
analogy. In 1888, while defending Creek sovereignty over their Oklahoma 
lands against the Federal threat to undo the US treaties with the resident 
tribes, Pleasant Porter, Chief of the Creek Nation argued that: " 
…this ( policy) must come from within us. All natures grow from within."
It is always the most simple truth that is hardest to learn. When the Indian 
Territory was illegally opened to Anglo homesteaders in the Boomer Invasion, 
grafters promoted the theft for humanitarian and even religious reasons, in 
order to force native Americans to be assimilated into the western world.
Correspondingly so in biotech: who asked for this kind of "improvement"? GMO 
supporters use opportunistically false altruism to promote genetically 
modified agriculture to better " feed the world" , reduce chemical use, and 
make US industry more competitive. None of the foregoing seem to be a present 
priority in GMO biotech , since the corn lobby has won yet another battle to 
keep the ethanol program alive ( what about the famished millions?), Round Up 
is now sprayed on millions of acres, and the multinational corporations who 
are in charge of the technology have freely given to Argentina the research 
that was financed by the US taxpayer. As for US competitiveness, the reverse 
is now true, since American farmers are restricted from trading the very 
products which were supposed to be such a boon.
Peter Rosset, the Executive Director of the Institute for Food and 
Development Policy in San Francisco, summed it up thus: "Of course the most 
offensive aspect of genetic engineering is the Terminator technology. How can 
GMO proponents use the specter of hungry people as a justification for taking 
away from them the right to produce food from the seed they save?"
If the Terminator’s genetic traits escape into the wild, we may eventually 
be obligated to spray antibiotics or other synthetics over everything ( the 
genetic formula to override) to assure that the seed will be fertile.

Natural Foods: Run over by the Bulls
The natural foods sector is one group of publicly traded companies that has 
not tagged along for the Bull Run, now at 10,004 as of this writing. 
Stockholders want to know why Whole Foods Markets’ stock has tanked while 
everything else is skyrocketing. Today WFM is at 33 bucks a share, whereas a 
year ago it stood at 70. At the Whole Foods annual meeting in Boulder, 
Colorado ( three blocks from "arch-rival" Wild Oats’ HQ?) one stockholder 
attending was worried that" healthy eating may be a fad just like 
microbreweries." ( Austin-American Statesman). 
In my humble opinion, WFM chief John Mackey may have come unhinged in his 
jealous pursuit for domination in this retail sector. Only fifty people 
attended the annual meeting in Colorado, whereas fifty shareholders go 
through their doors in Austin every few hours. Debt to income ratios are one 
key negative in the competitiveness equation, but WFM recently snapped up 
Nature’s Heartland, another mini-chain in Boston, anyway. Whole Foods may 
have posted 1.4 billion dollars in sales in 1998, but, as we have said 
before, it isn’t Wild Oats that Mr. Mackey should be watchful of, it’s 
As Seen On TV
And it is in Albertsons and Kroger where Kellogg’s and General Mills will be 
marketing their new lines of organically produced breakfast cereals. Rumor 
also has it that Chiquita is an IPM consultant’s dream-machine these days, as 
the Cincinnati-based banana grower-shipper prepares to go one up on Del Monte 
and Dole in he quality assurance labeling game. Got Milk? on your mind? 
California Based Alta Dena has joined Horizon and Organic Valley in the the 
national organic milk market.
So much for breakfast. What are we going to do about lunch? Let’s take a good 
look at what is happening to various players in the organic game.
There is plenty of market share going unspoken for. While Cal Organic may be 
concerned about vegetable giant Tanimura and Antle, or Pacific Soy and Grain 
may be wary of Cargill, remember that it was Cal-O that drove other potato 
producers into growing other products, and that Idaho spud-king Simplot may 
do the same to Cal-O someday. Cargill is the kind of 
processor/handler-of-scale that a General Mills works with. One reason why 
Kellogg and General Mills have created an organic product is because there 
are so many alternatives competing for mainstream consumer’s attention, and 
organic is going mainstream. No one can make New York City or RJR Nabisco 
disappear with a wand. In the corporate acquisition world, there is always 
another shark big enough to eat the competition. Imagine instead the 
opportunities you have sitting in the middle of your own hometown.
>From Farmstands to National Brands
Many farmers would agree that the easy part is usually growing the product, 
the hardest being getting it to market at the right price. The idea of 
growing food for your hometown- a truly sustainable diversified production, 
from broccoli to beef- may seem ludicrous to a 580 acre field crop producer 
with half a million dollars in equipment parked by the barn and 30,000 
bushels in onsite storage capacity. But you have to ask yourself: " Do I want 
to farm or do I want to justify the equipment by growing rail-car loads of 
product that is going to be harder and harder to get a good price for?" 
Harder even for organic products. Those days are here. Selling closer to home 
and calling the transportation savings part of your profit margin is one way 
to look at it.
At recent organic farmer conferences producers and advocates have listened to 
perfectly well-intentioned experts decrying international trade and promoting 
simpler community-oriented ways of farming. These are good ideas. 
Nevertheless, those speakers don’t seem to recognize that they are 
addressing farmers for whom the agricultural infrastructure in Nebraska, 
Idaho and Michigan is not primed for salad mix and hand-pressed apple cider. 
Add all the complicated issues concerning debt-management, inter-familial 
challenges ( " Dad says we own corn ground, so we plant corn."), crop 
insurance, re-tooling and re-educating themselves and their equipment. 
Remember what Pleasant Porter said: All natures grow from within. As growers 
in transition approach future production schemes, they need to identify what 
their natural affinity and inclination is. If the dream is going to work it 
should be inherent.
Keeping the Cash in an Affinity Pipeline
On the way north to the annual meeting of the Organic Growers and Buyers 
Association meeting in Minnesota I stopped by Albert Lea Seed House located 
in the town of the same name. Albert Lea Seed is one of those small, 
family-owned and run, seed and input vendors that serves the local community, 
and that community is both organic and conventional farmers. In times past, 
it was easier to serve both types of farmers, but with the onset of the GMO 
Age, the decision-making process has become complicated. An OCIA-certified 
handler and processor, Albert Lea Seed voices the shared concerns of the 
organic community regarding contamination in organic handling systems, and 
the Erhardt family, owners of Albert Lea Seed House, are strongly considering 
devoting their business to purely non-GMO hybrids and cover crop seeds for 
the organic and sustainable market. Mac Erhardt says it isn’t just concerns 
over contamination, but also because the GMO seed industry requires much more 
paperwork, owing to novel contractual agreements and licensing documentation. 
But segregating their business without a bottom-line reason to do so might be 
financial suicide. Give the Erhardt’s a call at 1-800-352-5247 if you’d like 
to give them another reason to be GMO-free.
Right next door to Albert Lea Seed is a natural foods market, Wintergreen 
Natural Foods, whose location makes it convenient to organic farmers and 
hungry journalists who try to steer clear of fried chunk food.(Did you know 
that a significant majority of all French fries are made with GMO potatoes?)
Wintergreen Natural Foods is another candidate for selective patronage. We 
need to put every dollar into an organic pipeline that flows back to your own 
Cooperative Potential
In 1998-99, external and internal influences brought organic field crops 
growers together to discuss forming a cooperative so at least they wouldn’t 
bid against their own prices unnecessarily, and now some of those growers 
will be taking one next step by electing leadership from within the ranks. 
John Bobbe, from the Institute for Rural America and Gene Paul, of the 
National Farmers Organization have offered developmental assistance, but now 
the ball is in the producers’ court. If nothing happens, I suppose all one 
can say was that things weren’t broken enough to fix them. Anyone interested 
in reading more about the Field Crops Organizing Committee can refer to 
<<>>. One can also find
information on that website 
about fresh produce growers trying to conceive of a communications system 
that will help in marketing.
In Texas, certified organic field crops producers and livestock producers 
are on the verge of putting their mutual needs and products together in San 
Angelo. The point-man there is Ralph Hoelscher (915-468-2592). Arrowhead 
Mills in Hereford is ready to ship truckloads of organic clean-out to them, 
and area growers plan on expanding the number of varieties of crops grown, 
This will lead to a more varied and sustainable crops in the rotation which 
can supply livestock producers who will market under the new organic meat 
A Green "Furrow"
Greg Gunthorp, Indiana pastured-pork producer and member of the National 
Small Farms Commission notes some good in-depth articles on organic and 
sustainable agriculture in the John Deere Company’s monthly magazine, The 
Furrow. If the Green machine wants to sell a broader equipment line to an 
improving sector in agriculture, organic farmers are good target consumers.