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FT: Syngenta and Bayer funded a $3m field study – but dismissed its conclusions

9 Jul

The un-named author of a recent FT View opens by reminding readers of many factors often cited by scientists that may be behind the decline in bee populations across Europe and the US: habitat loss, disease and nutritional stress.

There are an estimated 3tn honey bees across the world. With their wild relatives they have been providing an essential service to mankind for millions of years.

The role that certain pesticides play in their decline has been fiercely disputed by environmentalists, farmers and industry lobbyists. In an earlier FT article Chloe Cornish recalls that previous studies indicated that neonicotinoids do harm bees, but were criticised because they were laboratory-based and did not replicate complex real world conditions.

. It was conducted over a year at 33 sites across the UK, Hungary and Germany, over an area spanning 2,000 hectares. It concludes that neonicotinoids — a widely used group of pesticides applied to seeds before planting — can indeed damage the ability of bees to establish new populations.

The $3m field study was joint funded by the chemical companies Syngenta and Bayer companies which produce most of these pesticides, and The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s contributed £400,000.

The findings add to an accumulating body of scientific research suggesting that “neonics” are a big contributor to the problem. They have played a part both in the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which commercial bees suddenly and mysteriously die off, and also in the tragic decline of wild bee populations in Europe and the US.

Facing denial in the face of this growing evidence lead authors Richard Pywell (right) and Richard Shore (left) told reporters in London that they were braced for hostility, acknowledging that this was a contentious area. Bayer and Syngenta have dismissed the report’s conclusions as simplistic and inconsistent— reminding the writer of the tactics once used by tobacco companies to fend off health-related regulation.

The implications are grim. Bees and other pollinators play a role in the production of about a third of the food eaten. Without them, basics such as coffee, chocolate and almost every fruit and vegetable would become scarce at best.

Neonicotinoids may not be solely responsible for the bee crisis. But of the many stresses contributing to declining populations, pesticide use is the easiest to control. A hungry and sick bee is more likely to die if it is also poisoned. The scientific findings point to the need for action.

EU regulators decided the link was worrying enough to place restrictions on the use of clothianidin, thiamethoxam and another neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, in 2013. This moratorium comes up for debate again later this year – meanwhile regulators are re-evaluating the three and will present their findings in November. FT View ends:

“On the latest evidence, the partial ban should be extended. The danger, of course, is that farmers will resort to using something with equally nefarious effects — the western world’s record for regulating pesticides is terrible.

”It is time that changed. It is time to look after bees as well as they look after us”.

 

 

 

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Burkino Faso was not silenced by Monsanto

14 Apr

Devinder Sharma (New Delhi) draws our attention to Burkina Faso, Africa’s top cotton producer but among the world’s poorest countries. In 2008, in order to reduce losses due to pests, it introduced a variety of cotton containing Monsanto’s Bollgard II trait nationwide.  

Sharma adds: “It was then hailed as a technological development which would change the face of the rural landscape”.

Over the years, however, a decline in value was blamed on the genetically modified (GM) cotton. Reuters reported that the Inter-professional Cotton Association of Burkina said that quality was damaged when Monsanto introduced the gene into its cotton. The fibre length, one of the chief measures of quality, was reduced, causing Burkina Faso’s cotton to fetch lower prices on the world market.

Burkina Faso did not renew its contract with Monsanto last year and this season it abandoned the use of the GM variety in favour of a return to its conventional cotton strain.

Sharma comments that instead of allowing its arm to be twisted, Burkina Faso took on the mighty multinational giant. It demanded compensation of US$76.5 million from Monsanto for the losses suffered. As a preventive measure, Burkina Faso withheld US$24 million in royalties collected from Burkina Faso farmers.

Reuters adds that Wilfried Yameogo, managing director of SOFITEX, said: “This brings definitive closure to a collaboration that had promised to offer the company a foothold in Africa but ended in dispute. In doing this, we think that a bad deal is better than a bad court case. We have closed the Monsanto dossier. There is no longer a demand for compensation”.

The Agriculture Minister Jacob Quedraogo (sometimes spelt as Ouedraogo), said that the country will now resort to cultivation of conventional cotton varieties, and he hopes the reintroduction of traditional cotton will eliminate the quality issues.

Sharma ends: Let’s learn something from Burkina Faso

 

 

 

Spotlight on Bayer-Monsanto neonicotinoid field trials

23 Sep

Farming Today (23.9.16) seems to be unaware of the content of the neonicotinoids research studies obtained by Greenpeace after a freedom of information request to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Bayer intends to make these public at the International Congress of Entomology next week.

This is not good news for Bayer, debt-laden since its takeover of Monsanto and reported to have seen its shares ‘drifting downwards’.

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Reports in the Guardian and EurActiv inform readers that the research studies, conducted by Syngenta and Bayer on their neonicotinoid insecticides, showed that Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin seriously harmed colonies at high doses, but found no significant effects below concentrations of 50 parts per billion (ppb) and 40ppb respectively.

Bees and other insects vital for pollinating three-quarters of the world’s food crops, have been in significant decline, due – it is thought -to the loss of flower-rich habitats, disease and the use of pesticides.

Consider the cumulative effect of neonic residues ingested from planting dust, water and treated seeds

However researchers note that pollinators in real environments are continually exposed to cocktails of many pesticides, rather than single chemicals for relatively short periods. As Matt Shardlow, chief executive of conservation charity Buglife, said:

“These studies may not show an impact on honeybee health [at low levels], but then the studies are not realistic. The bees were not exposed to the neonics that we know are in planting dust, water drunk by bees and wildflowers, wherever neonics are used as seed treatments. This secret evidence highlights the profound weakness of regulatory tests.”

prof-goulsonProfessor Dave Goulson explained, on Farming Today, that there were 20,000 species of bees and that neonics are neurotoxins that harm bumble bees, wild solitary bees and all insects. He added that there are a huge number of studies indicating the damage done and only a few that find them safe.

He reminds us on his blog that a recent Swedish study, published in the most prestigious scientific journal in the world (Nature), showed huge impacts of neonics on bumblebees and solitary bees when the chemicals were used by farmers ‘as directed on the label’ and adds a warning:

“Remember that, 50 years ago, the agrochemical industry assured us the DDT was safe, until it turned out that it wasn’t. Later, they told us that organophosphates were fine, except they weren’t. Do you believe them this time? I don’t”.

 

 

 

Rebrand Monsanto? Will the 99% be fooled?

29 May

bayer logoThe FT reports that Bayer, which has made a bid to take over Monsanto, has a relatively squeaky-clean brand, with ‘lots of positive connotations’. This, despite the company being rocked by scandal in 2001 when its cholesterol drug Lipobay was found to have serious side-effects and its production of a neonicotinoid insecticide which may have contributed to the decline in the bee population.

“Its oldest brand is aspirin, after all,” says Torben Bo Hansen, head of Philipp und Keuntje, a German advertising agency, adding “But for large parts of the population Monsanto is evil personified.”

In another FT article, Dirk Zimmermann explains: “Bayer is by no means an exemplary company. After all, their business model is the same as Monsanto’s — they also sell genetically modified seeds that are resistant to the herbicides they produce. None of this is compatible with the idea of sustainable agriculture, or at least our understanding of it.”

Monsanto is opposed because of its leadership in producing and promoting genetically modified organisms – Germany is one ‘no-go’ area where 1m hectares of land are farmed organically. Countries producing GM crops are shown below (in dark blue):

countries growing gm crops 15

Monsanto is also widely associated with the production and promotion of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which the World Health Organisation said last year was probably carcinogenic. The EU is currently debating whether to relicence glyphosate, with many European governments opposed.

countries ban label gm crops 14Countries banning or labelling GMOs (compiled by Canadian campaigner)

“One option for Bayer would be to drop the Monsanto name if the transaction went through”. Is rebranding the answer?

The Brand Failures blogspot recalls that when massive amounts of radioactive material were released from the UK’s Windscale atomic works in 1957, following a serious fire, the local community in Cumbria were understandably terrified about the health implications of uncontained radiation. Rather than close the plant down, the government believed the best way to put distance between the disaster and the nuclear plant as a whole was to change the name, from Windscale to Sellafield.

“The potential is definitely there for Bayer’s brand to suffer in a takeover,” adds Hansen. “One option for Bayer would be to drop the Monsanto name if the transaction went through, to prevent that “negative sentiment carrying over to the new company” said Jeffrey Stafford, analyst at Morningstar (investment management).

99%-3

But as Brand Failures records, in many cases, including Windscale/Sellafield and the Post Office/Consignia, the 99% are no longer so easy to fool.

 

 

 

 

Why does the Chinese ministry protect Monsanto’s business secrets ?

25 Jan

The Chinese ministry of agriculture faces a lawsuit for refusing to publish a glyphosate toxicology report; GMO grain and food oil products have been banned from the diet of Guangzhou military units.

An earlier post published news of Monsanto exerting influence on WHO and an American health hazard assessment office. We now learn that China’s ministry of agriculture has refused to publish the toxicology report of glyphosate used in Monsanto’s products in order ‘to protect the company’s business secrets’.

Looking back over China’s GM grain & soy news, it is noted that:

guangzhou gen miThe Wall Street Journal reported on an English translation of an essay in a Chinese government weekly by Lt. Gen. Mi Zhenyu, the former deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Military Science, published by Chen Yiwen, a senior official with the China Association for Disaster Prevention, on Chen’s verified blog. More detail here. According to the translated version, Mi said that GM soybean residues crushed to manufacture soy oil has been to be causing birth defects, depression, infertility and ‘additional afflictions’ in Chinese citizens. Mi asserts that the fault lies with China’s largest supplier of oilseed – the USA.

Extract: “During recent years, as China’s grain and oil market has continuously developed, certain GMO grain and GMO food oil products have entered the market. In view that the safety concerns about GMO grain and oil products in China at present has not yet been determined, in order to overall assure the health of military members residing in our city and safety of their drinks and food, in accordance to the request from the Guangzhou Military Command Joint Logistics Department and the Provincial Military Grain & Food Oil Supply Center, from this date all military supply stations are allowed to only purchase non-GMO grain and food oil products from the designated processing enterprises. It is forbidden to supply GMO grain and food oil products to military units within their administration areas.”

Advisor Chen I-wan comments: “The army has established excellent model for people of the whole nation: No GMO staple food and GMO food oil should enter army food supply!”

guangzhou in Guanddong provinceChairman of the CPC Central Military Commission inspects Guangzhou units in Guangdong province

Last year the ministry launched a media campaign to inform the public about the science behind GMOs after a wave of negative reports around the technology, but anti-GMO sentiment remains.

In February 2015, China’s Global Times reported that a Beijing court had accepted a lawsuit application filed by three residents against China’s Ministry of Agriculture for refusing to publish the test report of an herbicide used to treat genetically-modified (GM) soy beans.

Yang Xiaolu, one of the three plaintiffs, told the Global Times that they filed the lawsuit alleging lack of transparency in approvals of GMO and related products because the ministry refused to publish the toxicology report of glyphosate, a herbicide named “Roundup,” which was introduced in the market by the US-based agriculture company Monsanto, to protect the company’s business secrets. “Glyphosate on soy beans would affect women’s fertility, cause cancer, deform crops and harm the environment.” Yang said.

Reuter later reported that China plans to increase its oversight of genetically modified crops due to heightened public concern over Beijing’s ability to keep illegal GM products out of the food chain.

Will Monsanto manage to restore its profits, flagging because of weed resistance to Roundup?

3 Jun

A Lancashire farmer sent news, later reported by the FT’s Emiko Terazono, that the agricultural seeds and chemicals group, Monsanto, hopes to buy a rival Swiss agrochemical company, Syngenta.

monsanto logo (4)For years, a large proportion of Monsanto’ profits came from genetically modified glyphosate-tolerant Roundup Ready seeds. The chemical glyphosate, which was put on the market in the 1970s under the trade name Roundup, had become one of the most widely used herbicides in growing soyabean and corn.

However, increasing weed resistance to Roundup has been threatening the US agrigroup’s revenues, and herbicide sales data shows farmers are already reducing their glyphosate use for other herbicides, even if they are more expensive. The Economics of Glyphosate Resistance Management in Corn and Soybean Production, on the US Department of Agriculture’s website, recorded in April that 14 glyphosate resistant weed species have been documented in the US.

As the advice given is to rotate different herbicides, Monsanto would be enabled to do this after acquiring Syngenta, by adding the wide range of herbicides listed in Syngenta’s product guide, to its increasingly problematic Roundup herbicide.

Earlier this year the World Health Organisation said that glyphosate was “classified as probably carcinogenic to humans” – a claim Monsanto rejects. See the Press release: IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides” (PDF). International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization. March 20, 2015.

syngenta 2logoAnalysts estimate that acquiring Syngenta, the world’s largest crop chemical producer would give Monsanto control of almost a third of that sector – a similar ratio to its share of the global seeds business.

Bloomberg comments that slower growth and lower commodity prices are putting pressure on the agricultural-chemical industry to consolidate. It predicts that this deal would set the stage for even more mergers and acquisitions.

NGO SumOfUs works to limit the power of massive agribusiness corporations and has set up a petition opposing the proposed purchase, saying:

sumofus petition

“No single corporation should be allowed to wield the sort of power that comes from a near-monopoly on our global food system”.

GM technology viewed as “biological weapons of mass destruction” in Pakistan

8 Jan

In July last year, Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta, multinational companies and a number of national firms approached Pakistan’s Ministry of Food Security seeking licences to raise genetically-modified (GM) food products in Pakistan.

Imran Ali Teepu reported for Dawn that a senior federal government official, who did not wish to be named, told Dawn that “a request in this regard has been received by the Ministry of Food Security a few weeks back and is being reviewed”.

The director general of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency, Asif Shuja, said: “Research is still continuing internationally into whether the genetically-modified products have an impact on human health. Many of the local companies want to import genetically-modified food products from China and we have not given any approval in this regard”.

Meanwhile, Dr Jawad Chishtie, a public health and environment management specialist, said: “Genetically-modified products have been rejected in Europe, and most recently in France, for damaging crops and endangering human health.” He warned that effects of the genetically-engineered organisms were not yet known but “they are suspected of causing dangerous allergies and even cancer.”

He asked the government to promote organic farming in Pakistan for which the country had a far better environment.

In May this year Jamal Shahid reported that Lahore High Court ordered the government to stop issuing licences for genetically-modified (GM) varieties of cotton or corn until a legal framework is put into place to assess new types of genetically modified organisms.

Shahid continues: “The Farmers Association of Pakistan had been complaining about the sale of poor quality Bt cotton seeds in the open market for quite some time. He quotes Chaudhry Gohar, a progressive cotton farmer from Multan, who told Dawn that the use of uncertified varieties of GM seeds increase input costs for farmers. The low levels of pest resistance in these seeds have increased insects’ immunity, necessitating the use of nearly double the normal amount of pesticides. Pakistan Agriculture Research (NBC) also relaxed germination levels for crops from 75% under Seed Act, 1976 to less than 50%.

EPA DG Muhammad Khurshid observed that the authority treats GMOs ‘very seriously’: “The Foreign Office has also conveyed its concern to the Climate Change Division that the subject of GMO seeds is a matter of grave concerns for national security and trade. The Foreign Office treats GMOs as potential “biological weapons of mass destruction”, which could be used to destroy Pakistan’s major crops such as potato, wheat, rice, corn, cotton and vegetables through modified viruses, bacteria and other parasites.

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Russian lawmakers also want to address GMO-related activities that may harm human health and impose criminal liability on producers, sellers and transporters of genetically modified organisms, according to Izvestia.

Itar-Tass reports that a bill to this effect was submitted to the Russian State Duma – lower parliament house; under its terms criminal responsibility would apply only to companies and government officials, but there is a move to expand liability for GMO-inflicted harm to include state and local self-government officials.