Unfair comparison of subsidies?
IN A RECENT radio programs and news articles the topic has been the lack of agreement at the world trade talks held in Mexico. There was a great deal of focus on subsidies and the general assumption that a pound of fish or bale of commodity from country X was the same as a pound or bale from country Y. I found this equivalence attitude to be flawed and it drives to the heart of why the trade talks are missing an essential point.
All agricultural commodities are not equal because they are not created equally.
Most developed countries have many regulations and government restrictions on how an agricultural product is produced. Farmers in developed countries spend time in mandated training sessions, must follow restrictions as to pesticide use and keep records to demonstrate they are following laws laid out to protect both consumers and the environment.
They must also constantly keep up with proposed new legislation and contribute dues to producer organizations to represent them in state and national matters. Subsidies help defray a fraction of these extra costs.
Agricultural producers in developing countries frequently ignore best management practices and face little if any government regulation. The cost of testing huge quantities of imported materials for residues and contaminants is of course time consuming and prohibitively expensive. And of course this is no test that will show damage done to the environment by poor agricultural practices in another country.
Until there are standard worldwide enforceable practices for production of each given agricultural commodity, subsidies should not be retired as a mechanism to help regulated responsible farmers in developed countries with the extra costs they encounter in producing agricultural commodities in proper manner.
Consumers need to know how a commodity is produced and its country of origin. With this information the consumer should be the final judge of whether products are equal and if the price is right.
Extension Aquaculture Specialist
IN YOUR Oct. 17 article, “Global warming and farming,” Eric Chivian of the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard University noted that the earth's surface has been warming over the last century and claimed there was “little debate — and no significant disagreement — that human activity has been largely responsible for that warming.”
Dr. Chivian may not be aware that Dr. Sally Baliunas, a widely published and award-winning scientist affiliated with his own institution (on the staff of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), strongly disagrees that humans are to blame for the warming that certainly has occurred since 1850. She notes that if the warming of the last 150 years had been due to human activity, it would have started about 1940, when the First World's industries really started spewing greenhouse gases and its citizens first became serious motorists. And, the temperatures would have risen even faster through '70s, '80s, and '90s as the Third World also industrialized.
This isn't what has happened. Virtually all of the warming occurred before 1940. Between 1940 and 1980, our temperatures fell slightly. Today's temperatures are not significantly higher than 1940. If the clouds of greenhouse gases emitted by our industries and cars are driving a fierce global warming, when will it start?
Historically, the world's temperatures have risen and fallen rhythmically. We know about the Little Ice Age, which lasted from about 1300 to 1850. Old manuscripts and sagas ( as well as tree rings and glaciers) tell us of the Medieval Warming from about 800 AD to 1300, during which temperatures were demonstrably higher than today's. Prior history records a Roman Warming and the intervening cold Dark Ages.
Recent research reported in Science analyzed iceberg debris in three North Atlantic seabed cores (bits of rock from Canada floated out to sea by the glaciers). The researchers found nine global warmings and nine global coolings over the past 12,000 years. What fascinates Dr. Baliunas is that the ice-proven warmings and coolings coincide almost exactly with a known cycle in the magnetic activity of the sun.
The Medieval Warming was also known as the Medieval Climate Optimum. Crops were so bountiful that the population of Europe increased 50 percent, and most of Europe's famous castles and cathedrals were built during that period. Winters were shorter and milder. Droughts were fewer and less severe. Storms were milder. Nor was London flooded by melting polar ice.
Those who would frighten us with climate scares should meet a higher standard of proof than a 20th century temperature history that looks much more like a long, erratic, natural warming cycle than like a greenhouse gas-forced solar furnace.
(Oh, and about that claimed consensus on warming. More than 17,000 scientists have signed a petition drafted by former National Academy of Sciences President William Seitz denying any proven link between today's temperatures and human activity. More than 2,600 of the signers have degrees in climate-related sciences. Science is not about consensus, it's about provable reality. However, the high level of dissent within science tells me there is not yet a demonstrated human link to our mild warming.)
Dennis Avery, Director
Center for Global Food Issues
The Hudson Institute
Telephone (540) 337-6354
e-mail: [email protected] 
COOL: Test of wills
I thank you for your article on COOL (country-of-origin law). Barring opposition pulling a rabbit out of the hat, I feel that this law will take effect as scheduled next fall. The implementing rules are still a matter of concern and we must watch USDA like a hawk to see that they don't thwart the clear intent of Congress with flawed rules.
This has been called a bellwether test of wills. It is certainly a must win if we are to have any hope of prevailing on other issues and ultimately reversing the trend toward a totally corporate-dominated agriculture. The kind of competent and objective reporting that you do it critical to alerting the public and making our democracy work better. But, these folks never say die, so we should anticipate more activity on this issue.
Porterville, Miss., cattle producer
All farmers important
I WANT to express concern over your article about Senator Grassley's attempt to tighten the payment limit in order to secure funding for the Conservation Security Program. You wrote this would cause a hardship for some farmers who needed to be big for efficiency.
Every segment of agriculture has had bad weather along with low prices. But only the program crops have a safety net. No commodity that is consumed by the public is any more or less important than the next commodity.
I just learned that the CSP has been zeroed out due to budget restraints. It was easier to eliminate funding for CSP since it had never been implemented than to cut funding for program crops. The CSP for some farmers is the only government assistance they would receive from the government. It would allow projects that protect our environment that would otherwise not be feasible for farmers to perform on their own finances. How do you tell a farmer he doesn't deserve a safety net when he produces a commodity used in this country, while having funds for crops that a majority of production has to be exported?
Is the security and dependability of our food supply any less with a family farm that is managed from the seat of a tractor compared to a large farm that is managed from an office?
The 2002 farm bill was billed as a conservation bill that had programs for all farmers. It was to treat all farmers equally. If the taxpayer only sees a repeat of the money going to a few large farmers, they may guarantee equality for all farmers by eliminating the next farm bill.
Of all the problems, the biggest threat to American agriculture is that we are going to break the generation gap. If the farm kids don't return to agriculture, then we are in trouble. Yet so many kids have seen their family struggle, they don't see a future. I read an article showing that of the 500,000 FFA kids only 4 percent expressed a desire to return to the farm. We have got to work to return profitability to all segments of agriculture.
Even in the agriculture community we think everything is fine as long as the program crops are taken care of. We forget that someone has to work to produce the other commodities. Sure we can survive on the program crop, but it is the other commodities that make life a little more enjoyable.
So the next time you give thanks for your food, ask yourself if the farmer that raised it received a decent return for his efforts. Was it enough to entice the next generation to stay?