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Study: Monsanto GMO food claims probably false


A farmer fills his planters with seed corn using a leading Monsanto brand. (Credit: AP/Seth Perlman)

Oops. The World Food Prize committee’s got a bit of egg on its face—genetically engineered egg. They just awarded the World Food Prize to three scientists, including one from Syngenta and one from Monsanto, who invented genetic engineering because, they say, the technology increases crop yields and decreases pesticide use. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Monsanto and Syngenta are major sponsors of the World Food Prize, along with a third biotech giant, Dupont Pioneer.)

Monsanto makes the same case on its website, saying, “Since the advent of biotechnology, there have been a number of claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically modified (GM) crops don’t increase yields. Some have claimed that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM crops… GM crops generally have higher yields due to both breeding and biotechnology.”

But that’s not actually the case. A new peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability examined those claims and found that conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering, is responsible for yield increases in major U.S. crops. Additionally, GM crops, also known as genetically engineered (GE) crops, can’t even take credit for reductions in pesticide use. The study’s lead author, Jack Heinemann, is not an anti-biotechnology activist, as Monsanto might want you to believe. “I’m a genetic engineer. But there is a different between being a genetic engineer and selling a product that is genetically engineered,” he states.

The study compared major crop yields and pesticide use in North America, which relies heavily on GE crops, and Western Europe, which grows conventionally bred non-GE crops. The study’s findings are important for the future of the U.S. food supply, and therefore for the world food supply since the U.S. is a major exporter of many staple crops.

Heinemann, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and director of the Center for Integrated Research in Biosafety, says he first began looking into the matter after he heard a remark made by Paul Collier in 2010. Both Heinemann and Collier, an Oxford economics professor and author of the bestselling book The Bottom Billion, were speaking at a conference in Zurich.

Collier “made the offhand remark during his talk that because Europe has shunned GMOs [genetically modified organisms], it’s lost productivity compared to the US,” Heinemann recalls. “That seemed odd to me. So while he was talking, I went to the FAO [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] database and I had a look at yields for corn. And over the short term, from 1995 to 2010, the US and Western Europe were neck and neck, there was no difference at all. So his assertion that lack of GMOs was causing Europe to fall behind didn’t seem true.”

Heinemann attempted to ask Collier for the source of his facts through the conference’s Internet-mediated audience Q&A system, but he never got an answer. He continued poking around for data and stumbled upon what he calls “the textbook example of the problems that come from a low genetic diversity in agriculture” – the 1970 Southern corn leaf blight epidemic.

“Really what happened by 1970 was that upwards of 85 percent of the corn grown in the US was almost genetically identical,” explains Heinemann. “The US is the world’s biggest producer of corn and both geographically and in quantity, so when you cover that much land with a crop of such a low genetic diversity, you’re simply asking for it to fail… In 1970 a previously unknown pathogen hit the US corn crop and the US almost lost the entire crop. It was a major crisis of the day. The only thing that saved the corn crop was that the weather changed in 1971 and that weather change wasn’t as favorable to the pathogen, so it gave farmers and breeders and extra year to swap over the corn germplasm to a variety that wasn’t as vulnerable.”

All told, the epidemic cost an estimated five trillion kilocalories in lost food energy, making it “many times larger than the Irish potato famine,” said Heinemann.

“Now that was in a day where biofuels were not being made from corn. So there was no competition for those food calories… Fast-forward to the drought of 2012. How many food calories were lost because of it? In kilocalories, it’s 89 trillion just from the drought. That’s just from an annual variation due to weather… The U.S. is the biggest producer and exporter of corn.”

When the U.S. corn crop fails, the entire world feels the pain.

Given the stakes, Heinemann decided to look at the productivity and sustainability of the U.S. agricultural system. And when examining sustainability, he means it in a very literal sense: can this system be sustained over time? Is U.S. agriculture resilient or is it highly susceptible to variations in weather, pests or other stressors?

Instead of examining North America alone, he chose to measure it against Western Europe. Therefore, he is able to measure not just whether North American agriculture improved over time, but whether or not it improved more or less than a similar region. Agriculture on both sides of the Atlantic is fairly similar, with the major exception the adoption of GE crops.

Both the U.S. and Canada were early adopters, whereas Western Europe did not adopt GE crops. The study compared crops that are common to both regions: corn and wheat in the U.S. and Western Europe, and canola in Canada and Western Europe. Almost all of the corn and canola grown in North America is genetically modified, whereas no GE wheat is grown in either region studied. Therefore, the study could isolate whether any increases in yields were thanks to genetic engineering or simply due to conventional crop breeding.

Even in genetically engineered plants, most of the genes in the plant come from conventional breeding. Think about the new sheep genetically engineered by scientists in Uruguay to – no joke – glow in the dark. Its DNA contains genes that tell its cells to make wool, hooves, four legs, a head, and everything else that makes it a sheep. Only a few genes – the ones that make the sheep glow in the dark – were inserted via genetic engineering. If the sheep happens to have the best wool for making sweaters or it produces the best milk for making cheese, that’s due to conventional breeding and not genetic engineering.

The same is true for crops. One or more genetically engineered traits can be added to any variety of corn, soybeans, or canola. Most of those crops’ traits come from conventional breeding. If a GE crop does particularly well or particularly poorly, the success or failure could be due to the genes inserted via genetic engineering… or it could be due to all of its other conventionally bred genes.

Heinemann’s group found that between 1985 and 2010, Western Europe has experienced yield gains at a faster rate than North America for all three crops measured. That means that the U.S., which grows mostly GE corn, and Canada, which grows mostly GE canola, are not doing as well as Europe, which grows non-GE corn and canola. The increases in corn yields in the U.S. have remained relatively consistent both before and after the introduction of GE corn. Furthermore, Western Europe is experiencing faster yield gains than America for non-GE wheat.

What does this mean? “There’s no evidence that [GE crops] have given us higher yields,” says Heinemann. “The evidence points exclusively to breeding as the input that has increased yields over time. And there is evidence that it is constraining yields in the North American agroecosystem.” He offers two potential reasons why. First, he says, “By making the germplasm so much narrower, the average yield goes down because the low yields are so low.”

In other words, the lack of biodiversity among major crops today results in bigger losses during bad years.

Companies that make GE crops benefit from a relatively new law, passed in 1994, allowing for much stricter intellectual property rights on seeds. Previously, a company had the rights to sell its seed. A farmer could buy that seed and cross it with other seeds to produce locally adapted varieties. He or she could then save and replant those varieties. Now, the company can patent the genes inside the plant. It doesn’t matter if a farmer breeds Monsanto’s corn with a local variety and produces a brand new type of corn. If the resulting seeds have Monsanto’s patented gene in them, then Monsanto owns them. The farmer cannot save his own seeds.

This means that seed companies now control the amount of biodiversity available to farmers. And the number of varieties they sell has been going down. For example, the study found that in 2005, farmers could choose from nearly 9,000 different varieties of corn. The majority (57 percent) were GE, but farmers still had over 3,000 non-GE varieties to pick from. By 2010, GE options had slightly expanded, but non-GE options plummeted by two thirds. Similar reductions in varieties sold were seen in soybeans and cotton, too. By 2010, only 17 percent of corn varieties, 10 percent of soybean varieties, and 15 percent of cotton varieties available in seed catalogues were non-GE.

But these numbers make the U.S. seed supply look more biodiverse than it actually is. Within all of those thousands of corn varieties sold, one single variety, Reed Yellow Dent, makes up 47 percent of the gene pool used to create hybrid varieties. All in all, corn germplasm comes from just seven founding inbred lines. More than a third come from one of those seven, a line called B73.

With farmers in nearly every state planting such genetically similar corn, farmers experience booms and busts together. Farmers in Mexico, the birthplace of corn, plant a fantastic variety of corn. The plants differ in color, height, ear size, drought tolerance, maturity time, and more. If bad weather shows up late in the season, the early maturing varieties still provided a harvest. If it’s dry, the drought tolerant varieties survive. If a new disease shows up, some of the corn is bound to have some resistance to it whereas other varieties will be more susceptible to it. Biodiversity acts almost like an insurance system.

Planting genetically identical crops results in the opposite. It’s like betting all of your money on one lottery number. And when U.S. corn farmers lose the lottery, they all lose together so the national yield plummets.

Second, Heinemann adds, “Another possibility is that it’s not genetic engineering per se but it’s the innovation policy through which genetic engineering is successful that is causing the U.S. agroecosystem to invest in the wrong things. So the innovation strategy gives signals to the industry to produce things that can be controlled by strict property rights instruments, but these things are not contributing to sustainable agriculture. The problem is that the biotechnologies that the US is invested in are limiting the sustainability and productivity of the agroecosystem.” (Heinemann means “biotechnologies” in a very broad sense, as in any technology humans use in agriculture, even something as simple as using mulch or composting.)

“Western Europe has gone for a different kind of innovation strategy,” he continues. “Because Europe has had to innovate without using genetic engineering,” due to its laws that do not allow GE crops, “it does so in a way that rewards the plants. They’re getting greater yield and using less pesticide to do it. But the way the US is innovating, it’s penalizing all plants whether they are genetically engineered or not.”

Yep, that’s right. In addition to increasing crop yields faster, European nations have also reduced pesticides more than we have.

“The US and US industry have been crowing about the reduction in chemical insecticide use with the introduction of Bt crops [GE crops that produce their own pesticide],” says Heinemann. “And at face value, that’s true. They’ve gone to about 85 percent of the levels that they used in the pre-GE era. But what they don’t tell you is that France went down to 12 percent of its previous levels. France is the fourth biggest exporter of corn in the world, one of the biggest exporters of wheat, and it’s only 11 percent of the size of the U.S.

“So here is a major agroecosystem growing the same things as the US, corn and wheat, and it’s reduced chemical insecticide use to 12% of 1995 levels. This is what a modern agroecosystem can do. What the US has done is invented a way to use comparatively more insecticide.” Comparatively more than what? “More than it should be!” exclaims Heinemann. “It should be down to 12% too!”

via Study: Monsanto GMO food claims probably false – Salon.com.

Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World?


The most hated company in the world right now isn’t a member of Big Oil. It’s not a shady Internet company or a bailed-out megabank. Populist discontent toward dirty energy, high-tech snoops, and greedy bankers has occasionally been fierce, but it’s never been laser-focused like the outrage that drew an estimated (by the organizers) 2 million protesters to anti-Monsanto rallies in more than 50 countries at the end of May.

Think about that. If those numbers are accurate, a single private company drew almost as many protesters in a single day as the worldwide Occupy movement at its peak. Monsanto didn’t even have to bankrupt any economies or leech billions of dollars off taxpayers. All it took was three little letters: GMO.

What is GMO?

You probably know something about GMOs, which stands for genetically modified organisms, since it’s as closely associated with Monsanto as “IRS” is with taxes. The popular definition of a GMO is (according to Wikipedia) “an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.” If you want to get pedantic about this definition, humankind has been genetically modifying organisms ever since the first nomads settled down to grow crops, since virtually nothing we eat today is the same exact plant or animal (or Twinkie) it was 10,000 years ago. But that’s not why everyone’s afraid of Monsanto. Monsanto is scary because — in the eyes of detractors — it’s compressing 10,000 years of genetic adaptations into 10 years of mad science.

The history of commercialized GMO foods as we now know them began just two decades ago, with an “enhanced” tomato that was so unprofitable to produce that its developer wound up selling itself to Monsanto. Since then, other developments have embedded GMOs into a rather substantial part of the world’s food supply.

Source : ISAAA Brief on Global Status of Commercialized Biotech Crops, 2012.

Total global cropland, by comparison, amounts to roughly 1.5 billion hectares, so GMOs now take up more than 11% of all cropland in the world. ISAAA — the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a pro-GMO nonprofit supported in part by Monsanto’s funding — says that GMOs have made 100-fold gains in terms of planted cropland since 1996. The United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India comprise the lion’s share of GMO cropland, as more than 152 million of the world’s 170 million GMO hectares are found in those five countries.

All of this adds up to big business. The six largest seed-and-weed companies — which typically pair specially engineered seeds with herbicides that often eliminate any plants not attuned to their unique chemical structure — accounted for close to $50 billion in global sales across their various product lines in 2009, the last year for which complete data was available:

Company

Seed + Trait Sales

Global Seed Market Share

Agrochemical Sales

Global Agrochemical Market Share

Total Agro-Tech R&D Spending

Monsanto

$7,797

27%

$4,427

10%

$1,032

DuPont

$4,641

17%

$2,403

5%

$955

Syngenta

$2,564

9%

$8,491

19%

$720

Bayer CropScience

$700

8%

$7,544

17%

N/A

Dow Chemical

$635

7%

$3,902

9%

$874

BASF

N/A

N/A

$5,007

11%

$1,705

Source: Hope Shand in The Heritage Farm Companion; 2009 sales in millions $USD.

Fear of a mod planet
A quick search of “GMO” will turn up all sorts of scaremonger websites, with all sorts of frightening claims that when you eat a Monsanto-developed crop, you’re consigning yourself to a short, sickly life of gastrointestinal (or just general) agony. Cancer, allergic reactions, liver problems, sterility, and even the unnatural modification of your genes — these are just the claims I found on the website of the Institute for Responsible Technology, which purports to be a leading anti-GMO advocacy group. I won’t go into some of the anti-Monsanto conspiracy theories you’ll find bandied about on less reputable corners of the Internet.

It may not be easy to debunk all of these claims, but thanks to extensive national medical records, we can at least see how close to the mark they may strike. Since America was the earliest adopter of GMO foodstuffs, and is now the world’s predominant grower and consumer of GMO crops, it should be experiencing the worst of the purported GMO health problems.

Are we more cancerous today than we were in 1996? Actually, not by a long shot:


Source: National Cancer Institute, SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2010.

The results are even more pronounced when focusing on cancers of the stomach, colon, and rectum, which all show a persistent and significant downtrend throughout the entire tracked period across race and gender divisions. If we’re eating ourselves to death, shouldn’t our digestive systems be the most damaged by these Frankenfoods? Cancer statistics don’t back up anti-GMO claims at all, and with more than 16 years in the food supply, you’d expect there to be a statistically significant change. The one statistically significant spike on these graphs, occurring around 1990, is often blamed on the Chernobyl disaster.

There has been an increase in death rates from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in recent years, by about one person per 100,000 from 1999 to 2010 — but keep in mind that these liver problems are typically alcohol-related. Simply noting a slight statistical uptick isn’t enough to blame on modified crops. People might just be binge-drinking more.

Food allergies, however, might be a different story:


Source: Centers for Disease Control, NCHS Data Brief, 2008 .

The little disclaimer at the bottom reads “statistically significant trend,” and the prevalence of food allergies among children increased by 18% from 1997 to 2007. That’s rather notable. The average number of food-allergy-related hospital visits per year also spiked toward the end of the tracking period, from only 2,600 per year in 2000 to more than 9,500 in 2006. On its own, this may not be enough to blame on GMOs — except for soy, none of the foodstuffs on the CDC’s list of common food allergens is a known GMO crop (although wheat appears headed in that direction). The body may react to one type of food by increasing its reaction severity to other types, but the interplay between these factors is complex and not easily reduced to a simple cause-and-effect relationship.

Other noted health problems — here I refer to a long essay by Earth Open Source, no more an impartial observer than the ISAAA (impartiality is all but impossible to come by in the GMO debate) — include toxin contamination from the overuse of herbicides on GMOs modified for herbicide resistance, stomach lesions, and adverse immune reactions in mice, liver and kidney abnormalities in rats … well, it goes on like this. You can read about the effects in detail at this link, beginning on page 37 (PDF opens in new window). If you can name an ailment, there’s probably a study somewhere that has traced its cause to GMOs. Yet the world continues to live longer. U.S. life expectancy has increased from 76 years in 1996 to 78.6 years in 2011, and global life expectancy has increased from 66.4 to nearly 69 years in the same time period. If we’re less healthy, we sure are coping with it more effectively.

Economic benefits?
There has to be a reason farmers keep using GMOs. The most obvious would be that the end product — that is, the stuff you eventually eat — would yield more per planting (that is, per acre), which should result in lower costs at the consumer level. To the extent that this is true, it can’t be credited to the adoption of GMO seed, as yield improvements and price declines began long before Monsanto got into the seed business:


Source: Prof. Mark J. Perry.

Soybean yields haven’t grown quite as impressively but have still doubled on a per-acre basis over the same time frame. Cotton yields have also soared over the past several decades. GMO crops had nothing to do with it — old-fashioned hybridization, improved production techniques and infrastructures, and the spread of these two important developments around the world created a modern agricultural revolution after the Second World War. GMO crops might be in the process of extending that revolution today, but they may not. Few processes are so simple that a simple tweaking of one element can completely explain a change in another.

GMOs can’t claim to have reduced crop costs through efficiency gains, either. Since commercial introduction in 1996, two of the three major crops planted have nearly doubled in price:

US Producer Price Index: Farm Products: Soybeans Chart

US Producer Price Index: Farm Products: Soybeans data by YCharts

Ultimately, this is probably good for farmers, but bad for everyone else. Not only are you buying Frankenfoods that will wreck your health, but you’re also paying twice as much for the privilege. Agriculture can be so cruel. (Yes, that was tongue-in-cheek.)

Monsanto itself claims that GMOs benefit farmers through increased yield, greater insect and disease protection, and drought and heat resistance. The modified crops also conserve the soil, minimize the use of herbicides, and reduce the energy used in the growing process.

I’ve already shown that yields have been increasing for decades, so Monsanto is at best merely continuing a long-running trend, and at worst piggybacking on other improvements to make disingenuous claims. Herbicides and fertilizers have shipped in more than 35% greater quantities this year over the volumes seen in 1996. Fertilizer, as you might expect, is one significant part of increasing crop yields. Since fertilizers are quite energy-intensive to make (many are derived from natural gas) and can be damaging to soil quality over time, this one factor tends to disprove a number of Monsanto’s claims:

US Pesticide, Fertilizer, and Other Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing Shipments Chart

US Pesticide, Fertilizer, and Other Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing Shipments data by YCharts.

The increased use of herbicide designed to work with GMOs (and vice versa) appears to be creating strains of “superweeds” that actively resist the chemicals. Nature tends not to sit idly by while scientists try to pound it into submission. The long-term consequences of an arms race between chemical-cum-GMO producers and the invasive species they want to push out of farm fields could very possibly result in damages beyond the circumstantial ones I’ve already highlighted.

The only real claim that I can’t disprove (or at least weigh down with caveats) is that of drought and heat resistance, mostly because it’s not easy to find data on the claim in either direction. Reducing water use is no small feat in a world quite obviously enduring a period of abnormal heat and drought. However, this alone can’t answer for the fact that something should be done about widespread droughts beyond the creation of GMOs that drink just a little bit less water — particularly if these GMOs result in the indirect use of more water by herbicide-resistant weeds.

How do you solve a problem like Monsanto?
It’s tempting to reduce complex issues into outraged sound bites, like “GMOs are killing people!” or “GMOs are feeding the world!” The truth, as always, isn’t quite so easy.

The threat of tainted food — whether by chemicals or through genetic manipulation — is a cause that arouses outrage at a pitch few other causes will ever muster. The threat of a shadowy corporation with its fingers buried in the heart of our food supply only heightens this outrage, and Monsanto’s heavy-handed efforts at control have done nothing to soften its public image. However, the science of GMOs has been carried out in a highly ideological way on both sides, which doesn’t help when all you want is the truth.

It seems that GMOs will inevitably become a larger part of our food supply, because the corporate motivator in the United States has proved to be stronger than the citizen motivator in recent years. A few protests won’t change that. It will take concerted, long-running national efforts to change diets and attitudes before Monsanto and its peers are forced to loosen their grip on American farmlands. If you choose to be one of the people on the vanguard of that effort, make sure that you understand the science as it is, and not as you’d like it to be.

Are we less healthy today than we were two decades ago? It’s possible, even though most of the statistics don’t show that. Is it all Monsanto’s fault? Probably not.

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The article Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? originally appeared on Fool.com.

via Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? – DailyFinance.

Russia Warns Obama: Global War Over “Bee Apocalypse” Coming Soon


The shocking minutes relating to President Putin’s meeting this past week with US Secretary of State John Kerry reveal the Russian leaders “extreme outrage” over the Obama regimes continued protection of global seed and plant bio-genetic giants Syngenta and Monsanto in the face of a growing “bee apocalypse” that the Kremlin warns “will most certainly” lead to world war.

According to these minutes, released in the Kremlin today by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation (MNRE), Putin was so incensed over the Obama regimes refusal to discuss this grave matter that he refused for three hours to even meet with Kerry, who had traveled to Moscow on a scheduled diplomatic mission, but then relented so as to not cause an even greater rift between these two nations.

At the center of this dispute between Russia and the US, this MNRE report says, is the “undisputed evidence” that a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine, known as neonicotinoids, are destroying our planets bee population, and which if left unchecked could destroy our world’s ability to grow enough food to feed its population.

So grave has this situation become, the MNRE reports, the full European Commission (EC) this past week instituted a two-year precautionary ban (set to begin on 1 December 2013) on these “bee killing” pesticides following the lead of Switzerland, France, Italy, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine, all of whom had previously banned these most dangerous of genetically altered organisms from being used on the continent.

Two of the most feared neonicotinoids being banned are Actara and Cruiser made by the Swiss global bio-tech seed and pesticide giant Syngenta AG which employs over 26,000 people in over 90 countries and ranks third in total global sales in the commercial agricultural seeds market.

Important to note, this report says, is that Syngenta, along with bio-tech giants Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and DuPont, now control nearly 100% of the global market for genetically modified pesticides, plants and seeds.

Also to note about Syngenta, this report continues, is that in 2012 it was criminally charged in Germany for concealing the fact that its genetically modified corn killed cattle, and settled a class-action lawsuit in the US for $105 million after it was discovered they had contaminated the drinking supply of some 52 million Americans in more than 2,000 water districts with its “gender-bending” herbicide Atrazine.

To how staggeringly frightful this situation is, the MNRE says, can be seen in the report issued this past March by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) wherein they warned our whole planet is in danger, and as we can, in part, read:

“As part of a study on impacts from the world’s most widely used class of insecticides, nicotine-like chemicals called neonicotinoids, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has called for a ban on their use as seed treatments and for the suspension of all applications pending an independent review of the products’ effects on birds, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife.

“It is clear that these chemicals have the potential to affect entire food chains. The environmental persistence of the neonicotinoids, their propensity for runoff and for groundwater infiltration, and their cumulative and largely irreversible mode of action in invertebrates raise significant environmental concerns,” said Cynthia Palmer, co-author of the report and Pesticides Program Manager for ABC, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations.

ABC commissioned world renowned environmental toxicologist Dr. Pierre Mineau to conduct the research. The 100-page report, “The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds,” reviews 200 studies on neonicotinoids including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The report evaluates the toxicological risk to birds and aquatic systems and includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.

“A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird,” Palmer said. “Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with the oldest neonicotinoid — called imidacloprid — can fatally poison a bird. And as little as 1/10th of a neonicotinoid-coated corn seed per day during egg-laying season is all that is needed to affect reproduction.”

The new report concludes that neonicotinoid contamination levels in both surface- and ground water in the United States and around the world are already beyond the threshold found to kill many aquatic invertebrates.”

Quickly following this damning report, the MRNE says, a large group of group of American beekeepers and environmentalists sued the Obama regime over the continued use of these neonicotinoids stating: “We are taking the EPA to court for its failure to protect bees from pesticides. Despite our best efforts to warn the agency about the problems posed by neonicotinoids, the EPA continued to ignore the clear warning signs of an agricultural system in trouble.”

And to how bad the world’s agricultural system has really become due to these genetically modified plants, pesticides and seeds, this report continues, can be seen by the EC’s proposal this past week, following their ban on neonicotinoids, in which they plan to criminalize nearly all seeds and plants not registered with the European Union, and as we can, in part, read:

“Europe is rushing towards the good ol days circa 1939, 40… A new law proposed by the European Commission would make it illegal to “grow, reproduce or trade” any vegetable seeds that have not been “tested, approved and accepted” by a new EU bureaucracy named the “EU Plant Variety Agency.”

It’s called the Plant Reproductive Material Law, and it attempts to put the government in charge of virtually all plants and seeds. Home gardeners who grow their own plants from non-regulated seeds would be considered criminals under this law.”

This MRNE report points out that even though this EC action may appear draconian, it is nevertheless necessary in order to purge the continent from continued contamination of these genetically bred “seed monstrosities.”

Most perplexing in all of this, the MRNE says, and which led to Putin’s anger at the US, has been the Obama regimes efforts to protect pesticide-producer profits over the catastrophic damaging being done to the environment, and as the Guardian News Service detailed in their 2 May article titled “US rejects EU claim of insecticide as prime reason for bee colony collapse” and which, in part, says:

“The European Union voted this week for a two-year ban on a class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, that has been associated with the bees’ collapse. The US government report, in contrast, found multiple causes for the collapse of the honeybees.”

To the “truer” reason for the Obama regimes protection of these bio-tech giants destroying our world, the MRNE says, can be viewed in the report titled “How did Barack Obama become Monsanto’s man in Washington?” and which, in part, says:

“After his victory in the 2008 election, Obama filled key posts with Monsanto people, in federal agencies that wield tremendous force in food issues, the USDA and the FDA: At the USDA, as the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Roger Beachy, former director of the Monsanto Danforth Center. As deputy commissioner of the FDA, the new food-safety-issues czar, the infamous Michael Taylor, former vice-president for public policy for Monsanto. Taylor had been instrumental in getting approval for Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone.”

Even worse, after Russia suspended the import and use of an Monsanto genetically modified corn following a study suggesting a link to breast cancer and organ damage this past September, the Russia Today News Service reported on the Obama regimes response:

“The US House of Representatives quietly passed a last-minute addition to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for 2013 last week – including a provision protecting genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks.

The rider, which is officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, has been derided by opponents of biotech lobbying as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” as it would strip federal courts of the authority to immediately halt the planting and sale of genetically modified (GMO) seed crop regardless of any consumer health concerns.

The provision, also decried as a “biotech rider,” should have gone through the Agricultural or Judiciary Committees for review. Instead, no hearings were held, and the piece was evidently unknown to most Democrats (who hold the majority in the Senate) prior to its approval as part of HR 993, the short-term funding bill that was approved to avoid a federal government shutdown.”

On 26 March, Obama quietly signed this “Monsanto Protection Act” into law thus ensuring the American people have no recourse against this bio-tech giant as they fall ill by the tens of millions, and many millions will surely end up dying in what this MRNE report calls the greatest agricultural apocalypse in human history as over 90% of feral (wild) bee population in the US has already died out, and up to 80% of domestic bees have died out too.

via Russia Warns Obama: Global War Over “Bee Apocalypse” Coming Soon | EUTimes.net.

Pesticides against pollinators


Private letters reveal Syngenta and Bayer’s furious lobbying against EU measures to save bees

The crisis of dramatic bee population decline has been a top issue in media and political debate in Europe. A wide variety of culprits are under scrutiny, including certain parasites, viruses, pesticides and industrial agriculture. But new scientific evidence from British and French research institutions, published in Science in early 2012, suggests that neonicotinoids pesticides in particular might be one of the main drivers. Syngenta and Bayer, two companies producing these substances, are waging an all-out lobbying war against the proposed partial ban of these substances by the European Commission following EFSA’s (European Food Safetey Authority) opinion warning of the risk they pose to bees. Will the pesticide lobby succeed in convincing Member States to vote no to a ban?

syngenta_bee

New scientific evidence triggers EU concern

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that came onto the market in the mid 1990s and early 2000s. Many crops such as corn, soy, wheat or rapeseed are now treated with them. They are normally applied directly to seeds or in soil treatments, in an attempt to preserve seeds and plants from insect attacks at an early stage. As systemic pesticides, once in the seed, they enter the whole plant through its vascular system and are found in every plant tissue (leaves, flowers, pollen…); but they can also remain active in the soil for a long time (up to three years). Particularly controversial among the neonicotinoids are Thiametoxam, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, substances patented by biotech and pesticide companies Syngenta and Bayer.

The French scientific study reported the loss of honeybee foragers caused by exposure to low doses of Thiamethoxam (Syngenta). The British study reported that low doses of Imidacloprid (Bayer) affected the colonies of bumblebees, reducing their development and their reproduction, including a dramatic loss of queens. Authors stated that, “given the scale of use of neonicotinoids, we suggest that they may be having a considerable negative impact on wild bumble bee populations across the developed world.”

In March 2012 the European Commission mandated the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to deliver a scientific opinion on a report that led Italy to temporarily suspend the placing on the market of maize seeds treated with neonicotinoids. In April 2012 the Commission broadened its request to include the new scientific evidence published in Science. In addition to Italy, Slovenia and Germany had already applied protective measures, including temporary suspensions or bans in certain uses of neonicotinoids.

A furious lobbying campaign

In June 2012, the French Government announced its intention to withdraw the registration of Thiamethoxam. The pesticides industry immediately started putting pressure on the Commission. This was the beginning of a furious lobbying campaign; a series of letters sent by Syngenta, Bayer and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA, the pesticides producers’ lobby whose members include Bayer, Monsanto, BASF, Dow, and DuPont / Syngenta) to the European Commission and EFSA, seen by CEO, have enabled us to reconstruct its story. Here are the main arguments used by these two companies:

  • It’s farmers’ fault. Bayer, in a letter addressed to Commissioner Dalli, claims that past incidents of pesticide poisoning that affected honey bees were the result of inappropriate use and/or lack of precaution in applying the substance, thus they offload responsibility onto farmers rather than the product itself.
  • Just a small group of activists and hobby beekeepers. Syngenta made the accusation that some Member States, “driven by a small group of activists and hobby beekeepers” are lobbying to suspend, “their insecticide and all other neonicotinoids. And they urged the Commissioner to “resist this pressure” for the sake of the credibility of the EU’s regulatory process.
  • Me and my friend Obama. Syngenta’s CEO, Michael Mack, personally wrote to Commissioner Dalli to remind him that just two weeks before he had lunched at the G-8 summit with US President Obama, President of the European Council Van Rompuy, President of the European Commission Barroso and France’s President Hollande, discussing the contribution of the private sector to global food security and the money Syngenta was committed to spend in Africa.
  • Keep calm, and use neonicotinoids. In another letter sent in November to Commissioners Ciolos (Agriculture) and Geoghegan-Quinn (Research) in November, and to all EU Agriculture Ministers, Syngenta called for a comprehensive review, that they insisted was necessary to avoid “wrong conclusions from a rushed process that could have disastrous implications for agriculture and ironically for bee health”. This, added to the fact that it was only three neonicotinoids (including Syngenta’s Thiamethoxam) being singled out, was “desperately disappointing” for Syngenta.
  • “Independent” analysis show that Europe can’t survive without neonicotinoids. According to Syngenta, who didn’t provide any references to back up the claim, “the loss of this technology will cost farmers and consumers up to €1 billion and undermine the production of safe and affordable food”. In a letter they sent in November they stated that according to “independent analysis” there would be significant damage to European agriculture if their product was banned (more than €17 bn over the next five years) as well as the risk of relocation of corn production. In addition, ECPA claims potential yield losses of up to 10% in oilseed rape and cereals, 30% in sugarbeet and 50% in maize as a result of a potential ban.Another study promoted by industry was research carried by the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture, that concluded that neonicotinoid pesticides make a significant socio-econonomic and environmental contribution to European agriculture and the wider economy. The support and partners of this Institute include BASF, Bayer CropScience, E.ON, KWS and Nestlé. The study was supported by Copa-Cogeca (the big farmers’ lobby group in Brussels), the European Seeds Association (mainly representing the largest companies in the seed industry) and the European Crop Protection Association, and financed by Bayer and Syngenta. This, however, was not mentioned in Syngenta and Bayer’s letters.
  • ‘Science’ is on my side. For decades, industry’s strategy has been to advocate for a science-based policy. But which science exactly? This particular lobbying campaign provides helpful insights into the sort of science industry favours, and the sort it doesn’t.Firstly, a comment can be made about the role of EFSA. Industry usually pushes for decisions to be made by scientists and experts rather than politicians, the latter having to justify themselves in front of voters; it was therefore not a surprise to read the pesticides lobby ECPA write to the Commission that “as an industry, we welcome the fact that EFSA is carrying out a detailed evaluation on the use of these seed treatments”. In the meantime, they lobbied the European Commission with scientific studies backing their commercial interests: Bayer explained to the Commission that neonicotinoids were not responsible for bee decline as other experts maintained that pathogens and parasites were the main problem. Meanwhile, Syngenta questioned the conditions in which the studies with critical findings were performed, claiming that the exposure in these studies significantly exceeded any real situation found in the field. According to them, France was taking decisions in the absence of “any validated science”. The company also delivered to the Commission a costly GLP (Good Laboratory Practice)-compliant study on bees exposed to corn treated with thiamethoxam it had sent to the private analysis lab Eurofins. This study concluded that “no effect in terms of mortality, honeybee activity and brood development and behaviour of the honeybees” could be observed1.

    However, EFSA’s opinion,published on 16th January, was not the one the companies had hoped for: it was very critical of the use of these pesticides, although the agency was not able to finalise the assessments in some cases due to shortcomings in the available data (remember: EFSA usually doesn’t do any research and merely assesses others’ work). EFSA and its scientific experts found risks to bees associated with neonicotinoids pesticide exposures from pollen and nectar contaminated with pesticide, from pesticide dust, and from exposure from guttation (plants exudating drops of sap on the tips or edges of their leaves).

    Bayer immediately counter-attacked: they commissioned another analysis of EFSA’s conclusion by “an independent panel of bee scientists”: in fact, the company Exponent®, which specialises in defending products from regulation. Exponent® came to the conclusion that “EFSA risk assessments use unrealistic exposure values, make inappropriate comparisons to toxicity threshold levels, fail to consider critical bee behaviour, and inappropriately discount monitoring and field studies”, and therefore “overstates the risks to honey bees”. Exponent®’s modus operandi is reanalysis of scientific studies detrimental to industry to cast doubt on their conclusions in order to prevent their use for regulatory purposes, but their production, tailored for litigation, has been described as “more legal pleadings than scientific papers”.2

  • You don’t like my science? You will hear from my lawyers. Syngenta had access to EFSA’s press release before its publication. They immediately sent an extremely aggressive letter to the agency, claiming that the press release was “incorrect in a major and highly relevant aspect but EFSA also moves out of its area of responsibility and mandate”. Syngenta even threatened to take legal action and set a deadline: “we ask you to formally confirm that you will rectify the press release by 11 o’clock. Otherwise you will appreciate that we will consider our legal options.”Syngenta’s anger increased when the press release was published without major changes. In several letters to EFSA they insisted that the press release is “inaccurate and contrary to the EFSA conclusion”. And the company requested access to documents such as all the draft versions of the press release, internal correspondence and the preparatory meeting notes that led to the draft.

    After analysing the documents provided by EFSA, they then targeted EFSA’s Director, accusing her of not including Syngenta’s comments on the draft press release in harsh terms: “you took the personal responsibility to overrule the internal EFSA proposal to rectify the incorrect press release”. Therefore, “Syngenta would appreciate further explanations from you” before “deciding on the legal options available to it and the identity of specific defendants in any possible court action”.

    Syngenta wanted to find culprits, and therefore requested more documents, including handwritten notes of internal EFSA meetings as well as all the correspondence regarding their attempts to change the draft press release.

  • Mr. Politician, please help me against these ignorant scientists. Threatening EFSA having proved ineffective, Syngenta and Bayer are now putting maximum pressure on the Commission and Member States, and publicly blaming EFSA. Syngenta for instance counterattacked that “EFSA has limited practical knowledge of agriculture” and that if this sort of risk assessment was repeated “it would be impossible to maintain the registration of any existing insecticides or to register any new ones”. According to Syngenta, the methodology used by EFSA to conduct the review was “questionable because it was based on a highly theoretical and extremely conservative scientific opinion”.Beyond direct pressures to politicians, Syngenta launched a fierce campaign in various national media to avoid Members States approving the proposal, claiming for example in the UK media that EFSA had been “nobbled”. The pesticides association ECPA has also been really active, promoting the Humboldt Institute study in the European and national media and scaremongering the public with the prospect of disaster should the proposal be approved.
  • I’ll solve the problem myself, no need to regulate. The two companies have launched a charm offensiveto be seen as part of the solution rather than of the problem, and for this are launching an upgrade of Syngenta’s PR sting “Operation Pollinator”. This consists in paying a few farmers so that they grow flowers and other plants beneficial to bees on their farms. But how many farms exactly? No figures have been provided.

The battle for Member States’ vote

The battleground is now at the European Member State level. On 15th March, at the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, the European Commission put to the vote a proposal that would restrict for two years the use of Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiametoxam to crops not attractive to bees and to winter cereals, starting 1st of July (meaning this year’s crops would not be affected). It would also prohibit the sale and use of these pesticides to “amateurs”. This proposal was limited and criticised by farmers group and beekeepers for not being ambitious enough, but still failed to reach a qualified majority. It was supported only by 13 member states (Slovenia, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Denmark, Cyprus, Belgium, Italy, Latvia and Malta), while nine countries (Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Ireland and Greece) rejected the proposal. The UK, Germany, Finland, Bulgaria and Estonia abstained.

The proposal will be retabled by Commissioner Borg at the Appeal Committee in the coming weeks, with a vote likely to occur probably on the 26th of April or the 2nd of May. If Member States again fail to reach a qualified majority supporting the proposal, the Commission would have the power to approve it. Meanwhile, the pesticides industry is lobbying Member States hard to try to reach a qualified majority to reject the proposal outright and thus block the ban. The coming weeks’ battle will be crucial: will industry interests prevail against bees’ survival?

  • 1.Thiamethoxam – Monitoring of Potential Effects of the Drilling of Thiamethoxam FS Treated Maize Seeds on Honeybees, Guttation Monitoring of Maize Seedlings under Agronomic Use Conditions and Assessment of the Relevance of Guttation for Honeybees in Alsace (France) – Final Report. 15 November 2012, Eurofins Agroscience Services EcoChem GmbH.
  • 2.See “Doubt is their product”, D. Michaels, Oxford University Press, 2008, p.46.
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