|Growing concerns for farmers|
|Written by BILL RYAN Sentinel Farm Editor|
|Saturday, 04 January 2014 09:33|
Members of the Wood County Farmers Union are a united force working towards the sustainabililty of family farms.
Despite the strengths of local agriculture, there are obstacles on the horizon which can challenge producers.
At a recent meeting of several members, along with Roger Wise, president of the Ohio Farmers Union, they spoke about some of the challenges facing area farmers.
While the organization focuses on a wide spectrum of issues facing growers, at this meeting they addressed three primary concerns, genetic changes in seeds, factory farms and ethanol.
Phil Bresler, president of the Wood County group, is very concerned about the recent study showing that genetically modified organisms create potential health hazards to humans.
The GMOs are largely controlled by major corporations such as Monsanto.
The studies they reference - which are not based on studies on humans - nonetheless show potential long-term risks from the altered traits of grain seeds.
The study showed liver damage and kidney problems in hamsters after three generations of being fed a GMO diet.
While acknowledging the use of the seeds is prevalent in fields, Wise noted one of the biggest challenges is the fact that Monsanto is strongly fighting against labeling.
The corporation has fought to keep governments from labeling regulations which would require products to identify them as containing GMO products.
Even more astounding to the group is that Monsanto fought and won a battle which would ban products from labeling themselves as not containing GMO product.
Wise asked, "If there is not a concern about the product, why would they be afraid of labeling?"
Bresler added, "Monsanto is throwing a lot of money around because the demand is growing against the GMOs."
Members of the group noted their advocacy of Save Our Seeds.
Save Our Seeds is a European initiative in favor of the purity of seeds against GMOs. The group also advocates for preservation of conventional and organic seeds without GMO.
Bresler noted what he calls a myth that the GMO seeds produce greater yields, however admitted that they are effective in controlling weeds.
Charla Lord, a spokesperson from Monsanto's office in St. Louis, said many answers are addressed at the GMO Answers website. This is a cooperative effort by companies including Monsanto, as well as growers groups such as the soybean and corn growers' associations have developed to provide answers to questions by the public.
Lord said there are a variety of experts who contribute the answers to the questions posed.
The Monsanto website states its position on labeling noting, in part, "We oppose current initiatives to mandate labeling of ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks. Such mandatory labeling could imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts."
Tom Harrison, secretary-treasurer of the Wood County group, noted that the media is playing an important role in educating the public about the GMO issues.
"The consumer is seeing this as more and more important. The media, indirectly are involved as they are putting more questions in the consumer's mind. People want to know more but transparency doesn't exist."
Wise also shared how their union is cautious about the larger, so called factory farms.
"We believe that nobody has to be vertically integrated. There is some legitimate concerns that factory farms are going to be sustainable," he said.
He added the concerns focus on the extreme concentration of animals in one area and having enough acres to handle the volume of phosphorous which is contained in the manure.
That concern, though not totally attributable to agriculture, is one of the hazards to the health of Lake Erie. The high phosphorous from agriculture, industries and municipalities are a contributing factor to the algae bloom problems in the lake.
Larry Askins, vice president, of the Wood County farmers group, added, "We are not against the larger operations if things are done right. They need the infrastructure and land base to support this phosphorous loading."
The Ohio legislature is considering a bill focusing on the health of Ohio's Great Lake.
"Senate Bill 150 left out manure management entirely," Wise said.
In fact, one portion of the bill reads, in part, that a permitted livestock facility "shall not be required by any political subdivision of the state or any officer, employee, agency, board, commission, department, or other instrumentality of a political subdivision to obtain a license, permit, or other approval pertaining to manure, insects or rodents, odor, or siting requirements for installation of an animal feeding facility."
Askins concurs the bill "ignores animal waste."
Wise explained the volume of waste being generated per cow is three times the waste per human. With that many head in one place, he and the Farmers Union believe it should be treated similar to a municipal waste disposal plant.
Members of the group also noted the damage to county and township roads which is being done by the heavy truck traffic to the larger dairies.
Wise noted that one of the biggest challenges for corn growers is to combat the image of the "food versus fuel" concept when applied to the use of corn for ethanol production.
He added that some Ohio ethanol plants are now developing the infrastructure for cellulosic feed stock and other materials to be used for ethanol production.
He also said that the corn being used is not designed for human consumption, it is animal feed corn and only the sugar of the corn is used for the fuel. After being processed for the ethanol, the DDG, or distilled grain remaining is still a viable product for the feed. There truly is not a loss of food for humans nor livestock.
Bresler noted that roughly four or five companies control the fuel oil market. He feels they are trying to oppose the increase use of ethanol for their own profits.
"My personal opinion is the oil companies know this is the future. I think they will buy into the ethanol plants and then tout ethanol as their product for the future," Bresler said.
Issues and advocacy
The Ohio Farmers Union pursues public policy that supports the family farmer and consumers. They work on behalf of legislation that enhances family farmers with a belief that "Bigger is not always better and consumers benefit from robust local farming economies which support locally grown and produced food and fiber."
The issues addressed here can be very contentious with various opinions even within the farming community. However, these are some of the issues modern farmers must address in addition to handling their fields, barns and livestock.
John Bresler, Farm Service Agency state committee member, was mostly silent at the meeting, but said it is important that all growers and producers be aware and diligent toward good stewardship. He also shared that everyone at every level needs to adjust. "We do have to make changes."
Phil Bresler said most of all these issues are long-term concerns, yet need to be addressed.
"This is not for us, it's for our kids and grandkids. We need to leave this place a little better or at least as good as it was. We are not doing this now."
Ohio Farmers Union
Save Our Seeds
Grocery Manufacturers Association address GMO
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