Last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack left the farm community in Iowa he once represented in the lurch. He pandered to the anti-agriculture left wing advocacy groups to set back bio-technolgy (by a decade at least) by leaving up in the air the safety of a pesticide-resistant form of alfalfa. He did so by ignoring an internal report from his own department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which gave the alfalfa strain a clean bill of health. He gave equal weight to the biased, non-scientific opinions of anti-bio-tech groups, saying they could all meet and come up with restrictions that will insure the safety of this new seed.
The anti-agriculture groups hope to pull the rug out from under conventional agriculture by promoting only “organic” farming, which amounts to less than 5 percent of all U.S. farm crops and cost twice as much. Their argument is that this new alfalfa seed should not be allowed near organic farms for fear its seed could drift and contaminate organic crops. I have nothing against organic farmers who wish to jump through hoops in order to earn their high prices, but their freedom should not impede our primary agriculture production.
This ruling could begin a snowball of new impediments to the growth of genetically modified (GM) grains which have in the past decade dramatically increased our farm yields, and made our foods healthier and more nutritious while largely eliminating the various vermin which threaten the health of our crops. In the 20 years that genetically modified seeds have been planted, not a single negative health effect has been encountered, nor have any adjoining non-GM crops been contaminated.
This development has personally shattered my opinion of a man I once saw as a surprisingly astute governor. We shared a podium at a farm meeting while he was governor of Iowa, and Vilsack gave a brief and precisely accurate talk on the wonderful future of agricultural biotechnology. I followed him on stage and complimented his technical understanding of this complex subject. It has been shocking to see this intelligent man from the nation’s heartland cowed by the leftist environmental forces that surround Washington’s politicians.
Vilsack thinks he is being fair and balanced in his desire to please everyone. But he is actually opening the door to unscientific ridicule of one of the greatest advances in food production in our lifetime. Alfalfa may not be an important crop when it comes to feeding our nation and the world. But with their foot in the door here, questions will next be raised on corn and soy and wheat – which obviously do, indeed, feed the world.
While President Obama has not been as successful as he had hoped in legislatively turning the county into a weak socialist nation, his appointees at the FCC (Julius Genachowski), Energy (Steven Chu), Environment (Lisa Jackson) and Agriculture (Vilsack) are effectively getting the job done with continuous end-runs around the Congress. One can only hope that the 90 new members of the House of Representatives can seize the reins from these liberal appointees and let the will of the public once again be heard in Washington.
Jay Lehr is the science director for The Heartland Institute.