Sunday, October 30, 2011

Old chemicals are back

Old chemicals are back in battle against weeds
STLtoday.com
By Georgina Gustin
October 30, 2011

As industry standard Roundup falters, concerns emerge about herbicides from decades past.

As farmers wage war on a worsening weed problem, they are being forced to enlist the aid of chemicals they once virtually abandoned.

Since 1996, Monsanto’s Roundup weed-killing system has become the dominant approach in agriculture, changing the way American farmers grow commodity crops. In the past several years, though, American farmers have increasingly reported that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, isn’t killing weeds. So once-popular chemicals such as “2, 4-D” and “dicamba” again have been called to duty.

“It’s really ironic that in this day and age of genetic engineering we’re going back to a herbicide from the 1940s,” said Dean Riechers, an associate professor of weed physiology at the University of Illinois, referring to the chemical “2, 4-D.” “It’s the oldest herbicide we have, and it’s going to become really popular again.”

The ineffectiveness of glyphosate has left companies scrambling to come up with other options, but some farmers and environmentalists are concerned about health and environmental risks.

[Read More…]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Toxic herbicide revived

‘Superweeds’ revive an old, highly toxic herbicide
By Tom Philpott
Mother Jones
October 19, 2011

Don’t call it a comeback; 2, 4-D’s been here for years. It even played a role in Agent Orange.

Ecologists call it the “pesticide treadmill”: pests like weeds and bugs evolve to resist the poisons designed to destroy them, forcing farmers to apply ever-higher doses or resort to novel poisons.

But Monsanto’s empire of Roundup Ready crops—designed to resist lashings of its own herbicide, Roundup—appears on the verge of sending the pesticide treadmill into reverse. As Roundup loses effectiveness, swamped by a galloping plague of resistant superweeds [1], farmers have already played the card of dramatically boosting Roundup application rate [2]s.

Now they’re being urged to resort to an herbicide called 2,4-D that first hit farm fields in 1948, and that made up half of the formula for Agent Orange, the infamous defoliant applied to disastrous effect in the Vietnam War. Reports Southeast Farm Press [3]:

2,4-D is coming back. What many might consider a “dinosaur” may be the best solution for growers fighting weed resistance today, said Dean Riechers, University of Illinois associate professor of weed physiology.

To be fair, 2, 4-D made up the less toxic half of the Agent Orange formula, according to this Beyond Pesticides report [4](PDF) on it. The other half, known as 2,4,5-T, carried most of the dioxin contamination that made Agent Orange such a nightmare [5]for everyone exposed to it in Vietnam.

[Read More…]

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…]

Friday, September 9, 2011

French maize ban

EU court says French GM maize ban was illegal
By Charlie Dunmore and Julien Toyer
Reuters
September 08, 2011

  • Says France based its decision on wrong EU legislation
  • France says GMO maize ban still in place despite ruling
  • Monsanto says allow French farmers choice to use the maize

LUXEMBOURG - France acted illegally when it imposed a ban on the cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) maize variety developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto in 2008, Europe’s highest court ruled on Thursday.

The French authorities did have the right to impose a moratorium on the growing of Monsanto’s insect-resistant MON810 maize, but based its decision on the wrong EU legislation, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said.

In reaction to the ruling, France said its embargo on MON810 maize was still valid and that it would restart a procedure if needed.

To impose such a ban, member states must demonstrate a potentially serious risk to human or animal health or the environment, and notify EU authorities of the need to take emergency measures, the court said.

Emergency measures must be based on science and backed by an assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), according to the European Commission.

France imposed its safeguard clause against MON810 maize in February 2008, citing a “serious risk to the environment.”

Six other EU countries — Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg — have similar safeguard clauses in place.

[Read More…]

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…]

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