As part of his regular montlhy surveying of at least 1,000 US consumers that match the demographics of the country in age, gender, education and region, Oklahoma State Ag Economics Professor Jayson Lusk tracks the ebb and flow of concern over typical food-safety issues, such as E. coli, Salmonella, GMOs and others.
In February, Lusk threw in an additional question asking survey respondents to pick their favored candidate for the presidential primaries. "Just for fun," he says (because the sampling is not big enough to be highly dependable), he matched the survey respondants' level of concern about certain food issues against their choice of candidate, creating a food-based matrix showing likelihood of candidate support.
Lusk found Donald Trump supporters had the highest concern for E. Coli and placed the lowest relative importance on the food values of naturalness and the environment. Trump supporters also ate the most red meat. Sanders supporters eat the least beef, pork and total meat, and also put the least relative importance on food prices. Clinton supporters were the most concerned about GMOs, and they placed the highest relative importance on naturalness, nutrition and environment when buying food. How do your food concerns and candidate choice measure up?
Nebraska's representatives in Washington have stepped up the fight against what farmers believe to be regulatory over-reach by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding how it intends to regulate small streams, ditches and wetlands. They say they oppose a proposal by EPA to widely expand its oversight of business and farms by changing the definition of waters that fall under the agency's regulation.
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse joined Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe to pen an official letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in late January seeking a formal investigation into whether EPA broke federal law by promoting the so-called Waters of the United States regulation. Sasse's letter followed a December rulling by the Government Accountability Office finding the agency violated the law by using social media to push the regulatory change, including urging people to pressure their congressional representatives. Calling the campaign "covert propaganda," GAO found EPA personnel had posted on nearly 1,000 social media accounts in favor of the regulation without identifying that the messages were coming from a government agency.
“Despite the fact that the Government Accountability Office found that they broke federal law by running a covert propaganda campaign to support their sweeping WOTUS (Waters of the United States) rule, the EPA has doubled down on their lawlessness,” Sasse said in a written statement. “It’s time for the Department of Justice to investigate.”
Sasse's letter comes on the heels of a vote in the Senate by Democrats that blocked the chamber from taking a vote to override President Obama's veto of a law that would have shut down the WOTUS regulations. That vote to invoke cloture was eight votes short of the majority needed to attempt an override, ending the latest Republican attempt to dump the rule.
“The bill the president vetoed would have stopped a rule that threatens the economic security of countless Nebraska families," said Nebraska Senior Senator Deb Fischer. "Nebraskans value clean water. They also work hard to preserve and protect this critical natural resource. While the courts explore the legality of this rule, I will continue the fight to protect Nebraskans from this unnecessary federal intervention.”
Earlier this year, the American Farm Bureau Federation released a set of maps from neighboring Missouri showing how EPA's re-interpretation of the act would "radically expand" its jurisdiction over land use. "That expansion comes even as major parts of the rule remain largely incomprehensible to experts and laypeople, alike," Farm Bureau adds. The maps show the dramatic expansion of EPA's regulatory reach under its new interpetation.
As currently interpreted. The maps' base layer shows areas regulated as tributaries and adjacent wetlands, without what EPA considers a significant connection, which must now be shown on a case-by-case basis.
EPA's interpretation, adding "ephemeral streams." The next map adds low spots in the land that drain and channel water away from farmland after a rain but are otherwise dry. The EPA has sometimes asserted jurisdiction over that type of area in the past, but only when a specific investigation has shown it connects with downstream waters. Under the new rule, all such "ephemeral tributaries" are automatically regulated.
Adding "adjacent waters." By expanding the definition of regulated "adjacent waters" to cover all waters (including wetlands) that lie, even partially, within 100 feet on either side of these newly regulated ephemeral drains, EPA's regulatory reach vastly expands.
Adding the entire flood plains. Next, and according to Farm Bureau where the vast uncertainty for farmers comes in, EPA adds any part of a water or wetland lying within the 100-year floodplain of a tributary, and not more than a quarter-mile from the tributary. Farm Bureau argues the uncertainty springs from the fact that many areas lack flood zone maps, and that most ditches and ephemeral streams lack mapped flood zones. The result is that farmers and other landowners lack even the basic tools to identify wetlands or other waters that are automatically regulated under the rule.
The final reach. The almost unlimited reach of the rule shows in the final map layer that covers waters that are not "tributaries" or "adjacent," but may still be jurisdictional based on a "significant nexus" to downstream waters. Expanding this zone of uncertainty covers the entire landscape in many parts of the country, the group points out.
“This is far from over," Sasse said. "WOTUS still faces a battle in the courts. The president’s disappointing veto sides with overreaching EPA bureaucrats instead of Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers — those who know and care most about agriculture and conservation policy. Nebraskans are committed to seeing this fight through.”
You've heard the accusation: Companies that market genetically modified crops talk a good game about the need to increase farm productivity in order to feed the world, but when all things are considered, their high-tech products really do nothing to feed the hungry. Typical runs the line from Environmental Working Group, for example: "Given that creating just one genetically engineered crop variety can cost upwards of $130 million, you’d think Big Ag companies would invest in strategies that have been proven to work and less on GMOs that may not even increase crop yields. But what corporations really care about is increasing their profits, not feeding a hungry world."
But now a study, presented at this year's annual meeting of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association by Purdue ag economics professor Wallace Tyner, makes the first real attempt to tally the economic and environmental consequences of losing the GMO traits for the major U.S. crops of corn, soybeans and cotton.
Tyner's study first collected from published scientific studies the best predictions for how much U.S. farmers would lose in productivity if they moved completely away from GMO traits. Then, Tyner and his study co-authors plugged those yield losses into a complex mathematical economic model. That model used actual economic data to model--as realistically as possible--how those productivity losses would impact the entire economy.
Their results showed losing the ability to plant GMO crops in those crop categories would cost in several ways:
■ A significant amount of land would need to be converted from other crops, cropland, pasture and forest in order to meet the global demand for food that would not go away simply because farm production declined.
■ The amount of land drawn into producing those three major crops would likely surpass that drawn into use by the entire U.S. ethanol program.
■ Environmental emissions caused by agriculture would increase by between 7 percent and 17 percent.
■ Crop prices would increase. Price changes for corn were as high as 28 percent and for soybeans as high as 22 percent under Tyner’s modeling. Those predicted price increases, again, were on average higher than those actually observed by ethanol mandates.
■ Food costs for consumers would increase by an estimated $14 billion to $24 billion per year.
Receiving his award as the 29th Service to Agriculture Award winner at the Nebraska Rural Radio Association in Lexington, former U.S. Senator, Secretary of Agriculture and Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns paints a challenging picture of the task Nebraska's farmers are up to in the near future.
California state assemblyman Kevin Mullin said his bill to forbid selling meat, milk and eggs in the state from animals that been given an antibiotic for any purpose other than treating a disease was "inspired by the standards now in place in European nations like Denmark...," according to Public Radio International.
But new annual figures from Denmark once again reinforce a little-known dirty little secret about Denmark's antibiotic experience that's not quite so inspirational.
Legislation by Denmark in the early 1990s to similarly restrict its farmers is generally held up as the beginning of a movement Europe-wide to control antibiotic use. Today, Danish farmers, unlike U.S. farmers, may only use antibiotics to treat and prevent specific disease in specific animals, and it must be done under prescription from a veterinarian--much like California's new law requires. Those restrictions, according to advocates of similar legislation in this country, have been a success in cutting Danish animal antibiotic use in half between 1994 and 2000.
But here's the untold story, and it's not pretty.
First, a little context. The World Health Organization classifies all antibiotics, whether they're used in people or in animals, into one of three categories:
When Denmark banned antibiotics for "growth promotion," it was precisely that last category, those antibiotics relatively least important to human medicine, that it removed from the market. Denmark's own monitoring system proves that removing those least important antibiotics actually spurred an increase in animal disease, followed closely by heavier use of the more important antibiotics--those very antibiotics advocates argue are most important to protect from use in animals. That higher use of those more important drugs has continued to this day, despite constant pressure from government to cut it.
If that illustration of the law of unintended consequences weren't bad enough, here's more: When activists praise Denmark even as they condemn American farmers for using "as much as 70 percent of all antibiotics" in animals, not humans, they're ignoring an important statistical reality. In contrast to those U.S. estimates, which Farmer Goes to Market has warned you are often inflated, manipulated, and based on human antibiotic usage estimates that are unknown and formed from decades-old guesswork, the Danish government carefully counts and publicly reports all its antibiotic use, both animal and human. And the results?
The 2014 report shows the percent of antibiotics used in animals remains steady at approximately 68 percent of all antibiotics prescribed. But the alarming part of that untold story is Denmark uses 70 percent of its critically important or highly important anbiotics in animals. In the United States, precisely because farmers are still permitted to do so by the government, a large portion of antibiotics they use are those considered least important to human medicine.