Saturday, March 10, 2012


Monsanto's Roundup Ravaging Butterfly Populations, Study Shows

by: Mike Barrett, Natural Society | Report

(Photo: Arturo / Flickr)
Monsanto’s Roundup, containing the active ingredient glyphosate, has been tied to more health and environmental problems than you could imagine. Similar to how pesticides have been contributing to the bee decline, Monsanto’s Roundup has been tied to the decrease in the population of monarch butterflies by killing the very plants that the butterflies rely on for habitat and food. What’s been shown to be an even greater threat to the population, though, is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.
Roundup Ready Crops and Glyphosate Leading to Downfall of Insect Populations
2011 study published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity found that increasing acreage of genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans is heavily contributing to the decline in monarch butterfly populations within North America. Milkweed, a plant butterflies rely on for habitat and food, is being destroyed by the heavy use of glyphosate-based pesticides and Roundup Ready crops. Over the past 17 years, the monarch butterfly population in central Mexico has declined, reaching an all-time low in 2009-2010.
“This milkweed has disappeared from at least 100 million acres of these row crops,” said Dr. Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas and director of the research and conservation program Monarch Watch. “Your milkweed is virtually gone…this [glyphosate use on RR crops] is the one main factor that has happened…you look at parts of the Midwest where there is a tremendous use of these crops and you see monarch populations dropping. It’s hard to deny the conclusion.”
According to the Department of Agriculture, in 2011 94 percent of soybeans and 72 percent of corn grown in the United States were herbicide-tolerant. Due to this increase, the amount of Roundup used on crops in 2007 was 5 times higher than in 1997, only one year after Roundup Ready crops were available.
Another study published int he journal Crop Protection and conducted by Robert G Hartzler, an agronomist at Iowa State, found that milkweed on farms in Iowa declined 90 percent from 1999 to 2009. Additionally, his study found milkweed only on 8 percent of corn and soybean fields surveyed in 2009, which is 51 percent lower than in 1999.
Although the butterfly population may be suffering, humans are taking heat from Monsanto’s creations as well. Past research has shown that Monsanto’s Roundup ready crops are leading to mental illness and obesity, primarily by destroying the amount of good bacteria found in the gut. The corporation’s Roundup, containing glyphosate, has also been shown to cause infertility and birth defects.
Glyphosate is so present today that it has been found to be polluting the world’s drinking water through the widespread contamination of aquifers, wells, and springs. What may be most shocking is that very high concentrations of glyphosate have been found in 100 percent of urine samples tested in a recent study.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Enlarge Adam Cole/NPR
OK, so this story is about weeds and weedkillers, neither of which is ever the hero of a story, but stay with me for a second: It's also about plants with superpowers.
Unless you grow cotton, corn or soybeans for a living, it's hard to appreciate just how amazing and wonderful it seemed, 15 years ago, when Roundup-tolerant crops hit the market. I've seen crusty farmers turn giddy just talking about it.
All they had to do was spray the herbicide Roundup over their fields and everything died — except their remarkable new crops, with their laboratory-inserted genes that made them resistant to that weedkiller.
Alas, the giddiness faded. In more and more places across the country, farmers now are struggling to deal with weeds that their favorite weedkiller won't kill anymore. The weeds, too, have evolved Roundup-resistance superpowers.
Now, a hot debate has erupted over what farmers should do next. Should they adopt a new generation of genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant crops? Or turn away from chemical herbicides altogether? (A national summit on this issue is planned for May, in Washington, D.C.)
To get a closer look at this debate, I went to south Georgia, where farmers are fighting one of the most irrepressible of the new superweeds. It's called Palmer amaranth, known to the locals here as pigweed.
"It started just north of us," recalls Randy Bryan, who grows cotton in Irwin County. "And then all of a sudden, it was all over south Georgia. We had it everywhere."
Palmer amaranth can grow 3 inches a day. A single plant can release close to a million seeds. It's a bully; if you let it grow beside cotton seedlings, the poor cotton doesn't stand a chance.
Many farmers still spray glyphosate, but then they have to hire people to go in to the fields and pull pigweed by hand, or chop it down with hoes.
"I have a brother-in-law who told me he spends $120 an acre on hand labor," says Van Grantham, a cotton grower in Coffee County. That's about four times what farmers spent to control weeds five years ago.
Cotton prices are high right now, so nobody is abandoning the crop altogether, but if prices returned to normal levels, the cost of containing Palmer amaranth could make cotton unprofitable.
Farmers are looking for alternate solutions, and in Georgia, they turn to Stanley Culpepper. He's a weed scientist at the University of Georgia and the state's expert on cotton weeds. This time of year, he spends his days driving from county to county, delivering talks to cotton farmers.
Culpepper grew up in North Carolina, and comes from a long line of farmers. He talks to his cotton growers like a football coach giving his players some tough love.
"We all agree: There can be no glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth at planting, right? We've crossed the bridge. We know there has to be no Palmer at planting or you won't pick your crop. If you do pick your crop, it won't be economically sustainable," he told a hall filled with about 70 farmers in Coffee County.
And you can't just take your time about it, either. "You go out and look at the field and you say, 'Ahh, I got me a few more days.' And what happens when you say, 'I got a few more days' — those pigweeds come up and they're 4 to 5 inches tall when you get there, and you can't kill 'em."
You're going to have to spray a lot of different chemicals to overwhelm the enemy, Culpepper tells the farmers. Some will kill your cotton if you aren't careful.
Then, Culpepper puts up a new slide. It's a picture of a field that's covered with a layer of rye, flat on the ground.
This residue works as well as any weedkiller, he tells the cotton growers. Pigweed just despises it. So the system would be: Grow a crop of rye, then roll it flat to keep weeds from growing. But leave some narrow gaps in the rye, and that's where you plant your rows of cotton.
Culpepper explains that he's still working out some kinks in this technique. But in just a few years, he says, it could be a big part of the pigweed solution.
"If we can work it out, this is the most sustainable program that we as cotton growers could do, bar none, for resistance management and Palmer amaranth control," he says.
This is Culpepper's recipe for surviving in a world of weeds that could become resistant to your most popular herbicides: Do lots of different things to fight the weeds. Some of them involve chemicals, some don't. Some will mean more work. But the work is worth it.
But Culpepper's is not the only recipe in the room. The one that may prove to be really tempting for farmers is one offered by three other non-farmers in the room this evening. They represent three big cotton seed companies: Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.
Those companies are selling — or plan to sell, within a few years — crops that have been engineered to tolerate other herbicides that will kill pigweed. Farmers will be able to spray those herbicides — long-established chemicals called 2,4-D and dicamba — right over their crops, just as they do today with glyphosate.
Some environmentalists are angry about these new products. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for instance, says 2,4-D is dangerous and ought to be banned.
And David Mortensen, a weed ecologist at Penn State University, predicts that weeds will evolve resistance to these herbicides, too. He says it's a kind of treadmill, where farmers constantly need new weedkillers.
"When one herbicide fails, you add a second herbicide, and then a third herbicide to the package. And I am convinced that this is not a sustainable path forward," he says.
The University of Georgia's Culpepper, meanwhile, stands somewhere in the middle of this argument.
"Let's be clear: I want all the new technology that's economically and environmentally friendly for our growers that we can get," he says.
The key is not to misuse them; not to rely just on one or two of them, because then the weeds will adapt.
Culpepper thinks his farmers have learned that lesson, and what happened with Roundup doesn't need to happen again.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Students Eating "Pink Slime" for Lunch? Fast Foods Have Ditched the "Meat" But Schools Are Still Stuck With It
Ammonia-treated meat "product." Served at a school near you?
Cattle graze at a ranch in the marshes of an Argentine province in 2009.
Photo Credit: Agence France-Presse
"PB&J is starting to sound all sorts of good right now," wrote a concerned mom over at Cafe Mom this week. Her point is sound. After all, although it may not be up to the stuffiest gourmet standards, good old fashioned peanut butter is so much better than "pink slime," the faux meat that is about to show up--to the tune of 7 million pounds--in school lunches.
A recent story in the Daily paints a gruesome picture about just what's going into kids' "meat"-based hot lunches. Though "Lean Beef Trimmings" from the Orwellian-titled "Beef Products, Inc," is made from animal flesh, experts maintain it wouldn't exactly qualify as meat. Instead, they have their own names for it: pink slime or soylent pink.
"Pink Slime" is made with a novel food-creating process that the New York Times reported about back in 2009 (highlights mine):
Eight years ago, federal officials were struggling to remove potentially deadly E. coli from hamburgers when an entrepreneurial company from South Dakota came up with a novel idea: injecting beef with ammonia.
The company, Beef Products Inc., had been looking to expand into the hamburger business with a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella.
As the Times noted, "Pink Slime" isn't just ammonia-injected--that's disgusting enough, considering that ammonia is a cleaning agent also used to make bombs.
No, "Pink Slime" is also made of parts of the beef that used to be considered too inferior for eating.
Biologists quoted in the article in The Daily don't think this product is good enough for eating, either. "I have a 2-year-old son,” Gerald Zirnstein, the microbiologist who coined the term "pink slime" told The Daily. “And you better believe I don’t want him eating pink slime when he starts going to school.” 
Zirnstein, the story reports, saw the process used at Beef Products, Inc., back in 2002, when he was investigating salmonella contamination, and later told his colleagues he himself did not and would not classify this brand-new meat product as "ground beef.” And yet, Pink Slime remained available, thanks what appears to be protectionisms in the food processing, labeling, and regulating world.
Zirnstein is not alone. The other microbiologist who spoke to The Daily had an equally evocative name, referring to cultural touchstone Soylent Green: “We originally called it soylent pink. We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat,” Carl Custer told the paper.
Now the news comes that the USDA is okay with putting this stuff in school lunches. As the Huffington Post reports, this would seem to undermine an effort to push kids to eat healthier lunches at school.
News of the USDA's plan to bring 7 million pounds of "pink slime" to school cafeterias nationwide comes just weeks after the government announced new guidelines to ensure students are given healthier options for school meals. The new standards call for more whole grains and produce as well as less sodium and fat in school meals. While the measures mark a step forward from previous years, they still compromise amid push-back from Congress to keep pizza and french fries on the menu -- counting both the tomato paste on pizza and the potatoes that make fries as vegetables.
The children, they are our future.
The Daily's reporting indicates that perhaps it's not the best idea in the world that an inspection agency in charge of passing bare minimum standards and the agency that chooses foods for young children's consumption might wisely be separated: 
The USDA, which plans to buy 7 million pounds of Lean Beef Trimmings from BPI in the coming months for the national school lunch program, said in a statement that all of its ground beef purchases “meet the highest standard for food safety.” USDA officials also noted that the sole role of the food inspection service is to determine the overall safety of the nation’s food supply, not to make judgments on a product’s relative merits. 
But Zirnstein and Custer say that the USDA now finds itself in the odd position of purchasing a product that has recently been dropped by fast-food giants McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell. 
And it may not even be that safe. explains that one of their clients--a former employee of the company--has some beef (pun intended) with his former employers' safety disclosure record:
"Kit Foshee, who worked at BPI for 10 years, said he was terminated for refusing to participate in his company's alleged knowing misrepresentation of microbial data to the USDA and alleged false claims made to customers about the product's safety. For more on his whistleblowing disclosures, visit Foshee's profile." 
Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver has been one of the leading critics of this form of meat-making. His segment on it, in the video below, is viscerally shocking. In his foodie world, says Oliver, they call these parts of the cow--the part American schoolchildren eat--"the @#$%" (it's bleeped).
Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @fellowette and find her work at