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Apr 272012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Opponents of GE-corn designed to resist the potent herbicide 2,4 D have flooded the USDA with letters of protest this week.

The majority of US corn has been engineered to be RoundUp ready. But RoundUp treated fields are producing super weeds that are overrunning the fields. Enter Dow Chemical with 2,4 D resistant corn. (Photo: GreenRightNow.)

The new variety of genetically engineered (GE) corn, proposed by Dow Chemical, has attracted thousands of negative public comments from citizens concerned about the health effects of the herbicide that comprised one half of the infamous Agent Orange defoliant that left many Vietnam veterans with a variety of health and reproductive issues.

Among those opposed, are 141 environmental, public health and farm groups that filed a letter of protest this week and 41 scientists who also filed a formal letter of protest with the USDA, which must approve the new engineered corn variety. The public registered more than 360,000 comments opposing approval, according to the Center for Food Safety. The comment period on Dow’s application was set to end today.

The groups say that using 2,4 D presents too many health dangers to humans, and to the soil and waterways, to justify extending its use. The chemical is already approved for other agricultural uses, and is the active ingredient in many weed-and-feed products used by homeowners on their lawns.

Although the amounts of 2,4 D in each application may be small and meet “tolerances” set by the EPA, allowing the chemical to accumulate in the environment, on food and in homes, is dangerous, according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), one of the groups fighting Dow’s application.

“Data shows several possible cancer links,” including “overwhelming evidence” linking 2,4-D exposure to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America.

Farmers also say that using 2,4 D-resistant corn would continue a system of fighting weeds with chemicals that has been shown to be dysfunctional.

Genetically modified crops are using more pesticides than ever, not less, as the biotech companies once promised, because their tactics of creating pesticide resistant crops are creating pesticide-resistant weeds as well, according to the farmers and groups opposing GE-crop expansion. (They point to this study.)

George Naylor, who’s been farming corn and soybeans in Iowa for 35 years, sees the GE approach as a cleverly marketed way to takeover agriculture by biotech firms that want to own food production and sell more chemicals.

“I’ve not raised genetically modified crops, in which the basic building blocks of life are transferred from one species to another, and I’ve managed to control my weeds in a satisfactory way without genetically modified crops,” Naylor said in a news conference convened by 2,4 D opponents on Thursday.

“This idea that we have to go down this road to feed the world is totally wrong, totally crazy,” he said, explaining that this argument is falsely used to win support for GE foods. But the higher-yields of GE crops only occur because the biotech companies are using the best seeds for their genetically modified programs, he said. In addition, those higher yields only last a short time, until the super weeds they produce cause crop failures.

Naylor also pointed to the fact that the majority of the vast corn and soybeans raised in the US are not shipped overseas to ‘feed the world’ but are consumed by domestic livestock for the meat, poultry and dairy industries.

Another farmer at the news conference also said she fears that GE crops do more harm than good, raising a slightly different concern: GE crops threaten contaminate organic production such as her produce farm in Missouri that supplies restaurants with organic vegetables. Contamination can occur through seed drift, and when pesticides are sprayed nearby. Organic plants not engineered to withstand the mid-season application of pesticides can suffer.

The 2,4-D corn also threatened the health of crop workers, said Margot McMillen, who noted that weed resistance to GE crops has been a known problem for more than a decade, yet companies have not presented a viable solution, other than switching to new chemicals.

Just as the last generation of GE corn and soybeans, engineered to resist glyphosate or RoundUp, produced RoundUp resistant weeds that set up crop failures, 2,4 D can be expected to produce a new set of superweeds, McMillen said.

“It seems like a path that doesn’t really have a solution at the end of it, and one of the things we really have to think about is, are there other ways we can handle this problem. Or is it such a problem? Can we live with weeds maybe?” she said.

Ben Burkett, a Southern farmer of cotton and produce who also spoke at the news conference, had a similar viewpoint.

Recalling that the now-banned DDT was once sprayed to control the boll weevil on cotton — before people recognized “we were killing ourselves” with it, he proposed that today’s chemicals aren’t worth the health risks.

Nor is the biotech approach working, Burkett said, explaining that super weeds are reducing available crop land in the South. New GE variations will just exacerbate the problem, he said.

“Mother Nature’s always more powerful than what we can come up with,” Burkett said.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jan 312012

From Green Right Now Reports

A lawsuit against Monsanto filed on behalf of organic farmers and independent seed businesses went before a judge Tuesday in the Southern District Court in Manhattan, as Monsanto sought to dismiss the case.

No Monsanto crop circle. (Photo: OSGTA)

The suit, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA) et al. v. Monsanto, asks the court for relief from Monsanto’s tactic of suing organic farmers whose fields become contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) seeds.

You read that right. Monsanto has been suing farmers whose fields become contaminated with GE crops devised by Monsanto, even though in the vast majority, if not all, of these cases, this contamination was inadvertent and the GE seeds unwanted.

Monsanto has been suing farmers whose crops have been found to be contaminated, claiming patent infringement or the theft of intellectual property, for more than a decade. Between 1997 and April 2010, the company filed 144 lawsuits against farmers in 27 states for patent infringement or breach of license for “using” it’s GE products, according to the lawsuit.

The agribusiness giant maintains it is protecting its bio-engineered seeds and crops. But farm activists say the company is trying to kill all competition and become the sole proprietor of crop seeds.

The irony is that the organic producers who’ve faced Monsanto’s wrath want nothing to do with GE seeds or crops. But these GE seeds, which dominate farming in America, accounting for more than 80 percent of the corn, sugar beets, canola and soybeans grown in the US, drift in on the winds, or become mixed with organic seeds during seed or crop processing.

Organic farmers, whose certifications are based on running chemical-free operations, find themselves doubly threatened by Monsanto’s GE creations. The GE seeds, which are developed to be used with herbicides, contaminate organic crops by introducing foreign genetic material via cross-pollination, thereby compromising the purity of their organic crops and the organic farmer’s certification. The second threat comes when Monsanto sends lawyers in to sue the organic farmer who has unwittingly “used” its seeds.

The St. Louis-based agribusiness giant has sued and ruined dozens of farmers over this issue in recent years. Few farmers win these cases, being outgunned by the millions the St. Louis-based company has devoted to defending its GE crops.

In March 2011, organic farming activists decided to counter attack. The OSGATA, whose membership has swelled to more than 30,000, filed suit on behalf of 60 organic farmers, seed companies and organic agricultural organizations. The lawsuit asks the court to stop Monsanto from suing and bankrupting farmers who haven’t bowed to their system, and ultimately to declare Monsanto’s seed patents unenforceable and invalid.

OSGATA explains the case in the introduction to its lawsuit:

“This case is about real farmers and real seed businesses who wish to use organic and conventional seed, but who are at substantial risk of being contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed and then being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement…Monsanto has undertaken one of the most aggressive patent assertion campaigns in history, including asserting its patents on transgenic seed against parties who, like Plaintiffs, never wanted to use or distribute such seed.”

“As a result each of the Plaintiffs is under constant fear of being contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed and then sued by Monsanto for patent infringement. The fear is so severe for some of the complainants that they are completely forgoing growing certain crops that they could easily grow and would like to grow.”

The lawsuit chronicles the problems some of the organic farmer and seed operator plaintiffs have faced from Monsanto, whose strong-arm tactics have become legendary in the organic community. They include:

  • Bryce Stephens, a Kansas farmer who grows a variety of crops on a 1,000 acre farm. He had to stop growing corn and sorghum for fear that these crops would become contaminated by Monsanto seed and then he would face a financially devastating lawsuit.
  • Frederick Kirschenmann, a third-generation farmer in Windsor, ND., who operates a 3,500-acre certified organic farm. The Kirschenmanns had to give up farming organic canola because the risk of becoming contaminated by Monsanto canola was too high. This cost the family $25,000 to $50,000 per year, according to the lawsuit, and deprives them of using canola as a rotation crop in their organic production.
  • Fedco Seeds, a seed cooperative in Maine, sells conventional and organic seeds, includingcorn, soybeans and alfalfa. This firm contracts others to grow its seed supply and operates in fear of inadvertent contamination, which would precipitate a Monsanto lawsuit. Protecting against contamination increasingly requires expensive testing, which reduces profit margins. As a direct Monsanto competitor, Fedco fears it will be targeted should any contaminated seed slip into its system.

While lawyers argued the case in federal court, activists gathered at Foley Square outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan US Courthouse, chanting and providing a human megaphone, ala Occupy style, to speakers who emphasized that anyone who eats food has a stake in the debate over GE crops.

Bob St. Peter, a Maine farmer, urged the gathered crowd to recognize its shared interests as “farmers, eaters, peasant and fisher folks” and asked them to fight for GM labeling on foods, which would help consumers support non-GMO and organic growers and retailers.

He derided Monsanto for being able to “insulate themselves from any type of liability, while they contaminate our food.”

Many food activists believe that GE foods are dangerous, because the effects of the transgenic transformations have not been well studied and go beyond basic hybridization techniques.

One speaker, whose name could not be heard above the crowd, urged those attending to recognize that declining food quality has contributed to diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

“The phyto-chemicals that were in this vital food are becoming less and less prevalent as we institutionalize our farming methods,” he said. “This health issue must be presented to the courts and our politicians for us to support farmers in the maintenance of the integrity of the food supply.”

  • Read more  here about why OSGATA considers organic seeds to be superior.

Jan 242012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

In the brave new world of bio-tech agriculture, the big pesticide/herbicide makers have argued for years that their genetically modified crop manipulations would reduce the use of chemicals.

It made sense, that tactic. Almost everyone agrees that our health and the environment would benefit from reduced pesticide use. And Americans react strongly when they find their food has been compromised by chemicals. Think of the Alar apple scare, or the more recent outcry over strawberries doused with methyl iodide, a fumigant suspected of causing cancer.

American corn, primarily grown for cattle feed and biofuels.

Chemical companies tapped into citizen concern about pesticides by promising they could engineer corn and soybeans to resist certain “safer” chemicals, such as Monsanto’s Roundup. That would reduce environmental harm and give farmers a break, because they could use Roundup whenever they wanted without fear of harming their crops. They’d get higher yields with little downside, because the Roundup would biodegrade, and America would feed the world….

That was the promise of genetically engineered (GE) crops, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The actual results were nearly the opposite:

  • Super weeds built up resistance to Roundup, creating a tidal wave of ever-taller, ever-more-resistant weeds, stymieing farmers, who had to buy more and more Roundup or face declining yields.
  • Herbicide use shot up. Monsanto sold a lot of Roundup – 4.4 million pounds in 2000, and by 2010, 57 million pounds, according to Beyond Pesticides.

This double backfire – an herbicide that causes more problems than it solves, creating powerful weeds and degrading the soil — hasn’t caused the big chemical companies to back off their plans to create genetically engineered crops.

Far from it.

Let’s try that again, with a new chemical

In late December 2011, the public learned that Dow AgroSciences LLC had applied for federal approval to sell its solution to the Roundup seed-weed merry-go-round: A GE corn that would work in concert with a different chemical known as 2, 4-D.

Pesticide watchdogs perked up. They know 2, 4-D as an older generation herbicide that, unlike Roundup, was never promoted as safer and was a major component in the infamous defoliant, Agent Orange, used to blot out jungles during the Vietnam War and suspected of contributing to a variety of veterans’ ailments. Studies have found an increased risk for Hodgkins lymphoma, Non-Hodgkins Lymphona and certain leukemias among people exposed to Agent Orange. Some of those findings led to a private settlement in the 1970s awarding veterans help with their Agent Orange-related health issues.

Industry advocates, though, say 2,4-D on its own is safe for homeowners and farmers to use on their lawns and fields. They note that it has been submitted to rigorous testing and studies on carcinogenicity have often been inconclusive. Some of those studies show that 2,4-D does not cause cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts it another way, 2, 4-D has not been proven to cause cancer. The agency, charged with defining the toxic effects of pesticides and herbicides and setting safe thresholds, has reviewed numerous studies done on 2, 4-D over the years, concluding that 2, 4-D is “not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity.”

Studies have found associations between certain cancers and exposure in the factory or fields to this type of herbicide, including one study of farmers in Nebraska who used 2,4-D and suffered high rates of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Setting aside the debate over whether 2, 4-D triggers cancer, the chemical is indisputably toxic with numerous studies showing it causes retinal degeneration, impaired reflexes, prostration, myotonia, ataxia and other conditions among lab animals tested.

The EPA also allows there’s “concern” that scientists don’t know much about how 2, 4-D affects the body’s endocrine system, an area of new study prompted by emerging science showing that small regular doses of certain chemicals can alter human biology. This line of research suggests that 2,4-D could have “endocrine disruption potential,” meaning it would affect the hormonal systems of humans, according to the EPA’s fact sheet on the chemical.

Animal studies detailed on Extonet, a compilation of university research, show that 2,4-d has caused reproductive problems for rats and low doses administered over two years produced malignant tumors.

“Our concern is that the traces of these chemicals are everywhere, and affect the endocrine system, especially in kids,” said Mark Kastel, founder of the Cornucopia Institute, which advocates for natural farming and food systems and is opposing the new Dow Chemical corn.

“Sometimes exposures to these toxics can have catastrophic lifelong impact. It might be a triggering device, especially in the reproductive organs, causing them to develop inadequately,” he said.

Such interference with human biology could cause later-life cancers or human infertility, which has been rising.

These new potential health effects, along with the known problems caused by pesticides, suggest a cautionary approach, according to Kastel and other advocates for organic farming. Yet, US policies embrace chemical agriculture, they say, seemingly for fear of facing down corporate giants like Monsanto and Dow Chemical, and in the process making Americans guinea pigs in a vast food system experiment.

The question is: Why are we moving toward technologies that seem to add to dependencies on pesticides?” asks Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

Chemical farming and the Monsanto Fail

The answer to Feldman’s question from the chemical industry has been that biotech farming squeezes more yields from less land, and therefore allows American farmers to “feed the world.”

Many farmers do report higher output with GE crops — initially. But over time, the promise of high yields erodes. The rain of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides wears out the soil, and promotes super weeds. And that’s not counting the collateral damage to the river systems and water supplies. Each farming season, the fertilizer and pesticide runoff from America’s heartland pollutes rivers and produces marine life-killing algal blooms as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. There one food system does combat with another as the algal blooms choke off shrimp and oyster production.

If biotech farming bursts from the gate like a hare, organic production is the tortoise. It may take a couple years to work the soil back to health with compost and natural fertilizers, but then, studies show, organic methods can produce robust yields.

Even if those yields aren’t quite up to the level of those produced by GE farming — and some studies show they are — Kastel argues that Americans should be looking at the tradeoffs. “Maybe you can grow more bushels per acre, but if the food is less healthy, the ground is less healthy, you’re putting toxics into our water and air, is this good?”

One person commenting on Dow’s 2, 4-D proposal portrayed the contrast in the two farming approaches this way: “The only thing you used to need on a farm was a hat to keep the sun off your face, a tobacco chew for the dust. Now you need a whole suit and respirator.”

Chemical farming has another insidious side, it threatens organic farms as sure as if it were an anvil hanging overhead, according to Feldman. When the federal government bows to chemical companies, it fails in its obligation to protect organic farmers, whose fields can be contaminated by pollen from engineered crops nearby, he said.

The government revealed how it favors chemical companies last year when it approved GE alfalfa, a crop that has never needed pesticides to grow well, he said. In doing so, it put organic milk at risk, because organic dairy operations depend upon organic alfalfa to feed their herds. If the GE varieties contaminate the organic alfalfa fields, organic dairy farmers could face feed shortages, and that would directly consumers, who’ve been buying more organic milk every year.

“If you go to Monsanto’s website, they will teach you that GE foods are going to help us feed the world, have lower impacts on the environment, and increase our yields, George Kimbrell, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety told an audience last spring. “The most recent myth is that they are going to help us solve global warming. The most basic myth is that GE is the same as conventional breeding. None of these claims are true.”

The reason GE systems fail, Kimbrell told those gathered at a Beyond Pesticides meeting, is that this type of breeding goes far beyond conventional cross-breeding to improve plants: “Basically it’s gene splicing using recombinant DNA technology. It’s inserting a gene from a species that would never breed in nature into another species. So you have a flounder [fish] gene that goes into a tomato.”

“The most prevalent form of GE crops are Roundup Ready. They use a soil bacterium gene, which Monsanto found in the wasteland of its backyard, that was the only thing alive that could survive all the polluted chemicals and [the] Roundup that was coming out of its factory. They took the genes from it and inserted it using a virus into plants. Lo and behold, the plants became resistant to Roundup as well.”

Kimbrell says that 80 percent of GE crops are “pesticide promoting,” meaning they do not increase yields, but they do increase the use of pesticides – such as Monsanto’s cornerstone product, Roundup.

When this manipulation fails after a few years, and the weeds resist the chemical drenching farmers must up the ante, using more and more herbicides each growing season.

The evidence of this vicious cycle is in the numbers, says Feldman, explaining that US farmers now use more than 10 times the Roundup they used in 2000.

Environmental and food safety advocates say this system cannot hold. In addition to the damage to soils and waterways, they believe the ever mounting use of GE crops and their attendant pesticides and herbicides is creating less healthy food in two ways:

  • It leaves pesticide residues on the crops, and even though those are set to remain below certain levels, the thresholds are not indisputably safe).
  • The crops are engineered in ways we don’t fully understand.

This latter issue, of genetically modified food has not been well studied, and pronouncements range from “it’s completely safe” to it’s fundamentally a new food, the product of gene manipulation and potentially capable of interfering with human gene replication (and therefore triggering disease).

Dow AgroSciences points to approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its GE products as showing that the foods produced are safe. For instance, in a statement about its recently approved GE corn and soybeans, bred to work with Dow’s “Enlist” weed control system, a spokesman noted that the FDA considers the crops to be “not materially different in any respect relevant to food or feed safety from corn varieties on the market.”

Organic advocates say that’s hollow assurance from companies that have engineered not just the plants, but a cycle of profiteering in agricultural chemicals.

While the debate over whether GE crops are safe or harmful continues, the effects of pesticide residues on fields, farmers and food is more clear cut, organic advocates say.

“The problem with all these pesticides and herbicides is that they’re designed to kill,” says Kastel. “Is it any surprise that they’re dangerous?”

  • The public has until February 27 to comment on the Dow’s application for it’s new GE corn, which is resistant to 2, 4-D. People can read the petition and get directions for comments at this federal government website.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network