November 1, 2014

“Father” of GMOs says opponents are a minority, extremists

WheatThe debate over genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — in food has been heating up in Nebraska and nationwide in recent months.

Robert Fraley, a top researcher at crop-seed maker Monsanto, is often referred to as “the father of agricultural biotechnology.”

Fraley says he’s convinced opponents of GMOs represent a small percentage of consumers.

“Those are extreme voices,” Fraley says. “As I travel and talk to audiences, the vast majority of people are in the middle.”

Fraley estimates 70 to 80% of Americans believe genetically modified foods are safe.

The latest issue of National Geographic features a cover story about the role of genetics in food production.

Dennis Dimick, executive environment editor at the magazine, says biotechnology is critical to solving the problem of feeding nine-billion people — the world’s estimated population by 2050.

Dimick says, “In a world where we need to improve productivity, things like drought, salt, and heat tolerant crops are so important and should be allowed to happen, even if they do involve the use of genetic engineering.”

In November, voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide if manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers should be required to label foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering.

In recent years, similar measures in California and in Washington state were narrowly rejected after millions of dollars were spent by Monsanto and other labeling opponents to defeat the campaigns.

 

Former NDEQ Director raises questions about “Waters of US” proposal (AUDIO)

A former director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality says the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to fix something that isn’t broken in its controversial proposal to expand the Clean Water Act.

Former NDEQ Director Mike Linder has analyzed the EPA move to update the Clean Water Act, called “Waters of the United States” on behalf of Common Sense Nebraska, a group opposed to the change.

“So, the first part of my summary is they’re trying to fix the 404, the federal program, and I think they’ve broadened the jurisdiction and I don’t think they’ve really fixed it very well,” Linder tells reporters on a conference call.

Section 404 covers the wetlands permit program operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Linder, an attorney with Koley Jessen of Omaha, says currently the Corps determines on a case-by-case basis which rivers, streams, creeks, and ponds are covered by the Clean Water Act and which are exempt from regulation. He says the EPA effort to define those bodies of water is problematic.

The change also would affect programs traditionally overseen by the states.

Linder says the change could encroach on those state-run programs that have operated under a cooperative federalism since the Clean Water Act became law in the early 1970s. In Nebraska, the state works with farmers and livestock producers on compliance.

“If I were a producer I would be a little bit confused as to how this would impact my operation,” Linder says. “And if I had had an exemption or other decision by the state agency that now could be changed by this definition, I would want to have that clarification made.”

Linder speculates the change could also extend EPA’s regulator power to groundwater, which hasn’t been subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. The EPA has stated it does not have jurisdiction over groundwater, but Linder says some definitions need to be revised to clearly indicate that.

Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water with the EPA, Ken Kopocis, denied the proposed changes would extend the EPA’s reach onto the farm.

“We believe that the proposed rule would cover fewer waters than what the current rule covers. So, we do not believe that we’re expanding jurisdiction,” Kopocis told Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview from this Washington, D.C. office in August.

Linder, responding to a question about Kopocis’ statement, says he couldn’t see how the proposed expansion would not broaden the reach of the EPA.

Linder says he would prefer EPA withdraw the proposal and work to better enforce current law.

“So, I don’t know, they’re trying to fix something that’s not broken with the other programs.”

EPA is accepting public comment on the proposed rule through November14th.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau is encouraging comments opposed to the rule change be posted on ditchtherule.fb.org.

PDF of Linder analysis of EPA proposal

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

USDA to survey Nebraska farmers on chemical use

SoybeansA sample of Nebraska corn growers will soon be asked to report on their use of pesticides and fertilizer.

The Agricultural Resource Management Survey is conducted on different crops each year and 2014 is a corn year.

Greg Thessen, the regional director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, says once the data is collated and released to the public, it’s a tool policymakers can use to evaluate proposed changes.

Thessen says, “This provides a good source of information for them to take a look at see, okay, if they change a policy what impact is that going to have on farmers and how they grow crops or corn in particular.”

Thessen says several hundred Nebraska farmers will be polled for this year’s corn survey. The information gathered will be released in public reports beginning next May.

Thessen says the survey gives farmers a chance to tell the government how they grow their crops.

He says, “What kind of inputs it takes as far as fertilizer and pesticides go, as well as any pest management practices, and really show other people that may not be involved with agriculture how they are good stewards of the land.”

Thessen says selected farmers will receive a notice in the mail and then a USDA employee will visit the farmer to record detailed information about the use of chemical inputs.

He says one use is for the Environmental Protection Agency to see whether products are being used according to their labels.

 

Bridge repairs & unfunded mandates among top issues for county leaders

County leaders from across the state will gather in Kearney this week for the annual legislative conference of the Nebraska Association of County Officials.

Executive director Larry Dix says several issues are on the agenda, including the zoning debate that’s underway in the state.

“There’s a number of reports that are somewhat concerning in the number of head of livestock that we have,” Dix says. “There’s been some recent discussion about some dairies looking at the state of Nebraska. We just want to have a conversation about our zoning regulations. Are they adequate, are they what they should be?”

Dix says there will be a presentation about the effects the EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule would have on county road maintenance. He says the association has also compiled its platform and legislative priorities.

“We’ve been working very hard on unfunded mandates and looking for additional funding for bridge repairs,” Dix says. “Unfunded mandates is one of those where both of the candidates that are running for governor have openly talked about it and said we’ve got to do something as it relates to property tax.”

An engineering consultant for several counties estimates the cost to replace or upgrade all substandard bridges in Nebraska could exceed $2 billion.

Dix says they’ll also discuss fiscal notes and the counties’ role in making sure the state understands the impacts of state policy on local government. The conference will be held Thursday in Kearney.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton

 

Supreme Court to decide dispute over Republican River usage (AUDIO)

Attorney General Jon Bruning

Attorney General Jon Bruning

A dispute between Nebraska and Kansas over use of water flowing from the Republican River is now in the hands of the United States Supreme Court.

Attorney General Jon Bruning is confident the Supreme Court will validate the decision reached by a special master it appointed, who rejected Kansas’ claim Nebraska owed it $80 million and reduced it to $5.5 million.

Still.

“There’s no certainties in this,” Bruning tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview shortly after oral arguments before the court. “The justices, they ask questions on both sides of the issue. At one point, you’re certain Justice A or B is on your side and then they ask another question and you think, well, they’re on the other side.”

Kansas has reduced the compensation it claims Nebraska owes in briefs filed with the court. Kansas now asks that Nebraska pay it $25 million for the over-use of the Republican River by Nebraska farmers and ranchers in 2005 and 2006.

Bruning says he holds out hope that not only will the court reject the $25 million dollars requested, but will even lop off $1.8 million from the $5.5 million suggested by the special master. That was added as a penalty to the settlement.

A second issue is at play.

Nebraska wants to change the accounting method used to allocate water from the Republican River. Kansas has argued that it never would have agreed to the 2002 settlement with Nebraska if that method were used.

Bruning is less confident Nebraska will win on that issue.

A compact Congress approved in 1943 allocates 49% of the Republican River to Nebraska; 40% to Kansas and 11%.

Bruning points out water use is vital both for irrigation of crops and watering of livestock; in other words, vital to Nebraska’s number one industry.

“It’s certainly high-stakes stuff and we’re going to defend our producers who have done so much to modify their usage and reduce their usage of water.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]