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Agriculture

The farming sector faces national security threats

The Biden administration has released an updated security memorandum, which outlines the threats to the American agricultural system, as well as ways to address them. “To achieve this, the Federal Government will identify and assess threats, vulnerabilities, and impacts from these high-consequence and catastrophic incidents – including but not limited to those presented by CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear) threats, climate change, and cybersecurity – and will prioritize resources to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk”, reads the document released last month.

The White House touches on an important topic by addressing the unique threats that face the farming sector, and to what extent the American food production system might be threatened by domestic or foreign actions. It addresses for instance, the impacts of toxic industrial chemicals, from a standpoint not only of the effects on humans, but also on the biological realm, which might impact the productivity of farms.

The memorandum comes at a time when supply chain disruptions have shown to consumers just to what extent a food system can destabilize the inner-workings of a country. Case in point, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not just a military conflict that plays out on the battlefield – it is also a war of food, in which the Russian war machine holds Ukrainian grain exports hostage through its strategic vantage points. Continuous grain deals in the Black Sea have stood on rocky grounds, despite the vital importance for the Ukrainian economy. This war underlines how civilian infrastructure quickly becomes a military target, and how guaranteeing security is not merely about anti-aircraft missiles, but also about protecting strategic industrial elements.

For that reason it is not just laudable that the administration addresses these risks, but also that USDA has been at the forefront of arguing for food security through innovation. The USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA) advances the notion that more innovation, through public and private research and investment, makes the food system more efficient and sustainable. Compared to the European Union’s approach – which seeks to reduce farm land use and livestock, to the detriment of the European food sector – the AIA takes a forward-looking approach.

The White House touches on an important topic by addressing the unique threats that face the farming sector, and to what extent the American food production system might be threatened by domestic or foreign actions. It addresses for instance, the impacts of toxic industrial chemicals, from a standpoint not only of the effects on humans, but also on the biological realm, which might impact the productivity of farms.

The memorandum comes at a time when supply chain disruptions have shown to consumers just to what extent a food system can destabilize the inner-workings of a country. Case in point, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not just a military conflict that plays out on the battlefield – it is also a war of food, in which the Russian war machine holds Ukrainian grain exports hostage through its strategic vantage points. Continuous grain deals in the Black Sea have stood on rocky grounds, despite the vital importance for the Ukrainian economy. This war underlines how civilian infrastructure quickly becomes a military target, and how guaranteeing security is not merely about anti-aircraft missiles, but also about protecting strategic industrial elements.

For that reason it is not just laudable that the administration addresses these risks, but also that USDA has been at the forefront of arguing for food security through innovation. The USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA) advances the notion that more innovation, through public and private research and investment, makes the food system more efficient and sustainable. Compared to the European Union’s approach – which seeks to reduce farm land use and livestock, to the detriment of the European food sector – the AIA takes a forward-looking approach.

Originally published here

Compared to Europe, the American farm system is more efficient and sustainable

One of the more notable misconceptions of many Americans is that people in the United States are worse off than their European counterparts. If we were to only look at income, Americans are wealthier than Europeans on multiple data points: the U.S. outperforms GDP per capita for most of the European Union. The American middle class also outperforms the European one, all while challenging what even counts as the middle class in the first place. 

Adding to that, primary needs goods are cheaper for most consumers. As I’ve previously written, Americans spend 5 percent of their disposable income on groceries, compared to 8.7 percent in Ireland (the lowest in the EU), 10.8 percent in Germany, 12 percent in Sweden, 17 percent in Hungary and 25 percent in Romania. However, some critics claim the American food system prioritizes efficiency over sustainability, which in turn hurts the environment. Here is where the analysis gets very interesting.

Toward the end of the 1980s, the divergence between Europe and the United States in terms of agricultural output became noticeable. While Europe has retained a steady agricultural production level since about 1985, the United States doubled its productivity between 1960 and the year 2000 and is on route to breaking the 150 percent productivity gain in the near future. Meanwhile, American agricultural inputs are slowly retracting to the levels of the 1960s, meaning the U.S is producing a much larger amount of food with fewer resources. For instance, in maize production, this means that the United States produces 70 bushels per hectare, while European countries make less than 50. 

An interesting mix of regulatory action and inaction has led to this divergence. A large contributor started in the 1970s, when Germany introduced the “Vorsorgeprinzip,” now commonly known as the precautionary principle. This policy is a preventative public safety regulation that inverts the burden of proof for the regulatory approval process: For example, a new crop protection chemical can only be approved if it is shown to have no adverse effects on human health or biodiversity. The precautionary principle does not only rely on mere toxicity but extrapolates to a comprehensive and difficult-to-establish level of proof that a product could never represent any harm. This elongated approval processes for new chemicals significantly as the EU enshrined it into its treaties — with the ironic effect that older pesticides remained on the market while newer products could not get approval. 

In fact, a demonstration of the ill effects of the precautionary principle, and incidentally another reason why American farming is more effective, have become visible in the field of biotechnology. Genetically modified foods, commonly known as GMOs, as well as newer gene-editing technology, remains illegal in the European Union. Despite the fact that jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada, Brazil and Israel, have been using these plant-breeding techniques for decades, the precautionary principle and Europe’s heavy-handed regulatory approach prevent it from being used. 

The European policies have, in fact, made farming less sustainable because Europe has neglected the innovation angle. Take the example of soil disruption. Agriculture is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions because carbon dioxide is stored in the soil, and as farmers disrupt the soil through tillage, that CO2 is released into the atmosphere. The more you disrupt the soil, the more you emit. While in the United States, over 70 percent of farming functions on reduced tillage or no-till farming, Europe still produces over 65 percent of its food on conventional tilling. The reason: no-till farming requires a more considerable use of pesticides, which are frowned upon in Europe.

Without innovation, agriculture cannot become more sustainable. While the European Union intends to reduce farmland, cut synthetic pesticide use and keep novel biotech solutions illegal within its “Farm to Fork” strategy (known as F2F), the United States has opted for a different approach. The USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA) advances the notion that more innovation, through public and private research and investment, makes the food system more efficient and sustainable. The AIA is the forward-looking approach, while F2F attempts to reduce the impacts of farming on the environment by cutting back on farmland use and reducing the toolboxes of farmers to fight pests and plant diseases.

That said, the American food system also faces challenges. American environmental campaigners and trial lawyers appear to want to introduce a European-style regulatory system through the courts — including by suing food companies. The highly litigious American system creates a perverse effect in which you have to convince a judge or jury of the ill effects of a crop protection tool, not a scientific agency staffed with experts in analyzing data. As a result, developing farming chemicals becomes a liability that only large companies can actually afford, leading to market concentration. This is problematic because in an age when we need agricultural efficiency and innovation more than ever, it is essential for competition to reign in the agrochemical and agro-tech sphere. Competition creates the baseline for scientists, industry professionals and farmers to get a variety of choices in the marketplace.

Ultimately, we should recognize the wonders of modern agriculture. The benefits of high-yield farming are apparent: We feed more people more sustainably, all while having to charge them less for it. For instance, we need 60 percent fewer cows yet produce twice as much milk as we did in the 1930s. We need to build on these types of successes to make our food system more efficient and sustainable.

Originally published here

Feeding 8 Billion People Has Never Been Easier

Boosting agricultural efficiency can help us create a world of more abundant food

The United Nations recently confirmed that the world population has officially reached 8 billion. However, what should be a celebration of humanity’s ability to innovate and populate has many analysts worried about the future: How is the planet supposed to lodge, power and feed this large number of people? According to a recent Politico headline, for one, climate change poses “8 billion reasons to worry.”

But while feeding 8 billion souls and counting might have been an insurmountable challenge for humanity a century ago, we are at a point where we cannot only do that, but we can also achieve it while using fewer resources. It’s a testament to the fact that when we harness innovation, we can enjoy greater abundance—both in the quantity and quality of what we have.

Getting to Peak Farmland Use

Even though the beginnings of modern farming date back to the 1850s and the Industrial Revolution—with the rise of machinery—it was the mid-20th century that was the real kick-starter for higher productivity. My own grandfather, born in 1925, used to farm with horses and plows on a farm (one that has since been replaced with a small airport handling around 100 flights a day). With the money they made from selling acreage (a regrettable decision given today’s property prices), my family invested in farming machinery that sped up work during harvest season.

Were my grandfather alive today, he would have a hard time believing his eyes at the high-tech level to which we have evolved. Tractors used to be mere replacements for horses in their early conception. Today, they are equipped with computers that regulate and measure everything from soil health to crop protection dosage. The modern farmer looks at computer screens almost as much as I do as a white-collar worker.

The technological progress of the last few decades has culminated in incredible agricultural efficiency. Our World in Data visualizes three major analyses that use different methodologies based on UN Food and Agriculture Organization data from 1961 onward, and while there is a divergence among the researchers on exactly how much land is used globally for farming, all agree that humanity surpassed peak agricultural land use between 1990 and the year 2000. This means that since that time, even as the planet’s food needs have continued to increase, farmers have been able to feed more people with fewer resources.

The effects of getting past peak farmland use are significant. Agriculture affects our environment by two factors. First, greenhouse gas emissions are caused by soil disruptions. And second, agriculture contributes to biodiversity loss. One of the major contributors to the reduction in forestland has not been the increase of habitation areas (humanity lives very densely given its size), but rather our need for farmland. Restoring the planet’s wildlands and wildlife can be achieved through increased agricultural efficiency: When we need less land to grow the same amount of food as we used to, that excess land can be reclaimed by nature.

The Promise—and Risks—of Agricultural Efficiency

How exactly were farmers able to achieve this upgrade in efficiency? One factor is crop protection. Up until the mainstream availability of chemical fungicides, insecticides and herbicides (all of which we know as pesticides), farmers were virtually powerless against the vast array of pests that destroyed their crops. For reference, there are 30,000 weed species, 3,000 species of nematodes and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects that farmers need to battle. Before we had chemicals to protect crops, our agriculture system was primarily dependent on luck to prevent significant losses, which explains why historically, religions across the globe have long focused prayers on good harvests and why harvest festivals are so common.

The Irish famine of 1845 killed 1 million people, which at the time represented 15% of the total population. Occurring about a century before the mainstream introduction of fungicides, the farming population had no ability to fight potato blight—leading to famines across Europe that caused civil unrest, even toppling the French July Monarchy in the Revolution of 1848.

Pesticides have offered a solution to farmers since the 1960s, significantly improving the chances of a good harvest, even if their use doesn’t fully guarantee that crops won’t be lost. However, with the use of pesticides came the risks associated with them. Inaccurate dosage and overuse not only posed environmental risks but also were costly for farms.

As farmers educated themselves on the appropriate deployment of chemicals, per-acre use declined by 40% over the last 60 years. Better guidance from manufacturers regarding dosage, as well as a more thorough understanding by farmers of exactly how much active ingredient was needed, also cut pesticide persistence (the degree to which a chemical is not broken down and remains in the soil) in half. The amount of active ingredients applied to crops fell by 95% over the same period of time. New technologies such as smart sprayers also cut pesticide use by precisely analyzing how much of a chemical was required for specific crops.

Last year, Sri Lanka inadvertently gave us a case study of the necessity of modern crop protection. In April 2021, the now-former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned all chemical fertilizers and pesticides in an effort to transition the country to an all-organic food model. The move steered the country into a food crisis: Domestic food production dropped by 50% and decimated the vital tea sector on which the country depends.

As the government scrambled to repeal the measure mere months after it was enacted, Sri Lankans became dependent on food aid from India and toppled the government after weeks of protests. Even with the law repealed by an interim government, 30% of the country faces acute food insecurity.

Innovation’s Many Benefits

One-size-fits-all solutions for the world’s farming challenges—from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to feeding more people efficiently—does not exist. Yet the experience of Sri Lanka shows that we cannot give up on the innovations of modern agriculture. We should also resist the conclusion that organic farming is manifestly the enemy of progress—it, too, can harness modern scientific miracles.

To date, organic agriculture has proven to be less efficient than conventional farming and has a larger carbon footprint—and that’s why not all in the organic sector preach a back-to-basics approach to their creed. Some argue that organic farming would benefit from new breeding techniques (NBTs), which use technologies such as CRISPR Cas-9 gene-editing for plant breeding. CRISPR is a technology that allows us to shut off undesirable genes in DNA, potentially even editing out genetic typos to improve both the resilience and health benefits of plants and to cure diseases.

While the organic community’s resistance to genetically modified crops may often be ideological, the advantages of genetic modification have become apparent in those jurisdictions where it can legally be deployed in food production. Gene-editing allows for crops to absorb 30% more carbon dioxide without ill effects on them, makes wheat safe for people suffering from celiac disease, creates allergy-free peanuts, and produces drought-resistant rice in India. Overall, gene-edited crops grow more efficiently with less resource use (such as water), thus accelerating the speed with which agricultural efficiency advances.

And the ability to selectively edit the genomic structure of crops has an application range that far surpasses what we believed to be previously feasible. In Japan, for example, a CRISPR-derived tomato that relieves hypertension has been approved for market use. The fruit produces higher levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The opportunities presented by gene-editing include longer and healthier lives, and the ability to ease access to healthcare. If our food becomes our medicine at the same time, the prices of pharmaceuticals might even become less of a concern in the future.

The reason some places, such as Japan, Israel, the United States and Canada, have taken a more light-touch approach to the regulation of gene-edited crops is simple: Most of the crops we use today have had their genomes altered in a number of ways, either through selective cross-breeding or through nature- or human-caused gene mutations. Humans have long used ionizing radiation to create random mutations in crops—a technique that is less precise than gene-editing and is legal for use in organic agriculture, even in jurisdictions such as the European Union where NBTs are not currently permitted. Ionizing radiation is employed in plant-breeding to initiate heritable genetic changes, using techniques such as iron beam radiation, X-rays or UV lights. Despite its usefulness to create genetic variety, this technique is less reliable than modern gene-editing.

Some jurisdictions, most prominently the European Union, prohibit the use of gene-editing over unjustified precautionary rules, and they express skepticism over the import of food products derived from NBTs. Those jurisdictions that still ban gene-editing should adopt rules and regulations similar to those in the United States, Canada and Japan. New crop varieties can still be approved by regulatory agencies, without restricting the entire technology. Furthermore, regulators should allow for free food trade on an open marketplace, to make sure consumers get the maximum amount of choice.

The story of modern agriculture is impressive. It displays to what extent humanity is capable of overcoming the supposed limits to its own growth and development. Agricultural efficiency will continue to improve insofar as we allow for scientists, plant breeders and farmers to fully deploy their knowledge and skill in a way that benefits consumers and the environment alike.

Originally published here

Biden’s Doublespeak Doesn’t Aid Farmers

According to the Biden administration, American agriculture faces unique national security threats, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased ransomware attacks, climate change, and the Avian influenza outbreak.

This comes at a time when the White House is adamant about its plans for “climate-smart commodities and rural projects,” through which it is investing $2.8 billion in 70 selected initiatives around the country.

The Biden administration’s climate-related agriculture programs aim to reduce emissions from the U.S. farm sector, which create more than 10% of the total greenhouse gas emissions.

In practice, these “climate-smart” projects attempt to regreen for the purpose of increasing biodiversity and also producing food commodities in a more sustainable way.

It focuses, for instance, on crop cover and reducing tillage, as well as carbon capture and swapping out the use of wet cow manure — the creation of which accounts for a large amount of a farm’s greenhouse gas emissions — for dry manure like composting.

The administration’s move echoes the investments made in Europe into sustainable farming, with a substantial difference that speaks in its favor: contrary to the European approach of reducing farmland, and even subsidizing farmers to give up livestock (which has led to major protests in the Netherlands), the “climate-smart” funding opportunities guide farmers to innovative solutions instead of paying them to essentially give up.

In this sense, the Biden administration does not copy-paste the mistakes that the Europeans are committing.

That said, the White House is not consistent —  many of the ambitions the climate-smart programs are supposed to achieve are incompatible with previous regulations.

Take the very important aspect of soil disruption.

Tillage is an important aspect of farming because it manages crop residues, controls weeds, and prepares the soil for planting.

However, tillage also disrupts soil organic carbon, releasing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and reducing soil productivity.

This is why some farmers have adopted no-till practices (sometimes known as conservation agriculture), which allow them to remain productive without tilling.

In organic farming, no-till is criticized because it requires the use of chemical herbicides to fight pests, something the organic farming sector rejects outright.

The Biden administration is cracking down on the available herbicides catalogue by restricting certain products through the EPA, as I’ve explained for Newsmax before.

It appears the executive wants to have its cake and eat it too, by both arguing for carbon storage, all while depriving farmers of the tools to guarantee that CO2 remains in the soil.

Even though no-till is technically possible in organic farming, its applications are very marginal and currently more experimental than practical use cases.

Conservation agriculture is an essential aspect of the carbon dioxide reduction targets of the farming sector.

Those opposed to the use of chemical pesticides are pushing an agenda that hurts the efforts of farmers to be carbon-efficient.

It is also important to point out that per-acre use of pesticides has declined by 40% and that new technologies also cut pesticide persistence in half, reducing the number of active ingredients by 95%.

The United States also uses a significantly lower amount of pesticides per acre compared to developed farming countries in Europe, as FAO stats reveal. 

The organic farming lobby has argued consistently for more federal funding for their industry. However, organic farming emits more carbon dioxide emissions and reduces biodiversity and wildlife by using considerably more farmland than conventional practices.

If Joe Biden wants to make true on his promises to make farming more eco-friendly, he needs to let go of Obama-era attempts to crack down on modern crop protection.

Originally published here

Europe’s Food Protectionism Is Taking on a New Dimension

The war in Ukraine has affected Europe’s agricultural sector and slowed the ambitions of the European Union to enact sweeping new farming rules. Reforms in Brussels are modeled on the so-called Farm-to-Fork strategy, a roadmap through which the union wants to slash pesticide use, reduce farmland and push organic agriculture well beyond its current market share. In the wake of Ukraine’s inability to export food to its European counterparts, some countries, including France, have argued that the EU should take a step back on the planned legislative changes, which had already come under fire from farmers.

In the Netherlands, thousands of livestock farmers protested the government for weeks over its new rules to reduce nitrous oxide, a byproduct created when manure decomposes. The Dutch government’s approach was to minimize livestock farms, even if it meant buying out farmers.

Farming representatives cautioned the European Union that Farm-to-Fork will undermine the European food sector and that more data is needed on the effect of the strategy on the farming sector. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture studied the European plans, it found a food price inflation risk of 20 percent to 53 percent and even a high risk of a drop in gross domestic product as a direct result of the policy. According to Politico, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee asked the European Commission to revise its impact assessment, as it does not consider the effects of COVID-19, food price inflation or the war in Ukraine.

Despite the internal fights over agricultural reforms, the European Commission is going ahead with its policy of banning certain imports into Europe. It announced that imports of products containing residues of insecticides belonging to the neonicotinoid group will be banned from 2026. According to the EU, there is a risk of those compounds harming bees.

Whether that is the case warrants its own scientific discussion, but more important, this move marks a significant and worrying turn in Europe’s approach to agricultural regulation. More than just following a political goal of reducing crop protection chemicals in Europe, it now tries to impose those rules on its trade partners. It is most certainly one of the more transparent attempts at policy through trade, but it isn’t a very believable one. 

In Europe, numerous countries are not respecting the EU’s ban on neonics: France has a three-year derogationon neonics because its sugar beet industry would have been wiped out without it. Belgium also uses neonics for its sugar beet production. Denmark produces neonics for the EU and the non-EU markets. Whenever EU rules don’t reflect what is needed in farming, individual EU member states can implement emergency provisions to re-authorize a chemical compound.

Even though the European Commission says that it consulted with our World Trade Organization members on the move, it is likely that its decision will be contested. The United States formed opposition earlier this year against a similar decision of the EU to ban the import of products treated with the insecticide sulfoxaflor, a neonic substitute.

The unfortunate reality is that EU leaders have promised more ambitious targets than they can keep. The Farm-to-Fork strategy was unveiled in May 2020, when the full scale of the COVID-19 pandemic was unknown, inflation was stable and there was no full-scale war in Ukraine. 

The commission is facing the dilemma of having set a political, not scientific, pesticide-reduction target without a strategy of substitution, surrounded by crises it can hardly control. However, instead of walking back its ambitious targets, it now sets the stage for another needless trade war, the likes of which we have seen enough over the last few years.

Originally published here

The Farming Reform Europe May (not) Need

Agriculture is an issue which is viewed very differently depending on which European country you look at it from. Whether it is the subsidies or the methods, it seems like there is no real understanding among all the EU member states. In this edition of the CEA Talks podcast, host Zoltán Kész is joined by Bill Wirtz, senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center. 

Mr Wirtz starts by saying that in agriculture, currently there have been very interesting developments, for example the ‘farm to fork’ policy. As for beginners, often the European Union establishes framework, which is essentially telling us where we want to go and then it creates legislation to make it happen: “The ‘farm to fork’ strategy is essentially what I would call the most significant overhaul of agriculture in the history of the European Union. Listeners will know that depending on the budget between 30 and 40% of the EU budget It’s already given out and subsidies to farmers and now the EU gets into the policy of how is the food produced and what exactly is the output that we have there so the farm to fork strategy publishes very ambitious targets to reach, it also tries to be part of the European Green Deal and reach sustainability goals.” The CCC experts argues that the strategy wants to cut synthetic pesticide use half by 2030, cut the fertilizer use half, as well as increase organic agriculture production to 25%. Presently, organic agriculture represents about 4% in the US, while this number is 8% in Europe. However, it’s quite divided between countries so if you’re in Bulgaria and if you go to the supermarket, the likelihood of you finding organic food products is quite low because it represents about 0.3% of the overall market, but in Germany or in Austria (where the organic agriculture is about 25%), you have entire an supermarket chain dedicated to organic food, and essentially, this is where we bump into some issues. 

Mr Wirtz starts by saying that in agriculture, currently there have been very interesting developments, for example the ‘farm to fork’ policy. As for beginners, often the European Union establishes framework, which is essentially telling us where we want to go and then it creates legislation to make it happen: “The ‘farm to fork’ strategy is essentially what I would call the most significant overhaul of agriculture in the history of the European Union. Listeners will know that depending on the budget between 30 and 40% of the EU budget It’s already given out and subsidies to farmers and now the EU gets into the policy of how is the food produced and what exactly is the output that we have there so the farm to fork strategy publishes very ambitious targets to reach, it also tries to be part of the European Green Deal and reach sustainability goals.” The CCC experts argues that the strategy wants to cut synthetic pesticide use in half by 2030, cut the fertilizer use half, as well as increase organic agriculture production to 25%. Presently, organic agriculture represents about 4% in the US, while this number is 8% in Europe. However, it’s quite divided between countries so if you’re in Bulgaria and if you go to the supermarket, the likelihood of you finding organic food products is quite low because it represents about 0.3% of the overall market, but in Germany or in Austria (where the organic agriculture is about 25%), you have entire an supermarket chain dedicated to organic food, and essentially, this is where we bump into some issues. 

Related to Central and Eastern Europe, Mr Wirtz mentions that the region is described as one “lagging behind”, in terms of organic farming and consumption. Not enough organic production, as well as the high use of synthetic pesticides are mentioned here. He also says that the region has been at the forefront of questioning the real effects of farm to fork and whether we should implement this because it’s more of a political goal than a scientific goal. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia raised concerns on whether this is something we should do because the strategy was drafted before COVID or the War in Ukraine: “While the world turned to its toes the EU has not yet adapted its predictions of what is going to happen with the project. As these events show, our food system is quite dependent on, as Ukraine being the EU’s main trade partner for non-GMO soybeans, 41% of rapeseed, and 26% of honey. In fertilizers, we usually get nitrogen-based fertilizers from Russia, which provides about 25% of the world’s exports but currently under sanctions. So, as we look at the situation, we realize that huge chunks of our agricultural dependency is currently unavailable. So, if our imports are compromised but at the same time the farm to fork strategy wants us to reduce farmland by 10% these ideas just do not add up at the moment. In my opinion, especially countries in Central and Eastern Europe are and will be experiencing this loss of trade.”

As an analyst at the Consumer Choice Center, Mr Wirtz also emphasized the important work his organization is doing in the European Union in order to change the policy. He says that “In general, as any organization should require from legislation is sort of an impact assessment, basically asking them to tell us what happens if you do this, and at least create awareness for the public, and a common line of understanding. However, the EU’s impact assessments have been very charitable towards their own strategies. Fortunately, we have more unbiased data on this. The USDA did an impact assessment as to what happens if the EU implements this: production down at 12%, food prices up by 17%, exports down by 20%, and it would cost us about $71 billion. So, while this is obviously very concerning, we’ve been asking policymakers to request an impact assessment which not only considers all implications of this strategy but also takes into account the effects of COVID and the war in Ukraine. Before it had a chance, but now with many trading partners unavailable, it is just impossible. The problem is that some political people have staked their reputation on these projects (an unfortunate reality of Brussels politics in general when in the departments or some policy makers act based on their own political reputation, they need legislation to pass, because without it, they have nothing to show.“

When asked about future agricultural innovations, Mr Wirtz responded that they found a lot of the solutions that do address these problems including reducing synthetic pesticide. The use of genetic engineering is a prevalent option. He states that “Emmanuel Charpentier, French scientist who has done research at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. With the scientist from the University of California they developed breakthrough gene editing technology. Essentially it works by removing undesirable DNA from a crop so that it responses to weather changes better by making it more resilient as an example. What people generally known as GMO (genetically modified organisms) uses ‘transgenesis’, which combines DNA from multiple organisms to improve them in a desired way. Now gene editing is the is newest of the new what we have there and what we can do in solving food production problems. The technology is quite amazing, you can make nuts that don’t cause allergies for people who have nut allergies, you can make gluten-free wheat, you can make all the crops more resistant so that they need less water and so on. As a result of that and what you end up with is you produce more food with less resources and I think that’s the amazing story of humanity in a way, because if you think about it, even though we have virtually used up all the available land for agriculture, this technology not only allows us to feed a growing population, but do so with less resources and on lass overall land. I think that’s truly amazing that we have the technology to produce food that is affordable, safe, and reliable, and I think that’s the route we should go down unfortunately right now that’s still restricted by legislation, but I see some positive input coming from EU of people who want to change that.”

The trouble with King Charles’ unorthodox views on modern farming

During his long tenure as the successor to the throne, then-Prince Charles was a defender of the environment. The Prince of Wales website underlinesthe use of “his unique position to champion action for a sustainable future.”He testifies to having made changes in his own lifestyle that made him more eco-friendly: running his Aston Martin luxury car on surplus white winenot eating meat or fish two days of the week and forgoing dairy products one day a week. When the monarch was in charge of Highgrove farm in southwest England, all production was only organic farming.

King Charles didn’t discover his penchant for sustainability all by himself. After Charles met the Indian anti-globalization activist and environmental advocate Vandana Shiva, his focus shifted from raising awareness about climate change to advocacy for more extreme measures. Shiva has repeatedly come under fire for her unorthodox claims and methods, most recently when over 50 biotechnology experts wrote an open letter to the University of Missouri Kansas City regarding an upcoming lecture. The letter attacks her support for hand-weeding — a labor-intensive farming practice used in developing countries because of a lack of pesticides; banned in the state of California — her claim that fertilizers should never be allowed in agriculture, or a tweet in which she likened the use of genetically engineered crops to rape.

Shiva also regards GMOs as “patriarchal” and “anthropocentric,” a view seconded by Charles who referred to them in 2008 as a big environmental disaster. The fact that the royal takes advice that translates to his own ideas became apparent when he published his book “Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World” in 2011. In it, he bemoans that the industrialized world has turned its back on God and the harmony of things — that we divorced from the “sacred geometry” by implementing global capitalism at the expense of the environment.

One review of the book states, “He regards opposing views as cynicism or blindness. He likes to overlook complexity.”

Whether or not Charles used to run an organic farm that practiced hand-weeding ought not to matter in British politics, except that it does. The new king, despite being a constitutional monarch, is influential in all nations where he serves as a sovereign, and does have the ability to lobby for his views. 

Just last year, the British press revealed the extent to which Queen Elizabeth had been able to use opaque back channels of legislative procedure to influence laws. Publicly expressed political views are also on the table. When a Canadian radio broadcaster tricked the Queen into a prank call with a pretend Jean Chrétien, then prime minister of Canada, it became apparent to what extent the sovereign was willing to go to publicly announce her opposition to Québec’s attempt at gaining independence.

The policies that Charles supports would fundamentally change the global farming system, causing significant disruptions. Despite innovation in the field of organic agriculture, the practice yields less food than conventional methods, an average 43 percent to 72 percent less. When researchers modeled a 100 percent adoption scenario of organic practices in England and Wales, and they found that it would actually increase carbon dioxide emissions because more natural resources are required to produce the same amount of goods.

Charles’ views on farming stand in contrast with the UK Parliament’s priorities. The House of Commons is considering a bill that would allow genetic engineering in crops. Such a move would be one of the more notable breaks from EU policy, in which legislation prevents the use of modern gene-editing technology. The UK has also shied away from more radical agriculture reforms the EU is embracing: while the EU “Farm to Fork” strategy plans for a considerable reduction in farmland use, the UK government promises plans that help British farmers become more productive. The fact that the “Farm to Fork” legislative packages now face delays in Brussels over concerns of food shortages further underlines the point that Charles’ preferred model of sustainability could lead to disaster.

Whatever your views on the royal family, it’s clear that we excuse irrational policy prescriptions from Buckingham Palace. It’s high time the monarch abandon his advisers and unfounded views on modern agriculture. 

Originally published here

In the fight between rodents and humans, environmentalists choose the rats

Imagine the scene in 14th-century Europe, as the continent was suffering under the bubonic plague, if a group of aristocrats had taken the side of the rats. What seems like a blueprint for a Monty Python sketch, or a skit on SNL during the days it dared to take risks, is not far from the world we see today.

For years, environmental activists have supported a ban on rat poison, and the Environmental Protection Agency has followed suit by, for instance, banning pellet rodenticides. When activists target examples of products that deserve increased scrutiny, though, their blind spots show. The Pesticide Action Network writes in a blog post: “The fact of the matter? Rodenticides are not needed. Predators like owls, hawks and other raptors do a great job of rodent control.”

While hawks and other raptors may address a rat problem in the countryside, they don’t show up to catch rodents in Times Square. Europe has learned this lesson painfully since the European Union has restricted the use of rat poison. Some EU members, such as the Netherlands, have gone further by virtually banning all rat poison from 2023, paving the way for a significant infestation. 

The Knowledge and Advice Center for Animal Pests warns in major media outlets that new infestations of rats are looming. Its director told a public radio station: “Unfortunately, people will not realize it until the rats and mice run down the street.”

“In the Lanternfly War, Some Take the Bug’s Side,” announced the New York Times in a headline last month. The Chinese insect that has made its way to the United States and infested fields since 2014 now threatenshundreds of millions in farming damages, according to the Department of Agriculture.

However, the article also gives voice to those who believe that protecting the insect, and not preventing farms and forests from being decimated, ought to be the priority. Student Catherine Bonner, 22, says the bugs “didn’t ask to be invasive, they are just living their own life” and “I would be bummed if I suddenly started existing somewhere I wasn’t supposed to exist, and everyone started killing me for it.” The New York Times adds that Bonner shares her feelings about lanternflies “only with close friends” (and a reporter of a national newspaper for her story).

Environmentalists and lanternfly enthusiasts fail to recognize the importance of the agricultural sector. One would think that the last two years have shown how supply chain disruptions and food price inflation affect all consumers alike, making families struggle to make ends meet. Toying with the thin fabric that holds our food system together is irresponsible and ignorant; it’s a luxury perspective that only some in the Western world can afford to have.

On the scale of Roman decadence similarities, it’s hard to tell where taking the side of rats and insects fits in. This phenomenon underlines a fundamental problem of the environmental movement: It does not prioritize the interest and well-being of humans. The essence of their ideals lies in elevating the lives of insects or plants over those of people. If the two interests can’t be immediately reconciled, environmentalists will choose whichever hampers the interests of consumers.

It would be hard for our ancestors to believe that anyone would have to say this, but between rodents and humans, don’t choose the rodents.

Originally published here

Biden’s Agriculture Regulations Would Weaponize EPA, Increase Prices

Congress is inept at making legislation precise – this fact has allowed consecutive administrations for decades to use federal agencies for their political goals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is among those examples. Worse than the political implications are the real-life effects that a recent regulatory decision will have on consumers.

The EPA has moved to effectively ban a herbicide commonly used in the United States, particularly in corn production. This chemical, atrazine, will be familiar to some readers because of the comical way in which conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has long claimed that it “turns the friggin’ frogs gay”. Other than the alleged goal of feminizing the entire adult male population for an objective supposedly unknown to Jones himself, atrazine does fulfil an essential function. 

As the second-most widely used herbicide in the country, the compound doesn’t only assure that fields are free of undesired weeds but it also allows for the practice of no-till farming – a technique that eliminates diesel-fueled tillage and avoids soil erosion. The less tillage performed on farmland, the less carbon dioxide emissions are being released into the atmosphere – a no-brainer for those adamant about reducing the impact that agriculture has on our carbon footprint.

Without this herbicide, farmers in the United States will face a very bleak future. 65 million acres of corn, sorghum, and sugar cane would be directly affected, with as much as 70 percent of corn in the Midwest, South and East of the U.S. If consumers thought supply chain disruptions during COVID were dire, they’re in for quite a surprise if the EPA pushes through this reevaluation. 

Why not just go organic?

In organic farming, no-till farming is immensely challenging at best, and the absence of synthetic pesticides creates significant crop losses. A study by the University of Melbourne in Australia shows that organic farming yields 43 percent to 72 percent less than conventional methods — and that achieving the same output requires 130 percent more farmland. Adding to that, a move to an all-organic farming model would increase carbon dioxide emissions by up to 70 percent.

Just as disconcerting as the effects of an atrazine ban would be on the American farm system is the way in which the EPA achieves this goal. The agency relies on external studies to support the so-called concentration equivalent level of concern (CE-LOC), which is currently set at 15 ppb (parts per billion). This number was reached after careful consideration: while high concentrations of atrazine runoff can suppress algae populations in nearby streams and waterways, the 15 ppb level assured that that would not be possible. 

According to the EPA, research supports a CE-LOC of 3.4 ppb. At this concentration level, the chemical becomes unusable for farmers, thus effectively making it illegal. The EPA’s own SAPs (Science Advisory Panel) have alerted the agency to the fact that many of the studies it bases itself on are unreliable. In plain English: the EPA relies on junk science to ban a vital agricultural tool, and its own scientists have made it aware of how unsensible that is.

Until September 2, the decision to reevaluate atrazine is able to be commented on by farmers, but even if the reactions are majoratively negative, the EPA could be able to push through the decision before the end of the year with devastating effects on farmers and consumers. As corn production will be adversely affected, the price of corn and corn-based ethanol will skyrocket, only exacerbating the existing food price inflation. Corn prices have already increased by more than 20 percent in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with 2022 on a similar trajectory. If the EPA pushes through a ban on atrazine, the Biden administration will most likely hide behind these inflation figures and blame the effects on COVID or the war in Ukraine, as it does so consistently.

The political aim of the administration to ban pesticide after pesticide is similar to the aims of the European Union, which has set out to cut pesticide use in half by 2030. When USDA assessed the effects of the planned European reforms, it found that it would increase food prices by between 20 and 53 percent, and also lead to a considerable reduction in GDP. If those are the blueprints that Joe Biden makes his decision by, then American consumers are in for a bumpy ride.

Originally published here

Biden’s EPA Wants to Make Farming Even Harder

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a move that considerably upsets farmers, is moving to essentially ban the commonly used pesticide atrazine.

The agency is adapting the so-called concentration equivalent level of concern (CE-LOC) for atrazine from 15 parts per billion (which it had set itself in 2020) to 3.4 ppb — meaning that thousands of acres of corn grown in the United States would be out of compliance.

In fact, the 3.4 number is purely symbolic since the chemical becomes ineffective for use at this level, essentially banning it without requiring the EPA to use the word “ban.”

In 2016, when the agency first attempted to introduce this policy, over 10,000 farmers submitted negative comments, as it would fundamentally endanger their bottom line.

The Trump administration had avoided a ban. However, the new administration is dead set on weaponising the EPA for its political ambitions: cutting down on pesticides, even if it is contrary to its own scientific advice.

In fact, the Science Advisory Panel (SAP) of the EPA has alerted its own administrators to the fact that most of the studies it uses to argue for a ban “have weaknesses in their design,” which “render interpreting their results and scoring them for “effects” or “no effect” difficult and subjective.”

One would think that the agency would be partial toward its own scientists, yet it appears it feels more strongly about the priorities set in Washington.

“When you look at all the details, you realize EPA is determined to eliminate the effective use of atrazine. That’s going to cause all kinds of problems, from loss of no-till acres to herbicide resistance in weeds. It will also be a big hit when input costs are already at an all-time high and a major loss for sustainable farming,” analysed Triazine Network Co-Chairman Gary Marshall of Missouri, a group of farmers arguing for the continued use of the product.

Kansas Corn Growers Association CEO Greg Krissek said: “This is clearly a case of agency overreach.”

Corn farmers would lose an estimated $3.1 billion to $4.6 billion per year, which would increase food insecurity and prices at a time when American consumers can afford it the least.

Adding to that, there are good reasons why atrazine, after glyphosate, remains the second most used herbicide in the United States. Consumers save $4.3 billion to almost $6.2 billion annually because the use of the product lowers prices for dairy products, eggs and meat.

Unbeknownst to environmental activists who support the measure, an effective ban of atrazine would harm the environment. The chemical is essential for no-till farming — a technique that eliminates diesel-fueled tillage and avoids soil erosion.

This keeps carbon dioxide emissions in the soil, and wildlife — such as birds — is less often disturbed by farmers passing over their fields. Farmers who support the continuation of atrazine could hit back at these activists with the adage: “I’m on your side, but you’re not.”

Biden’s politicization of the EPA is an unfortunate and misguided attempt to improve sustainability while inherently achieving the opposite. If the agency moves forward with its plans, it would reduce food security, increase prices, and reduce sustainable farming across the country.

The comment period for farmers continues until September 6. Let’s hope a change of mind is possible for regulators when all farmers have had their say.

Originally published here

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