Friday, June 17, 2011

Food...The foundation of Everyone's Security

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Food...The Foundation of Everyone’s Security

New York City, Los Angeles, and a small Arkansas town...What do these geographically and culturally diverse locations have in common? A first glance would lead you to believe they have nothing in common, but after a closer investigation, one common tie can be found. Each location whether metropolitan or rural, is affected by America’s leading industry, agriculture. When a family gathers for a Sunday dinner of steak and potatoes, they are reaping the benefits of American farmers. When a vegetarian searches the grocery store isles in search of non-meat products, he or she is facing the effects of American farmers and their agriculture products. In short, American farmers’ are responsible for supplying American’s with their daily bread baskets. As president George W. Bush stated in a recent forum pertaining to America’s nutritional needs, “Food is the foundation of everyone’s security.” No statement could be more true.

Although most American’s simply run to the grocery store and purchase a loaf of bread or a carton of milk, they do not think about where these products come from or who produced them. As scientific technology is expanding by leaps and bounds, so too has agriculture and the methods used to produce the ever increasing demand for use of farm commodities. The rate at which biotechnology in agriculture has swept the U.S. farmland--and beyond--is simply unbelievable. China alone will plant over a million acres of genetically modified cotton. More than half of Canada’s canola crop this year will be genetically modified.

American crops will also rely largely upon genetically modified crops--0 million acres worth--nearly a third of the country’s total farm acreage. Americans now face the question of how far agriculture practices can and will go in order to reach the production ease and accommodated price they are willing to pay for. Bringing genetically modified food to the nation’s table has been a reoccurring question in the minds of consumers and farmers alike. In the past several years, the increasing use and growing supply of genetically altered crops has influenced farmer’s supply and affected consumers’ demands for agriculturally related products. Consumers are asking themselves, “Just what’s coming to dinner?”

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For some, this question is easy to answer. For others, this poses a controversial debate into whether genetically modified crops should be allowed into the American food supply. In half a dozen countries, consumer groups and government policy makers have fired a debate saying that while genetically modified food may feed the starving now, the long-term effects may harm public health and hurt agriculture trade in the future. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, over 0 percent of American corn and at least 70 percent of American soybeans are genetically modified. That means the plants genes have been altered to make crops easier to grow and more pest resistant. Seed developers are able to target a single plant trait without the unintended characteristics that may occur with traditional breeding methods. The current U.S. food market contains almost 60 percent genetically modified food. The GM food supply seems to be endless in a world where food is definitely everyone’s security.

Consumers have responded to the increase in GM food with challenging questions such as the expected effects of GM food use. The enthusiasm is far from unanimous. For instance, two years ago when protein from Starlink corn was found to have a possible human allergen, over 00 corn products were recalled--everything from Taco Bell taco shells to various corn chips and other snacks sold by Kroger and Safeway. Food companies shelled out $ million in order to settle the consumer class action suit for this case.

In more recent months, the seed production giant Monsanto--hoping to avoid a controversy--notified officials of a system slip of canola strains that had never been commercially approved for use. Although no health risks were discovered, the industry’s inability to track the GM food surfaced to the forefront. Consumers now wonder if there will be future health risks as a result of the GM food. There are also rising concerns that foods with transplanted genes may cause allergic reactions. One example is a gene from a nut inserted into another food, possibly triggering allergic reactions in some consumers. Some critics also debate on how accurately the body digests and utilizes biotechnology-derived foods in comparison to traditionally produced foods. Presently there are no visible negative consequences but US citizens wonder what the future will hold. Questions have also arisen pertaining to the environmental effects farmers can expect. Many producers query the debate over the possible occurrence of “super weeds” that would become herbicide resistant and eventually not respond to any form of weed control. Scientists agree that at some point weeds will overcome the seeds’ built in herbicides and insects will eventually become immune to the pesticides encountered in GM seed. From an economic perspective, consumer’s fears of the unknown effects of GM food places a damper on the acceptance of GM products. The question posing before farmers and economists alike is just how these unanswered questions are going to affect the demand for an expanding breadbasket.

Although the economic effects are not completely clear at present, the farmers’ benefits are well defined. From the Eastern Seaboard reaching to the Western hill country, thousands of farmers are “betting the farm” on the new GM crops. GM crops make the farming more efficient. Farmers using GM seed can reduce the costs of insecticides be depleting or significantly decreasing the applications of chemical insecticides aimed at preventing harmful pests such as the European corn borer and the cotton bollworm. Reduced use of insecticides reduces the time the farmer spends in the field and also the costs of applying and reapplying the chemicals. Farmers received higher gross revenues in return although there is a cost.

The herbicide-tolerant, insect-resistant seed creates the need for decreased chemical application, but GM seed usually costs a considerable amount more than traditional seed along with the technology fees that are acquired. The question arises of whether the benefits are more justified than the costs in using the genetically altered crops. In order to clearly define the economic benefits created by GM seed use, several variables must be examined in order to see the real impact on production versus profit. Factors include farm size, operator education and experience, seed price, debt-to-assets ratio, use of marketing or production contracts, irrigation, crop price, use of consultants, and pest pressure. The results of evaluating each variable create an elasticity--the change in a particular impact (pesticide use, yields, or net returns) Conclusions can be drawn across the agricultural sector as more producers embrace the technology. Estimating accurate costs and returns is going to require close examination of the numerous variable factors that could and do have an impact on the farmers’ returns.

In a world where prolonged drought, corrupt government policies, and mismanagement of food supplies has led to a worldwide food shortage, some ask how using technology that would enable increased crop yields can even be questioned. Obviously the crop yields have increased by the use of GM seed but what is the real economic profit? Is producer supply going to overcome the consumer demands? Or have the major seed and chemical companies obtained a way to monopolize farmers into using a selected crop choice solely for the companies economic profit? The risks imposed by GM products are a very complex issue that the American public may never understand. Government authorities can offer intervention and work at providing a successful alley for consumers to turn, but until individuals assess the pros and cons of GM foods, they will be vulnerable to emotional appeals and therefore possible biased GM information. As far as the farmers’ feelings toward GM crops and production methods, the current results are positive. Farmers have found a way to increase their crop yields while using a decreased amount of herbicides and pesticides that are not only costly but could be environmentally harmful.

One fact is clear though, whether farmers ponder the decision of planting transgenic crops or consumers debate over purchasing select food items, bringing GM food to the American table is creating anticipation of positive benefits--better nutritional, pharmacological, and product qualities--that are promised in the future. Obviously food is still “the foundation of everyone’s security” and is still “at the heart of a growing America.”

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