Tag Archives: Agriculture

GMO crops may cause major environmental risks, USDA admits

GMO crops may cause major environmental risks USDA admits GMO crops may cause major environmental risks, USDA admits

A new report published by the United States Department of Agriculture demonstrates that the vast majority of corn and soybean crops grown in America are genetically-engineered variants made to withstand certain conditions and chemicals.
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But while GMO seeds have been sowed on US soil for 15 years now, the latest USDA report reveals that Americans still have concerns about consuming custom-made, laboratory-created products, albeit nowhere near as much as in Europe.

The report was released by the USDA’s Economic Research Service and published on their website Feb. 20. And though the paper takes into consideration the trends that have shaped how scientists and agriculturists have approached genetically-modified organisms since they were first introduced in the US a decade-and-a-half ago, the consensus seems to be that no one is certain just yet about what toll the surge in GMOs will truly have.

Between 1984 and 2002, the study’s authors wrote, the number of GMO varieties approved by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, grew exponentially. Today GMO crops are found in most of America’s biggest farms, they continued, and scientists have in the last several years discovered groundbreaking new ways to make situation-specific seeds that have traits more desirable than traditional crops.

“As of September 2013, about 7,800 releases were approved for GE corn, more than 2,200 for GE soybeans, more than 1,100 for GE cotton and about 900 for GE potatoes,” the USDA affirmed.

Just last year, the agency added, GMO crops were planted on about 169 million acres of land in the US — or about half of all farmland from coast-to-coast.

Around 93 percent of all soybean crops planted in the US last year involved GMO, herbicide-tolerant (HT) variants, the USDA acknowledged, and HT corn and HT cotton constituted about 85 and 82 percent of total acreage, respectively.

“HT crops are able to tolerate certain highly effective herbicides, such as glyphosate, allowing adopters of these varieties to control pervasive weeds more effectively,” reads an excerpt from the USDA report.

As those weed-killers are dumped into more and more fields containing HT crops, however, USDA experts say it could have a major, as-yet-uncertain impact on the environment.

“Because glyphosate is significantly less toxic and less persistent than traditional herbicides,” a portion of the report reads, “…the net impact of HT crop adoption is an improvement in environmental quality and a reduction in the health risks associated with herbicide use (even if there are slight increases in the total pounds of herbicide applied). However, glyphosate resistance among weed populations in recent years may have induced farmers to raise application rates .Thus, weed resistance may be offsetting some of the economic and environmental advantages of HT crop adoption regarding herbicide use. Moreover, herbicide toxicity may soon be negatively affected (compared to glyphosate) by the introduction (estimated for 2014) of crops tolerant to the herbicides dicamba and 2,4-D.”

That chemical, as RT has reported on in the past, is a component in Agent Orange and has been linked to health risks. Should the USDA give the go-ahead for GMO companies to manufacture 2,4-D-resistant crops, then that agent could appear in alarming numbers across America’s farmland. But while anti-GMO advocates consider that just one of the reasons they oppose the influx of man-made crops being grown in exponentially large numbers across the county, the USDA said activism along those lines has been comparatively small in the US.

“Some consumers, including those in the European Union, have indicated a reluctance to consume GE products. In other countries, including the United States, expression of consumer concern is less widespread,” the report reads.

“Despite the rapid increase in adoption rates for GE corn, soybean, and cotton varieties by US farmers, some continue to raise questions regarding the potential benefits and risks of GE crops.”

But even if the jury is still out with regards to the risks of GE crops, the USDA said they are being grown in record numbers, the likes of which has prompted herbicide manufactures to experience a surge as well. Whether that’s’ good or bad, however, has yet to be determined.

“We are not characterizing them (GMO crops) as bad or good. We are just providing information,” Michael Livingston, a government agricultural economist and one of the authors of the report, told Reuters.

According to the report, herbicide use on GMO corn increased from around 1.5 pounds per planted acre in 2001 to more than 2.0 pounds per planted acre in 2010.

Source: RT

Monsanto blamed for disappearance of monarch butterflies

butterfly Monsanto blamed for disappearance of monarch butterflies

As scientists continue to track the shrinking population of the North American monarch butterfly, one researcher thinks she has found a big reason it’s in danger: Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
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On Wednesday, the World Wildlife Fund announced that last year’s migration – from Canada and the United States down to Mexico – was the lowest it’s been since scientists began tracking it in 1993. In November, the butterflies could be found on a mere 1.6 acres of forest near Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a decline of more than 43 percent over the previous year.

Back in 1996, the insects could be found covering a span of 45 acres. Part of the decline can be attributed to illegal logging in Mexico that has decimated the butterfly’s natural habitat, as well as rising temperatures, which threaten to dry out monarch eggs and prevent them from hatching.

Now, though, biologist Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota has also pinpointed the increased use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides in the United States and Canada as a culprit.

According to Oberhauser, the use of Roundup has destroyed the monarch butterfly’s primary food source, a weed called milkweed that used to be commonly found across North America. As the agriculture industry boomed and farmers effectively eliminated the weed from the land in order to maximize crop growth, she was able to catalog a parallel decline in the butterfly’s population.

Speaking with Slate, Oberhauser said that when the milkweed population across the Midwest shrank by 80 percent, the monarch butterfly population decreased by the same amount. With some states such as Iowa losing more than 98 percent of their milkweed population – the weed doesn’t even grow on the edges of farmland anymore – the disappearance of the plant poses a huge risk to the insect’s survival.

“We have this smoking gun,” she told Slate. “This is the only thing that we’ve actually been able to correlate with decreasing monarch numbers.”

For its part, Monsanto noted that herbicides aren’t the only reason the monarch is dying. The company cited studies that showed the butterfly’s population in Michigan and New Jersey were not shrinking, though scientists have dismissed those studies since they focused on areas where milkweed was still prevalent.

Monsanto has come under fire before for the effects of its agriculture-oriented chemicals. As RT reported last year, studies linked Roundup’s main ingredient to diseases such as cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s. In spite of these findings, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled to raise the permissible level of the ingredient that can be found on crops.

Meanwhile, another report in October found a clear link between the pesticides sold by Monsanto in Argentina and a range of maladies, including higher risk of cancer and thyroid problems, as well as birth defects.

As for the plight of the monarch butterfly, the insect is still thriving in Hawaii and countries like Australia and New Zealand. In North America, Oberhauser believes the great migration can still rebound due to the monarch’s high fertility rates (a single female can lay up to 1,000 eggs throughout her life). For that to happen, however, scientists believe the US, Canada and Mexico will have to work together and draft a strategy that will help the insect safely make its way through the three countries.

“I think it’s past time for Canada and the United States to enact measures to protect the breeding range of the monarchs,” monarch expert Phil Schappert of Nova Scotia told the Washington Post“or I fear the spiral of decline will continue.”

Source: RT

Monsanto protesters arrested outside shareholder meeting

monsanto protesters arrested Monsanto protesters arrested outside shareholder meeting
 
At least 11 protesters were arrested outside of Monsanto’s headquarters on Tuesday as they rallied in favor of shareholder resolutions that would require the company to alter its approach to genetically-modified organisms.
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More than two-dozen protesters, one of which was a Monsanto shareholder himself, endured cold temperatures in Creve Coeur, Missouri as they pushed the biotech company to work with the federal government towards efforts to label food featuring genetically-modified organisms (GMO). Another resolution, meanwhile, would have required Monsanto to provide a contamination report on non-GMO crops.

Both measures failed with less than 10 percent support after Monsanto’s board recommended shooting down the proposals.

When the results came in, the atmosphere surrounding the rally became much more aggressive, with protesters using five cars to block the entrance to Monsanto’s building. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some locked and chained themselves to cars, while police spent about an hour clearing the area and making arrests.

protest monsanto meeting Monsanto protesters arrested outside shareholder meeting
 
At least 10 individuals were arrested on misdemeanor charges. Local police chief Glenn Eidmann told the Post-Dispatch that no injuries were reported, nor was any property damaged.

Adam Eidinger, the shareholder who introduced the labeling resolution, told St. Louis Public Radio that despite his proposal’s defeat, he expects the opposition to Monsanto’s policies only to grow over the coming year.

“We’ve thrown the gauntlet down and we’re expecting a year from now that more than 10,000 people will be here if they don’t label GMO foods,” Eidinger said. According to him, the protest ended with 11 arrests in all.

protester arrested monsanto Monsanto protesters arrested outside shareholder meeting
 
Those against the propagation of GMOs believe they are unsafe for human consumption and that the altered seeds contribute to the rise of pesticide-resistant weeds. Supporters, meanwhile, argue that GMOs are not only safe, but also essential to building crops that can survive in the face of disease.

At the shareholders meeting, company chairman and CEO Hugh Grant said Monsanto needs to improve its communication with the public over GMOs, but added that its advocacy for voluntary labeling was still the right approach.

“This voluntary labeling approach empowers people who may choose to avoid GM ingredients a choice that some people prefer, but without imposing new costs on people who don’t choose organic or non-GM products,” Grant said, according to St. Louis Public Radio.

The second resolution, meanwhile, concerned organic farmers whose crops could potentially be contaminated by the drift of pesticides used on neighboring GMO farms. Critics argue that farmers battling contamination issues should be compensated, but Monsanto claims the Securities and Exchange Commission already mandates the kind of risk assessment proposed in the resolution.

While opinion concerning the impact of GMOs on health is divided, multiple polls have found that vast majorities of Americans believe food containing genetically altered ingredients should be labeled.

Efforts to turn that support into action have fizzled, however, as labeling initiatives in California and Washington failed amid a flood of corporate money that many claim turned public opinion against the measures. As RT reported last year, even successful ballot initiatives in Connecticut and Maine may not go into effect since their implementation is tied to the passage of similar laws in other Northeastern states.

Source: RT
 

Industry powers with access to TPP plans lavish money on Congress

RT TPP 1 Industry powers with access to TPP plans lavish money on Congress

Operatives of top global corporations, which spend great amounts of cash to lobby Congress, are also part of a small group in the US outside the Obama administration that can access working plans on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

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According to data analyzed by government transparency advocate MapLight, current members of Congress received around US$24 million in the last ten years from organizations represented on an exclusive industry board, created and staffed by Congress. This board has inside access – such as not even granted to members of Congress, much less the public – to the highly-secretive negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which promises to give powerful industry players more clout over global trade rights.

The United States is currently in negotiations with 11 other Pacific Rim nations on the lucrative trade pact known as theTrans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which aims to liberalize trade among the signees. Among the contentious issues in the TPP is that the agreement stipulates new powers for multinationals that would allow them to challenge country laws in privately run international courts. Washington has endorsed such powers in previous trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but conditions in the TPP could grant multinational more powers to challenge a wider range of laws. Under NAFTA several companies including Dow Chemicals and Exxon Mobil have sought to overrule regulations on fracking, oil drilling, and drug patents.

“The United States, as in previous rounds, has shown no flexibility on its proposal, being one of the most significant barriers to closing the chapter,” said a memo from one of the participating countries obtained by the Huffington Post.

Ultimately, the pact would give corporate entities much more influence over commerce, elevating“individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations,” consumer rights advocate Public Citizen says on its website.

Thus far in the multi-year negotiations of TPP, a small cadre of people have had open access to the working documents involved in the various sections of the trade pact. On the contrary, members of the US Congress, for example, must visit the offices of the United States Trade Representative to review the provisions. They are not allowed to bring anyone with them, nor can they make copies of any documents pertaining to the working agreement.

Yet aside from those in the Obama administration, only members of the United States Trade Representative’s advisory system, including the 18-member Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property Rights (ITAC-15), can freely access TPP negotiation documents on intellectual property.

Members of the ITAC-15 include representatives from companies like GE, Cisco Systems, Yahoo, Verizon, AT&T, and Johnson & Johnson, and entities such as the Recording Industry Association of America, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

The ITAC-15 does not include public advocacy organizations, academics or any non-industry experts.

The industry trade advisory system was created and staffed by members of Congress. In fact, the ITAC-15 is made up of several top political spenders that have offered millions of dollars to influential Congress members in recent years, data organized by MapLight shows.

MapLight found that – from Jan. 1, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2012 – the 18 organizations that have representatives on the ITAC-15 gave almost $24 million to current members of Congress in that time period via political action committees, among other avenues that are legally required to be disclosed.

AT&T has given over $8 million to current members of Congress, more than any other ITAC-15 entities.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner has been given $433,350 from ITAC-15 organizations, more than any other individual in Congress.

Congressional Democrats have gotten $11.4 million from the organizations, while Republicans have received $12.6 million.

A handful of Congress members sponsoring legislation that would give the Obama administrationmore power over the congressional process of approving TPP – barring amendments to the pact, for example – have received a total of $758,295 from the ITAC-15 groups. These members include: Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus ($140,601), Senate Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch ($178,850), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp ($216,250), House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade Chairman Devin Nunes ($86,000), and House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions ($136,594).

Meanwhile, a new report released this week showed that US corporations spent $185 million in 2012 alone via nonprofit groups that are not legally required to divulge either their sources of funding or how they spend that money.

“Ranking among the biggest donors are energy giant Exelon Corp., health insurer WellPoint Inc. and technology titan Microsoft Corp.,” the Center for Public Integrity said in its findings.

“The millions of dollars in corporate expenditures highlighted by the Center for Public Integrity’s research flowed to more than 1,000 politically active nonprofits, from major trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to pro-business alliances such as the Fix the Debt Coalition.”

 

Source: RT