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Is Cornell’s Alliance for Science ‘brainwashing Indian scientists, farmers, decision-makers’ or ‘captivating the world’?

13 Apr

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A Cambridge reader has drawn attention to the activities of the Cornell Alliance for Science, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was set up in 2014 todepolarize the charged debatearound genetically modified foods (GMOs) by adding “a stronger voice for science”.

https://blogs.cornell.edu/onehealth/2017/09/15/gates-grant-seeds-cornell-alliance-for-science-10m-campaign/

To this end Rob Horsch, who worked for Monsanto for 25 years before moving to the Gates Foundation, was appointed as Deputy Director of the Cornell Alliance.

For four years he led the foundation’s agricultural research and development strategies which are said to have relentlessly promoted the use of GMOs and agrichemicals in Africa despite the opposition of Africa-based groups and social movements, who have voiced many concerns about genetically engineered crops. Assisting them in this work are 24 of their 27 ‘2018 Global Partners’ from African countries. Has Africa even greater cause for concern?

Strengthening public relations – aka propaganda?

Mr Horsch has been succeeded by Vanessa Greenlee who has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She ‘ensures team coordination to reach organizational goals’ and has ‘a passion for finding consensus through conflict’.

U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit public interest, consumer and public health research group working for transparency and accountability in the nation’s food system, describes the Cornell Alliance for Science as a public relations campaign to promote genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The examples in their fact sheet show that the group:

  • misleads the public with inaccurate information about science;
  • elevates unreliable messengers who make false and unscientific claims; and,
  • partners with front groups that have worked with the tobacco industry or chemical industries to manufacture doubt about science that raises health concerns.

Shaping India’s agricultural future 

The India-based Cornell Sathguru Foundation for Development, established in 1994, is said to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability and raising the quality of life globally. A search, however, reveals little reward for its efforts.

One of the few entries found relates to a course funded by the US Department for Agriculture involving American and India students. No publications were reported during this period and the outcome was that Cornell was seeking funds to continue this work. Its genetic modification proposals have not been successful, apart from India’s now failing Bt Cotton sector.

On April 8th 2019, Joan Conrow, the managing editor of the Cornell Alliance for Science, published an article – Shaping India’s agricultural future – about a course held in February featuring ‘international and Indian experts in gene editing, science communications and the regulatory framework that governs the technology in India’. Matthew Willmann, director of Cornell’s Plant Transformation Facility, lectured on the latest advances in plant gene editing, often called CRISPR.

Dr Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, who moderated the subsequent discussion, said hopefully “It was extremely rewarding to participate in an informed, civil conversation about a controversial topic that has captivated the world. India is clearly preparing to take its rightful place on the world stage of agricultural innovation.”

Genetic modification of agricultural seeds isn’t in the interest of the planet or its inhabitants”

This reflection preceded many points raised in Dr. David Perlmutters dialogue with Dr Evanaga last year. A few are summarised here:

  • Genetically modified (GM) crops are associated with an increased use of chemicals, like glyphosate, that are toxic to the environment and to humans. These chemicals not only contaminate our food and water supplies, but they also compromise soil quality and are actually associated with increased disease susceptibility in crops.
  • This ultimately leads to an increase in the use of pesticides and further disrupts ecosystems. And yet, despite these drawbacks, we haven’t seen increased yield potential of GM crops, although that has always been one of the promises of GM seeds.
  • The various toxic herbicides that are liberally applied to GM crops are having a devastating effect. In terms of the nutritional quality of conventional versus GM food, it’s important to understand that mineral content is, to a significant degree, dependent on the various soil-based microorganisms. When the soil is treated with glyphosate, as is so often the case with GM crops, it deprives the plant of its mineral absorption ability.
  • Whenever harmful chemicals like glyphosate are introduced into an ecosystem, this disrupts the natural processes that keep our environment healthy.
  • The USDA Pesticide Data Program reported in 2015 that 85% of crops had pesticide residues. These chemicals are also contaminating the supplies for other organisms in the surrounding environment.
  • GM seeds now account for more than 50% of global glyphosate usage.
  • These chemicals are harming the soil. the various organisms living in the soil act to protect plants and make them more disease resistant. Destroying these protective organisms with the use of these chemicals weakens the plants’ natural defence mechanisms and, therefore, will require the use of even more pesticides and other chemicals

Dr Perlmutter ends by saying that the argument that we need GMO food to feed the entire world population is absurd. GM crops have actually not increased the yield of any major commercialized food source (link leads to the report on the right) and concludes that traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering ‘hands down’. In fact, soy — the most widely grown genetically modified crop — has actually experienced reduced yields. The promise of increased yield potentials with GM crops is one that we have not realized.

 

 

 

 

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Over 159 American cities oppose section 9101 of the Federal Farm Bill blocking local pesticide controls

15 Dec

More than 150 U.S. cities and counties have created “organic-first” policies and in some cases banned the use of specific chemicals that may harm people or the environment.

PR Newswire refers to a letter sent by local officials to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi    noting that research has increasingly connected some pesticides with Parkinson’s disease and honey bee die-offs, A rapidly growing body of evidence links pesticides to a wide range of diseases and conditions including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, reproductive dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease, and variety of cancers including breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer.

Recognizing these risks, many communities have passed progressive policies to restrict the use of pesticides and protect our residents before any harm comes to them.

Some local officials in Irvine have opted to go further than federal or state laws and have restricted pesticide use on public land such as parks, sports fields and landscaped central road reservations. The city now uses organic products with ingredients such as corn gluten meal and oil from soybeans, lemongrass or rosemary.

Detailed information and photograph (above) may be seen in https://ocweekly.com/how-irvine-became-socals-first-non-toxic-city-7317638/

However, though the bill has attracted attention by legalizing hemp, bolstering farmers markets and rejecting stricter limits on food stamps pushed by House Republicans, California’s Orange County Register reports that a four-page provision (Section 9101) tucked away in the 748 page 2018 federal farm bill could block local governments in the United States from making their own rules about pesticides, ‘effectively neutering’ local control over pesticides, blocking cities, counties and school districts from restricting the use of on playgrounds and parks.

Felicity Arbuthnot draws attention to a report by the Environmental Working Group, commenting: “It truly says it all when government attempts to force people to eat cancer causing poison and feed it to their families and friends”. The EWG report records that:

  • the National League of Cities and
  • the League of California Cities, sent letters of opposition to congressional leaders.
  • The National Association of Counties – representing all 3,069 U.S. counties – and
  • a diverse coalition of over 170 organizations dedicated to public health urged Congress to reject the rider.
  • The National Audubon Society and
  • the American Academy of Pediatrics also sent letters.
  • A lettersigned by over 60 local officials in 39 communities from 15 different states, urged the conference committee to reach an agreement on a final 2018 farm bill that does not include this rider.

Despite all these representations, on 12th December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2018 Farm Bill by a vote of 369 to 47. The next step to permanent legalization is the President’s signature.

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Will any British city follow Irvine’s lead? 

In 2017 Horticulture Week reported Edinburgh City Council’s decision to pursue an herbicide-reduction policy at the end of 2016 followed a year-long trial of alternatives to chemicals run by the council’s parks department. An online search revealed that similar moves have been proposed and discussed by councils in Dundee, Bristol and Belfast.

Today, the Times reported that Dublin city council is to use alternatives as part of a move towards a “herbicide and pesticide-free city” in the spring.  In 2015 Kaethe Burt-O’Dea (above) started a campaign to stop Dublin City Council from using a weedkiller. She is seen above near the community garden started up more than 10 years ago as a place for the street’s residents to compost their organic waste.

 

 

 

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The Berlin Declaration 2018: adopted by 64 regional GMO free European governments

19 Nov

The Network GMO Free Regions in Europe, comprised of 64 regional governments, have adopted the Berlin Declaration, that called for a European and global moratorium of Gene Drives and demanded that national governments as well as the EU take on this issue at the upcoming meeting of the 2018 Convention on Biological Diversity.

When presenting the declaration, the network’s President Dr. Beatrix Tappeser, said: “Let us continue the precautionary approach, and maintain our GMO Free pathway, that has served the European Regions so well over the past decade. There needs to be more public investment in the agriculture people really want.”

The declaration ends: “Considering the substantial concentration of market and research power in the seed and agrochemical business over the past decades, we see a need to increase the public engagement in maintaining and developing non-GM seed breeding, research and agricultural methods. Germ plasm of all plants and animals should be kept in the public domain and be maintained as one of the most valuable public goods of humankind. Public investment in agricultural research and development should guarantee that the whole range of options needed to address present and future challenges to agriculture; food production and resource management continue to remain at public disposal. We commit to contribute to a renaissance of public research and the development of public goods for future generations”.

The full text may be read here.

 

 

 

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Lincoln County Community Rights versus the politically supported pesticides industry

27 Oct

Felicity Arbuthnot draws attention to the achievements of Lincoln County Community Rights whose core members include the owner of a small business that installs solar panels, a semi-retired Spanish translator, an organic farmer who raises llamas, and a self-described caretaker and Navajo-trained weaver.

Although some of the world’s biggest companies poured money into a stealth campaign to stop the ordinance, and the Lincoln activists had no experience running political campaigns, these part-time, volunteer, novice activists managed to stop the spraying of pesticides that had been released from airplanes and helicopters in this rural county for decades.

The Lincoln County aerial spray ban, which passed in May 2017, is just one of 155 local measures that restrict pesticides. Communities around the country have instituted protections that go beyond the basic limits set by federal law. Some are aimed at specific pesticides, such as glyphosate, others list a few; while still others ban the chemicals altogether.

The upturn in local legislation is a testament to public concerns about the chemicals used in gardening, farming, and timber production, and reflect a growing frustration with federal inaction. In recent years, scientific research on pesticides has shown credible links between pesticides and cancerendocrine disruptionrespiratory illnesses and miscarriage, and children’s health problems, including neurobehavioral and motor deficits. As scientists have been documenting these chemicals’ harms, juries have also increasingly been recognizing them.

CropLife America, the industry group, which reported more than $16 million in revenue in 2015, represents and collects dues from the major pesticide manufacturers, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and DuPont Crop Protection

It ranked state and local issues as the top of its list of “tier 1 concerns” for both 2017 and 2018, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept that pinpointed Oregon as ground zero for the fight. While it paid for all this, its name never appeared on the materials or was referenced in the local fight, which was instead framed as being led by local farmers.

Like the ordinance in Lincoln County, a similar proposal in neighboring Lane County didn’t just specify that aerial spraying would be outlawed, it asserted people’s “inherent and inalienable right of local community self-government.” Both measures were inspired by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which views the aerial spraying of pesticides as violations of citizens’ basic rights to clean air, water, and soil.

However, federal regulation has lagged behind both the research and public outrage

The Environmental Protection Agency has allowed glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, to remain in use despite considerable evidence linking it to cancer. Under Donald Trump, the EPA also reversed a planned ban of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children.

Frustrated by the lack of federal action, many people have turned to their towns and counties, only to find that they have been hamstrung by state laws forbidding local limits on pesticides. In 43 states, laws prevent cities, towns, and counties from passing restrictions on pesticide use on private land that go beyond federal law.

A provision in the Farm Bill now before Congress would extend that restriction to the entire country and could potentially roll back existing local laws. The House version of the bill that passed in June and is now being reconciled with the Senate version included a section that prevents “a political subdivision of a State” from regulating pesticides.And an appeal has been lodged against the Lincoln County aerial spray ban.

Read more about the tactics used and the money and individuals involved here: https://theintercept.com/2018/09/15/oregon-pesticides-aerial-spray-ban/

 

 

 

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How many more will fall ill or die because of exposure to pesticides and herbicides?

25 Aug

First published on India’s CHS-Sachetan website

 

Last year Richard Bruce, who has suffered severely for many years following exposure to pesticides in the course of his work, sent news of research into links between diabetes and exposure to organophosphate, the most frequently and largely applied insecticide in the world, undertaken by a team from Madurai Kamaraj University, published in Genome Biology. It is accessible to all readers and may be accessed here.

He now draws attention to the Hindu’s report of a food poisoning incident in Navi Mumbai which led to the death of three children and 40 people falling ill (200 according to the Hindustan Times).

Dr. Ajit Gawli, Raigad district civil surgeon, said “The serum test reports of two patients indicated presence of organophosphate compound in the food. The cholinesterase enzyme level was found to be around 800, which ideally should be around 1,200. It does confirm the presence of organophosphate compound found in insecticides and pesticides. After the reports of the serum of the deceased come in, we can confirm the saturation of the compound and what exactly the chemical was.” The food samples have been sent to a forensic science laboratory at Kalina and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for further analysis.”

An American campaign

Richard earlier sent news of a press release issued from Portland, Oregon, by the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, non-profit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

It reported that group of farmworkers, child-safety and environmental advocates sent a letter to the government’s Environmental Protection Agency urging it to ban seven organophosphate pesticides, currently under review, that are used on crops such as corn, cotton, watermelon and wheat. It was submitted in response to the EPA’s request for public comments on new releases of human-health and ecological risk assessments for organophosphate insecticides.

“Every spring season, children around the U.S. are facing low-dose exposure to this dangerous chemical,” says a Minnesota mother who was sickened, along with her infant son, by chlorpyrifos. “It is in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat,” she adds. “By leaving this chemical on the market, we are gambling with the lives of children. It is stealing their futures from them and increasing the amount of health care dollars they will need for treatment.”

Chemical & Engineering News reported that no ban was imposed; there was ‘pushback’ from Dow Sciences and others in the chemical industry.

Leonardo Trasande, an internationally renowned authority on children’s environmental health, in a study published in 2017 writes:

“A regulatory ban was proposed, but actions to end the use of one such pesticide, chlorpyrifos, in agriculture were recently stopped by the Environmental Protection Agency under false scientific pretenses”.

“Strong evidence now supports the notion that organophosphate pesticides damage the fetal brain and produce cognitive and behavioral dysfunction through multiple mechanisms, including thyroid disruption.

 

 

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Monsanto update

11 Jul

A Moseley reader draws attention to this Guardian article:

Opens:  

Monsanto has long worked to “bully scientists” and suppress evidence of the cancer risks of its popular weedkiller, a lawyer argued on Monday in a landmark lawsuit against the global chemical corporation.

“Monsanto has specifically gone out of its way to bully … and to fight independent researchers,” said the attorney Brent Wisner, who presented internal Monsanto emails that he said showed how the agrochemical company rejected critical research and expert warnings over the years while pursuing and helping to write favorable analyses of their products. “They fought science.”

Wisner, who spoke inside a crowded San Francisco courtroom, is representing DeWayne Johnson, known also as Lee, a California man whose cancer has spread through his body. The father of three and former school groundskeeper, who doctors say may have just months to live, is the first person to take Monsanto to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer. Thousands have made similar legal claims across the US  . . .

 

 

 

 

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Weigh the value of new ‘tools’; apply the precautionary principle

3 Jun

There is mounting evidence of unintended harmful consequences in many sectors – including medicine, pharmacology, agriculture, energy generation, finance, engineering and transport. The most widely read post on this site in May reported the Lancet’s publication of the World Health Organisation’s finding that glyphosate, a widely used ingredient in weedkiller, is probably carcinogenic.

Michael J. Coren‘s article in Quartz magazine summarised the findings of Jameson Wetmore, an engineer turned social researcher at the Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Wetmore opened:

“The motto of the 1933 World Fair in Chicago was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms. Governments and companies were saying that technology can lead us out of this. It may not always be comfortable, but we have to ride it out. Household technologies were all the rage. When you hit the 1960s and 1970s, there is this shift.

“I think the hallmarks of that shift are the dropping of the atomic bomb, and then of course you have Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, and you also have Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring”.

“Whereas much of the contemporary world sees technological progress as inevitable, even a moral imperative, Wetmore finds that the Amish watch their neighbours and carefully consider how each one will change their culture before embracing it: They . . . watch what happens when we adopt new technology, and then they decide whether that’s something they want to adopt themselves.”

We don’t think about the impact technology might have on our lives beyond the initial big idea.

“The automobile was sold to us with this idea of a freedom we never had before. With that freedom came a heavy toll of injury and death. So can we anticipate unintended consequences way the Amish do, or are these systems just too complex to go much beyond first-order effects?

A more rigorous application of the EU’s Article 191 (left) would help to do this.

“Less than a mile from where I’m standing [in Phoenix, Arizona], Elaine Herzberg was killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle. I fully recognize the only way we’re going to automated vehicles is running in this world is to test them on city streets. Now, if we were to sit back and think about the values of the society here, we might say that testing those vehicles at 10 PM at night outside of a concert hall where a huge amount of alcohol had been served was not the best place to be testing. Perhaps testing in a school zone when children are present is not the best place to test an autonomous vehicle. But those are decisions that local people did not have the chance to make.”

The idea that technology is an unmitigated good is beginning to be questioned

Wetmore thinks that today Americans have a much more nuanced view of things. The number of people who think technology is an unmitigated good is continuing to shrink, but most haven’t abandoned the idea that there are a lot of problems and technology will play a role in solving them.

The precautionary principle detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk. It also covers consumer policy, European Union (EU) legislation concerning food, human, animal and plant health. It has been recognised by various international agreements, notably in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS) concluded in the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  

Jeremy Corbyn led the proposal (right) to retain Article 191’s environmental principles after exit day, narrowly defeated by 16 votes.

 

Time for change?

 

 

 

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