So by now you’re probably aware that the world didn’t end last week, as some readers of the Mayan calendar had prophesied. You may also know that the whole fuss about Apocalypse 2012 was based on a misinterpretation of a Mayan inscription.
Here at Truth about Trade & Technology, our board and Global Farmer Network members spent the year interpreting the news and politics of food—and forecasting a brighter future, as long as it’s based on free trade and doing what we can to ensure that all farmers have access to the technology they need to flourish.
From the start, we tracked the U.S. presidential campaign. In January, right after the Iowa caucuses, Tim Burrackencouraged the GOP to embrace free trade: “When Obama squares off against a Republican—whether it’s [Mitt] Romney, [Rick] Santorum, or someone else—he’ll be able to claim, accurately, that he has increased export opportunities for American farmers and manufacturers.”
In March, John Reifstecktold the candidates to look at export growth as an employment program: “Exports generate jobs—and one of the most important jobs of the president is to generate exports.” Dean Kleckner and other writers chimed in, urging Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority and for the White House to make the Trans-Pacific Partnership a top priority. As summer turned to fall, Bill Horan advised both Obama and Romney to accept a fundamental truth: “Global prosperity depends on an America committed to free-trade leadership.”
When the votes were counted and President Obama was re-elected, John Rigolizzo, Jr.proposed ways to push America’s trade agenda forward, suggesting the appointment of Romney as a special trade ambassador to Latin America. Kleckner proposed Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar as U.S. Trade Representative in Obama’s second term.
The race for the White House dominated our election coverage, but we also responded to the presidential victory of Enrique Peña in Mexico. “He should push for greater acceptance of genetically-modified crops,” wrote Francisco Gurría Treviño, a member of TATT’s Global Farmer Network, in August.
In June, we marked the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Reg Clause helped us look back at a point of U.S. history that offered a bad trade policy lesson for all of us: “Two-hundred years ago this week, America’s worst trade war erupted into America’s worst shooting war.”
For American farmers, this year’s most important election may have taken place in California, where voters considered Proposition 37, a badly flawed ballot initiative to put warning labels on some foods that may contain genetically modified ingredients. “Its wording is full of political agendas, bizarre contradictions, and hidden costs that will drive up your grocery-store bill,” warned Ted Sheely in October. Even members of our Global Farmer Network felt compelled to comment. “If it passes,” wrote Gilbert Arap Borof Kenya, “Proposition 37 will hurt global efforts to improve food production through modern technology.”
Prop 37 suffered a bad defeat. “California voters sent a loud-and-clear message to special interests and anti-biotech agitators last week: Keep your hands off our food,” wrote Sheely in the aftermath. Yet he also cautioned his readers: “Our victory last week is a case study in success, but almost 4.3 million Californians voted against us. We must continue to tell our compelling story.” Within a few weeks, anti-GM activists were talking about new political campaigns in Oregon and Washington.
Whether you farm in India or North Dakota, many farmers suffered through some of the most volatile weather years on record. “How dry is it?” asked Terry Wanzek in August. “It’s so dry farmers need drought-resistant crops. … We need more crop per drop.” Mr. V. Ravichandranadded from India,“I am convinced modern technology holds out the promise of seeds that can endure the worst weather can throw at us.”
One of TATT’s most important roles is to serve as a truth squad—and set the record straight when prominent media figures and publications spread disinformation about farm technology. In January, Horan responded to an article about GM food in The Atlantic: “This is a case study in how misinformation is born—and how it can spread, like a virus,” he wrote.
In April, Carol Keiser-Long bemoaned the smear campaign against a safe beef product that became known as “pink slime”: “Hundreds of Americans have lost their jobs and consumers are on the verge of losing an ingredient that is an excellent example of sustainable agriculture–all because we’ve let sensationalism trump science.” In July, as activists tried to generate another phony controversy over something called “Agent Orange Corn,” Horan warned that “the enemies of agricultural progress have adopted a plan to try to manipulate our emotions by raising the specter of a controversial chemical that is a part of our past and will have no place in our future.”
This spring, Tim Burrack grew so concerned about propaganda that masqueraded as fact that he invited Oprah Winfrey to his farm. “Visit the land that I’ve worked since I was a boy,” he wrote in an open letter. “See this place so that you’ll never again let bad articles on agriculture tarnish the pages of your magazine or the pixels on your website.” In October, Burrack then aimed at Dr. Oz, who “let his program become a soapbox for wild accusations, unsubstantiated claims, and hysterical advice. … Upon pulling back the curtain, we discover that Dr. Oz is no wizard. He’s a charlatan.”
As some continue to push back against the technology, there are clear success stories for us to learn from. Ken Kamiya, a TATT Global Farmer Network member from Hawaii shared how “cutting-edge agriculture defeated disease and saved Hawaiian papayas…even as professional protestors peddle scientific ignorance to frighten the public about this essential food source.”
But our work is not done. TATT Global Farmer Network member Motlatsi Musi, talked about farming around landmines, literally, as South African farmers like himself worked hard to grow maize and other vegetables during the days of apartheid. ”Yet farmers in today’s Africa continue to face landmines of the metaphorical variety: As we try to obtain access to the latest agricultural technology, we see hazardous obstacles everywhere. They must be removed.”
Amid all the columns and controversies, TATT marked an important transition, as longtime chairman Dean Kleckner retired. “We all owe him a tremendous debt for having devoted his life to American farming,” wrote Horan, who succeeded him.
The good news is that Dean plans to continue contribution columns—as do we all, into 2013 and beyond.
Mary Boote serves as CEO for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)