Executive Address – February 2014

Non-GMO: Supply and Demand v. Philosophical Rhetoric

I was intrigued by a report I heard on NPR one morning that China and Japan were buying –at a rising rate of demand, record high numbers of non-GMO corn and soybeans. So much so, that American grain companies were having an increasingly difficult time finding enough supply to meet this demand.  Late last January, a European candy producer also put in an order for non-GMO corn to assist in their candy production via corn syrup.  Given a good intrigue –I reviewed the United States Trade Representative’s statistics for 2012 and 2013, regarding the export demand of non-GMO grain products.  Between these two years alone –the demand from East Asian countries doubled –not for grains from the U.S., but specifically for non-GMO grains. It turns out that the elemental heating index for GMO based grains is highly variable, which leads to a wide range in cooking variations.  This is something that food processors abhor. Ironically, there are over 30 different types of GMO corn, leading to a wide variety of product for raw materials.  This is turning out to be too much of a gamble for manufactures and they’re heading towards selecting non-GMO varieties as quickly as possible.

On the West Coast, the GMO debate has certainly been one of philosophical rhetoric by sides, anti- or pro.  This is disappointing considering the science that’s actually in play and what a discussion of the science involved could look like.  The mere fact that a GMO grain has a variable heating index is pretty significant when it comes to manufacturing –and I for one, would have appreciated that information during the debate that continues to rage from California to Washington. So it makes me wonder why the debate centered only on a right to know versus the cost of labeling. We got rhetoric that blasted the larger agri-businesses for attempted to “block” the consumer’s right to know if something had GMO product in it. We also were peppered with an equal amount of oratory regarding the incremental cost increases our products were going to succumb to if labeling of these GMO products was required.  But never was the argument centered on a demand for the product –GMO or non-GMO.

Supply side economics is a pervasive theme in agriculture –it always will be.  So it should be one of the most important decision-point-liaisons when deciding to change a prevailing business practice. One of the more pressing debates within the ag industry in the coming decade –labeling GMOs and producing quantities of non-GMO crops are two very different issues. Since the demand is obviously there –I certainly hope that growers feel free to take advantage of this supply and demand opportunity, instead of feeling beholden to the rhetorical arguments of the day. This type of information is the kind of information that could feed a small country –let alone revitalize cities across the State.

Anja K. Raudabaugh
Executive Director