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Prime Minister Johnson ignores the GM elephants in the room: superweeds and pesticide resistance

1 Aug

Technical, scientific, agricultural and news media are focussing on Boris Johnson’s call on the steps of 10 Downing Street, in his first speech as UK Prime Minister, to “liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti genetic modification rules . . . and let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.”

Does he know anything about the problems besetting growers in countries such as America, Canada and India: herbicide resistant (super) weeds (below) and pesticide resistant insects?

He makes no reference to the plague of superweeds and the growth of pesticide resistant creatures such as the ‘out of control’ Indian bollworm (below right) and European corn borer (below left, showing the effect of the corn borer) plaguing farmers who are growing GM crops which now require ever larger applications of a different range of herbicides and pesticides .

The Verdict points out that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 means the rules currently restricting GM crops in the UK through EU law will continue to apply through UK law after the UK has left – whether or not a deal has been done. This will give Mr Johnson time to think more carefully about his liberation plans.

 

 

 

 

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Pesticide use: the tide appears to be turning

14 May

Bayer, the German company which bought the US agrochemical firm Monsanto, acquired its lucrative portfolio of pesticides and genetically modified seeds – and more than 13,000 pending cases relating to glyphosate sold under the brand name Roundup. At its annual meeting in Bonn last month, in an unprecedented revolt, more than 55% of shareholders declared they had no confidence in management. The ongoing fall in its share prices has accelerated. (Reuters 14.5.19).

Prof. Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the UK government points out that regulators around the world have falsely assumed it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes, that other research in 2017 showed farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and quoted a UNGA report denouncing the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.

Recent reports in the BMJ, the International Journal of Epidemiology and the European Food Safety Authority, add weight to Professor Boyd’s stance

Prenatal and infant exposure to ambient pesticides and autism spectrum disorder in children: population based case-control study, BMJ, 20 March 2019 (open access) notes that common pesticides have been previously shown to cause neurodevelopmental impairment in experimental research and environmental exposures during early brain development are suspected to increase risk of autism spectrum disorders in children. The study’s findings suggest that an offspring’s risk of autism spectrum disorder increases following prenatal exposure to ambient pesticides (including glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and permethrin) within 2000 m of their mother’s residence during pregnancy, compared with offspring of women from the same agricultural region without such exposure. Infant exposure could further increase risks for autism spectrum disorder with comorbid intellectual disability.

• In February, researchers at the University of Washington (UW) published a new scientific analysis of glyphosate (PDF) (right), the active ingredient in Monsanto-owned Bayer’s Roundup, the world’s most popular weedkiller. They concluded that evidence supports a “compelling link” between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer.
• Glyphosate exposure increases cancer risk up to 41% according to a study published in the IInternational Journal of Epidemiology (March). Observations in this analysis of >300 000 farmers and agricultural workers from France, Norway, and the USA, included elevations in risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoid malignancies (NHL) overall in association with the organophosphate insecticide terbufos, of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL) with the pyrethroid insecticide deltamethrin and of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) with the organophosphorus herbicide glyphosate.

• More transparency sought: an EU court ruled on 7 March that the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should publicise studies about Monsanto’s glyphosate weedkiller. The General Court’s statement said that it annulled decisions by the EU food watch agency “refusing access to the toxicity and carcinogenicity studies on the active substance glyphosate”.

• On March 29th – after safety officials reported human health and environmental concerns – EU states voted for a ban of chlorothalonil, a fungicide, after a review by the European Food Safety Authority was unable to exclude the possibility its breakdown products, cause damage to DNA. EFSA also said “a high risk to amphibians and fish was identified for all representative uses”. Recent research further identified chlorothalonil and other fungicides as the strongest factor linked to steep declines in bumblebees.

Reuters reports that a California jury found on Monday that Monsanto’s Roundup likely caused a couple’s cancer and awarded them a staggering $2.055 billion in damages, in a third consecutive Roundup trial loss for the Bayer-owned unit. In one trial last August, a US court in California awarded damages and costs against Monsanto to 46-year-old park worker Dewayne Johnson, who was diagnosed with cancer after using the chemical.

But there’s still way to go; Monsanto – apparently undaunted – offers another  product, said to have less damage potential

Monsanto is reformulating its dicamba pesticide which tended to drift and earlier damaged millions of acres of crops and wild trees in 2017.

Farmers in 25 states had submitted more than 2,700 claims to state agricultural agencies that year and it was banned in the state of Arkansas last year, where almost 900,000 acres of crop damage (above) were reported. Monsanto unsuccessfully sued the state in an effort to stop the ban.

A lower volatility formulation, M1768, ‘a product with less potential to volatilize and move off the target area’ has been approved by the EPA for use until 2020 – on corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and other crops – though it has not been evaluated by experts independent of Monsanto. It was obliged by the American government’s Environmental Protection Agency to agree to registration and labelling changes for the 2018 growing season, including making these products restricted-use and requiring record-keeping and additional measures to prevent spray drift.

 

 

 

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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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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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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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Russia is winning the battle for the health of the people and the environment.

19 May

Ellen Brown, president of the Public Banking Institute, (UC, Berkeley & UC, Los Angeles School of Law) reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned GMOs and has set out to make Russia the world’s leading supplier of organic food.

Russian families are showing what can be done with permaculture methods on simple garden plots. In 2011, 40% of Russia’s food was grown on dachas (cottage gardens or allotments), predominantly organically. Dacha gardens produced more than 80% of the country’s fruit and berries, more than 66% of the vegetables, almost 80% of the potatoes and nearly 50% of the nation’s milk, much of it consumed raw. Russian author Vladimir Megre comments:

Russian gardeners demonstrate that gardeners can feed the world—and you do not need any GMOs, industrial farms, or any other technological gimmicks to guarantee everybody’s got enough food to eat.

Bear in mind that Russia only has 110 days of growing season per year—so in the US, for example, gardeners’ output could be substantially greater. Today, however, the area taken up by lawns in the US is two times greater than that of Russia’s gardens—and it produces nothing but a multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry.

In the end, the Green Revolution engineered by Kissinger to control markets and ensure U.S. economic dominance may be our nemesis. While the U.S. struggles to maintain its hegemony by economic coercion and military force,

In the U.S., only about 0.6 percent of the total agricultural area is devoted to organic farming. Most farmland is soaked in pesticides and herbicides. But the need for these toxic chemicals is a myth. In an October 2017 article in The Guardian, columnist George Monbiot cited studies showing that reducing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides actually increases production, because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which crops depend. Rather than an international trade agreement that would enable giant transnational corporations to dictate to governments, he argues that we need a global treaty to regulate pesticides and require environmental impact assessments for farming. He writes:

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. … The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders?

President Trump has boasted of winning awards for environmental protection. If he is sincere about championing the environment, he needs to block the merger of Bayer and Monsanto, two agribusiness giants bent on destroying the ecosystem for private profit.

 

 

 

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Encouraging lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at China’s national congress

21 Oct

Those who totally oppose all GM adoption in China because of concerns about the damage caused by the herbicides and pesticides used with the crops and a loose coalition of left-wingers, environmentalists and retired officials will be encouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at this week’s national congress of China’s Communist Party.

Lucy Hornby in Beijing, writing in the FT, says that Mr Xi has ‘historically fudged’ his position on GM — urging advocates to be “bold in research, careful in promotion”.

Ms Hornby notes that the coalition had written letters to the top leadership last year opposing ChemChina’s purchase of Swiss seeds and agrochemicals group Syngenta. Reuters put the number of signatories at 400.

Currently – despite US Dow Chemicals’ persistent and energetic lobbying – only GM papaya is planted on a small scale in China, due to domestic fears that foreign GM technology poses a security threat. In addition, at present (June 17th report) GM cotton is grown in China and GM animal feed is imported. Very few genetically modified foods are allowed on the market in China and labelling GM foods is strictly enforced there.

The safety of GMOs is widely debated in China through traditional media and the emerging online social media, where the public expresses deep concerns about the safety of GMO foods.

In 2015, there was a report of a conference on “GMOs and National Security” in Beijing, where scholars warned that the issues relating to GMOs were not just about science or technology, but also about food security, ecological security, and even national security.

A study of a GM grain carried out in China in 2012 caused great concern to the public; a US researcher and her team were accused of feeding Chinese children a GM grain, golden rice, and measuring the effects without telling their parents.

Chinese researchers are vying to promote new plant strains they have developed, while not revealing whether they are genetically modified or developed using traditional breeding practices. Many are grown in demonstration fields but have not been commercialised.

Frank Ning is the head of ChemChina’s rival Sinochem, which markets some Monsanto products. He said that the future direction of Chinese agriculture is the gradual improvement of seed quality and more targeted application of fertiliser and pesticides, which are big sources of soil and water pollution in China:

“Sinochem has transformed. We used to be just a sales operation: selling seeds, selling fertiliser. Now we are a modern agricultural platform: service oriented, promoting better seeds and teaching people to use less fertiliser.”

So far, so good.

 

 

 

 

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