Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stay Calm & Farm On!

Today started with an interesting twist. My son has had a difficult week with issues at school. This morning I told him my best advice was to "stay calm and study on." Little did I know that in a short time, this saying would come back and help me deal with attention from an article in a national newspaper. . As I drank my morning coffee, I opened my email to find an article that included me in the New York Times. It was shared on a listserv by a member of the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group to which I belong (remember I was an RD before I was a farmer). WHAT? Why on earth would the New York Times care about me and why would I be included in an article?  So here is the link to the article:


The crux of the problem with this article and the way it came about was that NO ONE contacted me to inquire about my business relationships or to verify what was being written about me. This was an absolute broadside. I've never heard of Stephanie Strom, nor did she contact me to confirm the information she received from whatever source she thought was valid. Sadly, this illustrates what is wrong with today's journalists, the lack of integrity. A story is a story for the headlines and screw the accuracy because accuracy would make it a non-story.

THEN, I got my first tweet about the article! It said: 

"@FarmGirlJen Why are you in bed with #Monsanto #GMO?" 

(Oh no! What if my husband finds out?.....) 

This tweet came from a woman who calls herself a "Spiritual Teacher & Healer." Not sure she remembered her spiritualness when she tweeted me. I didn't find it very healing nor did she try to find out the facts first before she sent out that tweet. Only in her 2nd tweet did she ask what the facts were.... REALLY?

I have been speaking about agriculture, biotechnology, and farming systems for many years now.I  show yield data from our farm comparing our conventional, organic (formerly), and biotech yields and methods, talk about our farming practices and why we do what we do and how its changed over the generations. Its all about how we make decisions on our family farm and why.  When I give presentations, I  list the companies that my family farm does business with and any background about me that folks who are narrow-minded will assume makes me biased or otherwise unable to be objective, as was noted in the NY Times article. So what I did do was fully disclose all of our family farm's business associations with seed companies, chemical companies, commodity groups, and national and regional agri-businesses on the disclosure form for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I don't personally have direct dealings with all of them but I knew that if I did not list them all, that something like this would happen. Lo and behold..... it did. Did anyone else feel obligated to disclose where they purchase supplies for their business? ( By the way, I buy my paper from Staples, and this computer came from CompUSA. I buy groceries at Food Lion and shop at Tractor Supply for my clothes... I'm a farm girl not a fashionista). I also listed the prize money I won for being chosen as one of America's Farm Mom of the Year.  I did not disclose that the funds went into my kids college funds and to local non-profits including my church food pantry. Shame on me! 

For the record, I do not know if Monsanto has a "test farmer" program but if they do, I and my family farm am not part of it. We do LOTS of on-farm research which I blogged about last year: Growing Answers: On-Farm Research

So after my initial shock, I adopted my own advice that I had given my son but adapted it to suit my situation.  Today my mantra was: 
  "Stay calm and farm on." 

24 comments:

  1. Jennie- This is a great post and you have a great sense of humor. I'm sorry you got compromised like this. I think the real issue that needs to be addressed is the transparency of the Academy's processes and adequate communications in a timely manner with all members on how and why they do things the way they do. If we all know the rules of the game, there can be no surprises.

    I'm proud to be an RD and Academy member because my colleagues are brilliant. Our diversity makes us strong. Our profession has serious health and hunger issues to address and we can't let these hiccups stifle our mission. We need all hands on deck and open and critical minds.

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    1. Thanks Ashley, my real issue is the lack of integrity by the reporter for not contacting me to verify what she published. I think the ethical standards for journalism are higher than that and its unfortunate that the process was not followed.

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  2. Great job Jen. I have seen journalists do stories based on Facebook and Twitter posts and been "quoted" without ever speaking to a reporter. You are wonderful at illustrating the very real challenges for today's farmers. Stay strong friend!

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  3. Proud of you Jennie! From bad journalism to bad science, headlines happen. And you are absolutely right... had the journalist sought answers, it would have turned out exactly to be what it was anyway - a non-story. Fear-mongers and headline-grabbers are rarely interested in the truth or science, for that matter.

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    1. Thanks Dave, appreciate your comments and have discovered in the last 48 hours that it really doesn't matter what the facts are, people will make assumptions and conclusions with no background or context. Ultimately it doesn't matter what I say because social media does it for me...!

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  4. Speaking of Truth and Science, as per David's post@4-12-'13, do you have any information on the nutritional value of the 'new' GE crops compared to the food of 50 yrs. ago ? I know you get more bushels per acre, but what about vitamin and mineral content per bushel ? I am concerned about the loss of micro nutrients, please address these issues, I have spent 50 yrs. feeding, defending, and building America-I just want to know

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    1. Hi dp, that's a very good question. The bottom line is foods will or won't contain nutrients based on a variety of reasons well beyond what type of "farming system" that is employed. Nutrients vary by soil type which is dictated by the parent material of that soil. So my soils on the Delmarva are inherently different than other regions of the country and foods will represent regionally what that soil type of capable of.

      Beyond that through agronomic practices, nutrients in food are connected to soil quality, plant health, seasonal variations, cultivar selection, growing conditions, water availability at critical timings and cultural practices (cover crops, culling, leaf thinning, row direction, etc...), all of which have significant impact on plant nutrient availability. These are not "organic" or "conventional" practices as they are employed throughout much of agriculture.

      The most critical factor that influences a plant's nutrients is the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of a soil which measures the positively charged ion adherence to soil particles and organic matter. CEC is essentially the nutrient saturation of the soil and therefore what is available in the soil to the crop for nutrient uptake. CEC is something most farmer's pay close attention to as what is available to the plant through the soil affects both yield and quality.

      Just because a nutrient is available in the soil does not mean uptake by the plant is proportional. A soil high in potassium will limit the plant's uptake of calcium or magnesium, even if those nutrients are adequate in the soil. A soil with a too high or too low pH for the crop that is planted will not facilitate plant nutrient uptake. A dry soil such as a drought, restricts the availability of the cations to move into solution and be available to the plant's root.

      The impact of nutrients in food is largely dependent on these factors moreso than if the seed is GMO or non-GMO

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  5. Wait, I'm not sure the actual issue is being address. Why was Carole dismissed? What was the process for this taking place? Why wasn't she able to defend her scope of work?

    I agree that Jennie was mis-represented in the NYT article, but again, the REAL story is "transparency of the Academy's processes and adequate communications in a timely manner".

    There is a story here...a very important one.

    Jennie- you agree that Carole should not have been removed fromt he committee. Both of you have important perspective that should be heard on the issue.

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    1. Carole Bartolotto was the author of the Kaiser newsletter piece attacking GMOs, that Kaiser had to later say "presents her views and insights on the subject" and disclaim as a Kaiser view. On her website is a blog post similar to the newsletter article in which she references the discredited Seralini study and uncritically says "Other studies have found that animals [fed GMOs] were losing their ability to reproduce." So it's not like she came into the process with an open mind...

      But the whole episode is very unfortunate, because regardless of the ultimate recommendation of this diet council, her dismissal will allow the activists to tar its conclusions as biased.

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    2. I do believe that both Carole and I bring a lot to the committee from opposite ends of the spectrum. If I weren't on the committee, then the committee is devoid of anyone who actually farms, has an agronomic background and experience with all 3 farming systems. My knowledge and perspective is an asset as is Carole's.

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  6. Hi,
    I will be writing a blog post regarding why I decided to talk to the NYT, but I wanted to make a comment about foster-boondoggles comment, since you know nothing about me, my process, my character etc.

    I started out with a very open mind but as time when on, I realized that, in fact, we really have no data on the long-term health effects in humans. Additionally, a lot of very unusual occurrences are happening surrounding GMOs, with regards to their health effects, their effects on the environment, and the politics (such as what happened to me) see link for one such example: http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090902/full/461027a.html.

    I have talked with scientists on both sides of the spectrum, and I have to say that without definitive info that they are safe, I find it incomprehensible and irresponsible that they are not, at minimum, labeled.

    One of my major concerns with AND is that evidence suggests, "the existence of either financial or professional conflict of interest was associated to study outcomes that cast genetically modified products in a favorable light (p = 0.005)."(Diels 2011) and that most scientists surveyed who did not have a financial or professional conflict of interest, "had a moderately negative attitude to GM crops and emphasized the uncertainty and ignorance involved" (Kvakkestad 2007).

    If AND wants to be taken seriously, it need to look at this and other evidence before putting out position papers or making decisions about who is on a committee etc.

    I also suggest that you watch the HEN webinar about GMOs and see what Dr Hanson, has to say about the studies you say are discredited and Dr Benbrook has to say about pesticide use.

    I hope you can look at this situation with an open mind.

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    1. Carole –

      Coming to all this as an outsider (to ag tech) with a hard science PhD, this looks to me like an open & shut issue.

      (1) GM is a method for producing a new plant type - it's not a substance that permeates food. Sugar from GM beets is just sugar. Ditto for GM soybean oil. Anyone who says “GMOs are harmful” without at least getting somewhat specific is just blowing smoke. If sugar from GM beets is bad (other than because it’s sugar) what’s the mechanism? You’re a dietitian, so you’re familiar with biology. What is it about that sugar or that oil that’s supposed to be hazardous?

      (2) There's no plausible mechanism for harm that hasn't been tested extensively, by academic researchers as well as by industry (e.g., toxicity of Bt to mammals). Glyphosate – one of the things Seralini studied – is not itself part of GMOs and, like other herbicides has been extensively studied for toxicity. And it’s not like if GMOs went away farmers would stop using herbicides. The primary one that glyphosate replaced (atrazine) is significantly more toxic and was banned in the EU.

      (3) The Seralini study wasn't dismissed by just some industry shills. It was heavily criticized by a large number of professional academics both for methodology, and perhaps as importantly, for the conduct of "science by press release" - information was released in a way designed to get maximum publicity with ground rules that prevented journalists from having the study critiqued by other scientists. (Both the European Food Safety Authority and the Germany Federal Institute for Risk Assessment strongly critiqued the paper after it was released.) Seralini, of course, is a long-time critic of GMOs, but no one on the anti- side seems to think his preconceptions are a concern in evaluating his work.

      You're arguing against statements from major scientific associations (AAAS, AMA, etc.) that agree on the science. The Diels study is not online as far as I can tell, and I noticed that the abstract (from the one place I found it quoted) did not find the connection you claimed among non-industry studies.

      Finally you ask for “definitive” evidence that GMOs are safe. What would count as definitive that hasn’t been done? These things have been studied far more extensively than non-GM crops and are under much tighter regulatory control. (There’s basically no regulatory control for non-GM crops.)

      I don’t know who “HEN” are and what their webinar might say. (I know Benbrook talks about “pounds” of herbicide as though that’s some kind of useful metric.) I do know that there’s an enormous amount of mythology circulating out there. I try to keep an open mind, but not so open that my brain falls out.

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    2. Thanks to both for your comments Carole & Foster. I appreciate informative and respectful comments.

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  7. "most scientists surveyed who did not have a financial or professional conflict of interest, "had a moderately negative attitude to GM crops and emphasized the uncertainty and ignorance involved" (Kvakkestad 2007"

    You are quoting a Norwegian philosopher from a no-name journal with an impact factor of 1.3 in a discussion about the safety of transgenic crops. GMO foods have been tested more than any other consumer product ever sold, have you even reviewed the literature? It seems like you've been spending your time on Jeffrey Smith's blog considering the flimsiness of your argument.

    And your other two "sources" are the Director of THE ORGANIC CENTER (whose study is absolute garbage and considers the weight of Bt in a plant as insecticide use- have you read it?) and an atmospheric physicist.

    I would suggest having a better grasp on the literature before making any speaking arrangements.

    -US Farmer (though not a "test" farmer-never heard of that until your article LOL)

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  8. Thanks James, I think research is one of the most challenging areas because multiple conclusions can be drawn from the same dataset. The media only exacerbate the situation by sensationalizing results. They don't check to see if the results are statistically significant, if there was a sufficient "n", or if the research followed scientific process.

    My blog was not about the pros or cons of biotechnology nor about the dietetic association's handling of the issue, but with the reporter exercising due diligence to ensure the accuracy of her article before publication. To me, that's simply a matter of journalistic integrity. Now others have followed suit and published the same information, none of whom have ever contacted me.

    The resulting hateful emails and messages I've received have astounded me. Fortunately, I have a good support network including a friend and neighbor who is an organic farmer & CSA who told me "This is what all successful folks have happen. Everyone cheers your way to the top and then when they think you're big enough, one by one, they tear you up and stomp on you." I thought it was pretty apropos!

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    1. "Now others have followed suit and published the same information, none of whom have ever contacted me."

      You are now part of the GMO hysteria machine. This story will be edited, copied, and pasted into every earth blog GreenPeace is associated with. My advice is to not speak or respond to any of these frothing-at-the-mouth brainless parrots (starting with the blogger below me).

      "organic farmer & CSA who told me "This is what all successful folks have happen. Everyone cheers your way to the top and then when they think you're big enough, one by one, they tear you up and stomp on you." I thought it was pretty apropos!"

      I wish i could agree with you, Jennie. My bet, however, is that if the tables were turned and you were successful as an organic farmer (only) and were an anti-GMO advocate, you would NEVER receive those types of emails and calls from the pro-GMO crowd. The anti-GMO side has completely lost it and hopefully this thing blows up in their face sooner than later.

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    2. Thanks James, its interesting because in our area there is no "us" versus "them". We are good friends with several organic farmers in our area. Coexistence does work which we showed on our farm and we practice every day with our neighbors. I think that it essentially what it boils down to - are you a good neighbor with open communication. It goes so much farther than judgments and assumptions. At least, it works for us anyway. Besides good stewardship we are all about being good neighbors to our farm and non-farm neighbors and community.

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    3. are you a good neighbor if you spray poison in the air that can get onto other neighbors crops? its all about the money money money

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    4. Thanks JR Stacy for that question. No that would not meet my definition of being a good neighbor. If you see me spraying, it is entirely possible that I am using something like sulfur, copper, dipel (organic Bt insecticide), potassium/sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), oxidate (hydrogen peroxide), all of which are OMRI. Is organic drift OK? Or just not synthetic?

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  9. Being a journalist, I wanted to track down all this information myself. The "America's Farm Mom" program, website and awards, come from Monsanto, directly, and directly attributed to them. Its not even a sub-company. Even the domain name is owned by them.

    So my question would be, did you know you were competing in a Monsanto driven contest for a cash award?

    As a secondary question, do you use the Monsanto products mostly everywhere on your farm, or do you also have organic areas of the farm (comparable sizes)?

    On those GMO, Monsanto growth areas, do you eat what grows from there, like the corn, etc?

    thanks.

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  10. Rhawk301 - Thank you for asking! That's EXACTLY what I wish the NY Times journalist has done before publication.

    1. I did not "compete" for the contest. My then 11 & 13 year old children nominated me. I'm not going to take away from their accomplishment nor does it matter to me "whose" program it is. If Organic Valley or Stonyfield had Farm Mom recognition programs with cash awards, would it have become controversial? I think not.
    2. The American Agri-Women Association reviewed all the nominations and chose 5 regional winners. I was the Northeast region winner.
    3. The National Farm Mom title was selected via public online voting. I did not win the national title. Having said that, I am honored to have been chosen as a regional winner out of more than 700 nominations. There are a lot of farm women running businesses, caring for families, and providing leadership in the agricultural community. It means a lot to me to be counted among so many strong rural women!
    4. Yes, from the beginning I knew it was funded by Monsanto.Had anyone of our seed suppliers run this program, I'd have been happy to still have been nominated. We choose our suppliers because of the quality of their product and their customer service. All our suppliers are local neighbors with whom we are happy to do business. That is the fabric of the rural economy and epitomizes the "buy local" movement. Our suppliers are local family-owned businesses often with kids in the same school system as mine.
    5. We source GMO and non-GMO from about 4 or 5 different seed companies, as I said, using local seed dealers. We choose our seed based on the results from University test trials for the MidAtlantic region and varieties that have performed well for us in the past. Data from the MidWest is meaningless to us as it is an entirely different conditions with very different soil types. We select seed based on data showing adaptability (wet vs dry conditions), standability, disease resistance, and yield. We have near equal portions of GMO and non-GMO corn and soybeans. There is NO such thing as commercial GMO barley, wheat,grass hay, tomatoes, green beans, or winegrapes which make up the bulk of our other crops. We are a highly diversified family farm trying to add value to each and every acre by growing a variety of crops.
    6. We no longer farm organically and decertified those acres 2 years ago because for us, it was not sustainable. Note: I am NOT saying organic is not sustainable. I am also NOT criticizing organic agriculture. I am saying it was not sustainable FOR US. Sustainability is not a cookie-cutter definition with one size fits all. We have an incredible amount of conservation practices and stewardship initiatives and have invested heavily in precision agriculture technology and equipment that reduce inputs, saves resources, lowers CO2 emissions, protects water quality, and preserves top soil. We are a highly sustainable farm as we take the best of all farming systems and practice them with good stewardship on our land. Our soil is our livelihood and improving it is our goal and our priority.
    7. The GMO crops that we grow are either grown for seed or livestock feed, so no, we don't eat them. The non-GMO soy we grow is food-grade and goes to many small family soy/tofu processors in the DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC area. I do not eat those either because I don't care for tofu or soy in general.
    8. As I said in the blog, we do not do any research ("test farmer") for Monsanto and never have. We do lots of on-farm research for ourselves because we are always striving to improve our farm or for other seed or fertilizer companies who want to have research plots, or for conservation organizations looking to try new farming practices, and for the University of Maryland looking for information on variety trials, conservation, water quality, fertilizer management, etc...

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  11. it sickens me that this writer is so much more concerned with his own reputation, the reputation of genetically modified organisms, and money than the health affects of these same organisms

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