The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) caught the media spotlight recently when it submitted comments to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology. Founded in 1987 as a self-proclaimed alternative to the far larger National Corn Growers Association, ACGA appears to currently be focused on opposing all genetically engineered (GE) agriculture.

ACGA’s recommendations to the USDA included government-mandated labels on all food items containing genetically modified ingredients, and financial incentives for farmers to plant non-GE crops. ACGA also asked the USDA to:

“Investigate the relationship between those commodity associations receiving corporate financial support from the biotechnology industry and their endorsement of genetically modified crops.”

Birds of a Feather?
If any commodity group deserves a public inspection of the link between their political endorsements and their funding sources, it’s ACGA. ACGA is a leading member of the “Bolinas Group,” a consortium of environmentalists which includes such anti-biotech opponents as Jeremy Rifkin, Friends of the Earth (FoE), Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), Campaign for Food Safety, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, and the Sierra Club. The Bolinas Group advocates mandatory labeling of GE foods and the indefinite suspension of the introduction of further GE products.

ACGA says it gives farmers “unbiased, honest and objective information to assist them in making educated decisions” about genetically modified crops through its “Farmer Choice-Customer First” program. Interestingly, ACGA’s “Farmer Choice” program is funded by several foundations which have a history of backing anti-GE environmental organizations, many of who, in addition to their other anti-GE activities, are members of the Bolinas Group.

ACGA’s Farmer Choice program counts among its supporters: John Merck Fund, which has given grants to FoE and IATP; HKH Foundation (Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and IATP); and the Bullitt Foundation (FoE, Sierra Club, and Environmental Defense). The program’s ties dissolve any claims ACGA could make regarding its provision of “unbiased, honest and objective” information, especially when considered in tandem with its sponsorship of the intensely anti-GE foods “CropChoice.com” website.

ACGA’s focus on labeling and banning GE foods marches them in an exact lockstep with the folks who pay the bills. A reasonable observer looking at ACGA’s purpose, funding and policy positions could ask the USDA to:

“Investigate the relationship between a commodity association receiving financial support from the anti-biotechnology industry and its denunciation of genetically modified crops.”

Conclusion
At least the many commodity groups who support biotech advances in agriculture can point to sound science, federal agency oversight, and positive sociological, economic, and environmental impact as the basis of their support. On the other hand, even though the ACGA is small, it lends anti-GE advocacy groups a false patina of legitimacy by playing the “farmer card”… but only for a price.