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Reducing pesticide use – and eventually eradicating it?

6 Feb

In September, a UK government chief scientific adviser warned that the assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false. This followed other highly critical reports on pesticides, including research showing most farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and a UN report that denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.

“There is undoubtedly scope to reduce pesticide use – that is a given,” said Bill Parker, director of research at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. “The majority of crop protection advice given in the UK is from agronomists tied to companies who make their money from selling pesticides,” he said. “There is a commercial drive and they will tend to take a prophylactic approach.

A Moseley reader sent a link to an article by Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor.

It described a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) In which long strips of bright wildflowers were planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

Prof Richard Pywell (CEH), who carried out an extensive study on the effects of neonicotinoids,  notes that though wildflower strips planted around fields to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles, slashed pest numbers in crops and even increased yields, the natural predators were unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, avoiding strips of wildflowers – including oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot planted 100m apart through crop fields. They are left as refuges all year round and the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field, according to Pywell’s initial tests.

Pywell said the hope is that natural predators can keep pests in check from year to year, so there are never major outbreaks: “That would be the ideal – that you never need to spray.”

 

 

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RSM conference: Fera Science data finds toxic cocktails of pesticides – a public health hazard

26 Jan

Many readers will have noted that, in November, speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine conference on pesticides, scientists warned that consuming tiny amounts of many different chemicals on a regular basis could be harmful to human health.

The conference heard new scientific evidence from around the world showing that very low doses of pesticides, well below official ‘safety’ levels, pose a significant risk to public health from pesticides in the food supply.

More pesticides and herbicides are now used on crops because weeds and insects have become increasingly resistant to chemicals. See University of California document (insect resistance, frost paragraph).

Dr Michael Antoniou (left, head of the gene expression and therapy research group at King’s College London) said that all the evidence shows that people should minimise their exposure to pesticides.

Prof Anne Marie Vinggaard (division of diet, disease prevention and toxicology at the Danish National Food Institute) said “We are not just exposed to pesticides. We are exposed to a lot of chemicals acting together Consumption of “toxic cocktails” of low levels of pesticide cocktails are thought to be linked with degenerative diseases like strokes, heart attacks and cancers”.

Katie Morley, the Telegraph’s Consumer Affairs Editor, reports that figures released by the Soil Association, which certifies organic food, show that the number of toxic chemicals found in onions, leeks, wheat and potatoes has been steadily increasing since the 1960s, though industry data shows that the volume of pesticides found on supermarket vegetables has halved since the 1990s. Onions and leeks have seen the biggest rise in toxic chemicals. In 1974 less than two chemicals were applied to an average wheat crop.

The figures were compiled by data firm Fera Science, formerly the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency and now 75% owned by Capita and 25% by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who hold UK Government data on pesticide use in farming. The research found that pesticide active ingredients applied to three British crops have increased between 6 and 18 times ranging from 480% to 1,700% over the last 40-odd years.

Dr Antoniou’s advice: “Minimally as a precaution you should minimise your exposure to pesticides. The only way to guarantee that, is by eating organically”

 

 

 

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British MSM fails to report escalating GM problems: ‘superworms’ & ‘superweeds’

10 Dec

Earlier this year America’s St Louis Dispatch reported on a growing sense of unease “spreading across the Great Plains about the cornstalk-sized superweeds infesting more than 100 million acres”.

Nathan Donley recalls: “For years Monsanto officials had assured farmers that weeds would never develop resistance to the company’s flagship herbicide, glyphosate, so farmers were urged to apply it liberally year after year because “dead weeds don’t produce seeds.” And apply it they did, with annual U.S. glyphosate use soaring to over 300 million pounds — an escalation that quickly accelerated the evolution of glyphosate-resistant superweeds that can grow an inch a day to heights of 10 feet and break farm equipment”.

Now major herbicide producers are offering a familiar-sounding “solution”: ‘use more’.

Four years after its release in 2002 with much fanfare, Bt cotton became susceptible to the bollworm. Today Devinder Sharma reports that India’s failing genetically modified Bt cotton crop, designed to guard against the bollworm pest, has increasingly been unable to resist it. Farmers have been forced to use deadly cocktails of pesticides to curb the insect menace. 

A reader wonders how soon the bollworm will become a ‘superworm’ resistant to pesticide ‘cocktails’.

Sharma adds: “News has come in of 50 farm workers succumbing to suspected pesticides poisoning; at least 25 lost their eyesight and another 800 admitted to various hospitals in Maharashtra. Another 6 deaths and hospitalisation of a few hundred more have been reported from Tamil Nadu’s cotton belt – Perambalur, Ariyalur and Salem.

Pink bollworm resurgence has been so severe that there are reports of farmers unable to harvest even a kilo of cotton and being forced to uproot or burn the standing crop in several parts of the country. In Maharashtra alone:

  • more than 80,000 farmers, up to Nov 30, have applied for crop compensation.
  • The bollworm has destroyed nearly 50% of the standing crop in Maharashtra, the country’s biggest cotton grower
  • and another 20% in Madhya Pradesh.
  • It has caused extensive damage in Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat.
  • Only about 100 of the 150 cotton ginning mills in Maharashtra are in operation and they are working at 50% capacity.
  • Reuters reports that cotton exports this year will be one-fifth less, coming down to 6 million bales against the earlier estimate of 7.5 million bales. 

A senior agricultural scientist once told Sharma: “In the early 1960s, only six to seven major pests were worrying the cotton farmer. The farmer today is battling against some 70 major pests on cotton.” The greater the attack of insect pests, the more is the use and abuse of potent chemicals. His advice: 

  • instead of introducing a third generation of Bollgard-III varieties, and compounding the existing crisis, the focus of agricultural research should shift to alternative methods.
  • Agricultural universities should be directed to stop any further research on GM cotton
  • and the focus shifted to use of bio-control and integrated pest management techniques that use pesticides sparingly – and as a last resort.

Sharma adds persuasively that already Burkina Faso has shown a remarkable jump of 20% in cotton productivity after phasing out Bt cotton. Turkey also has shown excellent results with IPM techniques; rejecting GM cotton, and restricting the use of chemical pesticides, Turkey has doubled its cotton yields.  

More information:

Published here: बीटी कॉटन के चक्रव्यूह से बाहर आना होगा Dainik Bhaskar. Dec 9, 2017 https://www.bhaskar.com/news/ABH-LCL-bt-cotton-has-to-come-out-of-the-maze-5765023-PHO.html – and in English by the author at Ground Reality: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/when-dreaded-pink-boll-worm-strikes-back.html 

Integrated Pest Management for Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture in Asia and Africa

Integrated pest management of protected vegetable cultivation in Turkey

 

 

 

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Roundup glyphosate: risk of cancer to ‘exposed’ agricultural workers and gardeners

7 Dec

A huge mistake? The European Commission will formalise on 12 December Monday’s decision by member states to renew for five years the licence for the herbicide glyphosate.

Weasel words in the FT last week:

“Although the World Health Organization last year said the herbicide was “probably carcinogenic”, the latest joint assessment by UN agencies concludes there is no risk to humans from exposure through the diet” – implying that evidence shows that the use of the herbicide is risk free.

In May last year, the UN agencies said:

“The overall weight of evidence indicates that administration of glyphosate and its formulation products at doses as high as 2000 mg/kg body weight by the oral route, the route most relevant to human dietary exposure, was not associated with genotoxic effects in an overwhelming majority of studies conducted in mammals, a model considered to be appropriate for assessing genotoxic risks to humans. The meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures” (emphasis added).

Dr Christopher Connolly, a reader in neurobiology at the University of Dundee, said in an article in the Science Media Centre journal: “The evidence on the risk to human health from glyphosate is highly controversial, making it difficult for politicians to make a sound science-based decision. It is alarming that it is so ubiquitous that it is found commonly in human urine. We must make the next five years count, so that an evidence-based decision may be made at the end of this period.

Prof. David Coggon, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Southampton, said:

“IARC classified glyphosate as probably having the potential to cause cancer in humans. This was based on evidence of carcinogenicity in animals and suggestions of an association with lymphoma in exposed people (mainly agricultural workers, landscapers, nursery workers and home gardeners).

Cancer incidence among glyphosate-exposed pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study (2005)

Summary:

We evaluated associations between glyphosate exposure and cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a prospective cohort study of 57,311 licensed pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina. There was a suggested association with multiple myeloma incidence (a type of bone marrow cancer) that should be followed up as more cases occur in the AHS. Given the widespread use of glyphosate, future analyses of the AHS will allow further examination of long-term health effects, including less common cancers.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in March 2015 said that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” (PDF), adding “The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001”.

The latest news was reported by CNN in May this year, opening with story of Christine Sheppard

For 12 years, she had no idea what might have caused her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — until the IARC reported that glyphosate, the key ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, is probably carcinogenic. Roundup is the herbicide she sprayed on her coffee farm in Hawaii for five years.

That report spurred hundreds of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients to sue Monsanto. Timothy Litzenburg’s law firm represents more than 500 of them. He said most of the patients didn’t know about a possible link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma until the report came out.

Other companies also sell products containing glyphosate, why target Monsanto?

Litzenburg points out that Monsanto invented Roundup, they held the patent for many years, they are the EPA registrant for glyphosate, and they continue to dominate the market, adding:

“We are not alleging that our clients got cancer from glyphosate alone. We are suing because our clients got cancer from Roundup. … Roundup contains animal fats and other ingredients that increase the carcinogenicity of the glyphosate.”

Though UN agencies concluded that as yet no risk to humans from exposure through diet has been found, studies find that workers and gardeners using Roundup risk contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma (a type of bone marrow cancer) – surely sufficient reason to withdraw the herbicide from use.

Media reports, including by EUobserver and Dutch magazine OneWorld, have shown that Efsa conclusions on the safety of glyphosate were partially based on scientific evidence provided by Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer. On 19 October, also the European Parliament expressed doubts over the scientific evaluations of glyphosate carried out by the European agencies.

Despite these findings, the European Commission will formalise on 12 December a decision by member states to renew the licence for the herbicide glyphosate for five years: https://euobserver.com/environment/140065.

Will Brexit give people in this country the opportunity to denounce the use of this and other dangerous substances and technologies and bring about beneficial change?

 

 

 

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GM news escalates: ‘whitewashing’ glyphosate, Monsanto papers, Michael Gove persuadable?

12 Nov

Der Spiegel reports that a court in San Francisco ordered U.S. agrochemical giant Monsanto to provide internal emails as evidence after about 2,000 plaintiffs demanded compensation from Monsanto in class-action suits. They claim that Roundup has caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of lymph node cancer, in them or members of their family.

More than 100 documents have revealed that Monsanto’s strategies for ‘whitewashing glyphosate’ have been revealed in internal e-mails, presentations and memos. They suggest the company concealed risks, making their publication a disaster for the company. The matter is also likely to be a topic of discussion at Bayer, the German chemical company in the process of acquiring Monsanto.

“The Monsanto Papers tell an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation and the withholding of information,” says Michael Baum, a partner in the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, which is bringing one of the US class actions. According to Baum, Monsanto used the same strategies as the tobacco industry: “creating doubt, attacking people, doing ghostwriting.”

On October 11th, the European Parliament’s Environment and Agriculture committee held a public hearing on The Monsanto Papers. 

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Despite this, the BBC reports that an EU vote has failed to resolve a controversy over the use of glyphosate, the world’s biggest-selling weedkiller. Glyphosate was introduced by US agrochemical giant Monsanto in 1974, but its patent expired in 2000, and now the chemical is sold by various manufacturers.

The European Commission said the vote fell short of the majority needed to renew the license for five years when it expires December 15, as only half of the 28 member states voted for its proposal. “Given that a qualified majority could not be reached … the result of the vote is ‘no opinion,'” said the commission, the EU’s executive and regulatory arm. An EU appeal committee will now try to rule on the issue. A qualified majority requires that 55% of EU countries vote in favour, and that the proposal is supported by countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population.

The UK was among the 14 states backing the Commission position on glyphosate. Nine voted against – including France and Italy. Germany was among the five who abstained.

But a reader sends the information that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, now says the UK will back a total ban on insect-harming pesticides in fields across Europe . . . Perhaps he can be persuaded to ban human-harming, resistance-forming glyphosate as well.

Will Delhi University’s Dr Deepak Pental eventually agree with his British-based counterpart that GM crops are not ‘the answer’?

31 Oct

In July, India’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) – the government’s regulator for transgenic products – recommended GM mustard for “consideration for environmental release and cultivation”.

GM food has long been actively opposed by activists and politicians in India because of fears that it could compromise food safety and biodiversity. Some experts have also questioned claims that GM crops are more productive than normal varieties. Bt cotton production has declined and pests are proliferating.

There is also political opposition: the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – national volunteer organization) and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, both of whom share the ruling party’s ideology also oppose GM food and want to promote local varieties instead.

First Post reports that Dr Mira Shiva, widely respected for her medical work with children, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsed by 34 doctors and medical experts from across the country.

She asked him to reject the “environmental release” application for the genetically modified (GM) mustard crop. Dr Shiva said the nation should not be forced to face the risks and dangers associated with GM mustard and gave a detailed and scientific explanation of its probable impacts on health. One point:

“There is ample scientific evidence available that GM foods (often in combination with herbicides that are used on GM crops which are mostly herbicide tolerant given that 81% of the GM crop extent world over is planted to herbicide tolerant GM crops) result in numerous adverse health impacts starting from allergies, to impaired immunity, organ damage, affected growth and development of an organism, reproductive health problems, and even carcinogenic effects.”

Similar objections are voiced at length on the website of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, an international association of physicians and other professionals interested in the clinical aspects of humans and their environment, which provides research and education in the recognition, treatment and prevention of illnesses induced by exposures to biological and chemical agents encountered in air, food and water.

The Hindustan Times now reports that GEAC has deferred approval of the commercial release of the genetically modified mustard developed by the Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants – or ‘frozen’ it, according to Reuters.

 

 

 

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Rothamstead scientist says GM crops are not the answer

28 Oct

A reader on this site’s mailing list has drawn attention to the words of Professor Achim Dobermann, a ‘soil scientist’, now the Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research. They were reported in the Farmers Weekly last week.

The article’s headline was “GM crops ‘not the answer’ to UK food security”.

Professor Dobermann spoke at the Bayer Youth Ag Summit in Brussels earlier this month, which hoped to inspire young people to pursue careers in science and agriculture and advance sustainable and innovative agricultural practices, ensuring ‘the security of our food future’.

He said that it made sense to focus efforts on more advanced breeding technologies: “The advancement of gene editing – which is a very different thing to GM – will change the whole picture.”

Many will share the reaction of our reader, who commented: “I am still surprised at how ready these researchers and research institutes, which have been promoting and arguing vigorously for GM for at least 20 years, are to ditch it”.  

She quoted Peter Melchett (Soil Association):

“The Rothamsted Chief Executive is now reported as saying ‘growing commercial biotech crops in the UK would not bring huge benefits’, instead of hoping that when we leave the EU we can grow GM crops, he says farmers ‘should focus on the way they farm to help them drive yields’.

“He said that there are ‘too many barriers for GM to be accepted and adopted in the UK and across Europe’, and he is quoted as saying: “I don’t think GM is the major solution for agriculture…

And added: “Times change!”

 

 

 

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