By John R. Block, Former Secretary of Agriculture

The recent elections underscore the importance of sound agriculture policies. California voters narrowly defeated Prop 37, a flawed proposal by environmental activists that would have padded the pockets of genetically modified food opponents while raising the cost of food. Prop 37’s alarming message was that the public should fear biotech food.

We cannot allow politics or activist pressure to compromise an established regulatory review process based on science, technology and multiple checks and balances. It’s time to put politics aside and help provide farmers the tools they need to feed our increasingly populated world.

According to a Farm and Rural Poll by Agri-Pulse, the three biggest threats facing farmers are environmental regulations, taxes, and activist groups that oppose modern farming methods. Radical environmentalists aim – often with no supporting scientific or economic rationale – to negate biotech advancements across the board.

With increasing success, activists are becoming the de facto food government police, exploiting the federal government in order to block innovation in food and fiber production. Bullied by the activists, the federal government essentially tells farmers: “We’ll let you continue farming but only if you cut water usage, eliminate dust, and don’t use any technology more complex than a hoe.”

Now more than ever, we need to support an established and proven U.S. regulatory approval process that ensures food safety. Multiple government regulatory authorities – including the USDA, EPA and FDA – are mandated to thoroughly evaluate technological advances in food production that will enable American agriculture to produce food and fiber in a safe and sustainable manner. 

Government that represents all the people must be especially sensible when regulating an industry upon which everyone relies. Agricultural regulations designed to “please all of the people” would handicap the industry so that it couldn’t “feed all of the people.” We are perilously close to that tipping point.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global demand for agricultural goods will double by 2050 as the world population increases by an additional three billion people. Agriculture is already the predominant user of all habitable land and 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. The World Water Council predicts in just a decade, we’ll need 17 percent more water than available to feed the world. Furthermore, experts predict that by 2030, grain-producing land per capita will drop to just one-third of what it was in 1950.

Future food production clearly will need to increase with limited land and water resources. However, even today there are many who don’t have enough to eat. The FAO estimates that there are some 870 million hungry people worldwide. Meanwhile, global food prices continue to rise to a record high in 2011 with no relief in sight.

In order to meet the growing demand for food, new technology is required to increase productivity while decreasing farming’s environmental footprint. Unfortunately, that prospect is uncertain due to political and activist pressure that threatens to compromise our established, science-based regulatory review process.

The agriculture industry is working diligently on solutions to help farmers meet food challenges in a sustainable manner. These include innovative biotech products that hold great promise for thousands of corn, cotton and soybean farmers. 

For the sake of our food supply and for farmers and ranchers, U.S. agriculture must move forward. Elected officials must instill trust in the American people that the agriculture industry is safe and sustainable. Let’s not allow fear-driven proposals and partisan politics destroy innovation and advancement in agriculture production policies.

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