Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Superweeds pose threat

Superweeds pose growing threat to U.S. crops
By Carey Gillam
Reuters
September 20, 2011

PAOLA, Kansas - Farmer Mark Nelson bends down and yanks a four-foot-tall weed from his northeast Kansas soybean field. The “waterhemp” towers above his beans, sucking up the soil moisture and nutrients his beans need to grow well and reducing the ultimate yield. As he crumples the flowering end of the weed in his hand, Nelson grimaces.

“We are at a disturbing juncture,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The use of toxic chemicals in agriculture is skyrocketing. This is not the path to sustainability.”

“When we harvest this field, these waterhemp seeds will spread all over kingdom come,” he said.

Nelson’s struggle to control crop-choking weeds is being repeated all over America’s farmland. An estimated 11 million acres are infested with “super weeds,” some of which grow several inches in a day and defy even multiple dousings of the world’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.

The problem’s gradual emergence has masked its growing menace. Now, however, it is becoming too big to ignore. The super weeds boost costs and cut crop yields for U.S. farmers starting their fall harvest this month. And their use of more herbicides to fight the weeds is sparking environmental concerns.

[Read More…]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Herbicide goes rogue

DuPont’s herbicide goes rogue
By Jim Hightower
OtherWords
September 17, 2011

The company’s landscaping weed-killer turned out to be a tree-killer

In the corporate world’s tortured language, workers are no longer fired. They just experience an “employment adjustment.” But the most twisted euphemism I’ve heard in a long time comes from DuPont: “We are investigating the reports of these unfavorable tree symptoms,” the pesticide maker recently stated.

How unfavorable? Finito, flat-lined, the tree is dead. Not just one tree, but hundreds of thousands all across the country are suffering the final “symptom.”

The culprit turns out to be Imprelis, a DuPont weed-killer widely applied to lawns, golf courses, and — ironically — cemeteries.

Rather than just poisoning dandelions and other weeds, the herbicide also seems to be causing spruces, pines, willows, poplars, and other unintended victims to croak.

“It’s been devastating,” says a Michigan landscaper who applied Imprelis to about a thousand properties this spring and has already had more than a third of them suffer outbreaks of tree deaths. “It looks like someone took a flamethrower to them,” he says.

At first, DuPont tried to dodge responsibility, claiming that landscape workers might be applying the herbicide improperly. The corporation even urged customers to be patient and leave the tree corpses on their lawns to see if they’d come back to life in a few years.

However, faith-based landscaping was a hard sell. Disgruntled homeowners began filing lawsuits. Then DuPont had its own “aha!” moment when trees on the grounds of the DuPont Country Club also developed the “unfavorable symptoms” of Imprelis poisoning.

So, with DuPont’s cooperation, the EPA has finally banned sales of the tree-killing herbicide. But because of inadequate testing and a rush to profit, the poison will remain in the soil — and our water— for many moons. Trees will continue to die. Will we never learn?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Science denied

Monsanto Denies Superinsect Science
By Tom Philpott
Mother Jones
September 8, 2011

As far back as 2002, scientists have been warning that bugs would develop resistance to Monsanto’s Bt corn.

As the summer growing season draws to a close, 2011 is emerging as the year of the superinsect—the year pests officially developed resistance to Monsanto’s genetically engineered (ostensibly) bug-killing corn [1].

While the revelation has given rise to alarming headlines, neither Monsanto nor the EPA, which regulates pesticides and pesticide-infused crops, can credibly claim surprise. Scientists have been warning that the EPA’s rules for planting the crop were too lax to prevent resistance since before the agency approved the crop in 2003. And in 2008, research funded by Monsanto itself showed that resistance was an obvious danger.

And now those unheeded warnings are proving prescient. In late July, as I reported recently, scientists in Iowa documented the existence of corn rootworms [2] (a ravenous pest that attacks the roots of corn plants) that can happily devour corn plants that were genetically tweaked specifically to kill them. Monsanto’s corn, engineered to express a toxic gene from a bacterial insecticide called Bt, now accounts for 65 percent of the corn planted in the US [3].

The superinsect scourge has also arisen in Illinois and Minnesota. “Monsanto Co. (MON)’s insect-killing corn is toppling over in northwestern Illinois fields, a sign that rootworms outside of Iowa may have developed resistance to the genetically modified crop,” reports Bloomberg [4]. In southern Minnesota, adds Minnesota Public Radio [5], an entomologist has found corn rootworms thriving, Bt corn plants drooping, in fields.

[Read More…]

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Limits on modified honey

EU court puts limits on modified honey
Associated Press
September 6, 2011

BRUSSELS - Honey that contains traces of pollen from genetically modified crops needs special authorization before it can be sold, the European Union’s top court said Tuesday, in a judgment that could have widespread consequences on the bloc’s policy on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The ruling from the European Court of Justice came after several Bavarian beekeepers demanded compensation from their government for honey and food supplements that contained traces of pollen from genetically modified maize.

The beekeepers had their hives close to fields where the Bavarian government was growing Monsanto’s MON 810 maize for research purposes.

The EU has strict guidelines on authorizing and informing consumers about foods containing GMOs — a policy that has caused problems for producers of genetically modified seeds such as U.S.-based Monsanto Co. that are used to much laxer rules in other parts of the world.

Environmental activists said Tuesday’s ruling will force the 17-country European Union to strengthen the rules even further.

“This is a victory for beekeepers, consumers and the movement for GM-free agriculture in Europe,” Mute Schimpf, a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement. “This ruling rewrites the rule book and gives legal backing to stronger measures to prevent contamination from the likes of Monsanto.”

Friday, September 2, 2011

Corn not killing pests

Monsanto biotech corn not killing pests, research finds
By Georgina Gustin
STLtoday.com
September 2, 2011

Scientists sounded the alarm years ago, but now their predictions appear to be an encroaching reality: Monsanto’s biotech corn is showing signs, they say, that it no longer repels the pests it is engineered to kill.

Last month, researchers from Iowa State University published a study showing that the western corn rootworm — a major crop pest and yield-reducer — is surviving after ingesting an insecticidal toxin produced by the corn plants. A University of Illinois professor says he believes the same thing could be happening in fields in northwestern Illinois.

The problem, if it spreads, could mean that farmers will lose a critical tool in managing pests — and the Creve Coeur-based biotech and seed giant could lose ground on a profitable technology.

The corn, which Monsanto launched in 2003, is engineered to produce a protein, known as Cry3Bb1, derived from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. The rootworms ingest the roots of this “Bt corn,” as it’s referred to in the industry, and the protein is fatal.

But the Iowa team determined that in some fields with heavy populations of rootworm the Bt corn was not killing the rootworm. The study, the scientists said, is the first report of resistance to the toxin in the field, but more are probably on the way, some scientists believe.

[Read More…]

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