Tag Archives: GMO labeling

A Story for the Grandkids

Two and a half weeks ago, I had a unique opportunity to sit in front of a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives to share a bit of my farm story. I told them about our cows and about how our farm operates, a little about our history and family, and shared specifically how important biotechnology is on our farm and others like mine around the country. The big topic of the day was (and is) genetic engineering or modification (GM).

How did I get there?

Years ago, I had the opportunity to apply for American Farm Bureau’s Partnership in Agriculture Leadership program. I was accepted along with nine other Young Farmers from across the country. It was a tremendous program and I learned a lot. One idea in particular that has stayed with me was from a former president of National Corn Growers who said it is one thing to have the vision to recognize an opportunity when it comes along. You must also have the courage to take advantage of it.

Fast forward ten years.

What started as an invitation to attend the annual Washington, D.C. meeting for the National Council for Farmer Cooperatives and participate in their young cooperator program, led to sitting on a panel to discuss my experience about blogging and social media and sharing our farm story online, which led to a phone call out of the blue asking if I’d be willing to fill in as a witness at a hearing about the societal benefits of biotechnology for the House Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture. Um, YES!

After about a week and a half of very late nights and early mornings trying to get all my work done, keep up with the farm and the boys and prepare for my testimony, I found myself sitting with three other panelists in front of six members of Congress.

Yes, that's a Jersey Cow on my lapel.

Yes, that’s a Jersey Cow on my lapel.

I’ve taken some time to reflect on that day and the subsequent reactions that I experienced following. Each time I’ve started to write this post, I have found myself getting bogged down in too many details. It’s truly been a whirlwind. The actual hearing lasted nearly two hours. The other panelists were with universities and spoke about their tremendous knowledge and research about GM crops both in the U.S. and other countries, (see link to hearing summary page below). I was the only farmer on the panel and tried to share how biotech fits in our daily operations. When our time was up, there was a very positive vibe in the room, despite realizing a rather somber conclusion: we in science and agriculture have not done enough to convey the benefits (and safety) of GM crops. Thus, we have much work to do.

Perhaps what resonated with me the most from the hearing, were comments made by Ranking Member Kurt Shrader, an organic farmer from Oregon. They were similar to a theme that I’ve been carrying with me for awhile now – at the end of the day, we’re all farmers regardless of the label that is put on the product we’ve made, and there’s room for all of us. Here’s one of his quotes from the day:

“As science and technology advances, it’s important that we do not pit different agriculture systems against one another – we should support all forms of agriculture.”

I’ve had the privilege of receiving generous support and thanks, for which I am grateful, from people I know personally and also from people across the country. I’ve made many new contacts and now have a go-to group of people who are a lot smarter than me that I can bounce the scientific articles off of to help better understand and interpret them.

Of course, I’ve also received some negative tweets, comments, messages and have even been included in an extremely negatively slanted article (sponsored by a company that wants to sell you more burritos) that received a lot of attention, unfortunately. Perhaps the toughest, though, has been facing people close to me, hearing their ideas about GM and our food system which is why they may be fearful or misinformed, and trying to gently share facts with them without causing a rift.

A few days after returning home to the farm, we were putting the cows out to pasture. It was a beautiful morning- cool breeze, warming sun – and as the cows filed past me I think I caught a few nods as a sort of “welcome home.” Really, it was just another day heading up to graze the beautiful top pasture under the watch of Wheeler Mountain. It reminded me why I took advantage of the opportunity to testify, why I put myself out there, no doubt to be judged and questioned.

I’m protecting our way of life. I’m protecting the way we farm and care for our cows. I’m also protecting consumer choice and farmer choice and opportunity. I’m protecting the legacy we are continuing by farming this land, and the legacy we plan to leave the next generation. I know that there are many more people out there like me or that feel the same way that I do, and our work is not done. This was simply my turn to step up and I was happy to do so, and would do it all again.

My full written testimony: Written testimony of Joanna Lidback

A link to the full release including testimony from the other panel members: Subcommittee highlights benefits of biotechnology

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GMO Label Only Perpetuates Wedge Between Farmers

Over the weekend, I wrote my first letter to the editor since high school. While I had been content to post my opinion pieces here, I felt compelled to speak up more locally after reading a response to an article in our local paper that discussed the mandatory GMO labeling law recently signed in Vermont. It should be included in tomorrow’s edition. I’ll keep you posted if there’s any more to report. 

In response to Mr. Lazor’s opinion letter, published in the May 29 Chronicle, I agree that a wedge between organic and conventional farming is present, and the dispute over the use of genetically modified organisms is just one area driving it. The now infamous labeling law recently signed by Gov. Shumlin does nothing more than add to it.

My husband and I are conventional dairy farmers; proud of the animals we raise, the way we farm and the products we produce. It is difficult to discuss this “wedge” if you will, particularly when you clearly fall on one side of the fence or the other. There are specific reasons why a farmer chooses to do things the way he/she does. Inevitably, you may look at farmers on the other side of the fence and question some of their practices. It’s hard to stay neutral, especially if you feel attacked.

I don’t believe Mr. Birch in Bethany Dunbar’s May 22 article necessarily characterized organic farming as low yielding and a recipe for world starvation. Certainly advances have been made to improve organic yields over time just like conventional. As Mr. Lazor quotes the UN, to paraphrase, some organic farming may have the potential to alleviate world hunger; in my opinion, many other methods of farming may as well. The fact is we have an ever decreasing land base and increasing global population and it will take all of agriculture to meet the nutritional needs of people everywhere.

With respect to labeling, I personally am not in favor of this new law. This does not mean, however, that I am not proud of the advances in genetic engineering that have resulted in using “GMO” crops. In my opinion, this level of genetic engineering has sped up traditional plant breeding, making it more efficient and resource-effective. The potential for GMO-crops goes beyond improved yields, less chemicals sprayed and reduced carbon footprints, but also includes drought tolerance (DroughtGard corn launched in 2013), improved nutrition (Vitamin A and Golden Rice) and disease resistance (Rainbow Papayas and the Ringspot Virus in Hawaii), to name a few.

I think government mandated labeling of GMOs perpetuates an unnecessary fear. People have a right to know their food, but that does not equate to a mandated label, particularly as food from GMO crops do not pose any additional food safety or human health threat. The Food and Drug Adminitration requires labeling of anything about a product that affects health and safety or nutrition. Since the introduction of GMO crops to the general public in 1994 (Flavr Savr Tomato), there has not been one documented case of associated illness. A review of 1,783 studies completed between 2002 to 2012 by a team of Italian scientists published in the September 2013 Critical Reviews in Biotechnology could not find a single example of GMO crops posing a threat to humans, animals or the environment. And yes, I have done my own research.

As a taxpayer, it concerns me that the costs associated with mandated labeling and of course the lawsuits it may bring about have not fully been sorted out. It seems the question of who will pay and how much doesn’t matter in many issues these days. While we waste more time and energy debating, defending, making rules and implementing this law, more pressing issues continue to be tabled such as the pervasive drug abuse and associated crime that is increasingly affecting our cities and quaint towns; continued unemployment and the loss of or rather lack of new jobs; the crumbling infrastructure of our roads and bridges; and by the way, how the heck we are going to pay for our new health care system?

And while we deal with our self-induced non-issue mandated-GMO-labeling law, the marketplace will have sorted this out. It will take at least two years just to put our law into place, let along fight the expected legal battles, and already labels (and more farming opportunities I might add) exist in response to consumer request – specifically a “non-GMO” and certified organic label. Additionally, there is proposed Federal legislation that may take our “law” out of play anyway.

The reality is that this a big world, with room for all sorts of farmers – conventional, certified organic, non-certified organic, GMO, non-GMO, no antibiotics, certified humane, animal welfare approved, biodynamic, non-mechanized farmers, John Deere farmers, farmers that are diehard red tractor fans, women farmers, blonde haired farmers, farmers named Bob, etc. In order to reduce or eliminate the “wedge” or maybe “wedges” between farming groups, we need to start letting go of the labels – physically and mentally – and do a better job of explaining why we do things the way we do them while respecting the choices of other farmers.

I don’t need to put a label on the gallon of milk, block of cheese or package of hamburger from our farm to say that I am proud to be a first-generation dairy farmer with my husband, keeping land that has been used for farming for generations in production and taking care of animals that started out as a 4-H project when I was nine years old while raising our kids in this farming lifestyle. Knowing we provide a safe, wholesome, nutritious product for other families and individuals on a daily basis is enough for us.

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Filed under Agriculture, Dairy Industry