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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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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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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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Forty-six farmers spraying Monsanto’s GM Bt cotton died after inhaling the pesticide

14 Oct

Pradip MaitraHindustan Times, reports that in Vidharba, 46 farmers growing Monsanto’s Bt cotton died after inhaling poisonous pesticide whilst spraying the crop.. As pests had become resistant to pesticides formerly used, stronger formulations were being used with little or no protection – as Devinder Sharma points out in an earlier post.  

Most of the deaths were reported from Yavatmal, a major cotton-growing district that has often been in the news for farmers’ suicides.

More than 500 others have inhaled the poisonous spray and fallen sick, and are admitted in various hospitals. A few have already lost their vision, hearing or speech. More may die during treatment. As the death toll continues to rise, the chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered an inquiry under a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the matter.

The Quality Control of the state’s agriculture department on Wednesday raided 12 different godowns of pesticide companies and sealed those stocked to prevent further sales, seizing pesticides worth Rs 14.31-crore from Akola in western Vidarbha.

The Maharashtra State Agriculture Mission chairman Kishore Tiwari demanded a ban on chemical farming and encourage organic farming in the region. Tiwari, who is camping in Yavatmal after the incident, dubbed the entire episode as “genocide” and demanded to book the concerned multi-national manufacturers and concerned department, in this regard.

Tiwari has appealed to the state government to stop the use of harmful products to put an end to farmer fatalities and give compensation of Rs 5-lakh to the victims’ families. He alleges that the deaths are due to the vested interests of the regulatory officials in the agriculture department and administration’s negligence.

 

 

 

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Out in the open: Monsanto’s involvement in the retraction of the Séralini paper

22 Sep

Claire Robinson reports that internal Monsanto documents released by attorneys leading US cancer litigation show that Monsanto attempted to suppress a study showing adverse effects of Roundup herbicide. The full report may be read here.

She writes: “The study, led by Prof GE Séralini, showed that very low doses of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide had toxic effects on rats over a long-term period, including serious liver and kidney damage. Additional observations of increased tumour rates in treated rats would need to be confirmed in a larger-scale carcinogenicity study”.

The New York Times has published some of the emails mentioned by Claire. In the documents released by the American law firm, Monsanto scientist David Saltmiras admitted orchestrating a “third party expert” campaign in which scientists who were apparently independent of Monsanto would bombard the editor-in-chief of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT), A. Wallace Hayes, with letters demanding that he retract the study. In one document, Saltmiras reviews his own achievements within the company, successfully facilitating numerous third party expert letters to the editor which were subsequently published, alleging numerous significant deficiencies, poor study design, biased reporting and selective statistics employed by Séralini. Another Monsanto employee, Eric Sachswrites in an email about his efforts to galvanize scientists in the letter-writing campaign.

Sachs refers to Bruce Chassy, a scientist who runs the pro-GMO Academics Review website (and has ‘form’)

Sachs writes: “I talked to Bruce Chassy and he will send his letter to Wally Hayes directly and notify other scientists that have sent letters to do the same. He understands the urgency… I remain adamant that Monsanto must not be put in the position of providing the critical analysis that leads the editors to retract the paper.”   Chassy (left)was the first signatory of a petition demanding the retraction of the Séralini study and the co-author of a Forbes article accusing Séralini of fraud. In neither document does Chassy declare any link with Monsanto. But in 2016 he was reported to have taken over $57,000 over less than two years from Monsanto to travel, write and speak about GMOs.

The disclosed documents show that the editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology, A. Wallace Hayes, entered into a consulting agreement with Monsanto in the period just before Hayes’s involvement in the retraction of the Séralini study.

Clearly there was a conflict of interest between Hayes’ role as a consultant for Monsanto and his role as editor for a journal that retracted a study determining that glyphosate has toxic effects. The study was published on 19 September 2012; the consulting agreement between Hayes and Monsanto was dated 21 August 2012 and Hayes is contracted to provide his services beginning 7 September 2012.

A Monsanto internal email confirms the company’s intimate relationship with Hayes (right). Saltmiras writes about the recently published Séralini study: “Wally Hayes, now FCT Editor in Chief for Vision and Strategy, sent me a courtesy email early this morning. Hopefully the two of us will have a follow up discussion soon to touch on whether FCT Vision and Strategy were front and center for this one passing through the peer review process.” Monsanto got its way, though the paper was subsequently republished by another journal with higher principles – and, presumably, with an editorial board that wasn’t under contract with Monsanto.

Some regulatory bodies have backed Monsanto rather than the public interest. In fact, the EU is considering dispensing with the short 90-day animal feeding studies currently required under European GMO legislation.

Now that Monsanto’s involvement in the retraction of the Séralini paper is out in the open, FCT and Hayes should issue a formal apology to Prof Séralini and his team. FCT cannot and should not reinstate the paper because it has been published by another journal. But it needs to draw a line under this episode, admit that it handled it badly, and declare its support for scientific independence and objectivity.

 

 

 

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